First off, I love the word Canadiana.
We have Americana, but what about us neighbours to the (Great White) North?
There needs to be more use of this word – and in general, a prouder presence OF Canadiana. Give me some moose motifs, cedar sprigs, and snow-scrubbed panelling any day.
For this Christmas, I decided to embrace my Canadian roots and make some holiday cards with this specific theme in mind.
Having only discovered printmaking around October of last year, I had no time to plan for the fast-approaching season. I’d made a few mismatched holiday-neutral winter cards for my Christmas Bazaar show, but wanted something really special this time around. Ideally a set of five cards so cute you wouldn’t be able to pick your favourite out of the bunch.
So, despite feeling slightly ludicrous, I started designing in September.
This was the first addition to the set:
Emboldened by the success of the first, I sketched out three more cards.
They came into being bit by bit, slowed by the need to await paydays now and again to resupply linoblocks, but steadily nonetheless.
I had a lot of fun taking pictures of the process along the way. Most of the time I get too absorbed and go from step to step without documentation, but occasionally I’d remember at the last minute and snap a shot.
But what is the printmaking process?
To carve a stamp, you can use one of three approaches:
- Carve straight into the rubber
- Draw on the rubber directly and carve according to the design
- Sketch out the design, trace it onto paper (4HB pencil works best), and then rub the image onto the block to transfer it at which point it can be carved
While the first is great for excitement/impulsive purposes, it’s easy to make mistakes – and mistakes are very unforgiving in linocut. The second option is fine, but the image will turn out in reverse when stamped, and I tend to get attached to my designs positioned as they are.
Thus, I usually go for the last one. It’s more steps, but the trade off is a satisfying process.
Andrea and I were actually discussing how awesome linocut is for this exact reason. With many other mediums, it’s hard to tell when a piece is officially “finished”. My oil paintings have taught me that I’m a notorious over-worker and never know when to stop.
Printmaking, on the other hand, has such distinct phases that you’re forced to complete each step before moving on to the next section. And the end product is compelling enough that you can’t help but follow through.
Sketch, carve, print: this trifecta creates the ultimate production satisfaction.
But back to these holiday cards.
I’d finished the sketches and carving the three next stamps, and at last the third part of my holy art trinity had arrived.
The prints were exactly what I’d been hoping for.
I had yet to design my last piece, as I was determined to have that set of five. After drawing out two ideas and discarding them both, I was stumped.
So far, each piece had been pretty unique. I needed just one more that had “Canadian Christmas” stamped all over it (pun entirely intended), but it seemed to elude me. As the pressure of the holiday deadline loomed, inspiration seemed to shrink smaller and smaller.
Halloween came and went. Suddenly it was mid November. I needed to get these prints up on my Etsy shop or all this planning would be wasted. (Note: I’m too much of a perfectionist to have considered just selling sets of four – it was all or nothing).
The idea came to me at random, as most good ones do.
I was by the water of the Chambly Basin when I heard a honking from above. An oblong “V” of Canadian Geese flew overhead, the first of the Southern migration.
“That’s it,” I thought, an image already crystallized in my mind.
As soon as I got home, I sketched out the idea, carved it, stamped it.
Perhaps it was because it was the most recent addition born from a place or relief, or maybe because I’d had the practice of the others and had improved, or maybe only that I love birds – but I was certain that it was my best one yet.
The five cards fit together better than cheese curds and gravy. Despite my soft spot for the geese, it was (and remains) hard to choose which one I liked best.
That was the easy part though, for I was determined to revive my Etsy shop and start selling them. Business isn’t my forté, but I’d invested in the card stock and it was too late to turn back.
I plunged ahead.
It took a monumental push, but at last, they were up on my shop. I posted a whole bunch of notices on social media announcing the availability, then held my breath.
If there’s one thing almost as terrifying as not having a product ready in time, it’s having a product ready but not making any sales. It’s a tough economy out there and therefore a perfectly valid possibility.
When the first order came in, it was like the first drops of rain after the dry season.
I’d like to say I was dignified about the occasion, but truth is I jumped and giggled in the fashion of a kawaii anime character.
I proceeded to do the same for every order after that. I had genuine customers!
What’s more is within a week, I was already sold out.
Back to Omer Deserres for more card stock! I cleared them out of their red edged stationery and actually had to order more direct from the warehouse.
Bolstered by the sales, I decided to take another scary chance.
I’d been considering it for a while when I dropped by Le petit détour, a Chambly shop specializing in local artisan products. I’d even scoped out their merchandise to see if they had any handmade holiday cards or anything specializing in handmade prints. They didn’t.
The bullets I was sweating when I proposed they buy some of my cards seemed to be the size of ostrich eggs – but to my continued astonishment they said yes!
I thanked them with my shaky French in what I hoped to be a profuse yet professional manner, then danced down the wooden path leading away from their store.
Now that the hurdles of sales had been cleared, I had a whole new challenge to face: le rupture de stock.
I never thought getting to the point of “sold out” would make me worried, but I was starting to become so. I have a table at the Chambly Christmas Bazaar again on December 10th and am thoroughly concerned I won’t have enough stock. Of all the things that had me worried when I started on this printing adventure, that’s definitely one that didn’t even make it on the list.
That hasn’t stopped me from getting excited: I’ve been getting ready bags and labels galore in hopes that I can hand out festive parcels to all potential customers who drop by. Last year I was thoroughly unprepared on this front (and many others). It was my first show, though, and as such I completely forgive myself for the rookie errors I made. With that learning experience under my belt, I already feel ahead of the game for this time around (not to jinx it or anything).
I’m really proud to have set this goal and actually followed through. It’s also made me appreciate just how challenging it is to set up a home business as an artisan. The amount of time and work that goes into it definitely doesn’t reflect the price tag, but I suspect that most, like myself, do it for more than just the money.
If you’d like to get your very own set of cards before they’re gone, check out my Etsy shop!
And should you be in the area, please drop by my show on December 10th! I have a table with my incredibly talented illustrator mother (of Studio Bee!), and there’s plenty of other awesome stuff to behold.
Say hi and find some treasures!
And of course, if you’re around for that, you can’t miss dropping by Le petit détour which will fulfill all other gifting needs.
Hope to see you there! Thanks to everyone for the overwhelming support already. You’ve been amazing.
Happy holidays to one and all!