Oct 072009

Okay. Confession time. I love boxes. Whether they’re made of wood, metal, corrugated cardboard, paper, fabric, clay, glass, or pretty much anything else, I want to look at them. Touch them. Walk around them. Walk inside them. Climb on top of them. Put things inside them. Modify them. And I want to make them, too.

While many people salivate over the idea of a Caribbean cruise, I’d rather muck about in museums, looking at box collections. Since I’m not likely to convince my husband this is how we should spend our next vacation, I will have to be satisfied with viewing online box tutorials, admiring boxes created by Etsy sellers, and visiting virtual galleries such as Tony Hyman’s cigar box collection in the National Cigar Museum, the Lunch Box Museum in Columbus, Georgia, or the Porter Music Box Museum in Randolph, Vermont. Of course, no true box lover travels alone, so I hope you’ll accompany me on my box tour.

We’ll begin in my sewing room, where I have stored sewing notions in simple paper boxes, folded Origami-style. I found the instructions for these boxes in a book called Origami Boxes: For Gifts, Treasures & Trifles, by Alexandra Dirk.

Since we’re already in Iowa, we’ll drive about 45 minutes north to visit Brett of VanFleetStreetDesign, who specializes in creating boxes called nichos, which are objects of Latino folk art. “Nichos are made from mixed media and traditionally combine elements from Roman Catholicism, mestizo spirituality, and other cultural items of significance to the owner such as skeletons, small photos and the like,” explains Brett. “It is common to see decorative boxes called ‘nichos’ set upon tables and pedestals to display icons. These boxes may serve as a religious altar (to mark a significant religious event) or to honor a patron saint or to house calaveras (skeletons) of special significance for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).”

(Day of the Dead Shadow Box)


After visiting Brett, it’s time to hit I-80 East to visit Zuda of ZudaGay in Illinois. Zuda makes all of her own cardboard shipping boxes for the beautiful polymer clay flowers she creates. Her pattern can be adapted for boxes of all sizes.


Box Tutorial, by ZudaGay

Our box tour takes us north, after visiting Zuda, to the Wisconsin Dells, where another polymer clay artist, Berit of ClayCenter, makes “canes” and clay-covered tin boxes, among other items. Berit explains that her work reflects the millefiori tradition, a technique used by Venetian glass blowers that has been adapted for polymer clay. Millefiori means “one thousand flowers,” and floral influences are evident in Berit’s work.

We travel to the Eastern part of the U.S. next, on our journey to find beautiful and interesting boxes. In Massachusetts we discover photographer Beth of BethPeardonProds, whose love of the sea is reflected in her photos. Since I lived on the West coast for more than a dozen years, I can relate to the feelings she evokes in her shadow box that includes sea shells and one of her sandscape photos.

From Massachusetts it’s a relatively short drive to Pennsylvania, where we meet Barb of blazingneedles, who is in her third career as a fiber artist (after teaching and software engineering). She shares with us her knitting loom, which is an amazing piece of equipment. Although Barb’s specialty is machine knitting, she also does hand knitting and crocheting. I am in love with her knitted lace boxes!


Also residing in Pennsylvania is Nonnie of Stained Glass by Nonnie. She is a stained glass artist whose Etsy shop showcases her stained glass candle lanterns, lamps, ACEOs (Art Cards, Editions and Originals), and much more. I especially like her Rosewood Box.



From Pennsylvania, we proceed south to North Carolina, where we encounter the studios of Kate of HeronsTreasures, and Judy of artsyclay. Both women share a love of painting and polymer clay, although Kate splits her interests between painting, clay and vintage collectibles, while Judy primarily works with clay.


for sale by HeronsTreasures


Another Etsy artist who loves both painting and working with clay is Jill of JillsTreasureChest. To reach her, however, we need to drive to the far South to visit her Mississippi studio, which is a shed she has had built specifically for her creative ventures. Although much of her work is whimsical, including cat and frog angels, Jill also paints ceramic boxes. I especially like her Southwest Heart Treasure Box, which would be perfect for jewelry.

Our next stop is a fun-filled one as we journey to the Southwest, where Joon of joonE lives. You never quite know what to expect of Joon, whose creative engine is stoked at all times with products that are original, unexpected and fun, as well as earth-friendly. Her sewing and craft goodies box is exactly as she describes it: fun!

by joonE

Our final stop on our box-exploring journey is in Colorado, where Judi of VintageLegacyStudio welcomes us into her home, which is filled with authentic vintage treasures. Among them is a wonderful old sewing machine cabinet drawer that includes a handmade sewing chatelaine, to which are attached sewing notions.

After visiting all of these Etsy artists, I feel inspired to make my own boxes for the thread flower brooches I crochet.

If you’d like to learn more about creating different kinds of boxes, you may wish to check out these books:

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com.

Mar 182009

When I’m reading a blog post and run across a crafting how-to piece, I feel as if I’ve been given a special gift. I sit back and ask myself, “Really? I get this information for free?” That’s the power of a tutorial.

Tutorials often teach you something unexpected, something that is potentially useful just for you, or they provide inspiration for a next step you are considering. After I read a post on BBEST artist Liz Plummer‘s blog about How to create a concertina book, for example, I was inspired to purchase several books about bookmaking. Liz also writes about her Gocco printing process on her blog, as evidenced by the moleskin journal below that includes a Gocco-printed cover.

The writer/artist who writes tutorials is in an especially good position to create a sense in the reader’s mind that he or she is an expert about the topic at hand, someone who can be trusted, and possibly someone whose work you might wish to explore further. In short, tutorials clarify who the person is behind the writer’s voice, and provide an indirect method of promoting the artist.

When you read Suz of whimseysShort Tutorial on Eco Cloth Shopping Bag, you’re impressed right away by her concern about the earth, and will wish to browse through the products in her shop, which (like the shopping bag in her tutorial) are also made of fabric.

Sherrill Kahn Fabric Bookcover Dayplanner
Journal Book Cover
by whimseys

Likewise, Joon of joonbeam inspires trust in her values when you read her blog tutorial, Love Our Earth & Things Can Be Pretty! by golly!, about recycling a grocery sack into a mailing envelope. Joon’s writing personality takes you straight to her shop, where (among other items), she promotes ecology-minded practices.

While there are many indie tutorial sites on the Web such as Craftster, CraftStylish and Craft, the tutorials on these sites differ from the tutorials found on blogs. A blog tutorial tends to make you feel that you have a personal connection with the writer, not that you’re reading an encyclopedia of instructions. If you have a question or a comment, you can communicate directly with the writer and be reasonably certain that your response will be read in a timely fashion, and that any questions you have will be answered just as quickly.

The writer of a blog tutorial has several decisions to make, however, before posting. These include the focus, the fiber and the format of the tutorial:

  • Focus. What is the reason for the tutorial? Does the tutorial give the reader a taste of what is in the artist’s shop, but on a simpler scale? Does the tutorial describe a process that creates curiosity about the artist’s products? Does the tutorial establish or confirm the artist’s expertise in a particular area? The purpose of the tutorial may be answered by one or several of these questions, but the writer/artist needs to establish a business reason for sharing his or her expertise through a how-to post. Moreover, to justify its existence, that post actually needs to be useful to the reader in some way. Because many people do not realize the extent of design effort and manual dexterity that go into machine knitting, for example, Barb of Blazing Needles cleverly educates her readers about that process in a series of blog posts, beginning with Machine Knitting – Part 1.

  • Fiber. The fiber of a tutorial relates directly to the content of the post. What is it about? Does the post provide step-by-step directions to produce a product? Does it describe a process? Does it give an historical overview of a specific art or craft? Does it provide general information that can become a jumping-off point for the reader to explore the topic further? Again, the fiber of the tutorial may consist of the answers to one or more of these questions, but it affects the approach the writer/artist takes to the topic, and ultimately the format. When Kimberly of thewildhare writes about her felted rabbit-making process, for example, in Where is the brown bunny? you will find the process so intriguing that you cannot resist visiting her shop to see her cute rabbits.
  • Format. The format of a tutorial is determined by both the focus (purpose) and fiber (content) of the post. In its purest form, a step-by-step tutorial includes numbered or bulleted instructions, as well as clear photos. A tutorial that describes a process follows a logical sequence from beginning to end, with photos, but is a little more general. A post with an historical perspective will take the reader through a timeline of stories, again with photos to illustrate significant points. A general information post often provides links to useful information so that readers can take charge of the next step in their learning. Alysa of Alysa Merle Handcrafts, for example, not only describes the process of making plarn (plastic yarn) bags on her blog, but she also writes articles for Helium, establishing herself as a credible expert in this area. Her blog includes a link to Creative earth-friendly crafts, which educates her readers about the process she uses to crochet recyclable totes from plarn. The article also includes suggestions for how to explore this topic further.
During the fall of 2008, Zuda of ZudaGay participated in an online group activity that resulted in a series of tutorials on her blog, beginning with Day 1 of the 30/30 Day Challenge. By using a “photo story” format, she informs us not only about the creative process she employs while developing her beautiful polymer clay flowers, but she also tempts us to visit her shop to see the final products.

Blog tutorials provide a perfect opportunity for writer/artists to inform readers about their creative process, highlight their work, and create a sense of their trustworthiness. With careful attention to focus, fiber and format, these tutorials become wonderful “freebie” gifts for their readers, and highly effective marketing tools for the artist.

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com.

Jan 282009

Probably one of the biggest deterrents to an artist’s creative expression is the issue of storage. Questions frequently asked include: Where do I store the tools and materials of my craft? Where do I keep works that are in progress? Where do I keep finished inventory? While each artist has unique needs, depending on his or her craft, everyone shares a need to prevent clutter in the work space from derailing the creative process. At the same time, most artists fear too much organization will inhibit their productivity. In her book, Organizing from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern writes, “Many creative or ‘right-brained’ people who have always worked in chaos both crave and are frightened of getting organized.” The solution, of course, is a balance between utter chaos and complete orderliness.

Some simple household cleaning tips are probably helpful, as outlined in Organizing Plain & Simple, by Donna Smallin. According to Smallin, you should organize things in your life–in this case the tools and materials of your craft–according to these principles:

  • Keep what you love
  • Give away what you can’t use but somebody else can
  • Throw away things no one wants and no one can use
  • Sell things that will allow you to fuel your next shopping trip
  • Put things away that aren’t where they need to be

That being said, storage for the typical artist remains a challenge. Very few artists are able to separate their work spaces entirely from the rest of the house.

“My current space is the worst,” says Joon of joonbeam. “I am in a small bedroom with ALL of our storage plus my supplies and work area. It’s like working in a closet. I only have three drawers in my art table. I need my sewing machine, paper cutter, ironing board, fabrics, notions, pens, scissors, threads, glues, crayons, paints, stamps, etc. ALL the time.”

Pam of bagsandmorebypam shares a similar issue. “I have probably 40 or more huge storage containers full of either yarn or finished products. These are in two different rooms: floor to ceiling in one end of one of our bedrooms, and almost one-third to one-half of the actual floor space in another bedroom where the computers and desk are.”

“Shelves! I need shelving!” says Brett of VanFleetStreetDesign. “I have things all over the place and things stored underneath my art table. I can’t even get my legs under it to sit. I put everything that I am not using on a daily basis downstairs in the spare bedroom.”

The issue of space need not be overwhelming, according to Julie Morgenstern. She says the key to effective storage is “to design your system to be simple, fun, and visually appealing so that it reflects your creative personality, and feeds it.”

Before you design that space, analyze your decorating style. Are you an Idealist? Adventurer? Leader? Guardian? In Organizing Your Craft Space, Jo Packham describes four decorating personalities, one of which will guide your choices in designing your crafting/storage areas. The Idealist likes a natural, simple setting that highlights the sentimental. Joon of joonbeam exemplifies this decorating style.

“I love to use tins, cans and pots for storage. One of my favorite storage solutions is this little hand painted Christmas tree box. I only have a few of this woman’s adorable painted boxes and this is the lone tree. She was an elderly woman and I found her items at a group guild shop.” The Idealist always has stories to tell about the items she uses to store things.

The Adventurer, on the other hand, enjoys an eclectic mixture of styles and colors, mixing modern and traditional furniture equally. Boldly painted walls of various colors are likely to be the mark of this type of decorating style. The pottery studio of Pearl of fehustoneware illustrates this style.

You’ll recognize the Leader by his or her use of stacks and rows of organized compartments. Likely Liv of thefiligreegarden has a Leader style of decorating. “Storing beads is rather easy,” she says. “I use stacks of clear, plastic boxes with compartments, organized by color, and metal versus glass. Even more convenient is the rolling beader’s case (like a suitcase on wheels) that I bought on clearance just before my craft shows. It has removable plastic boxes with sections for beads, and several zipped pockets that Velcro onto the inside of the front side where it zips open. I like the long, removable pocket which holds all my pliers and tools.”

The Guardian enjoys subtle lighting, rich wall color and antique furnishings. Kimberly of thewildhare probably has a blend of decorating styles in her space, among them the Guardian. “I have acquired, over the course of several years,” she says, “a variety of ‘antique’ containers that I store craft items in–watercolors, paint brushes, and stamps. They are scattered about my space, but make it convenient to keep things relatively organized.”

Still, no decorating style will solve issues that relate to specific crafts. Beth of BethPeardonProds, who specializes in photography, points out, “With photography storage is so important. Today everything is either stored on CDs on in your computer. Saving on CDs can be quite expensive since photos are huge files and a CD will hold so many. Leaving them on the computer leaves them very vulnerable to viruses, and if your computer crashes, so do they. So I have a storage drive that I keep my photographs in. I feel pretty confident that they are safe there. I’ve also lost photographs on CDs that have become scratched.”

Pat of onawhimsey, who creates encaustic works of art, says, “I have to remember that many of the tools I use are hot! So, I can’t just lay them down anywhere–for instance, the iron, hot stylus tool or my hot air gun. On my window sill I have a small hot plate which is stored there when not in use. On top I have a tile which works as a good insulator and safety layer for when I lay down my hot air gun (particularly the nozzle!), and I place the iron there in between the various applications.”

Pearl of fehustoneware, who needs a great deal of space to store her pottery, points out that “I have to stop throwing pots when I run out of room. It takes days for them to be dry enough to stack up, not to mention buckets of glaze.” In a perfect world, floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall, with plastic over the front of them, would solve her storage challenge. “Oh, a real studio would be awesome!” Pearl adds.

Liv of thefiligreegarden, who designs jewelry, uses drawers, rolling carts and boxes to store beads and findings. Still, she could use more shelves and drawers to replace plastic shoe boxes and bead boxes that are stacked on wire shelving. “I have a rolling cart (about four feet tall) with drawers that contain stuff I use less often, along with surplus wire. I haven’t really solved the wire dilemma; I simply keep the various gauges in Ziploc bags marked with information about each one. But there are always stray pieces here and there.”

Kimberly of thewildhare, who designs needle felted rabbits, says that fiber storage is a new challenge for her. “I find that I am getting LOTS of it as I felt and spin. The fiber generally arrives in plastic bags of some sort, and these are nice for storing in general. However, you cannot keep fiber in a sealed bag; it has to be able to breathe.” Liv of thefiligreegarden agrees with Kimberly. “Soft, fibrous things don’t like to be contained!” Kimberly’s current solution for the fiber dilemma is a pair of large wicker baskets. “I keep the fiber for needle felting in one (along with a little box with needles and notions), and the fiber for spinning in the other. I keep the fibers in their plastics, but have opened the tops of each bag to permit air circulation.”

Pam of bagsandmorebypam says her biggest challenge is that as she buys more yarn, she has to buy more containers. “There is really no good way to organize them,” she points out, “and sometimes I have to unstack eight or ten to find what I need…either something that has sold or yarn for a specific project. My guess is that I have at least as many items finished as I have listed currently in my store, that haven’t even had photos taken yet. And tubs and tubs of yarn.” Pam believes that if she had a room the size of a two-car garage, with floor-to-ceiling shelves along three sides–along with a ladder to reach the highest shelves–this would solve most of her storage issues. She would use the fourth wall of such a room to hang mannequins that model her apparel for photography purposes, and a table with drawers or shelving beneath it to store her crochet hooks, knitting needles, fabric, books and notebooks.

Despite the fact that Joon of joonbeam has a small bedroom in which she crafts, she has solved her challenge creatively. “I am lucky,” she says, “that we have a set of stainless steel restaurant shelves. Most of my tubs and boxes, etc. are stored on it.” She points out that she is adept at fitting in “an insane amount of anything in the smallest possible space.” She uses all kinds of storage containers for her crafting needs. These include file boxes, a flip-top tub, and tins, trays, baskets and drinking glasses for small supplies. She uses small vintage suitcases, and even purses and tote bags for storage. “I can’t say enough about Rubbermaid tubs,” she adds. “I adore them because you can see into them and they keep dust, pet hair and dirt out, they stack, they clip shut, they travel well. They’re reasonably priced and last forever.”

Joon points out that she loves to reuse anything and everything, which is often the attitude of many artists. “Necessity,” she says, “is the mother of invention.” A glass shelf suspended over two bar stools gives her much needed extra shelf space, as well as floor storage for her file boxes and baskets below. Even the rungs serve as storage caddies. The pen/scissor holder in the foreground is a stainless silverware caddy. The card table gives Joon extra space for small projects while solving the challenge of keeping her daily tools in close proximity.

The crafting/storage space of all the BBEST artists in this post reflects their personalities and decorating styles. While none of them would claim they have enough space, they have made the most of what they do have. Meg Mateo Ilasco, the author of Craft Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business, points out that whether your creative space is a desk, a closet, wall, spare room, garage, basement or a corner, it needs to reflect you. Since most artists work where they store their tools and materials, that means that their storage spaces need to be inspiring ones. Their storage space should include an “inspiration space” on the wall to post ideas or photos, good lighting, and ergonomic furnishings.

For more ideas about craft storage, consult the following resources:

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com.