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26 July 2015

Celebrating the Independent Spirit - Yvette Green

The last in our mini series on independent artist/designers as part of our feature for Independent Retailer Month focuses on mosaic artist, Yvette Green, of Baobab Tree Mosaics. Once again, we began by asking Yvette how mosaic-making had become her occupation.

Yvette Green mosaic artist
Yvette creating mosaic fern fronds

Mosaicking started out as a hobby while I was teaching science at a secondary school. I took evening classes and started out in traditional mosaic. I then decided to make a glass piece featuring sailing ships (my other passion) for a skylight above the door in my study, and was completely hooked on glass from that moment on. That skylight is still there, and the study is now my studio!

Making it my occupation was a gradual process. My son was quite ill when he was younger so I left teaching to be at home with him. As he got a bit older and went to school, I started selling a few smaller bits in craft shops, then started selling at the occasional Christmas fair, then a regular monthly fair and so on. Now he has just started Secondary school, I have a lot more time to devote to it.



2. The Baobab tree is an unusual symbol. Does this have a personal connection?

Yvette Green, Baobab Tree Mosaics
Baobab Tree Mosaics logo

I am originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. The Baobab Tree is one of my favourite African trees.  We'd have to agree that they are fascinating to look at!

3. Your mosaics vary greatly in scale and style from tiny jewellery pieces to very large commissioned items. Which do you prefer making and which is most popular with customers?

Baobab Tree Mosaics jewellery
Just some of the many jewellery items Yvette makes

I have a short attention span, and like to vary my work to keep my interest levels up.  I do like working on a very small scale and find the intricate work on the pendants very therapeutic. I like taking on a new challenge every now and again, and try to do something completely different every few months. I have a couple of skulls standing on my workbench at the moment that I am very keen to start work on.

Baobab Tree Mosaics large butterfly
A large-scale butterfly for the garden

My favourites are definitely the larger garden pieces. I love putting mosaics out into the environment and watching them change with the light through the day.

Baobab Tree Mosaics birds, bees and blooms
Yvette makes a wide selection of birds, bees and blooms to decorate plant pots

My best sellers are definitely the pot plant birds, and I must admit I do get a bit fed up with them occasionally. When I do though, I break off and make some new jewellery, or come up with a new bird I haven’t done before.

4. Your garden birds and flowers are very distinctive. Many people would think of mosaics being created on solid, opaque bases; what prompted you to use a Perspex base?

Baobab Tree Mosaics parrot
A splendid scarlet macaw!

I started using Perspex as a base because I didn’t have a fancy glass saw to cut the glass into the shape I wanted. I did however have a jigsaw, so was able to cut out the shapes I wanted in acrylic. I do now own a glass saw, but remain attached to the flexibility and robustness of the Perspex. I also work on glass bases and still work on MDF.

5. When you took part in Cirencester’s Mad March Hare Festival last year, was ‘Alphonse’ the largest piece you had done? How much did Alphonse raise for charity? Has the publicity surrounding the festival brought you more work?

Cirencester Mad March Hair Festival 2014
At around five feet tall, Alphonse is Yvette's largest piece

Yes, at approximately 5ft, ‘Alphonse’ was most definitely the largest piece I have ever done on my own. When he arrived in my studio and I saw he was taller than my son, I did freak out a bit. I had quite a few sleepless nights thinking “Oh My, what have I done?”  After drawing the design on I started working on his left paw, which looked like the hardest bit to me. After that I calmed down a bit and enjoyed the process. Alphonse’s official name was ‘Flame the Phoenix Wayfarer’ as he was located on Phoenix Way in Cirencester, outside Havas EHS who sponsored him. He eventually sold for £5000 at the charity auction which I was very pleased with. I have had a couple of large commissions follow on from the festival which has been great.

6. You sell at craft fairs as well as supplying galleries and some shops; is this what you prefer?

Baobab Tree Mosaics craft fair stand
A beautiful craft fair display showing a little of everything Yvette creates

Craft fairs can sometimes be a bit hit or miss, so I definitely like to have a more permanent outlet for my work.

7. Is there any aspect of your business that you’d rather not have to do?

Yvette Green grouting
We can see why grouting might not be a favourite part of the job!

I am not very good at marketing and self promotion, and always find that area of the business quite difficult.  I enjoy running my Facebook page, but am not very good at putting myself out there.
Oh, and grouting, I don’t like grouting very much!

8. Do you have any exciting developments on the horizon?

Hare bracelets by Baobab Tree Mosaics
These hare bracelets seem very appropriate for the Corinium Museum

I have quite a few exhibitions and shows lined up for the second half of the year. There is also a commission to do another fairly large 3D mosaic. I have a joint exhibition with my friend Jo from Muddle House Mosaics lined up for April next year at the Corinium Museum. This will be my largest exhibition so far. I am hoping to produce some very exciting new work for that, if I can find the hours in the day to turn the ideas in my head into reality.

9. If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you might be doing now?


Triffids by Baobab Tree Mosaics
You can add these Triffids to your garden without fear!

I have pondered this question for quite a bit. I don’t think I would go back to science teaching, and it is too late to go back to a science career, although touring the jungles of the world and finding rare species still appeals…., no I will stick to mosaicking I think.

10. To finish off, Yvette told us about the other places where her work is available.


Baobab Tree Mosaics display at Arcade Artisans
Some of the items on display at Arcade Artisans

I currently sell at Arcade Artisans in the Beechwood Arcade in Cheltenham, which is a fabulous artist run collective. I also sell in the Corinium Museum shop in Cirencester. I recently became a provisional member of the Cotswold Craftsmen and will be exhibiting with them on a regular basis.

It's been wonderful to see just how varied the art of mosaicking can be, and Yvette does so much more than we've been able to show here. Do take a look at her website and facebook page. We are so grateful for the time she's given us.

19 July 2015

Celebrating the Independent Spirit - Jane Crick

The second artist/designer we are celebrating today, as part of our Independent Retailer Month mini series, is graphic designer, Jane Crick. She is based in Suffolk. We are thrilled to stock Jane's greetings cards, and her Christmas giftwrap designs were very popular last year. We began the interview by asking Jane when she decided to use her artistry in her own design business.

Jane Crick, graphic designer
Jane with one of her most popular designs

After school I went to Art College and I trained as a graphic designer. I worked in that industry for over 20 years! 
After having two children my focus changed and I went through a very difficult time at work. I eventually left with very low confidence and self-belief. But I was encouraged by friends and family to use the illustration skills I had learned at work to produce a few greetings cards and prints for a local art sale. The rest, as they say, is history…

Your images are bold and bright, has this always been your style or one you’ve developed?

Jane Crick coastal theme designs
Seagulls, beach huts and the pier: just a few of the designs in Jane's coastal theme
I am a bold and bright kind of person! Looking back I think my work has always tended to be that way - but how I now produce my art lends itself to that naturally. I am very careful about my colour palette when I work - this is usually the first thing I create when I start drawing a new design.

 Is your artwork hand drawn/painted, created on a computer or a combination of the two?

Allium designs by Jane Crick
Jane's 'purple' and 'winter' allium designs are very popular
My work is vector artwork created on an Apple Macintosh using Adobe Illustrator. I work in a variety of ways - I can either produce a pencil rough or use a photograph as reference (I always have my camera with me to snap that perfect bloom) or simply just draw straight in the programme. Some people use a tablet with a stylus, but I prefer to use my mouse. Sometimes I then use the final illustration to produce plates which I use for silk screen printing but I mainly print digitally directly from the vector image file.

In addition to your own products you also undertake commercial commissions; do any of them hold a special place in your portfolio?

Carrick-A-Rede, a National Trust design by Jane Crick
The National Trust commissioned Jane to produce this Carrick-A-Rede design

I am always delighted to take on any new commission work but I was exceptionally proud to be asked to produce an image for the National Trust Carrick-a-Rede. It was my first commercial commission and I guess it will always be special to me because of that!

How long does it take to create a new image?

Jane Crick giftwrapped parcels
Jane's distinctive wrapping paper designs add the finishing touch

It really does depend on the complexity of the image - usually a large commercial image for a tea towel design can take at least up to 25 hours or more to create! A simple flower design for a greetings card might be less - it's difficult to say. I don't place a time limit on myself, I just keep drawing and layering until I get it just right - somehow the image tells me when I should stop. I try to break the image down into areas of simple flat shape, but still retain the essence of the image. It is a fine line to get that balance just right.

You make a range of products (prints, cards, giftwrap, tea towels, lampshades). Which is the best seller?

Christmas giftwrap designs by Jane Crick
Jane's Christmas giftwrap designs combine the traditional with the unusual

I started out with greetings cards and I do sell a lot of them! But it is my gift wrap that I am becoming well known for - especially my Christmas designs. I think these will always be popular - everyone uses gift wrap at Christmas and my designs help make your Christmas gift look extra special!

Of all the aspects your business involves, which task do you least enjoy?

Parcel string from Jane Crick
Jane is not fond of 'red tape'!

The admin work and book keeping - it has to be done, but I am afraid I do always leave it to the last minute and wish that I hadn't!

As well as selling wholesale you also have The Handmade Shop and Gallery; is this your own venture or a co-operative? Do you enjoy retailing or would you prefer simply being able to concentrate on producing art?

The Handmade Shop & Gallery
We love this caption Jane uses in The Handmade Shop & Gallery

The Handmade Shop and Gallery is my own venture but I do run it as a combination of a rent-a-shelf and co-operative.
I have been involved in rent-a-shelf schemes myself before and found them to be unsatisfactory as a seller so I wanted to devise a scheme which was a better way of doing things and I hope I have done that. We have now been open over a year and I still have 11 of my original 12 artists involved so I hope I am doing something right!
I do enjoy retail - I think running a shop and gallery has definitely helped me to understand better what happens to your product once you despatch to the retail outlet. What sells and what doesn't, how best to package/promote your items and what customers are looking for.
I also work in The Lion House Gallery in Lavenham two days a week for my good friend Lizzi Stevens. I have learned a lot about retail from Lizzi and she has been very supportive when we were setting up The Handmade Shop & Gallery.


Do you have any exciting developments on the horizon?

Jane Crick design for Ness Botanic Gardens
A beautiful design for Ness Botanic Gardens

I have recently completed a commercial design for Ness Botanic Gardens which has proved so popular I am now working on a Christmas card. They have also put me in touch with another client in Liverpool, I can't say who it is but it's very exciting, who may want commercial images - so that would be great!
The plan is to expand my online retail shops like Etsy and Folksy - especially over the Christmas period.
We also plan to take The Handmade Shop & Gallery out on the road - and we are delighted to have been accepted to have a stall at the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in the Abbey Gardens this year. This event is huge and it's going to take a bit of planning!


Fox & Pheasant giftwrap design by Jane Crick
This gorgeous Fox & Pheasant design was a bestseller in Present Perfect last Christmas!

To end the interview, we asked Jane; What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t doing this?

I once thought I'd like to be a florist and I did go to evening classes for a long while. I loved it - but I am really happy with the direction my life has taken me. I love all my jobs and wouldn't want to change any of them…

It's obvious from Jane's design flair and love of flowers that she'd make a fabulous florist too! We'd like to thank her for giving us her time and for making this a very interesting interview.

We hope to have another artisan interview very soon, so do keep in touch!

14 July 2015

Celebrating the Independent Spirit - Ceri Aitman

As July is Independent Retailer Month in UK, we thought it would be a great opportunity to interview a few of the independent artisans whose products we are proud to stock, to give you greater insight of their work and ethos. In a world of mass produced items (necessary though they are) it's very special to be able to enjoy something handmade, even more so if it's been made just for you.

Oakwood Soaperie Facebook cover photo

We are beginning with Oakwood Soaperie, handmade soaps and skincare products by Ceri (pronounced Kerry) Aitman. Her workshop is housed in the stable block on the very attractive National Trust Gibside Estate just outside Gateshead. We have been stocking Ceri's gorgeous soaps and bath truffles for the past two years. We began by asking her when she started soap making for a living and whether it had been born out of a hobby.

Oakwood Soaperie's Gibside garden plot
A glimpse of Ceri tending the botanicals she grows in her garden plot on the Gibside Estate.
I started ‘serious’ soap-making for a living back in October 2010. It was just part time to begin with, but for the last 3 years, has been my full time occupation. It all started out as an obsession with natural ingredients, and finding ways to use raw honey and beeswax from my dad’s native dark bees. After a long time researching, reading and experimenting making various other products, I finally decided to give real soap-making a proper go, and haven’t looked back since.

Ceri's soaps are made by what is known as the cold process; we asked why this is so special?
Myrtle & Lavender Soap - 2015 limited edition
‘Cold Process Soap-making’ is the traditional way to make real soap, using oils and fats, combined with an alkali solution to create natural soap and glycerine, this is a saponification reaction and only true soap can be made this way. Originally, waste animal fats and ashes would be heated together and the saponification reaction would begin. This, however, would leave a pretty harsh, raw and smelly soap. These days the process is a lot more refined with each soap-maker creating their own formula of plant oils and butters with an alkali solution, and natural additives for colour, texture and smell. I prefer to use the cold process method in all my soaps as the limited amount of heat used in the process preserves the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in the oils and other natural ingredients to feed and nourish the skin with goodness.
How important is only using pure, natural ingredients in your products?
Gone Adventuring soap by Oakwood Soaperie
Gone Adventuring Soap - cool, clean, crisp tang from eucalyptus, tea tree and earthy cedar wood.
To me, it’s crucial. I’ve strayed from the path every now and again with colours, fragrance oils and artificial bubbling ingredients, but I’m proud to say that as of late summer, all the products in my range will be 100% natural and pure, using high quality, aromatherapy grade essential oils, lots of organically grown botanicals, pure plant oils and rich butters.
Ceri went on to tell us how long it takes to create a new soap fragrance.
Rose Madder Soap by Oakwood Soaperie
Rose Madder - Heady and floral rose geranium with a spike of black pepper.
I tend to develop a few together, as it takes time to choose, design, blend, test and register any new products. From start to finish, it can be anything up to a couple of months, as I fit it in between general making and events, processing orders, and lots of wrapping.
Ceri makes a wide range of products (soap, truffles, melts, salts, oils, candles etc.). We asked her if she has a favourite and which is the best seller?
I’m actually starting to streamline my range a little, some products will go for a little while, to make way for new things in the pipeline. The soaps will always be my absolute favourite, I find the process addictive, and meditative in a way. I usually find, my most recent soap creation becomes my favourite…until I come up with another one.
Hadrian's Wall Honey & Goat's Milk Soap by Oakwood Soaperie
Hadrian's Wall Honey & Goat's Milk - made with honey from her father's hives.
My all-time bestseller is my ‘Hadrian’s Wall Honey and Goat’s Milk' soap. I think partly because it has a good story (I’m using raw honey from my dad’s bees), and that it can be used by people with more sensitive and dryer skins as well as on children as there is no essential oil in the recipe, just incredibly mild and gentle skin nourishing ingredients. This one alone has been my bestseller for almost 5 years.
Running your own business necessarily means wearing several hats; of all the aspects your business involves, which task do you least enjoy?
Oakwood Soaperie, soap labels
New labelling for soap bars.
Ohh, that’ll be all the admin. It probably takes up approximately 30% of the time I spend on my business. Whether it’s processing orders, marketing on social media, writing my blog and newsletters, updating my business records or ensuring I keep compliant with the latest legal EU regulations for cosmetics products and now candles and home fragrance too.  
You attend several markets and place your products in various outlets as well as selling wholesale. Is this your ideal mix or would you prefer, for example, simply being able to concentrate on production and supplying shops?
Oakwood Soaperie market stall
Oakwood Soaperie participates in various craft markets.
I do enjoy attending markets and larger craft events, but in an ideal world, I’d like more traffic and orders via my website, as well as still being able to supply shops. I love the buzz I get from an event, meeting lots of new customers as well as regulars who come and find me around the North East on most weekends, but the occasional day off wouldn’t go amiss, a girl can’t work all the time.
We asked if there are any exciting developments in the pipeline?
Wedding favours by Oakwood Soaperie
Gorgeously packaged wedding favours.
Over the last few months I’ve been working hard on reshaping my range, developing new products and re-branding, these will filter through as they are completed over the next few months so, when I get to grips with Autumn and all the events on my calendar, everything should be in place for a good run up to the Christmas Season.
If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you’d be doing?
I have a Fashion and Textiles Honours degree and have been spending a little time re-visiting textiles techniques again on the odd occasion. I’m currently experimenting with Eco Dying on fabric and paper using plants, flowers and seeds and hope to develop some lovely new items incorporating this technique in the near future, watch this space.
Oakwood Soaperie soaps, bath truffles and bathing bubbles
Oakwood Soaperie goodies on display at Present Perfect.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank you for your continued support of my little business over the years, it’s been a total pleasure to work with you.
Aww, thanks, Ceri. It's a pleasure for us too. Thanks also for giving us some of your precious time, enabling us to appreciate all that is Oakwood Soaperie.
Soaps created for the Tanfield Railway by Oakwood Soaperie
Oakwood Soaperie also created these soaps exclusively for Tanfield Railway.

1 July 2015

Summer Savings during Independent Retailer Month

Independent Retailer Month logo

July is Independent Retailer Month and, once again, we are all encouraged to support our small independent local businesses. It's a great campaign that will take on different aspects across the UK from whole towns creating an event to individual businesses making their own particular offering.

At Present Perfect, we have chosen to give a 20% discount on almost everything we have in store throughout the entire month, and that's quite a lot! (the exclusions are greetings cards, specific handmade items and those goods that have already been reduced in price). So we hope you'll call in and grab yourself a bargain while the going's good!

Iridescent glass dishes made in Turkey

If, like me, you're of a certain vintage(!) one of the things you may remember from childhood is your Mum's china cabinet? It held all sorts of glassware and china with the odd silver-plated cake stand. The glassware I was particularly attracted to was iridescent; I thought it was wonderful and I'm still drawn to things with sparkle and shine! I'm happy to say that that style of glassware is very much in vogue right now - like these leaf and scallop shell dishes, made in Turkey.

They are shown with some handmade, mouth blown glass hearts from one of the traditional glass-making centres of eastern Europe. These hearts come with a label quoting a verse about friendship. 

Friendship poem

That couldn't be more appropriate because the UN's International Friendship Day takes place officially on 30 July but is often celebrated on the first Sunday in August. The hearts would make an ideal gift for so many occasions but particularly as a token for a special friend. They are also available via our online shop.

Pebble Art by Catherine Anne Webb

Just this week we have received a selection of art frames, locally handmade by Catherine Anne Webb. The pebble shapes dictate their use to portray a variety of scenes which have a beautiful simplicity. At £20 each they also represent great value for unique art. (Catherine's work is not included in our July discount.)



Before we closed for our recent trip we also received a delivery from Parlane which included several pieces with a seashore theme. Summer naturally turns our thoughts to the seaside and so pieces like this are perennially popular. The fish dishes are especially fun and would look great as part of a seafood buffet along with the starfish dishes! Tealight holders complete the scene.

Cardiff Millennium Centre

Speaking of our trip, we had a super time and some glorious weather in Wales. We also heard beautiful singing at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, so our break was a great success. If you have a summer holiday on the horizon, we hope you have a wonderful time. But do call in and see us to take advantage of our July discount offer and remember to 'buy independent, buy local'!