Hitting the 5-year mark with my sculpture business has me reflecting on how far I've come. I'm a little amazed how much my art has changed, and I've stumbled across lots of photos I'd forgotten about. One thing that struck me was how much my gift boxes have evolved since the early days.
Take 1, circa 2014: More is more
This photo reminds me of my high school yearbook photos. It makes me cringe in kind of the same way - so much going on here!
I started off with set-up boxes (they ship flat and you fold them into shape) with lids. The lids were kind of boring, so I added some ribbon. Then I added a little circle of contrasting paperboard. Then I added another circle. And another circle. Then I added a wax seal with my logo. AND THEN I added embossing ink to give more color to the seal.
I'm exhausted just typing all that. I call this my "more is more" phase in packaging.
Take 2, circa 2015: Simpler = better
I got rid of a lot of that extra stuff, but added another color of boxes. This feels like progress.
After a while, I realized I was spending an awful lot of time on details that didn't matter to anyone but me. So I simplified my box decoration and eliminated the clutter. Somewhere along the way, I decided it would be a good idea to add another color of boxes, though, so silver boxes into my life.
Take 3, 2016: I did not see this coming
What happened next came as a surprise even to me. I was approached by UncommonGoods to sell my work on their website and catalog, and I had to do some serious thinking.
Then my boxes took a detour into one-piece tuck tops with crinkle paper. It made sense. No, really.
My then-new cast-stone sculpture was too heavy for the two-piece boxes I'd been using, and the ribbon/seal combination wouldn't survive warehouse handling. My new boxes had to be:
- Sturdy enough for cast stone. The stone weighs much more than polymer clay, and the boxes had to provide enough support to handle shipping to the warehouse and then to the collector.
- Easy to store. I needed to ship in quantities of 50-100, so I needed boxes that stored flat or I'd quickly run out of room in my house. You'll see later that this diminished in importance pretty fast.
- Easy to set up. When you're packaging 50-100 sculptures at a time, speed matters. I couldn't spend 5+ minutes on each box (4-8+ hours per order!) as I had been, or I'd never have time to create sculpture.
I also needed void fill (the crinkle stuff) that protected the sculpture against breakage. Since the tissue paper had done poorly in my drop tests*, I went with crinkle paper in a brand-consistent, if uninspiring, gray.
*For those who haven't enjoyed drop tests on sculpture, you basically package it up and repeatedly drop it from a height of 7-8 feet. Then you unwrap it and see if the sculpture survived. You're really motivated to get this right fast, since it can get spendy and distressing to keep breaking sculpture in your drop tests.
You can also take the boxed sculpture outside and use it as a football, but I generally save that test for the shipping boxes. Regrettably, I have no videos of these exercises.
Take 4, 2017-today: My dream boxes
I suspect every maker has Dream Boxes in his or her head, so don't look at me like that.
I realized after a few months that readily-available, off-the-shelf boxes just weren't going to cut it. The fold-flat set up boxes didn't withstand warehouse handling as well as I'd hoped, and although no sculpture was broken, collectors just weren't getting the beautiful presentation I'd envisioned.
After much angst and hand-wringing, I decided to work with a custom box company to design My Dream Boxes.
Then came my boxes full of beautiful, sturdy boxes, full of air.
I'm forever grateful to the kind and patient Roger at All Packaging Co. in Kansas City, Missouri for helping me understand papers and foils and printing techniques and paper wrapping and and and... Suffice to say, Roger designed and printed 1,000 of the most beautiful sculpture gift boxes I could imagine.
These new boxes checked off everything on my wish list:
- Delicious unboxing. The nearly full-length lids have a marvelous resistance when opening, which adds a certain delight to the unboxing.
- Subtle branding. The silver foil printing has a slight sheen, but the emphasis remains on the gift, not the logo.
- Exquisite texture. You know how tactile I am, so my dream boxes had to feel lovely. The surface of these gift boxes has a linen texture under the fingers that's very pleasant to hold (or look at).
- Very strong and crush-proof. Okay, don't roll over them with your car, but these boxes survive repeated drop tests with flying colors.
- Secure lids. The lids stay on through handling, and the double walls add protection.
The sculpture inside nestles on a bed of tissue or bubble wrap (depending on size and weight), which rests between two layers of thick, dense foam. Yes, Roger also spent a lot of time explaining foam to me. Again, thanks be to Roger.
What I liked less about these beautiful boxes was the shipping and storage. If you've never envisioned 1,000 5 inch x 5 inch boxes and how much space they require, allow me to pause while you do so.
Two pallets of boxes, mostly air. Notice how tall they were able to stack the pallets, since they were, you know, mostly full of air.
And yes, you better believe I took photos of the delivery. I was so excited, I couldn't help myself.
The rigid design meant we shipped two entire pallets of mostly air from Missouri to California, but at least the foam could be shipped inside each box. My husband generously agreed to further surrender the garage - uh, Art Studio Annex - and the boxes-of-boxes live there, patiently awaiting their turn to be shipped to happy collectors.
This style of box has been with me two years now, and I don't envision making any big changes. I find myself tweaking the gift tags and title cards every now and then, but I still love the overall package.