Thoughts on “Branding” and The Story behind a product

Thinking as a consumer I am aware of the way that I am completely taken in by a story – if I find something that I like, and want, and then find out that there is some deep and meaningful relationship between the creator and this piece, I am powerless to resist. I have a similar emotional reaction if any suggestion of spirituality, magic or health benefits are thrown into the item description. I am also a sucker for cute packaging – anything tied up with string or a sticker and the company may as well have a mainline to my bank account. The story of an item is an incredibly powerful thing.

In a consumer world dominated by online shoppers cherry picking from all of the craftspeople struggling to get to the top – something as simple as a detail in the packaging, or an interesting story behind the piece or maker can put you on the top of the pile. Consumers treat everything like a craft beer – it must be local, sustainable, small batch, organic, artisanal, have a rare ingredient, possibly make you lose weight and be made by the same family on the same farm since 1852.

The consumer has moved away from mass produced, useful, but identical products, so we want to know for sure that what we are buying into is definitely a one off, or one of 50 at least.

Social media helps to power this – with the use of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or even a Blog, the consumer can be following a business at any time, discovering more and more of their story bit by bit, and only enhancing the mythos and interest in the brand, suring up the consumers belief that real people are making real things for them to buy.

This is why it is so important for me to harness the power of social media and the internet to sell my brand – but it is very easy to be sucked in to using a formula that works and becoming lost in the crowd of what is popular right now.

I am hoping that a tact of honesty, and the idea that my consumers really do have the opportunity to come with me on a journey from the very conception of a business will work – this way, I can be true to the idea that this venture is my way to live by being creative – that the “brand personality’ is the same as my personality, that what the consumer is buying into is me.

Which brands have taken you in?

My Experience at La Vidalerie – Part 3 (or, making the most of every second)

Hallo there guys – this instalment concludes this little series on my time at La Vidalerie.

Knowing that this was to be my final working day with Karen, I spent the previous night working out exactly what I wanted to make, and woke early exited and ready to go! Coffee desires sated I returned to the studio and jumped right in, eager to make the most of the little time we had left.

Karen helped me to optimise my time and we spent almost every minute working – while new plates of copper were in the salt water bath etching, she taught me lots of the fiddlier skills I would require to finish off pieces of jewellery – from balling fine wire to turn into ear wires to making my own jump rings, we used every part of the last day.          IMG_0071

In the hurry to finish, I’m afraid I didn’t take any in-progress shots on this last day, however I do of course have photographs of the final work! I managed to make two wide copper rings – one, that Karen showed me how to make anticlastic (where the edges of the ring bow out slightly, making them more comfortable) from one large etching of a drawing of a bee’s wing I brought with me.  

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While we were working on forming the copper for those rings, I was also etching these images of crab claws and magpies feet – the claws were a bit of a vanity project – I have always wanted a necklace reflective of my Zodiac sign of Cancer, and I thought this was a brilliantly subtle way to do it. The magpie’s feet were reduced in size until they were incredibly tiny in order to become a pair of earrings – I was absolutely astounded by the detail the etching is capable of picking out! I call the pair the “Two for Joy” earrings, reflecting the old poem about magpies – and I intend to add them o the collection I will sell.

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I simply punched a disk from the copper with the crab claws on, before adding a hole and a chunky jump ring, and the magpie’s feet earrings needed hand cutting into their long, slim shapes.

The rest of the day seems to be a blur of Liver of Sulphur-ing, polishing, stringing pendants, making ear wires and adding finishing touches! I know that we had another lovely lunch at some point, and remarkably, finished with a little time to spare.

In the evening of the final night, Karen, Tim and I met back up in the studio, for a celebratory beer and for Tim to take photographs of the work – these go on the La Vidalerie Facebook and I received a disk of them at the end of the journey.

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The following day was an early start to a fresh blanket of snow for the long drive back to Montpellier – saying goodbye to Karen and Tim after such a short time was tinged with a little sadness, I really felt I was saying goodbye to friends!

The entire experience at La Vidalerie was utterly invaluable – despite my glowing praise I really don’t feel I can sum up the pleasure I took spending time there. Karen is an incredible teacher and all round lovely person, since returning to the UK, she has only been an email way if I have had any questions or concerns. I came back feeling not only refreshed, but brimming with inspiration.

Tim and Karen have worked hard to create a wonderful relaxed learning environment for their students, and it certainly shows – they open their lives and home up to their visitors, and if you should ever be so lucky to stay with them, I would encourage you to open your heart to them – you won’t regret it.

My Experience at La Vidalerie Part 2 (or, Holy Cow! I love Etching!)

Hi again guys! Time for the tale of my second day at La Vidalerie!

I woke up on day two well rested and feeling wonderfully disconnected from the rest of the world – the snowy weather and remote location made exploring near impossible and mobile or internet connection more hassle than it was worth – I left the TV off throughout the entire trip and used it as an opportunity to entirely switch off! Morning coffee done, I headed through the frosty morning to meet Karen in the studio. Did I mention that the workbench in the studio is right in front of another log burner? I could sit in there all day – the crackling of the fire, and endless supply of tea and cat companions are just three of the things that make for the beautifully relaxed and creative environment that Karen and Time provide.Teddy by the fire

The previous day Karen had suggested that doing some salt water etching onto copper could be a good way to translate my drawings into jewellery; so the previous night I was diligent in my homework and came up with some prospective designs for my first etched piece. Talking them through with Karen we worked on a design that would be suitable and got to etching – a process of putting a resist onto copper and putting it in a highly saturated saltwater solution with a current passing through it. So far as I can tell, some magic then occurs and 20 minutes later you pull out an etched piece of copper! IMG_1819                       (Where the mysterious copper etching process occurs!)                                                                 

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From the moment that I cleaned off my first etched designs I knew I was in love with the process – the texture and detail achievable with etching is unlike anything I have ever encountered, and the way it translated my designs brought a whole new magic to it!

From these two etched plates I cut out two horn shapes and used the textured off-cuts to punch two small discs and one large disc. I domed the smaller discs with the intention of turning them into earrings and strung the larger one onto leather to make a pendant.                                                                          IMG_1826     IMG_1838                IMG_1835     IMG_2153

Time for another delicious lunch courtesy of Tim (told you there was a theme here) but I was so exited that I kept working through the break after we ate!

After lunch I spent some time looking at how to attach the horns together to create one pendant – we decided on riveting them to a silver backplate, a whole new exiting process to learn! I can’t stress enough how patient and excellent a teacher Karen is – balling the metal for the rivets was tough, let alone the new process of actually riveting the pieces together but Karen never lost patience and allowed me to take my time and learn myself rather than doing it for me – which was invaluable for me to take my skills home.

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The actual attachment of these pieces together actually happened the following day after the pieces hand been tumbled and treated with Liver of Sulphur-, but I thought I would post them here so you could get an idea of the finished piece.

The end of my second day came all too quickly and once again I spent the evening in front of the fire, reading the plethora of jewellery making books in the gite and planning my work for the following day.

If you’d like to, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of the finished pendant!

Web Presence and Social Media Obsessions

Hey there folks, it’s been a ridiculously busy day here – between the start of a new term, remedying the absolute lack of food in the house and my much-loved car giving up on me on the way home today I almost decided not to sit down and write a post tonight.

However, this got me thinking about the difficulties and commitments required to start a venture like this, so I thought I would try to get some of that off my chest in the hope it would be a shorter post and I can shuffle off to bed soon. (La Vidalerie part 2 tomorrow, I promise!)

I’ve made some decent headway in designing the website for the store – I’m using Wix – and finding it very user-friendly, even for a luddite like me, plus it’s really easy to personalise – the base site that I started out with is virtually unrecognisable comparative to what it has become! I started out having great fun, from the back to basics pen and paper bit of designing the logo to the formatting and colour scheme work I did on the actual website until it looked like something that reflects my desired “brand identity”. Where the fun ended, and where I have remained stuck for a few days is on the “Story” or “About Me” section of the website – I am struggling to find a voice that I feel is honest and reflects the sort of person I am and want to come across as, everything I write seems to sound false, generic or like someone else entirely has written it. I can only hope that it comes with time, and maybe not concentrating so hard on it will help – I read so much about how important it is now that we provide the “full experience” for our shoppers, so they come away feeling as though they know something about us that I feel as though the brand would fail without it.

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Which brings me onto another point – the world of Instagram. I recently set up an account for this venture (@themagpiemirror), drip feeding photographs of work I have already done or am working on, along with drawings and a bit about the process, and I have become obsessed in a way I didn’t think possible! I agonise over each post, not only the photograph, but making sure each caption tells a story, and lets the viewer know a bit about me – I can guarantee over half of them don’t even read the blurb. I stay up late to ensure I’m posting at peak viewing times, spend my quiet moments liking and commenting on pages with shared interests with some hope of a boost in views, and why? My new account isn’t doing as well as my personal one. My personal account is a thrown up collection of drawings, cakes and needle felting and I mainly have it so I can follow other people, but it gets traffic because all of my personal silly crafts are pop-culture themed – Archer, Adventure Time, Alice In Wonderland (and that’s just the A’s) right up to Calvin and Hobbes needle felts. I try to console myself with this fact, but when I’m watching the minutes tick by on some carefully constructed image of a gorgeous piece of jewellery with not a like in sight, it can be hard to be rational. IMG_0155

I have similar feelings about how this blog is going – I’ve set up a few in my time, usually for an event or some uni required project, and I was always surprised by the amount of traffic they received. Half-arsed and poorly tagged, they were a mere necessity, but I’m putting my heart and soul, plus a lot of thought in to this one, and none of you imaginary readers are interested. Nothing better than some third post self-pity eh?

So, what am I getting at? These are dark days, and I’m barely a week in – could it be worth just giving up? Keeping up this charade until the assessment rolls round and then deleting every trace of The Magpie Mirror and going back to pouring pints? Well, I hope not – I’m on a journey to find my voice, and when I do, the website can go live, and hopefully, the Instagram, Blog and Website will start to work together as a perfect trifecta, directing my loyal shoppers across the whole story and giving them the total package necessary to pull them in to investing in me.

Well, this was probably just as long and much more boring than La Vidalerie part 2, but I’ll just have to keep all none of you waiting with baited breath.

If you’re out there, loyal readers, let me know – what struggles did you find as you began your blogging journey, and have you ever lost sleep over social media?

My Experience at La Vidalerie (or, the thing that made me want to make jewellery full time) – Part 1

Hi again Folks, I’ve decided to break this up into a few parts, I know I could write for England (or France) about this experience, and I don’t want to go on for too long.

I travelled across to France alone in late February to attend a short silversmithing course, and I have to admit I was a little nervous – I was flying into Montpellier and knew that I then had a two hour car ride ahead of me to get to Aveyron, where I would be staying. I had held a few brief email conversations with Karen, who runs the course, so I know a little about where I would be staying, and she seemed perfectly pleasant and very accommodating. Unfortunately all of this rational thought slipped away as I stepped into arrivals – all I knew was that I was looking for a tall man holding a sign with my name on it, and that I was about to break the golden rule of how to deal with strangers; “Never get in their car”.

Then I met Tim – he’s Karen’s partner, customer taxi service, house chef and tea maker and all round good guy – I couldn’t have asked for more pleasant company on our long drive back – we started out with the pleasantries, moved onto the history of the area as we crossed the Millau Viaduct (the worlds tallest bridge, and a beautiful feat of engineering), and as we parked up at the studio and gîte we were laughing over our shared love of wordplay.

millau_bridge_over_tarn_river_france    Millau Viaduct (original image can be found here)

After a long overdue face to face introduction to the lovely Karen and a brief tour of the gorgeous accommodation, there seemed barely enough time for a beer before my eyes started to get heavy in front of the roaring log burner.

The following morning I woke to a thick blanket of snow, making the already beautiful valley view from the window seem absolutely idyllic, after a quick breakfast and my morning coffee I made my way through the army of cats at my front door to meet Karen in the studio for my first creative day of silversmithing.

                    First Day at Le Vidalerie          IMG_1792                                (Cats and snow on the first day)

I must admit here, that I was incredibly lucky to have happened to book a trip in the off season when the other space had not been taken, so I spent my days one on one with Karen and we got to tailor this course to meet my desire to translate my art into jewellery.

We started with a group of stacker rings in copper and silver, which, as Karen explained to me, she often starts the course with, as they teach the basics of forming metal, soldering, hammering and finishing – immediately I felt comfortable and in my element – although I would put a considerable amount of that down to Karen’s relaxed and clear teaching style! We whizzed through a group of 5 rings in the morning and followed it up with a quick chat about making stud earrings, as soldering a post makes for a more complex technique and Karen asked me to have a think about the design over lunch (which was delicious – you’ll see a trend here – and made by Tim).                                                     rings IMG_1784 IMG_1789 IMG_1805 IMG_1801 10996722_10150460490199982_5505657668559311189_n                                                         (in progress shots of stacker rings, final shot taken by Tim at La Vidalerie)

After lunch I suggested that I’d like to emulate my horn drawings in my earrings and do some more complex hammered finishing on them – Karen suggested I gave it a go in copper as hand cutting shapes can be quite difficult and time consuming – you want to make sure you get it right! I also had an opportunity to try my hammering technique here first, which proved valuable, as I was able to get a much finer finish on the final pair of earrings.                                          IMG_1796                     (The snow had almost completely thawed by lunch, leaving a beautiful day ahead)

                                                                                                      IMG_1593      (Original Sketch)                                                                                                    IMG_1800  IMG_1811  IMG_2114  IMG_2138               (The copper test turned out so well that I made it into a pendant! The first shot of the horn earrings are straight after a pickle and a tumble, the second is with liver of sulphur applied)

Once the studs were soldered on and ready to go into a pickle to clean them up, we had a little more time to practice some interesting ear-wire shapes (Karen is The Master of these, over 50 styles are available on her website) and taught me the basics of wire-wrapping beads before we were ready to pack up for the night. I took my tool kit and some spare bits and bobs up to the gîte, and spent the night practicing and doing my homework (thinking about the next days designs) in front of that gorgeous fire again!                                                                        IMG_2060_2       IMG_2086                    (Ear wires and wire wrapped findings for beads)

I’ll follow up tomorrow with part 2, but if you want to know more about Karen and Tim (and the army of cats, or La Vidalerie, you can check out the website here or read Karen’s Blog here.

Drop me a comment if you’d like – tell me about the most idyllic holiday destination you’ve ever visited, or let me know if you have a skill that you instantly felt you were a natural at!

A Magpie’s Chatter

Hallo Folks! Welcome to the obligatory “this is what my blog is about” post. I would usually be tempted to avoid this sort of thing and dive right in there, but who’s going to trust and invest in someone’s story if they don’t even know their name, let alone anything about them? So here, for you, my hordes of devoted future readers – is a bit about me;

I’m Hannah – I’m a third year Contemporary Arts student, born in Newcastle, but living in the fine city of Bristol in the UK. I’m just over a month away from handing in my final assessment and, like many near-graduates before me, the thought of being thrust out into the real world, and finding a job beyond pouring the odd pint at my local is looming.

Luckily for us arty lot, a whole module of our degree focuses on applying those newly found cutting-and-sticking or finger-painting skills in the real world, encouraging us to consider placements, hunt out galleries and hone our web-presence skills to a fine, Saatchi-catching hook.

Now, this may sound trite, but I’ve never wanted to sell my paintings for vast sums to gallerists, or to people looking for a way to fill that nuisance of a space above their sofas – I wanted to create lovely things that didn’t break the bank, that anyone could enjoy, and that didn’t carry the weight associated with “a piece of art”. This is where the journey I’m blogging really begins.

Earlier this year I went across to France on a silversmithing residential (I’ll write all about the experience in the next post, you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled) – I’ve always loved doing the odd bit of simple jewellery-making here and there (I really like fiddly, blindness inducing tasks) but had never really thrown myself into it. Knowing that I had to have some work for this module on my practice outside of uni, I thought that using it as an excuse for a three-day holiday in the French mountains was a great idea! As I went in the off-season I was incredibly lucky to have the workshop at the lovely La Vidalerie to myself, receive some wonderful one-on-one tutelage and a tailored experience that lead to me being able to translate my artwork into beautiful pieces of jewellery.

I went to have a holiday and try to force a report out of it – but I came away with a head full of ideas and a whole new creative skill, that used my artwork, would make people happy, and had a chance of meaning I never had to pour a pint again! I was going to be a Silversmith (and ace that report).

So, this is where it all begins – I’ve come back down to earth a bit, and remembered that I actually have to make the stuff and attempt to run a business, but I’m teetering on the edge of a new venture, and I wanted to record it all and maybe share it with a few other people! “The Magpie Mirror” is the name of my would-be jewellery making business, and I’m inviting you to share in the journey with me, you can expect to see posts on such exiting things as;

  • Me floundering my way through the quagmire of Social Media
  • The inevitable hell that will be setting up my website
  • Some actual jewellery making
  • A possible breakdown
  • Me never understanding what “Brand Identity” is
  • And maybe one day actually selling some of the nice things I make!

If you’d like to help me along the way, leave me any feedback or correct my grammar, I’d love to hear it in the comment box below – as this thing grows, you’ll be the first to hear about my website, social media content, maybe even a shop or any other way you can get hold of me. For now, I would love it if you could give me any advice for great resources for small business if you know any, or tell me about your own scary ventures!