Sunday, 28 February 2010

Chile Earthquake

I'm getting a little worried about Geree in Chile, who did our first 'guest contribution' last month. I've sent her an email but, unusually for her, no reply! She was writing about where she lived and posting local photos on her blog right up to Friday. All I can do is hope she's OK and has other things on her mind at the moment!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Do men go for beach huts?

I read somewhere recently that paintings of beach huts always sell. But that isn't why today's collage was a row a of beach huts - honest! I've had in mind to do some beach huts for ages! And the sailing boats got me in the mood for more coastal, holiday scenes!
I wonder what it is that fascinates us about beach huts. I've photographed them at Cromer and at Broadstairs and I made a pastel painting of the beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea some years ago. Unfortunately I didn't scan it before it was framed for my daughter.

A dear friend of mine, a Welsh teacher living in Worcester, but pining for the Welsh coast, who sadly died a couple of years ago, used to frequently remind me that if we were down on our luck and times got too hard, we could always sell our houses and go and live in adjacent beach huts, somewhere down on the Gower! That was until we discovered the price of a beach hut.....!

I went about this collage in a slightly different way from usual. I think I've become more at home with the medium and that gave me the confidence to just do a very rough sketch and leave out the tracing paper stage altogether. Apart from making one paper template of the basic beach hut shape, to ensure that they all came out roughly the same size, I just 'built' them 'organically', as it were, making it all up as I went along. It still took a long time, by my standards, but it was a lot more fun!

I was disappointed that Thursday's sailing boats looked so 'bland' on the screen - the various shades of white in the sails didn't show up at all - although, thankfully they printed out much better. But this time the 'graininess' of the different papers seems to have shown up quite well. I don't understand it - same scanner, same process, same screen. Sometimes the technology seems to have a mind of its own  The only disappointment today is that the seaweed hanging from the green hut looks black, whereas it is in fact a lovely rich reddish 'bladderwrack brown'!

I left the lower third of the design fairly empty so that there is plenty of room for a caption -
I'm not entirely sure whether it's another design for my 'Cards for Men' category - but at least it isn't flowers!

I particularly like it on the mug I made on Zazzle.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Spring is Sprung.... least, it felt that way when I walked into town this afternoon! The survey has increased my amount of computer time, even though I thought that was becoming an impossibility since I signed up with the online stores, so I was glad to get out into the sunshine. I was right when I estimated that I'd be spending the rest of Wednesday replying to emails that I received as result of sending out the questionnaire. And it wasn't just the rest of Wednesday, continuing on into the 'wee small hours', but it spilt over into yesterday as well so that by lunchtime, I felt an urgent need to get away from my compter and make another card design!

The idea of producing greeting cards for men (to be bought mostly by women, I expect) has provided me with a bit of a challenge and I hope this one may be suitable for men and women alike.
I can't think why I'm so enthusiastic about make collage designs - I certainly don't find it relaxing! All the precise cutting and fiddling with tiny, sticky pieces of paper doesn't allow me to get into 'flow' as I normally do with my painting. It still takes me much longer than any other medium I use and I generally end up with stiff shoulders and an aching back. But there's something about the finished result that keeps me going back to it over and over again.

I was surprised how long it took me to scan it and resize it for Greeting Card Universe and Zazzle, as well as for my 'private' webpages that I send out with the survey questionnaire, for my 'dead tree-ware' catalogue and for this blog - and then to upload it to the various online stores, not to mention going through all the processes it takes to make it into cards that I can print myself. I suspect all that took me even longer than making the collage itself! (Of course, it doesn't help that I do some things on my laptop and others on my main computer upstairs and it all has to be transferred from one to the other at some point.) I'll just have to hope that GCU will approve of the categories I've put it in - one never knows for sure! Different reviewers seem to have different criteria!

The past couple of weeks have been really quiet on the sales front so I've been reading the forums and there are frequent complaints about the Mysteries of the Categories! But I was pleased to hear today that an awful lot of my my dragons have found new homes - 'I've sold two in the past hour,' the shop assistant told me in a very surprised tone of voice. So, thanks to a prompt from another artist, I've put the rest of the emails on hold and spent this morning organising and printing out samples of my Mothers' Day and St Patrick's Day cards, in case the newsagent, having got out an extra stand for my dragons, would be prepared to refill it with some of my other 'Spring Season' designs, once St David's Day has been and gone.

And yes, he has agreed that I should take in a couple of each of my dozen or so 'Spring Season' designs and see how they go - what a pity I didn't think of this before Valentine's Day!

He thought that my Pen and Wash ones -

- would be more popular than my oil pastels. But my survey results, so far, have illustrated just how diverse people's tastes in cards are. It probably has a lot to do with age and gender and I expect that applies to where people go to buy greeting cards as well. I think our local newsagents could be a good place to reach all ages and types of people and in terms of  'footfall', it's a real hotspot throughout the year. I don't tend to buy newspapers - not that I don't enjoy reading them. On a cross-channel ferry I will devour every inch of every column but each time I've tried buying a newspaper regularly, I ended up with a pile of unread ones. However, I do pop into the newsagents from time to time - their treasury tags, which I use in great numbers for my teaching workbooks, are by far the cheapest in town! Which is how I came to notice the stand of beautiful photographic cards that encouraged me to try my luck with my dragons.

I'll be a bit disappointed if nobody buys my oil pastel flowers - they are just the sort of thing that I would be very happy to receive - but if they aren't popular, at least I'll know what to offer for Easter. And there's always the posh coffee shop to try....

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Red Dragons for Sale!

I'll be keeping this relatively short and sweet today, the reason being that I've just devised and sent out an online survey to all my UK 'contacts' to try to establish some facts about our card-buying habits here in the UK (It's looking interesting so far so I'll post the results when they're all in!). And a great many of these 'contacts' are friends I haven't been in touch with for a while; so they've written back with all their news (and in some cases, useful advice about card-selling!) so I'll probably need the rest of today to reply to them all!

Everyone seems to be complaining about our weather! In fact, it's difficult to think of a winter when the snowy stuff has gone on for as long as it has this year. Yesterday was dark, cold and whitish stuff kept falling from the sky but it didn't settle so we had all the downsides without the benefit of lovely 'snowscenes'. Not that I mind at all when I'm stuck indoors working, but I was glad of a fine break in the weather this morning for our Wednesday walk with 'Let's Walk Cymru' and on the way home I took a detour to the newsagents where my dragons are for sale.

The shop was too busy to ask how they were going but, judging from the gaps in the displays, it seems as if at least some of them have been sold.

In the coffee shop after the walk, I happened to be sitting facing an area of shelving where a watercolour painting of a local scene and a small basket of, I think, handmade cards were displayed for sale. So I'm thinking that this might be another possible local outlet for my cards. One of my fellow-walkers warned me that the trouble with trying to sell my cards in Abergavenny is that there are so many artists in the area. True, it is an 'arty' sort of place but luckily, I know, from previous experience that this can actually be an advantage. 'Birds of a feather flocking together' can apply to the way a particular location can earn a reputation for being the best place to find a particular item. After all, nearby world-famous Hay-on-Wye , with its population of just 1500, has about 30 bookshops and I doubt whether anyone would warn that it was therefore a difficult place to sell books!

In my questionnaire there are a couple of questions about what people would expect to pay for a greeting card and, as I was leaving the coffee shop, it occurred to me that people who think that £1.50 is a lot to pay for a card, are quite happy to pay £2 or more for a cup of coffee that they may well hardly notice they are drinking if they're engrossed in a conversation! Food for thought there, I think, and it raises the whole question of pricing not only greeting cards but art in general. More on that another time....

It's now bucketing with the sleety stuff again so I shall settle down to my emails and think myself lucky that I don't have to go out to post them!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Canadian Artist, Carole Barkett, writes about some very challenging Bluebirds!

When asked by Judy to do a guest artist article for this blog, I was thrilled, then I wondered what to write about. For a while, I tried to find new images that would inspire me to paint but that's hard when you're working and running a household and family, as many artists do, and of course the more you want to paint something, the harder it is to settle down and actually do it.

My last painting was the Magpie family but it all came together so quickly, there was nothing to talk about, then....I decided to paint Bluebirds.

I quickly realised that my past paintings were based on my knowledge of a particular animal or bird. Although we have Bluebirds here, and I've seen their nestboxes on almost every fencepost, I've had no luck seeing one and because I haven't, a few problems developed in the painting process.

I searched my stockpile of reference pictures until I found ones that looked great. After hours of sketching and rearranging, I finally had what I was looking for and was satisfied. I painted the picture and scanned it. The painting still looked pretty good at this point; then I uploaded it to Zazzle bluebird had a moustache. He doesn't in my picture but he does in my uploaded one, as you can see below:


I don't know where this moustache comes from except that I lose a lot of the lighter colours in the process of uploading, so that area looks white when it isn't.

Back to the drawing board I went, but it can be impossible to fix watercolour. The more you work on it, the muddier the colours get and soon it's ruined. Well, that's exactly what happened to this one. I tried playing around with photo editing but that only made it worse as you can see.

I think most of my problems come from never having seen a Bluebird so I was never sure if what I was painting was quite right and I kept having to check my reference pictures which rules out any creative thought.

I guess I'll go out birding this summer and wait for a real one to study, unless....I can find one on Youtube.

If I'm successful, you'll see it on and if you want more background stories on my other paintings, you can check out my blog.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A whole bunch of flowers!

For some reason that I can't explain, I seem to be almost addicted to the weather forecast! I think my fascination may have sprung from learning about the British Climate, and its main characteristic, 'variability', in A-level geography - I don't know, but even if I'm too busy to watch The News, I always make sure to catch the weather forecast! And I have three weather website icons on my desktop, which I check regularly! I was particularly keen to know what today's weather would be because I'd had a slight problem with my drains yesterday and a neighbour had kindly agreed to come round and 'rod' them for me this morning!

'Wintry showers', sleet, hail and snow were all forecast - but in fact I wasn't too worried. For once, I didn't believe the forecasts. It's the nearest Saturday to my eldest daughter's birthday and, beginning on the day after she was born, we always had lovely spring-like weather for her birthday party that enabled us to let the little 'guests' out into the garden to let off some steam. Year after year the same thing happens, Spring seems to arrive suddenly on the Saturday nearest 17th February and today was no exception. It was probably the first time I'd really looked at my back garden for a while - and there were several little clumps of crocuses 'smiling at me'!

I'm no great photographer, though I do take a lot of photos. I'm not in the least bit worried about definition - I'll leave that to the real photographers - because I mainly take photos for references for paintings, a kind of modern-day sketchbook. In fact I sometimes think that a slightly out of focus photo enables me to really see what I want to paint...that's my excuse, anyway!

Last time I wrote I suggested that floral designs are generally acceptable for most occasions for most women and throughout the spring and summer, I pop out to my tiny garden with my camera whenever something catches my eye and paintings often follow. I've tried painting the real thing instead of using photos but it gets very hot in my attic and the flowers tend to wilt even sooner than I do, even though I paint very fast.

The greeting card publishers, Phoenix Trading, in their Advice for Artists, rank 'flowers' fourth in their list of popular subject matter for greeting cards, behind Fairies, Football and Animals (mostly cats and dogs). I know I am always pleased to receive floral greeting cards, particularly in the winter months when there are fewer flowers in the garden to enjoy. Most of my friends have similar tastes - and yet, so far, I have sold very few flower cards online, in spite of there being plenty to choose from.

On offer in my Greeting Card Universe 'store' are flowers in soft pastel -

- I am rather attached to this one and have refused to sell the original, partly because it was one of the better things to come out of a very disapppointing family holiday on the Burgundy Canal. But also, it was one of two of my pastel paintings that were accepted by the Bath Society of Artists for their Summer Exhibition a few years ago, as a non-member entry.
That was quite a big event for me! When the anxiously awaited postcard dropped through my letter-box, informing me whether or not my paintings had been accepted, I was totally mystified because it just had 'RESERVED' stamped across it. Having no idea whether this meant that my work had been accepted or whether it was on some sort of 'reserve' list, I phoned a friend in the Bath area to see whether he had any idea what it meant. Like me, he thought it might possibly mean that it had been accepted but didn't want me to 'count my chickens...' so I plucked up my courage and phoned the gallery, who confirmed that my paintings had indeed both been accepted. So, that is a painting I have hanging where I frequently walk past it to restore my confidence in the inevitable moments of self-doubt. However, as a greeting card, or a print, I am more than willing to part with it and it can be bought through Red Bubble.

I have also painted flowers from my garden in oil pastels and made them into greeting cards -


and in watercolours - 

This is my latest floral design -

I didn't have any hyacinths for reference so I painted it this week from memory as I'm very fond of them and grow them in pots for indoors, in spite of the fact that I seem to be sensitive to them - my favourites, the white ones, actually give me a headache and make my glands swell!

On Zazzle, my flowers have graced mugs, aprons, mousepads, bags and more! Compliments keep appearing on my store wall and products featuring my flower paintings seem to be popular amongst other artists. As I mentioned, my screenprinted Sweet Pea bookmark won a Today's Best Award. But so far not one of my floral designs has been sold. I'm beginning to think that the reason may not be so much to do with my 'products' as with the fact that I am getting relatively few visits to my 'store'. A few days ago I discovered how to make my store statistics visible and learned that my daily total of visits is generally in single figures, whereas other stores clock up double and treble figures daily. Judging by the number of comments and messages on my store walls, I would imagine that most of the visits I do get are from other artists or store owners, rather than from potential customers.

I'm at a loss to know what to do about this! I blog, I update my facebook fanpage regularly and I've made a webpage of all the addresses of my online stores, complete with 'flash panels', to email to friends and other contacts. I also check the Zazzle forums daily so as not to miss any opportunity to have my products promoted on Squidoo Lenses and so on. I'm not sure what more I could do.

Maybe it's a question of being patient and giving it time?

On the other hand, I have just printed out 50 assorted St David's Day dragons for sale in my local newsagents.

(This is the painted-paper collage version).
I approached the newsagent because he seems like a particularly patriotic Welshman and his shop is one of the few places to buy bi-lingual Christmas Cards here in Abergavenny. He seems keen on art, as long as he can see what it's meant to be - he has nothing but derision for most of what's on display in our local art gallery, selling for thousands of pounds!  When I was exhibiting my soft pastel paintings a while back, he was very willing to display posters for my exhibitions and he once embarrassed me dreadfully by introducing me to a shop full of customers as 'Mrs Monet' - but that was a while back and I don't think he recognised me. But even if he does remember, I think it's a small price to pay for getting some of my cards sold here in the UK. It will be interesting to see how they go - whatever happens, the newsagent is happy. The warehouse he gets his cards from had plenty of St Patrick's Day cards but none for St David's Day. So me turning up out of the blue with my samples made his day!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Greeting Cards for Men and Boys

I feel as if I'm trying to do about three or four jobs at the moment! But I have finally succeeded in finding a way to print my cards so that they look quite professional, even though my printer won't accept the top quality 100 lb board on which high-priced greeting cards are printed.

It's a fairly long-winded process, first scanning the original paintings and resizing them in Photoshop up in my attic studio, transferring them to my laptop, down in the dining room, where I have a better selection of fonts and Coreldraw, which I find useful for setting them out so that the printing on the back of the card comes out where it is supposed to. Then, to be sure that they won't lose anything in translation when I transfer them back to my upstairs computer, where my best printer is, I make them into .pdf files; and finally I print them, fold them and trim them! 

I've been through this process nearly 200 times recently, allowing for a few mistakes, and now have around 160 greeting cards all ready to go. So I took them to my Wednesday morning Walking Group last week to see how people would react to them. I didn't want to push anyone to buy anything at this stage; the idea was to get some feedback. I had found some cheap photo albums with slip-in pockets for 5" x 7" photos in a local shop and bought all they had, so I simply left one album on each of the tables in the coffee shop where we gather after our walk.

People were generally interested and some said they would buy from me in the future, but what was interesting was that there was a general consensus that finding suitable cards for men is a real headache. 'They all have men fishing on them,' was one comment I overheard. Another was 'Not all boys are into skateboarding,' So obviously there's a gap in the market there!

Trouble is, whenever I try to think of ideas for mens'/boys' birthday cards, what do I come up with but fishing....

...and skateboards!
Why is it so difficult to find appropriate greeting cards for the males of the species? Maybe they're not really as interested in cards as women are - I've read in several places that 80% of all greeting cards are bought by women. And whereas you can get away with a floral card of some sort for almost any occasion for almost any woman, there doesn't seem to be an equivalent 'catch-all' for men. If there is, I haven't thought of it and nor have any of the friends I've discussed it with.

But all is not lost! One member of the walking group - a woman - actually ordered one of my cards and it was very satisfying to hear her say that it had 'solved her problem'. It was my 'dancing man' with the Adlai Stevenson quotation, 'It's not the years in your life, but the life in your years, that counts!' She asked me to add a '90', which was easy with the help of the computer and it's now all ready for her to pick up the next time we meet.

Here it is, without its age number -

...but she's got me thinking! It might be worth adding some 'significant birthdays' - 60, 65, 70 etc - and posting them on the PODstore websites. It's 'just' a question of finding the time.....!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Daphne the Dragon leaves home!

My dragon, who, I have decided, is female and called Daphne, is obviously a fast mover! It's only a couple of hours since I finished her and I've just received an email to say she's flown away to another blog!

Are you using the four 'f-words' to promote your online store?

A couple of months ago, when I joined various online 'communities to sell my greeting card designs, I began to be aware of a whole new world of 'promotional activities' to bring customers to my online 'stores', such as the four 'f-words', favouriting, fanning, friending and following! I will resist the temptation to climb on my soapbox and declaim against the way that our English language is falling into misuse, such as adjectives and nouns being turned into verbs, when we already have perfectly good verbs at our disposal. It would be like King Canute trying to hold back the tide and I'll leave John Humphrys to have a field day on the subject - though I must say I am encouraged by the fact that my spelling and grammar checker underlined the words 'favouriting and 'friending' in red!

What concerns me is that these activities can eat up enormous amounts of time, time we could otherwise be spending painting, drawing - or doing the garden! And I'm not very sure how effective these strategies are when it comes to attracting buyers of our creative endeavours. I can understand that the more activity we can generate around our online presence, the better chance there is that our art will be seen and, possibly, bought. But how does having a 'fan club' of other artists and designers actually boost one's sales? Surely we need to be getting our work seen by non-artists, 'the man on the Clapham omnibus?

Of course it is encouraging to receive compliments on one's work - I think most of us need some reassurance at times. But I sometimes think that we run the risk of cheapening our praise if it is handed out too freely, almost automatically. When I am teaching my struggling readers, I do try to create a supportive atmosphere because many of them have suffered a great many knock-backs and their sense of self-worth has been dented. But I am careful not to shower them with accolades for every little thing that they get right and they know that when I do praise their work, it is praise worth having. Children are not fools and they know instinctively when they have done something praiseworthy - and vice versa. Similarly, if I have complimented someone on their art, it is because I really like it!

Sometimes all this 'fanning' can become hilarious! The number of emails I receive since I signed up to GCU and Zazzle has increased dramatically, mostly such things as notifications regarding threads on the forums or comments on my 'store wall' - occasionally the holy grail of a sale accomplished! Keeping up with all these is another drain on my time, but one email, a few weeks ago now, made me laugh. It was one from Zazzle, telling me that my fan club was growing. Fan club? What fan club? I knew about facebooks' 'fan pages' but had no idea that Zazzle had fan clubs too. But here I was, not only being informed that I had a fan club, but that it was growing!!! What excitement as I followed the link to find that I fan!

I shall go along with all this 'promoting' for now; it's still early days and it seems to be the thing to do. But I shan't let it stop me watching Wales play in the Six Nations from now on! I only managed to catch the last half-hour of their first match against England and although they lost, the commentators commented that they did begin to play better in that final 30 minutes ie when I started watching. And last Saturday, I only squeezed in the final ten minutes. But what a ten minutes! When I turned on the television, Wales were so far behind against Scotland that I almost didn't bother to watch - but then things started to go their way and Sizzling Shane started to sizzle and, in the last few seconds, led Wales to a victory that won't be forgotten for a long time. I think I must have sent some 'positive vibes' to the Millennium Stadium and I shall make sure that I watch the whole of the rest of their matches, come what may!

I've also stolen a few hours away from the computer today to make another St David's Day greeting card, using the same watercolour pencils and watercolours method that I used for the Irish leprechaun and the Froggy Valentine. I'm begin to like the way this combination turns out and, once the drawing is done, it's quite quick - you can't hang around with watercolours in any case - and that's an advantage in these busy times.

My friendly dragon, both English- and Welsh-speaking, is available in the Zazzle marketplace and will hopefully be appearing soon in my GCU store, when the reviewers have approved him, which seems to be taking about a week at the moment.

Here he is wishing you a Happy St David's Day (March 1st) in the meantime -

Friday, 12 February 2010

Guest Contributor, Kate Smith, writes about her mini-masterpieces

As you can tell by the images on my Etsy site, I have a varied interest in things. I have well over 400 different cards now, consisting of several different alphabets and an assortment of images, both stitched and painted, and some beaded.

All the work is done by hand, including the beading, which is put on one bead at a time. I am a more tactile type of person and prefer to paint or stitch my work. It's too easy to go online and make a picture. Though some are wonderful, to be sure, there is just no actual human touch to it. Owning one of my cards is like having a small piece of one-of-a-kind artwork.
I love to paint them. I find it relaxing and a challenge at the same time the challenge being finding what the public is interested in. Sales online have been slow. Seems most want the printed card and not the painted card. I am always up to customize for anyone.
I believe my work is something unique and off the beaten path. I did put a few up on the Zazzle site but the metallic paints don't translate well to printing. So I decided to just keep the ETSY site only. I did try Artfire with no success. Lots of people looked but no buyers. But I suppose it's a challenge and a leap of faith to buy something online and when you get it to find out how wonderful it really is. I bought a piece of amber that way. Here is the link to my Etsy shop, kateskards.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Snow again!

I think I'm going to have eat my words about the difficulties of painting snow!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

"Dw'in dy garu di"

We've had a light sprinkling of snow again today so I thought my oil pastel painting would be a welcome reminder that Spring is not far away - and, of course, the daffodil, along with its cousin, the leek, is one of the national symbols of Wales. You know for sure that you have crossed the border from England when you begin to see banks of daffodils growing all along the roadsides!

And I've just discovered that Valentine's Day has already been and gone in Wales! It was a couple of weeks ago, on January 25th - not that you would have noticed! But you can trust the Welsh not to follow the herd and in 2003, even Tesco sold greeting cards to celebrate the special day of the Welsh patron saint of lovers, St Dwynwen.

Even though I earn my living, in part, from the sale of greeting cards I have designed, I wouldn't wish us to adopt the American trend of having a greeting card for everything under the sun! St David's Day is fine by me though, especially as I'm very fond of daffodils and dragons!

I had great fun creating my collage dragon and using it to create 'T-shirts and badges as well as cards' on Zazzle. And the daffodils above are also available as a greeting card (for St David's Day or otherwise) too!

Monday, 8 February 2010


I was amazed to discover that my first ever bookmark won 'Today's Best Award' on Zazzle!

Screenprinted Sweet Peas

One of the blogs that I follow is Carole Barkett's 'Country Mouse Studio' and a couple of days ago, I was delighted to see that Carole had written about making bookmarks for sale on Zazzle because it's something I've often thought I'd like to make, but hadn't been able to find them in the list of 'products' to create.

But now, thanks to Carole, I know that the tall, thin business cards can be used as a bookmark, so I've been able to use a design that I've always thought would make a very nice bookmark.

I originally created the 'sweet peas' design for a repeating pattern on fabric - working out the repeats is something I always find fascinating and sweet peas are one of my favourite flowers. In fact my priorities in my tiny walled garden are colour and fragrance and as well as sweet peas and climbing roses, I have lots of lavender, mock orange (philadelphus) and jasmine (providing the cold spell in January hasn't killed it!).

Devising a system to make sure that the images are printed on the fabric in exactly the right place involved an 8 ft x 4 ft table and several reels of black thread - and wasn't easy! But I succeeded in printing enough fabric to make a roller blind for my glass-panelled kitchen door to the garden of my house in Norwich. It was very pretty but the white background quickly turned a creamy colour, presumably because of the proximity of all the cooking, steam etc. It actually didn't look at all bad - a more 'natural' colour than the stark brilliant white it was originally. But when I moved house, I abandoned it so I am really glad to be able to use that design again now!

I also think it looks attractive on a frosted glass mug in my Zazzle store where you can also see the finished bookmark. (The baby's sweet peas are from a more recent wet-in-wet watercolour painting.)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Is selling online the best way to go?

Sadly, I haven't had time to produce a single new design this week! The reason? I've turned my attic studio into a printing works!

I was beginning to feel frustrated that all my sales on GCU and Zazzle so far have been from customers in the US, especially as I've had requests to sell my cards direct to friends and 'friends of friends' here in the UK. So I started to make enquiries about the cost of getting some cards printed locally and by online digital printing companies, assuming that with digital printing I would be able to order as many or as few copies of each design as I needed. Wrong!

By the time I had been asked for the fourth time, 'How many do you want?' and I had replied, 'I don't know yet.' it was beginning to become clear to me that 'print-on-demand' is a bit of a misnomer. Although it is possible to order a smaller number of each design from a digital printer than it would be from a 'lithographic' one, the only way, it seems, to get one or two copies of a particular design printed is to do it yourself!

With more than 300 designs (and rising) in my GCU store, I need to narrow the number down to the most popular and the volume of my sales through the online stores, is, as yet, nowhere near big enough to demonstrate any clear trends. So I've been investigating different types of card/board, working out costs and experimenting! The cards I've produced are not as 'solid' as the ones from GCU - my printer couldn't cope with such heavy board. But the colours are good so I'm hoping that if I can sell them locally for a lower price than they would cost to buy the more substantial ones, I'll be able to see which ones are worth considering for a larger order from a digital printing company.

So far, it's looking as if the (blank inside) 'fine art' cards that I've made from my soft pastel paintings (above and below) are going to be popular - but time will tell.
Part of me is not entirely convinced that the internet is the best place to sell greeting cards, at least not in the UK. One of the reasons that people shop online is that the goods they want to purchase are not available locally. But even the smallest town in the UK has plenty of shops entirely dedicated to selling greeting cards - if a shop closes down, you can be pretty sure that it will be replaced by a cheap card shop, at least temporarily. And cards are available from corner shops, supermarkets, stationers, bookshops, post offices, garden centres and petrol stations - and probably some other places I haven't thought of! So, unless you are housebound, greeting cards are available to buy everywhere you look - and hospitals and residential homes for the elderly have spinners for those who can't get out to the shops! So why would anyone choose to buy such a readily available product online?

Another reason for shopping online is the price. People look to get a discount for quantity which wouldn't be available in a shop. Apparently bulk buys of disposable nappies (diapers) are popular online sales. So unless one is prepared to sell one's greeting cards very cheaply, I have my doubts about whether it is the ideal product for selling online. However, all sales are welcome, from whatever source, so I shall continue to upload my new designs to PODstores - after all, it doesn't cost anything and any work involved (mostly the high resolution scanning, which takes me forever!) will mean that my designs are ready to print, either by myself or a printer - eventually!
These wet-in-wet watercolours have also aroused some interest from people who have seen them 'in the flesh' - though none at all from online customers. I think that may be partly because the subtle nuances of the colours don't show up well on the screen - I've been pleasantly surprised at how much better some of my cards have printed out than you'd imagine from looking at them on a screen, especially some of my painted paper collage designs! But maybe, as well, the American taste in greeting cards is different from ours here in the UK? Or perhaps typical online shoppers - whoever they may be? - aren't looking for the same sort of thing as those who like to handle their cards before committing to buy them? Who knows? I'm hoping that time will tell!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Recipe for a St Valentine's Feast

Recently I was reading through another artist's Squidoo lens on the St Valentine's Day theme and came across her recipe for Valentine's pretzels. When I looked for the recipe again a few days later, I found that there are a million and one recipes for these pretzels on the internet - and even more for Valentine's cookies! I suppose the idea is that 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach', which may or may not be the case!

So I'll depart from the art for a moment and add a delicious casserole recipe that I adapted from one of the most memorable meals I've ever had in a restaurant. The restaurant was Alison Burt's, in Westerham, Kent, which sadly, no longer exists; and the dish was from Normandy, 'Pheasant Vallee d'Auge', which I later discovered, again through the internet, is highly recommended for those with seduction in mind!

Delicious though pheasant is when cooked slowly in a casserole, the numerous small bones - and even lead shot! - can turn out to be quite a passion-killer, so I have substituted chicken for the pheasant to make -

Poulet Saute Vallee d'Auge

  • Saute some chopped onion and baby carrots (Chantenay if possible) and (optional) leeks in butter and oil.
  • Add chicken portions and brown them.
  • Douse with cider and season.
  • Add some mixed herbs, bayleaf and thyme, cover and simmer for 40 mins.
  • Saute some whole button mushrooms in a separate pan and place in a casserole dish, along with all the other cooked ingredients.
  • Cook in a slow oven until the sauce is well reduced; then stir in some apple puree and cream before serving.
This dish is particularly good frozen and then thoroughly reheated (you may need to top up the liquid with more cider or chicken stock at this stage), as long as the apple and cream are added immediately before serving.

Boiled baby new potatoes and a green vegetable go well with this dish and, because it is quite a rich main course, any starter or dessert needs to be light and refreshing.


Monday, 1 February 2010

Card for an absent Valentine

Just two weeks to go until Valentine's Day - and I think I've had enough of it already. I can fully understand why there is a growing market for 'anti-Valentine's Day' cards! The whole thing is getting a bit out of hand.

The sending of 'Valentines' - decorative little notes - began in Britain in the 19th Century and was a convenient way for a bashful young man to put his feelings into words without having to actually think what to say! By 1847, Esther Howlan had built up a little home-based business, selling her handmade Valentines in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Things have come a long way since those days, with Valentine's cards available for everyone under the sun - 'for my daughter', 'for my teacher'.....'from your dog'! I presume the idea is to make sure that nobody feels left out, but I can't honestly imagine that receiving a Valentine's card from one's furry friend would exactly boost one's self-espeem!

I'm afraid you won't find any such deviations from the original intention of 'Valentines' among my collection at Zazzle, though I have gone so far as to design a card (above) especially for a Valentine who is absent - for whatever reason!

The inside is left blank for your own message - if you're feeling poetic, 'missing you' would at least rhyme with 'sad and blue'.

At Greeting Card Universe, it already has a message inside - though, as ever, customers can easily change or delete the inside message if they wish.