Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Testing Testing! Desktop Calendar

Well, helloooo!

I'm so embarrassed to see that my last post was well over a year ago.  Excuses?  Busy.  Life. Instagram. Anyway, I'm back - I've updated my look and I'm here to beta-test a new idea - a Shark Alley desktop calendar.  I'll be doing a different one every month or two months so do come back to get your new one when this one runs out.

Click on the image below to enlarge, drag onto the desktop then select the image as your wallpaper.

Hope it works!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Winter Showcases

I say Winter.

I sort of mean Christmas.

I'm sorry.

I am definitely one of those people who LOATHES the fact that, for some retailers, Christmas starts in September and by November it's no-holds-barred TV ads, window displays, decorations and endless boxes of stollen and well, general irritating consumer bombardment.

However, as a kind of retailer myself, and one who has really tried to be a bit more organised this year, Christmas started in August.


So now all the prep and behind the scenes stuff is coming to fruition and I just have a couple of things to share.

I am thrilled to be featured in the Christmas Gift Guide section in the December issue of Country Living magazine.

I'm loving the position right at the top of the page - not so sure about that massive chartreuse dress right next to the dove!

Shark Alley is currently stocked in no less that five galleries right now and two of them are featuring my jewellery in Winter-themed exhibitions.

The Whitehouse Gallery in Kirkudbright is mounting a fabulous show entitled 'The Beauty Of Winter' featuring a gorgeous mixture of fine art and craft.

The gallery looks beautiful and is in a fantastic location too.  The show runs from today - 5th November - until 31st December.  The Preview Opening is today and they are offering a glass of bubbly and handmade chocolates to customers as they take in the amazing work on display.

Find more information on their website HERE
The Whitehouse Gallery, 47 St Mary Street, Kirkudbright DG6 4DU.

Obsidian Art is a gallery based in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire and they are running two themed shows between now and the end of December - 'Alice In Wonderland' and 'Winter Fairytales'.

I have recently been experimenting with unusual recycled papers to create brooches (more on this in a future post) and thought that these hare brooches decorated in old playing cards might be just he thing for the Alice In Wonderland theme.

Find more details about the gallery HERE
Obsidian Art, Layby Farm, Old Risborough Road, Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5XJ.

And sorry again for mentioning the C word.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Wooden Animals

People like cats, right?

I like cats too - I love their curvy sinuous shapes and their expressive tails, but it's these naughty tails that pose a problem to designing a brooch.  I'm always loathe to make anything that has long and thin elements, as I am afraid they will catch and break off.  So I started thinking about some designs I saw on Pinterest a couple of years ago which played with the idea of negative space - suggesting a shape by cutting it out of another, like these.

And I though this would be the perfect way to suggest a cat's tail.

So then I did a LOT of drawing.

Then I worked the most successful designs up on the computer to smooth out the lines and make sure all the patterned elements were nicely placed.

I am still trying to overcome my issues with laser cut jewellery in that I really don't want to produce pieces that look like everyone else's (I rant freely on the subject here) and I haven't seen any pieces quite like these so far, which is good.  I am SO FOND of the cherry wood that the shapes are cut out of.  It has a really rich warm tone and looks particularly lovely against blacks and greys.

Anyway, I produced two cat designs - an Art Deco-esque one and a plumper, curled up one.

I was also sketching some new hare designs for another project idea and thought these might translate well to the same style.  Again, these come in two sizes - I love the larger one so much.

I have another one too, but will share that with you later, as it's a bit Christmassy and you don't need to think about that right now.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Why Does Handmade Cost More?

I've just spent the last hour or so costing and pricing some new pieces and after devising a formula the process is much more accurate and much less of a random number plucked out of thin air (thanks to Dan Maier from one of Craft Central's fantastic workshops).

There are so many things to factor in when pricing and I do wonder whether some customers really do understand exactly what they are paying for when they buy handmade pieces.

I doubt very much whether any designer-maker chose this career to make a fortune, but naturally we do need to eat, pay mortgages/rents, bills and have the occasional treat like other people!

I dread pricing, but as I was costing these brooches, I got to really thinking about all the things that have to be taken into account.  So, desperately hoping that I don't sound too preachy, here are some of them.

The most obvious and immediate cost for the designer-maker, but there are additional costs for collection or postage of the materials.  My resin legally has to be sent by courier, which is more expensive than Royal Mail. I have to travel to a neighbouring town to pick up my wood shapes and my Japanese chiyogami paper comes from a shop in London.

A basic kit to make each piece gets put together quite quickly, but the cost of tools doesn't end there. Things break or need upgrading and even a good supply of pens and paper for the designing part all cost and all need to be factored in.

In addition to the physical making time, there is also the time it takes to design the piece. Obviously this only needs to be done once before the actual making starts, but it can take me several hours of research, sketching and refining on the computer to get a design absolutely right.

There is lots of necessary behind-the-scenes work spent on the business. Photographing pieces to a respectable standard and uploading them all onto the site (as well as writing the blurb to accompany them) is a major one and takes LOTS of time as I take 5-6 photos of each product from various angles to really show them off to the customer. If I was lucky enough to be able to afford to pay someone to do this for me (or anything else to help the business) then that would cost too. My nearest professional photography studio charges £100 an hour + VAT. Time is also spent on general admin and social media promotion, writing newsletters and blog posts, preparing and packing orders, ordering materials, designing promotional artwork and labelling and pricing stock for galleries.

I work from a studio so there is rent, bills and insurance to pay for my space.

Whether sales are made from a personal website, a big online one like Etsy or Not On The High Street, a craft fair or a bricks-and-mortar shop or gallery, all have charges that need factoring in.

Personal websites may need to be professionally designed, which isn't cheap.  There are also hosting charges.  My web hosting and online shop platform cost me around £38 per month. Fortunately I can design and update it myself, so I only had to pay a web designer a small fee to do a bit of technical tweaking.

Not On The High Street charges a £200+ fee to join and takes commission on sales. Etsy charges 20 cents to list each item and also takes a percentage of sales. Any site which uses Paypal incurs additional charges on every transaction, so I never get the full price for each sale, even from my own website.

A small space - say 1m x 2m - at a craft fair can cost anything from £50 to in excess of £1,000. There may be additional charges for a table, electricity, lighting and shell scheme (display boards and dividers to section off your space). There is also travel to factor in, possibly overnight stays if the fair is a long way from home plus food and drinks to keep the energy going!

Shops and galleries take up to 50% commission on sales.  It is EXTREMELY frowned upon to put up prices for galleries whilst continuing to sell the same item cheaper elsewhere, so the retail price of a handmade piece needs to be worked out so that all costs are covered by half that amount.

Wherever I advertise (with the exception of some social media platforms) costs money. It is essential to let people know who I am, where I am and what I do or I can't make sales. Facebook, once my favourite, will now only show a post to a miniscule number of likers unless I pay money to 'boost' the post so that more people see it.  Thus if I have something important to say, it can cost upwards of £3 per post to give it a decent exposure.

Magazine advertising or advertorials start at over £100 for one month depending on the publication.

Business cards and other promotional materials such as banners also cost to get printed (nearly always leading to gritted teeth time when children scoop up handfuls at fairs because they are 'free').

So a lovely customer has bought a piece.  Is it labelled and nicely packaged and popped into a box or padded bag?  Has it got a card or business card in with it? Or even a little freebie, like a postcard or a sweet?  Yup, you guessed it - more costs.

And finally . . .

Consider how reeeeeeeeally long it has taken the designer-maker to make that piece.  All the years of practising and all the time spent trying out ideas that didn't work to get to the ones that did, as well as attending classes and workshops to learn new skills and techniques.

In his later years, the artist Pablo Picasso was being interviewed and was asked if he would mind doing a quick drawing. Picasso scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to the interviewer, who then asked him if he didn't feel slightly guilty that a scribble that took seconds could potentially sell for thousands.

'Seconds?' retorted Picasso 'That took me eighty years to do!'

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Day Out To Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum

Let's face it, August hasn't exactly got off to a flying start weather-wise here in the UK, so when the forecast looked peachy for the first half of this weekend it would have been madness to waste it on being indoors (even though I have lots of work to do, as usual).

Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum is down the road from Brighton, just beyond Lewes, and in combining cars and birds manages to please BOTH members of the visiting party.

After a quickish scoot round the car bit (enjoying the rogue Peter Rabbit sat in a small car) and a light snack outside in the perfect sunshine, we launched ourselves into the wildfowl area.

Having recently got a new camera, I was keen to get to see what it could do (of course, I've not read the instructions yet, preferring to just 'get in there') and it was fantastic - with a great zoom.

I love birds so much - they're a real inspiration for my designs - and there were plenty of beauties wandering about here, although they were mostly sleeping and not really interested in the corn I'd bought to feed them with, unlike the geese at the Wildfowl Trust in Arundel, who are NEVER backward in coming forward.

We had such a lovely time, the birds were great, the weather just perfect and a stop off for cider-tasting at Middle Farm and a little wander round the fields at Berwick finished the day off beautifully.

Of course, it's grey and cloudy again today.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Thank You For Sharing

Do you have a piece of Shark Alley jewellery?

I'd really love to see how you wear it.

Post a picture on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag Shark Alley and I'll send you three fabulous foxy postcards as a thank you.

What could be simpler?!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Mosaics Revisited

Back in the late 90s I got my crafting freak on by making mosaics rather than jewellery.  

Found objects mosaic bust, 2003

Swan planter (for/with Kaffe Fassett), Chelsea Flower Show, 1999

I loved it very much but it wrecked my arm (RSI in my right wrist) and left me with a LOT of mosaic-y things to accommodate in a small flat.  So I stopped.  I like making jewellery more, but some of the aspects are similar - making a whole out of many parts, recycling and playing with pattern and colour.

So when my friend Liz Pichon (author extraordinaire and mother of Shark Alley model, Ella) asked me to make some commemorative mosaic pieces from her late mother's blue and white china collection, I wasn't sure whether I actually could.

Extreme laziness had meant I hadn't actually got rid of my mosaic tools, so that was all OK and hopefully my wrist could take a small burst of mosaic-making activity before having a melt-down.  Liz and I had a very business-like (prosecco-free) meeting and she showed me this great piece which incorporated cups as plant holders.  Very inspirational!  I was totally on board.
Sadly I can't find any accreditation for this piece
Liz's Mum had collected lots of cups and mugs, as well as jugs and sugar bowls, so providing I could snap them in half fairly cleanly, there was plenty of scope to make four of these using three 'containers' each.

As is usual in these sorts of projects, it was all about the prep and the prep took aaaaaaaages.  Then there was the breaking of the cups.  Three just disintegrated, so I had to try and work out a good method of snapping them.  I found that taping up the 'good' side all the way round and then carefully snipping with the mosaic nippers was slightly more successful.  Any breakages were repaired with Araldite.

All in all, they worked out better than I thought and they definitely improved as I went along and got my mosaic mojo back.  I'm quite tempted to make more!

Here are some pics!

Exterior surfaces prepped with gloss paint to protect them. Also for aesthetic purposes!
Mirror plates to attach the piece to a wall have to be screwed on before the mosaic part begins.

Oops.  Hurrah for Araldite!
Laying out the cups.
More gloss paint goes under the cups in case I can't tile inside them.
Breaking up the china.
Blue border goes on first.
Then the cups are stuck on and decorative elements applied.
The white background is filled in 'pique assiette' style.
The surface area is all filled and waiting for grout.
I love a rubber potter's kidney for applying the grout.
All done!  This is my favourite 
The grouting process is so important in tying the whole thing together.
Mirror pieces are added in case candles are going into the cups instead of plants.

The bottoms of saucers with 'England' logos look like little stamps or maker's marks.

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