Blog post three and I’m finally going to talk about something art related.
If you follow me on any other social media platform you’ll probably already know that recently I decided to make a tiny collection of clay earrings to put up for sale on Etsy. This was very exciting and the first twelve pairs I made sold out in less than four days, something I was not anticipating at all. Since then, I’ve sold a whole other batch, and although to a lot of people this probably won’t seem like very much of an achievement I spent a lot of time trying to create something perfect, and it meant a lot to me to get so much positive feedback from friends and the lovely people who follow me. So, I wanted to write a little post about how I went about starting this little project so that in a hundred years time when I’ve finally had another bright idea I might actually remember how to carry it out.
Now the first thing that I’d like to mention, as a disclaimer, is that I never liked clay. I have many painful memories of being given lumps of gritty, already-partially-dried clay that made my hands itch at school and being asked to then produce something ridiculous like a perfectly formed vase when all I could muster was a very lopsided pinch-pot. This lead to my very stubborn opinion that “I can’t do it.”
Now, you’re probably now wondering why I’ve just graduated with an illustration degree and focused most of my third year working on children’s book plans and illustrated maps, and now suddenly I’ve decided to make a batch of earrings, using clay, which I don’t like?
Although I loved my degree there was something I didn’t really love about having to do all my work to achieve a grade. The last year especially had me constantly rushing to meet a deadline and overwhelmed by the feeling of not being able to work quickly enough (gosh, that’s a bit deep for a silly post about how I made some earrings) and the immediate feeling upon graduating was that all I wanted to do for a while was make something entirely different. I also definitely didn’t want to be making anything for deadlines. (If anyone is looking to hire me I would just like to let you know now that I’ve moved past this feeling, I’ve made my earrings, and I am very capable of meeting deadlines.)
I began with a pack of fimo modelling clay and a few sketches of planets with smiley faces.
To be honest I actually began with wondering what the hell I was going to use to make earrings but that doesn’t nearly dramatic enough for a blog post. I went for fimo clay, partly because it was £2.50 in my local art shop and partly because I don’t have any space for a massive kiln in my bedroom and I probably couldn’t justify buying one just to glaze a handful of earrings for a post-uni -mid-life-crisis.
Once I’d decided on the clay, I also had to get some tools. In the art shop the lovely lady behind the till had recommended a beautiful modelling set complete with dinky little plastic knives and one of those sticks with a wire hoop on the end. If you know anything about clay you’d probably tell me these are 100% necessary for making anything worthwhile but considering I didn’t actually know how to use these tools I instead visited a beach cafe and took some of the free wooden cutlery. At least I know that’s not a chunk of plastic that’s going to ruin the planet if I decide never to use it again.
Once I’d drawn a few ideas, I cut out some paper stencils and traced the shapes onto a lump of clay that I’d rolled out to be about half a centimetre thick. I had thought it would be simple. It wasn’t.
I tell myself that it was because I was trying to make something that was far too small and fiddly but facing the facts it’s probably because I was trying to make something perfect in a medium that for years I’d told myself I didn’t like. Not really surprising it didn’t quite go to plan. I spent hours and hours trying to smooth out tiny little shapes and get circles perfectly round only to pick each earring off the table and have it flop in my fingers. I ended up shaping each earring on pieces of baking parchment and letting it dry before trying to move it anywhere. Thank goodness lopsided and handmade has come into fashion because my little earrings probably wouldn’t stand a chance if everyone was expecting a perfectly identical pair.
I very quickly realised that a lot of the process of this little project simply involved waiting about, and it took just about 24 hours for the earrings to set and harden enough for me to be able to continue working on them. One thing I noticed was that it was virtually impossible to get the perfectly smooth edges to the earrings while I was shaping them. Luckily, I had some sandpaper lying around that had somehow ended up in our stuff during the move out of our student accommodation (i definitely don’t mean that I saw it in a draw, thought “that might be useful at some point” and put it in a box.) I also found that sanding the surfaces gently made the paint stick better when I started painting them, so probably an all round useful step to include.
Generally when I start working on an illustration project I plan the colour palettes that I want to use in photoshop. This always looks like a child has found my laptop and dried to colour something in for me but no, it’s just me. I then try and recreate the colours that I’ve picked out digitally, and around 1.87% of the time it turns out looking how I expected it to look. I used acrylic paint because that’s what I had lying around at home, though a quick google search did tell me this probably was the best option anyway. It is a completely different feel to painting on paper, and I found it took me much longer to blend the colours and get the gradients I can normally get from paper but in the end I managed it, and there was another period of waiting for things to dry.
The next step was varnishing, and this is where I had a little bit of a mishap (because I really hadn’t thought about what I was doing.) I laid all the earrings out on another sheet of baking paper, and painted what I thought was a thin layer of varnish over the top of each of them, with the intention of turning them over and painting the other side when this was dry. However when it came to turning the earrings over I found that the varnish had stuck the earrings to the paper and when I peeled them off, the paint peeled off the back in clumps, leaving me with an earring that was painted and varnished on one side, and patchy on the reverse. Luckily it was all salvageable and after a few days of re-painting in a terrible grump I was back on track and all the earrings turned out looking ok despite the mishap.
The final step in the actual making of the product involved putting them all together. I ummed and ahhed over whether the earrings should be on a hoop or a hook, and eventually settled on the hook, which turned out to be the wrong choice. It was pretty fiddly to join the the earring piece to the hook with only a tiny little jewellery link from a box that I ended up spilling on the floor at least a dozen times. This was definitely a part of the process where steady hands were needed, and on the first go I clamped down too hard on the earring and snapped it, but with a little practice I managed and I finally had my little pairs of earrings all neatly made and ready to wear!
You’re probably assuming that this is where the post ends, with a nice “and all the earrings were sold and lived happily ever after” but I had a few steps left so bear with me.
If you’re buying any little gift, especially off a site like Etsy it will come packaged, even if the packaging is minimal. As a person who likes drawing nice things, I always want my packaging to look… well… nice, so naturally the next step was to work out what the best (and of course prettiest) way of packaging the earrings for posting would be. My main goal was to package the earrings as minimally as possible, and without plastic, which immediately ruled out what would have been my go-to; bubble-wrap.
So here were my three ideas;
A jewellery box or pouch – these can be bought from eco-craft.com, a wholesale site dealing in eco friendly packaging for small businesses. The best thing about this option was that it looked like I would be able to carry it out with absolutely no need for plastic, and I would probably be able to decorate the box with a personalised stamp or hand drawn decorations. However there were a few cons. Although the boxes are actually priced very reasonably, it would cost more than I had budgeted to spend on packaging, and that would mean having to put the cost of post & packaging up when listing it on Etsy. Not to mention that putting the earrings in a box, and then in an envelope, would mean a bigger parcel, and overall a bigger cost on postage and just seemed a little unnecessary. Also, I was a little concerned about the idea of having my earrings rattling around in a box, no matter how well padded with tissue paper.
Wrapping the earring sets in fabric – this second idea would probably have worked out the safest for the earrings, however there were also a few issues with this one that meant I ruled it out fairly quickly. Firstly, I thought it could look a little tacky. If I had the facilities at home to screen print fabric with a funky pattern then this had the potential to look absolutely adorable, as well as completely pad out the earrings to protect them. However, as I don’t have the space or any screen printing knowledge, I would be limited to using scraps of whatever I could find, and if this happened to be fabric that was old or a bit tired, then overall the package of earrings would probably end up not looking particularly nice. Not to mention I didn’t actually have any clue where I’d be able to source scraps of material of any kind.
Lastly, using backing cards and wrapping these with tissue paper – this was the idea that I eventually settled on. Having a piece of backing card that the earrings could be attached to meant there was something to hold the earrings flat as they were packaged and posted, and it also provided a much easier shape to be wrapped in tissue. The backing card could also be designed to reflect the design of the earrings, so the two could compliment each other, and it could have the name of the earring set printed on, as well as details like my website (because you can never have too much self-promotion.) But most importantly, the backing card could just be an element that looked pretty. Wrapping the earrings in tissue, I hoped, would keep them well protected in the post (more on this in a moment) and also, it looked adorable; each earring set was already gift wrapped so even if it wasn’t intended as a gift, the customer could still feel like they were receiving one.
So settling on the last idea for postage and packaging, I needed to design the backing card for each of the earring sets. I didn’t want anything that would stand out too much, or detract attention from the earrings, so I decided that a basic pattern for each earring set, in different colours would work well. By pattern I mean I drew out a rectangle shape, used a brush pen to draw some repeated shapes at random across this, and hoped for the best. I also used my brush pen to hand letter a title for each of the earring sets, and I added my little logo at the bottom.
The last thing that needed to be done before I uploaded the listings to Etsy was to photograph the earrings so that people would have an idea of what they were actually buying. Luckily my lovely boyfriend is a photographer, so where I would photograph everything on the automatic setting, he sets up entire studio shoots in our study and makes it look actually a little bit professional. This is also the cause of most of our arguments. I won’t bore you with exactly how we took the photos, mostly because I have no clue, but I will summarise the experience with this lovely quote from Henry; “my least favourite part of our relationship is when you ask me to help with your product photography.” He’s a real charmer.
I put the earrings up and was so lucky to get a lot of love and support for them, but before I end this post I would like to mention one last mishap. Unfortunately the packaging I had settled on was not entirely fool-proof and one set of earrings did break on their way to their new home. Although I had firmly believed that a good amount of tissue would keep the earrings padded enough, I couldn’t risk any other pairs being broken as it would be just too time consuming (not to mention costly) to have to remake the pairs if any more had been damaged. Luckily a local business in Penryn offered up their unused scraps of bubble wrap for me to package the earrings. Although this is certainly not the plastic free option I was after, it does give me a bit more time to work on a packaging idea that is absolutely safe, as well as preventing their scraps from ending up in landfill. In the next batch of earrings I make, I’d also like to include a note letting customers know that if they don’t want to throw their piece of bubble wrap in the bin I’d be happy for them to send it back for me to re-use!
so there we go, a lot process was spent “leaving things to dry” and the rest of it was spent panicking about the earrings getting damaged at every step, and also wondering why I wasn’t doing “actual work” to expand my portfolio. Despite that, I’m really glad I made these. It was nice to do something different, nice to have a break, and really nice to receive the love from my friends and all the people who bought a pair (or two!). I’m now mid way through making my third batch, hopefully in time for Christmas; I might have even added some wintery designs… If you have any ideas for earrings you’d like to see, or if you just want to say hi you can find me on instagram (please follow me I really love the attention.) or if you’d like to see what else I have available on my Etsy you can find it here (please buy my things, I love being able to pay rent.)
Lots of Love
big thank you to Henry for helping me take photos even though I am an awful creative director.