Sending out mail, candy and Thank you cards,

I really love shipping out things.
I love putting things into their tiny pretty boxes. I love hand-decorating said boxes. I love adding tiny extras like dried flowers or leaves or candy. And then I like to add some extra drawing on the outer box as well. Sometimes I’ve made a quick drawing of a squirrel, when it’s acorn related stuff. Sometimes I just add some whimsical flowers. Once I drew a tiny (disproportionate) map of New Zealand.

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I also love to make and write thank you cards. Every thank you card design I use I’ve whipped up real quickly right before shipping something out. I’ve been packaging an item and then when it’s time to add a card I realize that I don’t really have one at hand that would feel appropriate. So, I begin drafting a new card to fit the theme. It’s fun to make a new card for a specific occasion and person.

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The unfortunate downside is the time-cost, obviously.
Couldn’t really do it that way exactly, if I was an actual business sending out tens of packages each day. But then, of course, I could put to use that packaging station tip and save time by having everything at hand all the time. And I would probably design appropriate thank you cards in advance, whenever a new type of product gets listed. And I would have an actual stock of candy for the sole purpose of trying to put at least a tiny bit of extra smile on the person’s face who’s opening the package. Right now I usually have to go out and buy a new pack each time, because an open pack of candy tends to diminish and disappear (only candy wraps remain) by the time I have a need to send out next shipment. Of course, with candy, there’s also the possibility of the receiver having allergies, avoiding sugar, not even liking sweet things. But I hope it’s still better to receive one than not to receive one. I mean, you can always give it to someone who can it it? Right? Although, if I were sending out tens of shipments daily, I would probably find one brand to stick to and print additional ingredient labels, if this brand would not have these listed on every individual piece (sometimes they have ingredients only on the outer package).

Here’s a collage shot of some thank you cards I had at hand one moment and a shot of some candy:

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I try to be reasonably eco-friendly too, with all the packaging. I recycle newspapers, whenever possible. And if I have any leftover (gift) wrap at home, it gets used. Sometimes I opt for using new clean paper too, because sometimes newspaper seems just a little too much. And I don’t always have them at hand anyway as I usually read them electronically.

-Maarja

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A Background Story for a drawing

As I was finishing up another drawing of the “Magic Tea Party” series, I figured it might not hurt to have a background story. So, I made up one for this particular picture. So, here it is – Ashtagnan and Sterdior. (you can expect either A4 prints or cards or both to be available in the near future, I think)

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You know there is a land high up in the mountains, but with a coastline, although it is so steep that getting down to salty waters is a several days hike down narrow passages, stairways and even caves. This land is called Agnashia, and it’s located in a fantasy world you have never read about, yet.

These people, Agnashians try to see and preserve what they perceive as goodness in everything. Don’t mistake them for a bunch of defenceless sissies, though. They’ll fight evil, they have stern laws and there is not turning the other cheek. But they hate mindless destruction and they do not glorify revenge and holding grudges. It’s the deed (or intent, or state of mind) that is bad, not necessarily the whole person.

Some centuries ago this land was really suffering a pair of seriously deviant (by local standards) mages – a man called Ashtagnan and a woman named Sterdior. There was something very wrong with those two – the seemed to have no care for anyone else, but themselves and empathy must have been a strange and empty word for them with a meaning really hard to grasp. But somehow a miracle happened, and the two of them met and somewhere in the process of nearly killing each other both of them suddenly realized that they really really would like to keep seeing this entity of another person around even if it meant a risk as great as trusting someone they barely knew not to betray or kill them. In short – they fell in love. This was not yet a blessing, though. At least not to anyone but the two of them. They continued to be as cruel and indifferent to suffering and paired up as a team they were even more clever and even more dangerous and dark ripples of pain and suffering broke the smooth surface of peace and happiness of Agnashian society. There was more mistrust, deceit, selfishness and fear in this beautiful mountain kingdom than there had been for a millennia. Eventually the wisest of the sages tracked the pair down. They were identified and things fell into the place. Books were written, leaflets were sent out and the source of so many troubles and grievances were found. Thousands of mindless and cruel deaths were upon those two, and it was quite certain there would be no avoiding the final sentence – which had not been used in a thousand years – the death sentence. Because these two were too powerful and wise (although that wisdom lacked any benevolence or empathy as we know it). There would be no way to safely contain them or it would be even less possible to ‘help them learn better’ as there could be no-one that much advanced in knowledge, wisdom and the understanding of human soul and mind, as to take the role of a teacher. And more importantly, neither of these two had even a slightest sliver of regret over anything they had ever done.

As I already said, Agnashians did not believe in revenge and holding grudges. They believed in finding out all the facts and making informed decisions, though. So these two were carefully and impartially studied, before they had to reach the unfortunate conclusion that there just was not enough material of “goodness” (at least the kind of goodness needed to function in a human society) to work with in either one of them, and therefore their continued existence would be too great a threat. In this process, however they found a one preciously good thing held in high regard in the society – the most dedicated, kind, selfless and overwhelming love between these two, and there was not one person in the country who didn’t feel that this was a thing of goodness worth preserving.

The sages did find a way to do just that. Mages and those of higher spiritual learning had a special place for meeting up, communicating, meditating and dreaming – let’s say that it was a sort of spiritual plain you could consciously enter and move about only when you reached a certain level of training or awareness. Among other things, one of the characteristics of this plane was a certain level of detachment of things that usually motivate or concern people. And sages made it so that even though Ashtagnan and Sterdior were completely destroyed in their physical form their mental projections (or at least partially) were set loose to wander about the mental plain. It made sure that they never again have the ability to influence anything other but themselves, and so they wondered about the spiritual plain meeting up for a cup of tea to tell each other everything that they had seen that day each evening. That is what they have done for hundreds of years. Quite often Agnashians who have just acquired the ability to reach the plain join in one of the guided tours to find their meeting place for the evening and observe the tea party. Ashtagnan and Sterdior always have eyes only for each other, though and they can listen endlessly to each others stories of everything and anything as long it is the other one telling that. Sometimes Agnashian lovers go in pairs and look them up to bask in the brightness of their dedication. At other times a scholar goes and spends even months observing them every night as they are writing an article or a dissertation on the nature of love or about the coexistence of good and evil in human beings, just so they can have a fist hand observation of the (in)famous example.

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I would really like to visit Agnashia now – that climbing down to the ocean thing and the whole society sounds like a really great tourist experience. Too bad I only just made it up …

In the drawing they are obviously just conjuring up a tea-party. It appears that they manifest as wisps of steam rising from the cups – how curious. I wonder if everyone visiting that plain must lug a cup and a saucer with them everywhere they go or is that tea-party thing just a peculiarity of these two …

-Maarja

PS: Pointing out just in case that please do not use the story and/or drawing anywhere without my permission. You know, there’s this thing called copyright and all.

Catnips, Satisfaction and Product Photography

DSCN9654xI finally got around to trying out an idea that I had been thinking of for a while. I had been looking for a method of applying white on coloured paper and I think I  found something that seemed to work, sort of. I started out only testing the idea, but I thought it worked well enough to make an actual card out of it. Since I had used paper with a failed drawing on the back side I had to cut it off and glue on a new back to the card, if I wanted to actually use my test project. But as it turns out – olive green made me love this card even more, and now it’s up at the shop too, with a hand-drawn envelope and all.

It’s not that you could really call this a great accomplishment on objective levels, I have several issues going on in my life I really need to work on, and compared to that making one little art card seems kind of like a waste of time. But it was totally worth every minute of it, I tell you. These colours and the contrasting white and how delicate and fluffy and warm looking it all came out just made my heart jump from joy, because I just had made something very pleasing to my eyes all by myself. Making things is great. I guess I should mention, though, that I choose to ignore here all these times I get really really frustrated when I fail to get anywhere in my attempts to create something.

catnipsMeanwhile, though, my sister has been out to collect real willow catnips (or pussy willows, if you will) and made some gorgeous Spring / Easter themed dried bouquets with them. Willow catnips start budding already in the Fall and even in the harshest winters you can find some that are already or still open in February. But with the weather we have been having in the past years there is really no lack of pussy willows even if the real Spring is still months away.

Whenever I look at my sister’s gorgeous product photographs I’m always reminded of my own rather shabby looking pictures I keep posting. To put her obviously good eye for taking lovely pictures aside, the fact is that I still keep making do with my almost 10 years old Nikon Coolpix 7900, which has managed to dry out after a dive into the salty waters of Baltic sea, among other things. And it’s not rare for me to even post photos off my couple of generations old iPhone, which I inherited from a relative some years back. When I started out this used to really frustrate me and I felt really bad about my photos, but worry way less these days. Sure, good quality product photography is important, but what’s most important is actually getting things done. The first thing a product photo needs to accomplish is to exist. And then, of course, let everyone looking at it get a reasonably good idea what the item might actually look like. I intend to improve and I will be very exited once the time comes I can buy an new decent camera. But in the mean while I’ll make do with what I have, because it definitely is better than nothing. I’ve begun slowly to learn that not having things perfect for the vast majority of time is more like a general rule in life, and it is way past time to get that famous “lemonade” metaphor. I’ve even become so wise as to realise that it is also not very prudent to spend much time editing my product photographs because at this stage it is just not worth it. The best kind of product photography for me right now, is the kind which is done in about five minutes and then uploaded straight from the memory card. I will make beautiful catalogue quality photos once I I can achieve that goal as quick and easy as that or when I’m selling thousands of the same product with one set of photos.

-Maarja

The post with cute cats on postcards

I attempted to sketch a cat birthday card the other day. I had a cute idea behind it – can you guess what it was? What the cat is trying to do on the picture?

B-daycassObviously it’s trying to make a cute letter B with it’s paws! Right? At least that’s what I thought. But the first two people I showed the drawing to didn’t find it obvious at all. The basic response I got was the polite “What a cute cat” or “Nice drawing”. And I could sense a question hanging in the air – “Is there a point to this random cat on this card?”.

So, I was kind of successful in attempting to be cute with that cat paw letter B, but unfortunately it was just me cutely failing to convey my intended meaning …
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But enough about me and my failures! One of my sister’s most adorable and awesome cat cards got some awesome feedback today:

“Pretty expensive with shipping, but the art is fantastic and sincerely charming. The recipient of this card really loves it.”

I keep prodding her to make a post about her cat art and most of all – about the five furry, cuddly purr-balls of inspiration she has around the house. It would be an excellent chance to make a contribution into the global pool of cute and beautiful cat photographs and drawings!

As for the comment about our cards being expensive – well that’s the back side of selling things on line. Shipping expenses can’t be avoided. Another reason is that our cards are still very much hand-made and sold on a very small scale. At some point in the future, it may happen that we get into actually having some of them professionally printed, but at this moment we rely on our little brave desktop ink-jet printers, cut and measure paper by hand feel proud and happy over every single individual card we make. And you can be certain that with each purchase you’ll be directly supporting the artist and getting something really unique in return.

-Maarja

Elves at work

Earlier this month I had a blessing of a order for a larger number of cards. I was so excited to set up a card making shop for a couple of days. And I suddenly felt such a weight of responsibility too – there was a real live person who had just entrusted our little shop (read:me) with the task of preparing the medium to carry her Holiday wishes this year!

DSCN9620The card making process at my little desktop card shop is really very basic and simple, as you can see below. No paper cutters or creasers here – just a metal ruler, pencil, eraser and a really sharp knife. Some sort of paper cutting/creasing tools are on my wishlist, but I don’t feel like getting them is really justified before our card business picks up a little first.

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Meanwhile I’m becoming a real millimetre nerd. And a paper nerd (although, let it be noted here that I’m not really all that knowledgeable about paper in general, but I’m learning new things all the time and this is fun). It frustrates me to no end when the store-cut paper sheets are off by a millimetre on one side, or when the cut edges are too fuzzy, or when a sheet of white paper is ruined by a tiny brown spot in the grain. I bought some recycled cardboard pre-creased post-card bases some time ago, and it really frustrated be that the were made so that the edges were not cut from outside to inside, so that the paper’s edge would ever so slightly curve to the inside, but it was the opposite.

It was a wonderful chaos halfway through – like the postcards had just snowed down from the heavens.

DSCN9616These 60 cards turned out beautifully. In the original listing the year number was drawn with pink glitter gel pen, but since the customer preferred another colour I was happy to hunt for a red gel pen (which surprisingly was more difficult than I had thought – no glitter gel pens in pretty colours, only gold and silver ones. Eventually I found one that was a bit more Christmasy shade of red, no glitter though).

DSCN9611The original listing was for one page (non folded cards too), but again – not a big effort to turn it into a folded version. I realized, that I love customizing orders. Of course, it is a little bit more time consuming, but for a larger number of items it just makes perfect sense to try and make things as perfect as possible – after all, that is part of the beauty of having things made by hand vs factory made mass production.
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We do not offer delivery/shipping upgrades at our shop by default, but that doesn’t mean that you can not ask for one if you need things delivered ultra fast! This time I was the one to offer researching fast delivery options myself, as it seemed like it might end up being a really tight call with regular mail, especially in the pre-holiday season rush. So I had my own first-time experience with DHL too. I learned that one two things are needed for certain – the addressees phone number and a filled out shipping invoice with detailed description of contents. I also put a small “thank-you” chocolate into the packet originally, but that resulted in me having to fill out a really scary detailed piece of shipping invoice for food stuffs, and since the DHL personnel seemed to kind of see this chocolate as a potential customs hold-up risk, I had them remove it to make everything as simple as possible. Didn’t want to risk the delivery being late just because of a small sweet thank you. The customer service at DHL was great though – always accessible via the help-line and the delivery man was behind my door literally a minute after I had filled out a delivery form at their website.

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-Maarja

A short one on good advice

Have you ever asked for an honest opinion while actually wanting to hear only positive feedback, because you really don’t want to work any more with the thing you’ve already spent so much time with and you want someone to tell you that it is okay as it is, despite you yourself knowing that it still could use a lot of more work?

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I know I have. I’m just lazy as that.
And that’s one aspect where putting things I make up for the whole word to see in the hopes of another person actually spending their hard earned money on acquiring said item, has taught me a real good lesson about persistence, hard work and not refusing to see the obvious if the obvious does not suit you.
Attempting to draw things while not being good at it at all, is a good way to learn about persistence and taking advice too.
A friend or a family member who is willing to take a good critical look at what you do and give their honest opinion is an incredibly valuable asset. Have you got anyone like that in your life? Please, ask their advice about things that are important, listen to it gratefully and then meticulously work on taking the aforementioned advice.

The funny thing with good advice is, that quite often it is not so hard to get it. The hard part is to hear it and to take it.
I have noticed that quite often, if I don’t have anyone to advise me, I can give some pretty spectacular advice myself too. I just have to pretend that I’m a friend of mine and then describe my situation and problems to myself and then I can give some pretty good suggestions. Sometimes I have written monologues with self. (It’s called journalling. I think I’m one of those persons who think with fingers on keyboard. I’m pretty useless with a pen or a mouth). Now all I need to do is to actually listen to what I just said and things will get moving. You should try it, if you haven’t already.

Btw, the paragraph above is a nice example of good advice being readily available everywhere. This technique of removing oneself from a situation and looking at it from a more objective angle is definitely not something I just came up with to change the world. The notion has been everywhere for ages. But how often people do that, really? How often it is that I remember to advise myself? It’s more often that I feel sorry for myself, confused or disheartened. It’s like writing down things you should not forget – no use, if you forget to check the list in the first place.

So, this year has helped me to develop a new fresh approach to life – pick up good advice and use it! It will take a lifetime, but what else is there to do? 😉 At least the Zen-cat seems to have life worked out pretty nicely!

-Maarja

The first year on Etsy

Today exactly a year has passed from the moment my sister made the final clicks with her mouse to open our shop on Etsy. ISE Paper And Craft. These are some of the first products to have been listed and sold last season. The designs are still every bit as lovely and gorgeous as they were a year ago, and they are up again, for their second season at the shop with many many new things.
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It has been a fun year and we have learned many things. But I still feel like a total beginner. Funny that.

I remember the time when having a one page full of listings was a goal that seemed to come by so hard and slow. Now we have filled 3 pages without barely noticing when THAT happened. A year ago I would have thought that we’d be kind of more settled in by now. Knowing exactly what we do and having developed a clientèle of sorts. But I must admit that we are still experimenting, growing, searching ourselves. And we are still looking for the right people too – I once naively believed that all it takes to just open up a shop and curious people will flock to the page to check it out. I know better now! Nevertheless – we are so very grateful to everyone who has made a purchase from our shop this first year. There have been 31 sales, 11 feedback ratings (all full stars !!!) and 22 people who have made that part happen (Thank you all, once more!). It is also worth noting, that since starting up with Etsy there have been some family and friends stepping in and making an order or two straight from the maker, and we are every bit as grateful to them!

Opening up an Etsy shop (or some other form of on-line business) is a common second or third step (as I understand) for many artisans and crafters. First you make things because you enjoy it, then you make some for friends and family, then you might find a craft shop willing to sell your work or attend some fairs. Then you’ll get more serious and build up an online presence as well. With us, it kind of all begun with Etsy. Of course there was the making of beautiful nature/flower photographs (my sisters hand-made photo card series) for years and years before. The habit of picking up little trinkets: acorns, chestnuts, twigs, moss, pebbles – you name it, has been with me as long as I can remember. I just never had a real purpose for it all. Making gift-wrappings, flower bouquets and postcards for our own purposes has been a pretty common concept as well. But never before had we thought of trying to sell any of it. The we stumbled upon Etsy. My sister got creative and I was infected. Soon there were postcards, acorns and pine cones up at the shop and we’ve been exploring new ways to channel things that come to us naturally in a way that becomes meaningful to other people.

saak  (Last post was about my sore throat and whether I should go acorn picking or not. The picture above is half of the answer to that question. The other half is the fact that my throat is STILL sore. Worth it? Yes? No? Who knows.)

Our shop got first sales during and after the Christmas season. Then there were comatose months of springs when nothing happened. At some point I decided to try out some ‘destash’ listings of my acorn and acorn cap supplies, as it seems that I wouldn’t be making any more acorn ornaments this year. That’s how I found out that there is actually a demand of sorts for acorn caps. I would have never thought of it a year ago. So I guess it was worth it to pick the acorns and caps pictured above after all – there’s part of me that is really delighted to collect this adorable plant material and ship it to people who know how to appreciate them and make use of them. (Stay tuned for new fresh 2014 listings).

This year has taught me how to appreciate entrepreneurs – especially the small ones. Not that we can really call ourselves that – ISE Paper and Craft is a tiny hobby venue and creative outlet, but it has offered us real business lessons and challenges. It has helped us to get better in touch with our creative and artistic sides. And it has totally broadened our horizons on the scope of human creativity, because thanks to having a shop we have seen so many unique and creative things from really talented artists and crafters on Etsy.

What will the next year bring? More lessons, I hope. And I definitely wouldn’t mind more sales either. 😉
Happy Birthday ISE Paper And Craft!
-Maarja

PS: There’s some special birthday love available to all of you – “birthday10” is the very coupon code you can use on checkout at Etsy to make use of our special 10% birthday discount. Can be used freely to purchase anything and as many times as you like. The code is valid until October 17th!