Shipping Materials…

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I have been a full time potter now for about 3 years and while I have had some friends donate shipping materials to me, I have found that I have not had to purchase these materials. First, I can’t imagine doing that because I just don’t have the funds for it and second, there are items in all of our houses that will cushion fragile items without spending pennies on that kind of thing. I thought it would be helpful to other potters to showcase the way that I ship an item, or more to the point, what I use to ship an item.

  1. If your house is like mine, there is lots of junk mail that gets delivered to your house every day. What do you do with it? Do you recycle it? Do you just pitch it and it ends up in the landfill, ultimately causing your county taxes to rise? Do you compost it? My solution to packing material is to shred the junk mail and store it for packing. I bought a small shredder at Target for about $40 and each day, or when the pile gets too large, I shred it and store it as packing materials. If you don’t have a need to ship something to use it in this way, you could also compost it. Many printers now use a soy based ink that would be fine in the compost pile and it can line planter boxes to use as a mulch. You could cover it with a wood mulch so that it doesn’t blow away but, I have used it as a weed barrier in my cold frames.
  2. Plastic bags are something that I have eliminated from my local grocery store but that doesn’t mean that other food substances don’t make it into my house in some kind of plastic bag. Think apples, potatoes, onion, oranges, granola, coffee, the list can go on and on. So, I reuse those bags and stuff the shredded paper into those and they work just like those air filled bubble pillows that sometimes come in a package. My paper stuffed bags may be a bit heavier than the air filled pillows when I have to figure the cost of the package but that cost is offset with not having to purchase a shipping product.
  3. And wrapping paper. I have a great source for my wrapping paper. My old employer just so happens to toss a wonderful brown and white paper and I occasionally can connect with them and pick up a large batch of this to have a substance to wrap a package with.
  4. My clay boxes are great to ship in so those get used a lot to send out wares. There always seems to be boxes here as well so I have not reached a point in three years that there has not been a box somewhere in my house that I can ship an item, both large and small. There might come a time that I might consider purchasing some nice gift boxes but so far there has not been a need for that either. Make do with what you have is always been my motto, as many of you know.
  5. Clay comes in a really heavy plastic bag and if you go through a lot of clay, as I do, you have lots of those bags lying around the studio. I will take those bags and run them through the washing machine. As the washer is filling up, I catch some of the water in each bag so that they get good and wet and then I hang them up to dry and they make awesome packing material or transporting wares inside the shredded paper.

I will admit that the only item that I have purchased for my wares has been “orange bags”. I found an online source to purchase a net bag that looks like an orange bag as a branding tool given that my company name is Laughing Orange. I promote the bags at shows by hanging them from my tent and give each customer my speech about the importance of recycling, explaining the shredded paper in the bag and ask them to use the bag at the market for their produce and to reuse the bag. Because the bags are red, they draw customers in and they are curious about what their purpose is.

Tape is the only material that I am having to purchase at this time and I wish I could find an alternative to that but I don’t see that happening for a while.

So, if you are a fellow potter and are curious about how you can use what you have to pack your wares or are just looking for ways to avoid having excess junk mail in your house, I hope you find these tips helpful when you are packing or shipping a box of something to someone else.

This I Believe…

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

There used to be a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition called This I Believe with Jay Allison. I didn’t like that segment because it was full of sappy stories, much like the Family Circle magazine that is now showing up in my mailbox…(Thanks, Martha Stewart for going digital with Whole Living and making a deal that made that happen). These days our beliefs are plastered on everything from our cars to our Facebook pages. Growing up in a christian environment, your beliefs, or non-beliefs, as are mine these days, were kept to yourself and not so readily shared. That said, I DO believe that it is a good thing to help others, to donate and help our community thrive by sharing what we have with those less fortunate or struggling. These days there is a lot of this and it makes me feel good to share when I can.

As an artist, I get asked to help out causes all the time. And as we draw 2013 to a close, I have been thinking about this notion of being asked to donate my work. I can claim the donation on taxes but I don’t get the retail value. And my bank account doesn’t grow like I would love to see. There is even a Facebook group called Stop Working for Free that I joined to see how other artists deal with pleas for free work.  I have read numerous articles where artists are told not to work for free. I’ve even read articles where people think that artists should expect to work for free and not feel that we are “entitled”. As a young artist, we get told that by doing a freebie for someone will give us exposure and help our careers. I have to say, that as an “older” artist, this has been the case for me locally. I don’t ever expect to be a famous artist but, after losing my job to the internet, and having to fall back onto my  artistic talents, I am happy to say that some local exposure has been helpful to my new career. But at the same time, I still get frustrated when I am asked to give a donation for a cause. Especially if the cause is something that I don’t believe in. For example, I was asked recently, because I do rabbits, to donate a piece of my work to a rabbit rescue…..in CALIFORNIA. Uh, rabbits are food….. and a silent auction to save rabbits from someone that decided they didn’t want them anymore, to me is not a worthy cause for me to donate my long hours to. And to ship it to the opposite coast…..Sorry.

I have several causes that I do donate my art work to. This year I have had five and luckily, haven’t had to turn down a cause because I thought it was silly or something that I can’t support ethically. In my heart, I have to feel that I am truly giving back to the community by giving/donating a piece to someone because, these days, there is little monetary funds for them to ask for. I even cancelled my $5 a month donation to Moveon.org. I do feel that I am maxed out in terms of donations at this time so if you think this is a good time to give me a call, you might want to reconsider that…..just sayin’.

My causes this year have been:

  • Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This is the organization that I helped brand and spent about 10 years volunteering with them as a river monitor, benthic monitor, webmaster, helping with fundraising and yes, donating my artwork for them to auction off. I even became one of the people that went to other artists and asked them to donate to the cause. This is the organization that I have to thank for the support that they, in turn, have given me and helped to get my name out into the community so that I can do what I am doing now. Thank YOU, FNFSR!
  • Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter. When I decided to become a full time potter, I was asked by Kary Haun to donate to the Alliance’s Empty Bowl Supper. The first year, I think, I donated 24 bowls. Now, you need to know, the Shenandoah Alliance does compensate the potters $6 per bowl to cover the materials but the time spent creating the bowls are given by the individual potters. This will be my third year doing this and I really love this event. The shelter’s mission is to provide help for the homeless. Unlike many cities, where homelessness is very visible, our rural area still has this problem. This shelter gives temporary shelter to these individuals or families so that they are taken care of.
  • Habitat for Humanity. I have always felt that this is a worthy cause, even though it is christian based. How cool is it when a group of local people come together, as a community and build a house for someone that qualifies for it. The homeowner isn’t given the house but has to meet qualifications and be able to repay the loan, just like the rest of us. They are required to give “sweat equity” as their downpayment so this is proof, to me anyway, that I can also give some sweat equity and help them get into their new home, knowing that they are a hard worker too.
  • AIDS Response. This event was to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and help those persons with their medical needs that might not be available through another source. Since our society is becoming more tolerant of the gay lifestyle, there is still a stigma surrounding it and yet the expense, like many illnesses, add a burden that I believe we, as a community, can help with.
  • Shenandoah’s Response Shelter for Abuse.  Given that I have seen first hand, abuse to women is not something that should be taken lightly. My mother put herself into abusive relationships and had all the symptoms of how women deal with these types of situations. With the economy and funding being cut to these programs, both on a national and local level, I feel this is one that I also have to try and help out.

So, as an artist, who by this time of year, is pretty much done with my donations, I have to say that, donating to a cause is a good thing. If someone approaches me to do free work or discounted work, I am learning that I need to ask for money for the work. I have bills to pay just like everyone else. My art is personal and is for me. It is not something I can do to suit someone else who thinks I need to make what they think will sell best. I need to be the one to make those decisions but I also need to eat.

I also believe that our society needs to think more about where items come from. The mug or bowl that I make isn’t from China. If, for all those years, we had been paying someone like myself, in our own communities or, within a 100 mile radius of our homes, prices for hand made items might not feel so high. I believe that by building communities and trying, (notice, I said, trying) to leave our beliefs out, that we can come together and do a lot of good for ourselves and our planet. I just believe that is the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

Here are some links for some additional reading on this topic.