Friday, October 30, 2015

Man's best friend

Thanks to a number of websites — including,, and — for mentioning my plantable paper dog bones in their round-ups of doggy gifts and sympathy ideas for someone who has lost a pet, and driving so much traffic to my Etsy shop. I am so excited that I have just passed over 10,000 views for my dog bones in my shop, and they have officially become my number one seller, exceeding even abundant custom orders for weddings. There are many days when I sell nothing but dog bones. Not bad for a quirky item that was originally a special request from a customer! I have heard wonderful feedback from my customers about how much comfort and pleasure my dog bones give their recipients. I am so glad for it. Do you know someone who has lost a dog? I am happy to send a dog bone sympathy card or a package of dog bones directly to them. Get them in my shop here:

Sympathy card:

They are filled with Chinese Forget-Me-Not seeds. I put an overflowing 1/4 cup of seeds into every batch of bones so that each bone is positively bursting with seeds. Here's what they look like when they start to germinate:

And here's what recent customers have said:

"PERFECT transaction. I asked Martha if she would send this gift directly to my friends, who recently lost their dog, and she sent it to them with a beautiful note. She shipped my order quickly, which I really appreciate. My friends were so touched to receive these seed bones, and will be planting them in their backyard this weekend. Thank you so much, Martha. I will definitely be shopping with you again!"

"This is the second time I've ordered this item as a sympathy gifts for friends. The first time it was in stock and the item was shipped immediately with a personal note on my behalf. The second time I wanted to purchase I couldn't find them, so I contacted the shop owner (on a Saturday night). She responded immediately, made the items on Sunday, and shipped them out Monday! While PulpArt's items are gorgeous and one of a kind, I will continue to support them because of their fast delivery and great customer service!"

"Perfect addition to my childhood dog's little burial ceremony. It made my family extremely happy when I pulled them out and passed them around to everyone to plant in his memory. Thank you."

"What a lovely idea this is. The couple I sent it to were so touched. Shipped quickly and personalized a note for me. I will be back to order more items from this shop. Dedicated and very kind shop owner can't say enough good things!"

"The seller was great to work with - the item shipped quickly and was in great condition when I received it. I bought this for a friend who is a gardener and she recently lost a pet. She loved this as a way to include her dog in her garden! Thank you!!"

"You have so earned 5 stars in my book! Thank you SO much for getting this to me so quickly for a dear friend who lost his beloved doggie, Abby. I was so hoping it wouldn't take forever to get here, and it surely did not. He adores this gift for him in memory of Abby, and is going to plant them with his entire family. This is a perfect-on-every-point seller!"

"Thank you so much for offering this product- it was the PERFECT thing to send my mother after unexpectedly losing her dog and her best friend. Thank you for the quick shipping and the quality product!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Client appreciation

I love when customers send me photos of how they have used my handmade items. Here, a photographer in New Jersey has tucked my seed bombs into what looks like glassine envelopes and is going to mail them to her clients for appreciation gifts. (I matched the color of the seed bombs with the colors of her logo.) Oooo, I just love a glassine envelope, especially with the peek inside of a pop of color and some pretty script writing on the enclosed card. I'd be very happy to open my mailbox and find such a lovely gift. Thanks for sharing, Heather!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Do what you love

Do what you love and the money will follow.

It didn't get to be an adage because it wasn't true. I have been lucky enough to have done what I have loved in my life and money has followed. I got into journalism on the lowest rung in a weekly newspaper, as a data entry person. I worked my way up the ladder and left my journalism career as a Lifestyles Editor. (Of course, "money" in journalism is an objective thing!) I used to pursue a hobby called Letterboxing. This lovely pursuit brought me income when I started selling my hand-carved stamps as a side business, then teaching summer camps, adult education workshops and after-school programs on the activity. Handmade paper was much the same. I loved it and it grew into a larger business than I could have imagined, from teaching it to selling at craft shows to a busy online business. I remember once thinking I would be thrilled if I could make $250 in one month. During my busiest time, I was making enough in one week to pay my mortgage.

But … I have had an interesting creative journey over the last year. I am still digesting it and figuring things out, but here is a peek into my head and heart of my latest path in doing what I love and hoping the money will follow. As I said, my handmade paper business has grown beyond my wildest dreams. I have had incredible sales in my Etsy shop every year since 2008, almost doubling my sales every year. There were days during my busy season that I sold 15 to 20 items out of my shop for days in a row. (I think my record day was somewhere around 26 sales in one day!) I not only couldn't keep up with custom orders, I couldn't replace the inventory that sold. The amount that I was selling locally also suddenly accelerated, and I would spend a few hours on one order then hop over to another one, then onto a third. There have been times in my life when this has been exhilarating but over the last year it was not only tiring but also a little monotonous. I realized something had to change when I got excited over orders that were in any way different from the usual ones I made. I felt like I was a machine on an assembly line. Though I was very successful on paper (no pun intended - ha!), I was less and less satisfied. I was also making many custom orders for brides, which is stressful because of the expectations they have for their wedding day. Time and time again I would get an email from a bride who had just stumbled upon my shop, was so excited to have found me, and needed a large order in just a week or two. And I always squeezed them in by working a longer day, a longer weekend. I think at one point I had a four-month wait for new orders. The assembly line was feeling like a gerbil's treadmill.

Then two things happened. I had a solo art show of my work in the spring and I went on a really long vacation over the summer. Both of these events forced me to step away from my business and get a little perspective. I came back from the vacation and stopped taking custom orders in order to have more fun. I began to take stay-cations and short adventures close to home, which opened me creatively. (Here's some pictures from an overnight road trip to Watkins Glenn, a park I have wanted to visit for a long time, just a few hours from my home. We saw friends and had lunch in the adorable town of Ithaca, NY. A year ago, I never would have stepped away from the production line to have this adventure.)

With these adventures, I have been feeling more motivated and creative and have had more time to explore art that I wanted to make instead of what I had to make. I found my energy rising again and new motivation growing for things that had been on the back burner, like my other artistic business, Petal People, the pressed flower art that I sell as framed original artwork but also printed on cards. Over the last year, I have been having stores contact me and ask if I wholesale my cards. Time and time again, I have said no. But in my new frame of my mind, I have wondered if perhaps these opportunities are a higher power telling me to do what I love and let the money follow. Because I would have a bulk quantity of my one-of-a-kind designs printed onto cards, it would free me up creatively to pursue other interests instead of making each and every item - one at a time - by hand, over and over again.

I am at the very beginning and not sure where this is going. But today I am not going to worry about it. I am going for a hike with the one I love to enjoy the last of the fall foliage. So at the very least, I'm doing what I love.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Seed bomb prettiness

Thanks to thispicturebooklife for mentioning my seed bombs in their blog!

"This book immediately made me think of seed bombs, which are perfect for Earth Day and Month and Spring! And guys, seed bombs are much prettier than when they first came on the scene! Really, really pretty. But, the result is even better: plants growing in hard, vacant spaces that need some life and beauty and green things."

Yes, I agree. They sure are pretty!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Santa doesn't w(h)ine

And the wine cork creations continue! This time I used some handmade paper for the hats and scarves, and some wool that was leftover from when I used to make felted wool projects. (I am so glad I never throw anything away - really, I can't tell how many times I dig into some old box or bag and find new inspiration from something I squirreled away a long time ago.) I love these little guys, and all the beautiful art on the corks, like that detailed owl in the second row. I think a cork ornament would be a really sweet hostess gift for a holiday party, especially if they were draped over a bottle of wine.

I listed one in my Etsy shop, but all the rest of them are going to my artisans cooperative for our Holiday Open House.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Book" group

In my little corner of the world, Christmas ornaments are a big deal. I sell them at the artist cooperative where I am a member and we all work long and hard to make new and different ornaments every year, somehow incorporating our media into a new interpretation. Some members can make half of their year's earnings at the co-op on Christmas ornaments. The cooperative resides in a little artistic community where the local residents look forward to coming in and buying new ornaments from their favorite artist. Travelers from out of town who peek into the gallery are always delighted to see a real Christmas tree covered in all kinds of handmade ornaments, from hand-blown glass balls to angels made out of corn husks, and buy them up as hostess gifts and holiday party favors. It is delightful and magical, but takes a lot of work. The creative process begins over the summer and then the experimenting starts as soon as September comes so they are all done, tagged and delivered to the market before Thanksgiving.

For one of the ideas that I was playing around with, I needed a few wine corks. I reached out to my "book" group to see if any of the women in the group had a few lying around that I could take. I chuckled when, within a day, I got bag full of them.

[Sidebar story: I adore my "book" group. We began meeting together more than 16 years ago, when we all had babies and toddlers and needed adult conversation. We were a disparate group of women, cobbled together by word-of-mouth, with a range of more than a decade between the youngest and oldest. We had (and have) very different lives and family structures from each other, but there was something quite magical when we came together that has never left us. We have held each other up through deaths, family crises, a divorce, new business challenges and the bumps and bruises of parenting. We have celebrated new degrees, new businesses, new jobs, books being published, and have even had sleepovers and a trip together. When we refer to our meetings together, we call it "book" group with air quotes because we have only read a handful of books. From the get-go, we clearly enjoyed the wine, food and clever company far more than anything literary. We are loud and bawdy, we never have surface conversations and we drink a stunning amount of alcohol.]

I started tinkering with an idea that I had for the ornaments and worked for about two days when I stepped back and realized it was completely unsuccessful. Sometimes I have a vision so clear in my head that just doesn't work out once I start playing with the materials. I scrapped the idea completely but then I had this huge bag of wine corks… I took to my Thinking Chair ( with my bag full of corks on my lap and absentmindedly sorted through them. The more I looked at them, the more I was impressed with what little pieces of art they were. Some had really pretty script writing on them or intricate designs, others had tiny little pictures: an owl, a fish, grapes, a pegasus, leaves. Partly out of love for recycling and partly out of love for their newly-discovered beauty, I decided I would figure out a way to use the corks for my ornaments. But rather than being the structural element that I wanted them to be in my first design, I would honor them and make them the featured part of the ornament.

And that's how these little angel ornaments were born. I added a wooden ball, some brown paper recycled from being used as shipping material in a box. Then I used some handmade paper that I had created from old sewing patterns for the wings.

Stories are important to me. I love making art from items that have a story in them, and I feel like these angels are happy little creatures, made even happier from the stories behind them - all those "book" groups, the family dinners, special occasions and celebrations where a bottle of wine was popped and poured.

I have made about 50 of them so far for the coop, but saved a couple to sell in my Etsy shop. You can find one of them here:

Feel free to contact me through my Etsy shop for others. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tree whispers

This is a very cool project featuring handmade paper, that I copied and pasted from their website: Check it out!

Treewhispers is an international collaboration with handmade paper relating to trees started in the year 2000 by Pamela Paulsrud and the late Marilyn Sward. Since that time many hands have been involved sharing art, poetry and stories relating to trees—these works gracing many galleries and inspiring those who walk through the "forest". Many of you have sent a paper round, some have sent enough for an entire "tree" and some have assisted in papermaking events. Thank you—this couldn't have happened without you!

It is an honor to announce that Treewhispers has been invited to the Sharjah Biennial. Please consider joining in! With your help we can grow the installation even more before it's sent. Send your flat, round handmade paper with a connection to a tree—e.g. tree stories, poetry, etc. Any size, any number per person—the more the better! I'm sending the work Dec. 1st so will need the work by the middle of November to bind and pack. I'm so thrilled and honored—and would love to share the excitement with you!

Presently Treewhispers has entries/contributions that include text and/or imagery; some are simply magnificent examples of beautiful handmade paper. Some suggest tree rings, depict leaves or illustrate a personally significant tree; others are imprinted with a poem or a meaningful story relating to trees. You’re invited to join the forest by sending your flat handmade paper round with your tree story, poetry and/or art.

In answer to FAQ:

* Who can participate? Anyone with a tree story: artists, students, scientists, doctors and dendrologists—elders and wee ones, professional and novice. I’m convinced everyone has a tree story somewhere inside.

* What’s the deadline? Technically there is no deadline since the project is ongoing.

* Is there a theme? If you haven’t guessed it already, the theme is the tree—your personal stories, art, poetry, experiences relating to tree in any media on flat, round, handmade paper. For instance, ask yourself the questions: Did you ever climb a tree, plant a tree, have a favorite tree, or name a tree? Share your own personal connection to a tree whatever it may be. Sometimes simple stories are the most profound.

* Do I make my own paper rounds? You can or you can collaborate with a papermaker.

* How do I make handmade paper at home? Directions for simple papermaking using recycled paper are on the website. Sometimes groups gather for the purpose of papermaking for contributing as a group experience—especially on Arbor Day, Earth Day or Tu B’Shevat. Sometimes home-schoolers or scout troops make paper then gather the tree stories from another generational sector such as parents or grandparents. It’s another chance to be creative.

* What are the size requirements? There are no size restrictions—flat, round, handmade paper.

* How many rounds/contributions can I make? You can make one or multiples. It takes many to make a tree! If you do make multiples or have a batch to send, please do not bind them. They will be bound in house specifically for the installation.

* Will they be returned? No, the work becomes the property of Treewhispers and will not be returned. The project is ongoing and the work will travel with the installation. Images of the work may be used for publicity purposes, the website and catalogs.

* Where should I send them? Please mail them to: Treewhispers, Pamela Paulsrud, 923 Amherst, Wilmette, IL 60091 USA

* How will I know Treewhispers receives them? If you send your e-mail with the work or write to me on the Treewhispers website I will let you know when they arrive. After that, sign up at the Treewhispers website and stay tuned.

* Does the text have to be in English? No. The collaboration is international, so please use your native language. I would highly appreciate an English translation written on the back or on paper in accompaniment with the handmade paper round.

* Should I sign my work? It’s up to you. Some work is signed and dated—some on the front—some on the back—some work comes anonymously. There’s no ‘rule’ on this but I’ll have to say it’s fun to see all the names and places from which they come!

*Will my work be in the installation? All work that arrives at least a month before the exhibition date meeting the criteria will be included. (Criteria being flat, round, handmade paper with a tree story, art, poetry—sometimes the paper speaks for itself.) Work received after that date will be included in the next installation.

* How is the “tree”/installation hung? The rounds are strung in house in roughly 5 ft. segments which can be connected together to hang in galleries with varying ceiling heights. This method also serves the purpose to rotate the work from one exhibit to the next. For instance, your work may be near the ceiling in one exhibit and at eye level the next. Also some work hangs on the wall. The forest continues to grow with each installation.

* Where will the installation be next?

Exciting news soon to be announced! Stay tuned!!!

* Will the installation ever be near me?

Please contact Treewhispers for information if you are a gallery or alternative exhibition space interested in bringing the Treewhispers installation to you.

* Is there another way to participate? You can also post your stories, poetry and photos honoring trees as well as your papermaking process on the Treewhispers Facebook page. Spread the word and stay tuned!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Handmade on Amazon

I applied and was accepted to sell on Amazon's new Handmade venture. I have been dragging my feet on doing it for several reasons, the largest being that I don't want to agree to their Terms of Service. I didn't even get to the part where I start to set up my shop after I began to read the fine print:

4. License.

You grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all of Your Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights to our Affiliates and operators of Amazon Associated Properties; provided, however, that we will not alter any of Your Trademarks from the form provided by you (except to re-size trademarks to the extent necessary for presentation, so long as the relative proportions of such trademarks remain the same) and will comply with your removal requests as to specific uses of Your Trademarks (provided you are unable to do so using standard functionality made available to you via the applicable Amazon Site or Service); provided further, however, that nothing in this Agreement will prevent or impair our right to use Your Materials without your consent to the extent that such use is allowable without a license from you or your Affiliates under applicable law (e.g., fair use under United States copyright law, referential use under trademark law, or valid license from a third party).

Because I would be selling greeting cards with reproducible images on them, I was quite disturbed by the "reproduce" part of this statement. As always, when I have questions, I head to the Etsy forums to see what people are saying. A very educated seller posted that, "One of the many complaints about Amazon is that when a product line does really well, they start manufacturing it for themselves or selling direct from manufacturers as indent orders. They have closed sellers' shops in the past when they have started carrying the product themselves."

While I don't kid myself that I would sell enough to be overtaken by Amazon, I refuse to sign up for something that I may regret one day. I am also disheartened by the fees. The monthly fee will be waived until August 2016, but after that there will be a charge of $40 every month to sell. Aside from that, there is also a 12% commission taken by Amazon on every sale as well as listing fees. That's a big chunk of change for the small items I would sell. Perhaps if I sold very expensive items but I sell small, very affordable items. It doesn't add up for me at this time but I am excited for all the artists jumping in and checking it out. For now, I'll hang back and see what they say and keep exploring a more focused way of selling to local shops that is manageable, opens other doors and doesn't cost me anything. But I think The Huffington Post said it best:

If you are a maker, artisan or designer selling on Amazon Handmade, there seems to be a lot to benefit from the platform at first glance. Amazon is the world's largest retailer, attracting 244 million active users. It would be next to impossible to try to duplicate that kind of traffic for your own eCommerce store.

But much of the benefit ends there.

To begin unraveling what you could gain and what you could lose by selling on Amazon Handmade, you have to first look at the risks of building your business on a platform that you don't own.

It's nothing new for Amazon to "partner" with small businesses. Since 2012, Amazon Marketplace has invited Third Party Sellers to sell anything from pillows to jewelry to clothing that is mass produced in factories around the world.

Over time, though, these sellers have seen Amazon increasingly use its Marketplace to undercut third-party sellers using their own sales data, as reported by The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. Many of these seller have been driven out of business in the process.

Joanne Nelson of Nelson Beads has been a seller on Amazon for 15 years. She developed a profitable business selling overstock books until Amazon purchased from the same suppliers and created their own Bargain Book section. They could buy the books for less and offer them at steep discounts, undercutting the prices third-party sellers were asking for and thereby lowering their margins.

"Amazon has made it possible for I-don't-know-how-many people to create businesses or just bring in a little extra cash," said Nelson. "But make no mistake: if you list on Amazon, you are essentially a drop shipper for them. You are selling to THEIR customers, not your own. Bottom line, don't ever build you business on someone else's platform."

So that begs the question:

Why should we expect anything different from Amazon Handmade?

What's stopping Amazon from using this platform to track the newest trending products by emerging artisans and designers, as they've done to other sellers in the past?

Do we really expect them to sit on that data, instead of using it to immediately offer copies or near-copies of bestselling products at a lower price point?

As someone who works with entrepreneurs and makers, I know firsthand that copies and counterfeits are rampant in this industry -- it's an unfortunate part of doing business.

But combine that with offering Amazon real-time, firsthand access to your sales data, as well as a direct communication with all of your customers, and you're virtually handing over your business on a silver platter.

Sarah Resnick, the artist and maker behind Advah Designs, considered applying to sell on Amazon Handmade and ultimately decided against it.

"As an artist who runs a niche business creating Jewish prayer shawls and wedding canopies, I have little concern that my own work would ever reach Amazon's radar or be worth their effort to copy and sell," said Resnick.

"But as a consumer who thinks a lot about how to support small businesses that nurture my community, I am sad at how much we are willing to give up for the siren call of free shipping, or the convenience of ordering toilet paper, extension cords and a new painting from the same online shopping cart."

We know that Amazon's policies are bad for its workers, bad for writers, bad for local businesses -- and now, it's bad for artisans and designers, too.

We don't need the world's largest retailer to control access to the ideas and designs of some of our most creative people. They already own enough of everything else.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Flower presses!

I have been selling my framed Petal People like hotcakes lately. I don't know if it residual interest from the show I had in the spring or a different audience of people coming to the artisans cooperative where I sell them or some other reason, but I can't keep up. I have sold half of my inventory in just two months. When the calendar flipped to October 1, I freaked out a little bit. The season to collect botanicals is very short so I hustled and gathered flowers, leaves and herbs, and filled up one more press before the seasons change. If I didn't do it right away, I knew I would get distracted with other projects and have 5 feet of snow covering everything with not a green leaf in sight. Now I just have to wait a few more weeks for those lovely blooms, and the ones I've been pressing since last spring, to dry out and flatten so I can start producing lots of inventory for Christmas. Stay tuned for new designs soon!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Then and now

Here's a little something for throw-back Thursday. I found a picture of some of the very first plantable paper hearts that I ever made. It's a wonder I ever sold them. Just goes to show you what 10 years and thousands of hours of practice will do.


and now: