How I Made My Art Sales More Eco-Friendly (and You Can, Too!)

showing off my eco-friendly packaging
The Search for Sustainable Packaging

For the past several months, I’ve been searching for eco-friendly solutions to packaging in my online shop. (I realize this is one of the LEAST sexy things about art and creative endeavors, but it was important to me, and it was one of those aspects of selling online that was eating at me as my business grew.) 

As the sales in my online shop increased, so did the amount of plastic I was sending out into the world. I need packaging that protects the paper products I ship—like greeting cards and prints—and for a while I was packaging them in cellophane bags and bubble mailers. It’s because that’s what I learned to do, years ago. Cello bags are sized perfectly, they’re cheap, and they protect the product. But is that eco-friendly? Nope. 

Here’s the bad part: NONE of that is recyclable. Not cello bags, not bubble mailers. I try to re-use materials like those that I get when I receive shipments (I’m looking at you, Amazon bubble mailers)—but from a presentation standpoint, it’s not a pretty package for one of my customers to get in the mail. No one really wants to get a recycled, bruised bubble mailer that looks like it’s held together with duct tape and a prayer.

Still, when I used cellophane, I kept thinking of that gigantic island of garbage in the Pacific, and thought, You, my friend, are contributing to that. 

There’s lots of other horrifying data out there, too. Stories that explain how the US ships its plastic waste to other countries to be (theoretically) disposed of, like this one in the New York Times and this one in The Guardian. The short version: the US ships an overwhelming amount of plastic garbage to poorer countries—and it’s overwhelming them. And there’s the recent study discussed in The Washington Post that warns there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 if we don’t make a significant change. 

I needed an eco-friendly solution that would protect my products and not contribute to the endless piles of plastic waste. Paper likes to bend, and shipping is sometimes a brutal process. I needed to ensure that my products arrived in perfect condition. (And as someone who lives in a rainy climate and often has soggy mail in her mailbox, I knew that water was a factor, too.)

The Solution

After lots of research and trial and error, I’m pleased to have found three items that have been a lifesaver for me and my business—and they might help yours, too. 

1. Glassine bags. This is a great alternative to cellophane. It’s basically a form of waxed paper (like what your bagel or cookie comes in at the bakery). It protects against water, and it’s compostable. See one kind here

2. Cardboard mailers. These are rigid and flat, and protect cards and prints. Bonus: they can ship as a “flat” (not to be confused with “flat rate”), which is cheaper than the “package” rate at USPS. (Check them out here.) Once caveat: To use these, your item does actually need to be flat—no thicker than about 1/4 inch (details are on usps.com).

3. Compostable padded mailers. This knocked my socks off: bubble mailers made from corn starch. (It’s true!! Why did it take me so long to discover these?) They are 100% compostable and are just as protective as the typical bubble mailers made from plastic. (Bonus: the kind I found say I’M COMPOSTABLE right on the front, so the recipient knows, too.) They are available here.

The result? Paper products that have two layers of protection, a nice presentation, and are completely recyclable or compostable. These eco-friendly products cost only a little more than their plastic-based counterparts—especially if you can buy in bulk. I’ll gladly pay just a little more for products that cut down on waste, and my customers appreciate it, too.  

 

The Thing I Swore I’d Never Do

There’s one thing I swore to myself I’d never do as a writer: once a book was published, I would not go back and revise it. I would not obsess over its imperfections, and I would not second-guess myself for the life of that book. I’d treat it like a painting or a print, and call it done, and walk away. 

And let it live its happy little book life, and just keep moving forward. 

But the thing about writing is that you’re always growing. Every year (or heck, every day), I’m learning new skills, new tactics, new strategies. I discover new writers that inspire me, and find more captivating things about people to explore. 

The thing about publishing books yourself is that you have the ability to go back and change those books at any time—that is, you can upload new files, make new covers, change the content completely. Sometimes that warrants a new edition, or a whole new book. (I did that once already, when I got the rights back to my first two novels from my first publisher, about 5 years ago. I wanted new covers and new titles, so I made them. And then I republished those books as second editions.) I thought, “Okay, we’re good now. I can walk away and let these go.”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I’d been working a lot on plot development and pacing, thinking of how to create compelling hooks really early in a book. I started writing something new, implementing these strategies. And while I did some editing for a client, I urged them to do the same—to drop some hooks earlier in the chapters, create more tension, and pick up the pacing in the story. 

Then I had a thought: What if I went back to my first novel and rewrote the beginning so it had more of a hook and got to the action faster? 

I opened up the manuscript, and gagged. It seemed SO SLOW compared to my latest novel. 

So. Slow. 

I rewrote the beginning of that chapter. And then the next one. And the next. And pretty soon I was seeing ways to make the whole book better: to tighten up the plot, add a little more humor, and up the ante. 

So I did the thing I swore I’d never do, and I revised the book that was published in 2016. 

Then I thought: Okay, I should revise the first couple of chapters of the SECOND book. 

And then I was horrified. There was so much to fix in the second book. I saw so many ways to make the storytelling better, to get to the action faster, to up the ante and get to the heart of the story faster. 

The best thing about this is that it’s gotten me writing every day again. Nose to the grindstone, because like my heroine, I’m racing the clock. I’d gotten out of the habit of daily writing because of work and other obligations, but now I see that it has to be part of my daily practice—truly, because that’s what leaves room to grow every day. 

The good news? That update of Trouble in Bayou Sabine is live in ebook format (the new print edition is coming soon). It’s the first in the series, and the revised Book 2 is coming soon–hopefully in just a few days. (You can sign up for my newsletter, right over there in the right side panel, if you’d like to be notified when it is!)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to the revising. 🙂 

 

 

The Benefits of Daily Drawing

Over the last few months, I’ve been getting back into a daily drawing practice. There are a lot of reasons for this: one was the simple fact that I missed taking enough time each day to doodle and experiment with drawings. Some days (ok, most days), I feel like I’m juggling too much and don’t have time to sit down and draw for an hour or two. But the truth is, I have to make the time I need for this practice. That’s not always easy, but it’s a necessary part of my day. 

Why is drawing so vital? My fledgling business is based in drawing–those prints and cards won’t draw themselves! But really, it’s much more than that. Taking time to draw each day has been a way to unwind  and explore—and that balance is really important. Sometimes I feel so busy with other things that taking time “to explore” feels like too much of a luxury. But it’s that exploration that’s so vital to a creative project—it’s giving yourself permission to relax, and loosen up, and goof around, and maybe doodle some things you don’t typically draw. Sometimes it’s doodling patterns, or drawing some interesting shapes, or playing with a color palette that you don’t often use. 

Some of my favorite drawings from the last year started as a goofy little doodle—something that I just started sketching out of the blue, as a way to relax and attempt something new. One of those drawings became the cockatoo pictured above. I don’t often use pink in my color palette, but that’s the way this one started. I played around with mark-making (this was drawn on my iPad) and found that it was easy to mimic a woodcut style by using special brushes. By the time I finished the drawing, I really wanted to carve this cockatoo into some wood panels and make it into a woodcut. (I think that’ll still happen in the coming months.) 

 

A big part of my experimentation process is color. Sometimes I know in the beginning what the color palette of a print or drawing is going to be, but sometimes I like to test out new colors. This might sound silly, but sometimes I have to let myself loosen up and play in order to make variations of drawings in different color palettes. That’s what happened with this cockatoo, when I thought, Hey, Lauren, you never use gold tones. What happens if you make this cockatoo gold? 

Answer: I actually liked it a lot more in gold. And it’s true, if you look through my whole Etsy shop, there aren’t many pieces in this color combo. But this piece ended up being one of my favorites, and I wouldn’t have even made it if I hadn’t (1) let myself sit down and draw a bird I hadn’t drawn before, and (2) taken time to recreate that drawing in several different colors. 

Bonus: I liked this little gold cockatoo so much that I decided to use it for a postcard. I like to include a fun freebie card or postcard with each of my Etsy orders, and I wanted to use a new design, so this seemed like a perfect match. I had these postcards printed to test out a new paper (spoiler: it’s awesome) and now I’m excited to send little birds out with each order. 

Sometimes, as creatives, I think we need reminders of why we need time to play, and why it’s so vital to who we are and how we get inspired. Sometimes I sit down to draw, and nothing really exciting comes from it. Sometimes I don’t like the drawings, and they get scrapped. But that’s okay. That’s part of the process, too. Not everything I make or draw is something I want to keep, but every drawing is worth the time because it gets my brain to go to the creative place, just for a little while. It’s a kind of workout, just like going for a jog or lifting some weights. It reminds me of the importance of this balance between work and play, and how each informs the other. I forget this sometimes, and forget the importance of taking this time for myself—even when it feels like I’m just goofing around or doodling. But sometimes, there’s a really successful drawing that’s especially rewarding and reminds me of exactly why this balance, this practice, is such a necessary part of my day. 

I hope you’re able to take time to do the thing that brings you balance and joy, too—after such a challenging year, finding spaces for joy and balance seem more important than ever. 

These little birdies are available as archival prints and greeting cards in my Etsy shop

 

For the Love of Snail Mail: A New Subscription Box

 

I’m kicking off the new year with a new project, born from my love of greeting cards and my geeky fondness for postage stamps. (I collected stamps as a kid, and was legit ELATED to unearth a sheet of 29-cent Elvis stamps in my grandmother’s house last year. I also got SUPER squealing-level excited over the USPS foil dragon stamps that I discovered all too late last year. But I digress.)

 

 

Last year, I spent hundreds of hours designing new greeting cards for my Etsy shop. What I learned was that folks seemed to enjoy buying assortments and bundles that they could share with friends. So one day I had this idea (and I’m sure I’m not the first) to create a unique subscription box that will offer three things:

  1. A set of greeting cards that are my brand new designs—a delightful surprise!
  2. Vintage, unused USPS stamps that can be used to send these lovely cards to friends and family in the US. (I’ve carefully curated bunches based on color, and grouped them in sets of 55 cents.)
  3. Tutorials and practice sheets that will teach you hand-lettering and calligraphy that YOU can easily learn to decorate your envelopes and make them extra special. I’ve dedicated a Pinterest board to all things hand-lettering, and you can follow that board to see inspiration, learn some tips, and even download some practice sheets. And y’all, people make some GORGEOUS envelopes that are next-level amazing. You can do it, too! (Below: an example on Pinterest from Kristina @ kwernerdesign.com.

After such a grueling year, I really wanted to make something fun that can bring joy—sometimes those things are small cards, but I can’t tell you how it’s made my day to get cards in the mail this year. There’s still something magical and heartfelt about hand-writing letters to friends, and doodling on envelopes, and sending a physical thing that someone can hold in their hands. When I get a handwritten card in the mail, I feel for just a minute that I’m not quite as isolated as I thought I was. It’s not the same as email, and it’s not the same as comments on social media. It’s a feeling that comes from knowing that someone took the time to put pen to paper, and write something from their heart, and send something that I can hold in my hands, and stick to the fridge, and look at each day to remember that they care.

So if you like snail mail as much as I do, and you love geeking out over things like stamps and lettering, check out the Rock Your Mailbox subscription. There are two ways that you can find these: (1) in my Etsy shop, where you can check out each month’s bundle, or (2) on my Patreon page, where you can set up a subscription that renews each month and ensures you’ll never miss the fun.

Here’s to a new year, new ways to be creative, and new ways to send some love.