5 Ways to Package and Ship your Handmade Products More Sustainably

(Note: Companies or products listed in this post are not sponsored, and any endorsements are purely out my own personal experience)

 

Sustainable, ethical, eco-friendly. It means a LOT of different things. What are the greenhouse gas emissions? Is it recyclable, biodegradable, reusable? What is it made of? Who made it and where did it come from? Is it toxic? How many times can it be used before it becomes waste? What raw or recycled materials are used to create it? The list goes on. It’s no wonder there’s confusion and frankly, a lack of important knowledge, on the subject. It’s overwhelming. And I’m merely at the tip of the iceberg.

 

But being an owner of a handmade business and being passionate about finding answers to all of these questions I have, I’ve come across a few tips and resources that have helped me begin to sort out the puzzle of trying to run my creative business in a more sustainable way. And the biggest thing for me, is packaging. Most of my sales are made online online including on platforms like Etsy, which means I have to pack and ship items for customers mostly in the US but some internationally as well. Even when I sell in local markets, I still have to package my items somewhat to ensure they make the trip home with the customer in pristine condition.

 

When it comes to a handmade business, packaging tends to be the most wasteful while simultaneously being the most insignificant considering that it is not actually part of the finished creation. Packaging is almost always single-use in nature. It is the padded mailer and tape you ship your art in. It is the hang tag and plastic wrapping for your craft to be sold in stores. It’s insignificant in the long term, so for me, this was one of the first aspects about my business I wanted to change to be less harmful to the environment. Here are 5 changes I made to make my business packaging more sustainable:

 

Buy locally manufactured and sold goods

Product shipping and origin alone is a considerable factor when determining which packaging products to purchase. Why? Because fossil fuels will most likely be transporting your goods from the country the raw materials were produced in, to the country the goods were made, to the reseller company in your country, and then to you. There will most likely be at the very least two “hands” that touch your packaging products before they get to you. Often more. And the more the products travel, the greater the environmental footprint they create along the way.

I can’t speak for other countries, but fortunately in the United States, there are several major packaging supply companies that sell from manufacturers right here in the USA! For example, Uline is a large and probably the most well-known packaging supply company and they offer over 15,600 products made in the USA. But location isn’t everything! Considering where and who you buy from is a complex process, and more than one factor should be considered when selecting where you get your products!

 

Less is more

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle” more than a few time sin your life. Well there’s a reason the words appear in that order. Reducing consumption is most effective in reducing waste because the future waste is never bought to begin with. Think about how you can reduce the amount of packaging used in shipping your products. Many products we sell aren’t overly fragile despite what our emotional connection to the item might make us think. If your items are fragile, you know who you are and don’t fret it. We’re all doing the best we can. That being said, I find most sellers tend to overpack perfectly durable items that simply don’t need it. It’s partly due to looks and partly due to fear, but imagine if you cut 20% of your excess packaging for shipped items. Not only would that save you money, but that could be roughly a 20% reduction in the environmental footprint of your shipments.

 

Opt for supplies made of recycled and/or natural materials

Poly, bubble wrap, paper, oh my! There’s an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to materials your shipping products are made of. And not all are created equal. If you can find packing supplies that are made of recycled materials that’s GREAT, because typically sourcing and processing virgin material like paper creates far larger an environmental footprint than recycling already used materials. A second benefit is that these recycled materials are avoiding the landfill and other places trash tends to end up… like the ocean.

Buying supplies that are made of a high percentage of recycled materials is great, and I do it whenever I can. But it’s also just as effective (arguably more effective because there is less processing involved) to recycled packaging supplies yourself. Think of the second and third “R”s of recycling: Reuse and Recycle. Reuse avoids the reprocessing of materials that recycling involves, thus saving that environmental weight. I try to buy locally in business and my personal life, but often getting things shipped to your home is inevitable. And I don’t let that go to waste. I save all boxes, bubble wrap, packing paper, even bags that I can possibly reuse for packaging my own products. I can guess what you’re thinking. ‘But it won’t look good.’ Yes and no. There’s a good chance if up to this point you’ve been sourcing brand new shiny materials to package your products, using something that has already been used once might not look as pristine. But I would put in the argument that sustainability is gaining momentum. Buyers are looking for shop owners to care. And find that beautiful and its own way.

On top of buying recycled materials, consider what your materials are made of. My favorite products are biodegradable, because if composted properly, the end of their life is quick…. rather than staying in the ground tens of thousands of years before breaking down, and leaching out chemicals in the process (I’m looking at you, plastic). I prioritize biodegradable and recycled when possible, then recycled plastic as necessary (mostly for protecting art prints).

Product packaged for shipment using biodegradable tape, natural jute twine, a reused bubble mailer, and reused packing paper.

Some of my favorite packing supples: biodegradable tape, natural jute twine, art misprints/sketches, and reused packaging (such as this mailer and packing paper)

 

Consider the end life of your packaging

Again, this is a consideration of what materials your packaging products are made of. Above we considered the beginning of life of your supplies (is it recycled, natural/virgin material, synthetic?) but we must also consider the end of life of your packaging. This goes back to what I said previously about biodegradable supplies. While the start of life of any “new” products almost always has a relatively high environmental impact, the “end of life”, or when these shipping supplies make it to the trash, recycling bin, compost, or elsewhere, varies quite dramatically between materials.

I try to opt for biodegradable materials because not only should these products not leach unsafe chemicals into the ground and water supply, when properly composted, they typically can decompose very quickly. Non biodegradable materials have a couple of options. They can be reused (ideally by the consumer; this is the best first option), they can be recycled (by commercial waste management services; this is the second best option as it still lengthens the functional life of the item), or they can be trashed. Unfortunately we can’t control which of these choices our buyers make, and the progressively more sustainable options tend to also be progressively less used.

 

Optimize your process

As I talked about in my first tip, the more hands almost any product is involved in, the larger environmental impact it is going to have. This also applies to quantity. If you can buy 100 mailers at once instead of 10, that saves 9 trips to your supply store or 9 flights and delivery truck drives to your home or place of business. Not to mention the 9 additional boxes if it is shipped and 9 times excess packaging. Buying in bulk is not always an option, I know. It can be a huge upfront investment sometimes just isn’t practical. But if you can make it work, it’s a great option. You will save some money in the long run and it can help streamline your packing process as well.

My second optimization tip would be to not ship products daily. Select one or two days of the week where you ship all orders that are ready. Save your time which guaranteed can be used better elsewhere and save gas running to and from the Post Office. Even consider offering local pickup if you feel comfortable with doing so and avoid the need for all that extra transportation and packaging.

 


 

What environmentally-friendly packaging tips and resources have you found? I’d love to accumulate an ongoing list of resources for sustainably-minded creatives. By pooling our knowledge together, we can work to become the best environmental stewards we can be while reducing time spent researching, reducing costs, and removing barriers to sustainability. High costs in particular have always been a major barrier environmental movement, which has put an ugly veil of elitism to its name. While some sustainable lifestyle changes don’t cost a thing, many changes do, and that’s not something everything can afford. I hope to be part of the movement that says “that’s okay”. I hope to be part of the movement that looks for solutions that work for everyone, which is why I’ll be continuing a series on sustainability in the coming months. All suggestions here are meant to be just that. Suggestions. Some may work for you and some may not. But I hope it gets you thinking more about your environmental impact, because with more heads together comes more ideas, and with more ideas, more growth.

 

So what’s my go-to packaging supply company?

 

When I’m not using supplies I already have and can reuse/repurpose, EcoEnclose is the best resource I’ve found for myself for sustainable, biodegradable/compostable, recycled, and recyclable shipping materials. They even offer custom branded packaging for large quantity orders and frequently promote the eco-conscious businesses that ship with their products (I’ve found several of my favorite companies through them!) Boxes and cardboard sheets are custom cut to the exact size and quantity you need. Price-wise, many of EcoEnclose’s products are highly competitive with less sustainable alternatives, but inevitably, the care and process put into products that are less damaging to the environment tends to cost more than products where environmental impact was completely overlooked.

 

While EcoEnclose rarely offers sales, there are two ways I’ve found to save money on my packaging supplies. Number one is buy in bulk. The more of one product you need and can buy up front, the greater discount you will receive. Most discounts range from 2-15% depending on quantity purchased. The number two way to save is their refer-a-friend program, which gives an incredible discount of 20% to the referrer and 20% off to the referred friend. If you want to make the switch to more environmentally packaging, you can use my referral code for 20% off your first order at http://ecoenclose.refr.cc/rebeccagrogan

 

Best of luck in your sustainable journey!

 

-B

Uganda Cultural Immersion Trip 2018 with Far Away Friends

Uganda Cultural Immersion Trip 2018 with Far Away Friends

For three weeks in July of 2018, I traveled to Uganda on a cultural immersion trip with the nonprofit, Far Away Friends. We spent 8 of those days in a small fishing village of rural northern Uganda called Namasale. Here, Far Away Friends partners with the community and local schools to help alleviate generational poverty through education and cross-cultural connection. Part of that partnership includes Global Leaders Primary School, which Far Away Friends helped fund the building of from the ground up.

 


 

At any event of significance in my lifetime I find myself counting the ways in which my decisions precisely led me to this point of being, and had I walked any other path, would never have taken me to the moments I hold as the ones that define me entirely.

 

Think about it. I don’t subscribe to the “this is your destiny” and “everything happens for a reason” worldview, but I totally see why someone would. If these things hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t say, begrudgingly gone to a film screening about child soldiers in central Africa so that I could receive easy credit for a non-major class in the fall of 2011, well, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be where I am mentally and I definitely would not have just spent the three weeks in Uganda after facing my greatest fear for 19 hours and then again for 22 hours on the way back.

 

On July 10th, 2018, I left on my very first trip out of the country. Destination: Namasale, Uganda. 19 hours of flying, 7+ hours at airports, one night at a hotel, 3+ hours of driving, and a 45 minute ferry ride later, I arrived. This is in spite of the fact that I once had a very long and serious conversation with myself on whether I could lead a happy life if I never stepped on an airplane again. I think I decided yes. But people change. And now, having gone, having experienced discomforts I didn’t know existed, I wouldn’t trade it for certainty.

 

Eight mzungus sleeping in a van and one who can't (me)

Eight mzungus sleeping in a van and one who can’t

 

This trip will be one of those moments I look back on and say, “That moment. That’s where I changed. Things are different now.” The people I traveled with are now my brothers and sisters. Namasale, my second home. But such feelings are not to overlook the discomforts I faced. That would be a disservice to you and I both. As one of my newfound brothers wrote, “There is something extraordinary about traveling to other cultures, knowing other humans, eating their food and being in their homes. The further from your current comfort zone, the larger the effects.” I was well outside my comfort zone. I needed to be.

 

The Far Away Friends team walking up the dirt driveway of Global Leaders Primary School

The Far Away Friends team walking up the driveway of Global Leaders Primary School in Namasale, Uganda.

Things work differently in Namasale. And in Uganda. Time moves at a different pace. I love that I got to observe that. And I hope I can bring some of that back to the US.

 

In Namasale we made several visits to other local schools, local health facilities, and some of our students’ homes. Every single time, without fail, chairs and makeshift seats would be pulled from all locations to make sure everyone was able to sit down and be comfortable as we talked. People were so accommodating I felt guilty. Who am I to deserve this respect from a stranger? We were often given gifts for no other reason than showing up. Cold water and soda. Snacks. A portion of the family’s harvest. A rooster. What is this place where total strangers can stop by out of the blue and be treated as honored guests?

 

Team members of Far Away Friends enjoy reuniting after a year apart and meeting the newest member of the FAF Family.

My new extended family from Colorado and Uganda. Times like these were my favorite moments.

 

Driving from Kampala to Namasale to Lira to Chobe to Gulu in two packed sweaty vans was a test of patience and self control. To the towns we passed, we were a spectacle. But those long drives gave me time to reflect and observe. And one thing that I observed is that car signals are used differently here in Uganda. Horns aren’t used aggressively. They aren’t laid on for 30 seconds straight to show the guy in front of us just how much we hate him for cutting us off. Instead, they’re used to simply say, “hey I’m here” so bodas, humans, cars, and livestock can coexist on the same road in impressively close quarters. Impressively close. Blinkers are used just as much (if not more) for letting cars behind us know whether it’s okay to pass or if someone’s coming the opposite direction as they are for signaling a turn. What is this world in which transportation is a team activity? Where the goal is not to beat the car next to us, but to work in a way that most benefits all?

 

Global Leaders Primary School overlooks its well used soccer field where little grass now grows.

This is Global Leaders Primary School. I am so proud of what they have accomplished in just a few short years and can’t wait to see the impacts of these students years down the road.

 

The students and teachers at Global Leaders Primary School have impressed me beyond anything. It is so clear how much each teacher cares for his or her children and for seeing the school grow into one of the best in the district. I learned the long hours every student spends at school every day, particularly the older students who are studying for the exam that will get them into secondary school. Some of our team had the honor of staying with these girls in their dorm overnight to get to know them better without the pressures of a teacher or principal hearing. We asked if they were tired because of all the work, and they were. We asked if it was hard, and it was. But then we asked if they thought the school day should be shorter, and allow more time for rest. To that they said no. Their education is so important to them that waking up well before sunrise every day to study before class even starts was not a question to even be considered. I respect these students so much. When education is a privilege and not something taken for granted, respect for that education, for teachers, and for community is a beautiful and invaluable byproduct.

 

Two students of Global Leaders laugh together, enjoying the company of Far Away Friends visitors

Spent an hour this day passing the soccer ball with the kids and FAF team members. Hard work must be balanced with play, after all.

 

Four Ugandan men lay bricks that will be the future dormitories for Global Leaders' boarding students.

These men are laying bricks for what will be the future dormitories for Global Leaders’ boarding students. We’re still working on raising the total of $30,000 to have them completed. If you’d like to donate to this project, you can do so here

 

It’s amazing how such small moments can mean everything. The respect of a stranger. The team mentality of getting from one place to another. The dedication of a child. Nothing miraculous in its own right (although sometimes I think it is) but these weren’t one-off instances. It was everywhere. Baked into the culture in a way I haven’t seen before. It was refreshing. And real.

 

I find myself in awe of new places, new experiences because they give me a perspective on life that I was previously blind to. How lucky are we as humans to have that? The ability to see and experience and be completely different when we come out the other side? That’s what I find myself chasing after again and again, even if it’s just in my head. I want to learn and change and come out the other side closer to this thing that connects us all: Earth, humanity, life, what have you. That thing that makes us desire to do better. To care. To help. To empathize. To protest. To speak up. To speak out. To fight. To love. It’s the thing that makes me confront my phobias and embarrass myself in front of strangers. It’s the thing I’ll be willingly vulnerable for.

 

Four Global Leaders Teachers sit in a classroom attending a child safety lesson with some members of the FAF team.

I had the privilege of sitting in on a child safety lesson with the Global Leaders teachers and FAF team. It was a great moment of learning how we can better serve and protect our students.

 

“I remember the moment I first realized I’ve been living my whole life in black and white. It was like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors, that was it for me. From then on, there was no putting the pieces back together. No going home. Things were different now.” – Anthony Bourdain

 

Things are different now.

-B

(keep scrolling for more photos!)

 

Hanging out in Mama Jass' shop in town drinking sodas and learning everything we can

Hanging out in Mama Jass’ shop in town drinking sodas and learning everything we can

 

The FAF team appreciating a visit with Itat

We have so much to learn from one another

 

The Far Away Friends family shares a drink and conversation

The Far Away Friends family shares a drink and conversation

 

Close up of a giraffe near Chobe Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park

After our time in the village, the FAF team traveled around Uganda to see more of what this beautiful country has to offer and that of course included Murchison Falls National Park

 

A herd of Cape Buffalo in Murchison Falls National Park

Found a herd of cape buffalo and their bird friends

 

Overlooking the Nile River at Chobe Safari Lodge

Can’t explain how cool it was to wake up in Chobe to the sound and sight of the Nile River

 


To learn more about the work of Far Away Friends or donate to important projects at Global Leaders Primary School and within the Namasale community, go to www.farawayfriendsglobal.com

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling Across America by Train

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling Across America by Train

In July of 2017, I took a 15 day cross country train trip from Washington, DC to California and back, stopping at six National Parks in Utah, California, and Colorado along the way. I am by personality, a gigantic overplanner, so I figured by scouring the internet for hours on end, I would be able to learn everything I needed to know to successfully travel across America by train. While I did learn tons of helpful logistical information about Amtrak train travel for first-timers, car rentals, and National Park access, I learned a whole lot less about how to actually live comfortably and not burn out while traveling for two weeks straight.

 

Here are ten things I wish I had known before traveling across the US by Amtrak train:

 

1. Your seat is your home. Choose wisely.

I thought I would be good at this. I’m always a picky sitter and figured I could navigate to the best seat in the train car easily with my pro sleuthing skills. Turns out there are a lot more variables than I considered (not so “pro” I guess).

 

We spent most of our train time on the Capitol Limited (DC to Chicago, IL) and California Zephyr (Chicago, IL to San Francisco, IL), so if you’re taking a different train, your experience may differ.  For the most part, the way the seating cars are set up is doors on both ends to travel to different train cars, two seats on both sides of the aisle, and a stairwell in the middle which typically goes down to bathrooms and extra luggage storage. It’s important to know where you are in relation to the dining, lounge, and cafe cars, which are typically in between the coach car segments and the sleeper car segments. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose which coach car you are seated in, you will be placed according to your final destination, but you can choose your seat within that car.

 

Now let’s get down to what this all means. The further you are away from the lounge car, the less foot traffic noise you will have to deal with of people walking back and forth between your train to the lounge and dining cars. This is good. The doors ARE noisy and sometimes don’t work correctly (more noise). If you happen to be right next to the lounge car, that’s great for convenience, but I would recommend sitting at the far end of your car from the door to eliminate sound transfer when the doors are open and reduce foot traffic by your seat as much as possible.

 

Okay, we know what to prioritize based on where your car is in comparison to the others, but what about within the car itself? If you want to stay at the far end of your car away from the direction of the lounge, don’t stay in the very first seat or two. Again, the opening and closing of the doors is noisy, and there are lights in that area that are always on for safety when transferring cars (even at night). Also avoid making home in the few seats directly across from the middle stairwell that goes to the bathroom. It’s another higher traffic area (if the bathrooms are full and a line backs up; also where people disembark the train) and the lights in the stairwell stay on all night which for me was a big issue for sleeping.

 

This may sound incredible picky but I want to outline a best case scenario at least by my standards so you can pick and choose what is important to you and what probably won’t bother you. Because that being said, the chances you spend at least one leg of the trip right next to a whiny kid, an adult that doesn’t know volume control, or someone that’s just too friendly is almost guaranteed, so prioritizing comforts you have control over can help ease the annoyance of things you don’t have control over. The longest single segment I had on this trip without disembarking was 32.5 hours, with the total train time being just under 150 hours in 15 days. While you might be relaxed and excited just to be traveling by train in the beginning, you will likely become more and more particular with experience and as the exhaustion of travel starts to wear on you.

 

The base of a giant sequoia tree with wildfire scars in Sequoia National Park. Human for scale.

At the base of a giant sequoia tree Sequoia National Park. Human for scale.

2. Prioritize comfortable sleep.

I traveled with my boyfriend on this trip and for me, having a travel companion was incredibly beneficial for train travel (see tip 8). Now, this completely depends on your comfort level with people you don’t know, but one benefit of traveling with a companion on overnight trips is not sleeping next to a complete stranger. Don’t get me wrong, talking and meeting new people on the trains is one of the best things you can do, but sleep is a whole other level of comfort and it’s perfectly reasonable to feel more comfortable sleeping next to someone you know. Know your own limits.

 

On the other hand, my boyfriend and I thought we could save space by packing only a single blanket to share. Cue mistake number one. The trains can get chilly overnight and even if you’re not usually one to need bundling up, it is nice to just have something familiar and comfortable around you since you likely won’t be sleeping in your preferred outfit (or lack of) of choice. We ended up purchasing a second blanket at our first real destination (Moab, Utah).

 

I brought a super squishy down pillow and my boyfriend brought a neck pillow we picked up a couple days before the trip. I liked using both. The neck pillow was helpful for taking naps or watching movies in our seats during the day, but I preferred a real pillow at night. The neck pillow we could attach to the outside of the suitcase which helped with space while the real pillow had to be shoved inside (again, it was super squishy down though so this wasn’t much of an issue).

 

To be 100% honest, I barely slept any of the nights we were on the train. I am a very light sleeper in the best of conditions and it was just one of the things I had to suck up and deal with. If you are a light sleeper or naturally a stomach sleeper, know that this will be harder on you. 

Quick Tips:

  • Bring socks to wear while sleeping unless you’re comfortable sleeping in your shoes. Do not go barefoot please.
  • People will snore. If you are a light sleeper and are comfortable wearing headphones while sleeping, you probably want to do it.
  • Try to tire yourself out as much as possible before going to bed. It’ll be easier to ignore distractions.
  • If you’ve never traveled by train before, the first night will probably be the hardest so don’t get discouraged. There is a constant rocking of the train which took me several legs to get used to while my boyfriend got over it right away.
  • If you have money to splurge, get a sleeper car. Especially if you’re traveling for more than one night in a row. It’s VERY expensive though (we did not do this due to money, but the increased comfort is so valuable if you can afford it)

 

At the top of the canyon and dusk at Kings Canyon National Park

Halfway though the trip and the sleep deprivation was really starting to show.

3. Personal hygiene will get questionable.

You may think you can take sink baths and stay clean for 2.5+ days at a time. I mean, how are you getting dirty on a train anyway? Wrong. Sure, they’re not quite as teeny as plane bathrooms, but try putting toothpaste on a toothbrush or washing your face while swaying back and forth and hitting bumps every 10 seconds. It’s hard. And people are dirty (please don’t be one of them). For these reasons, I spent as little time as possible doing basic hygienic tasks… which… took a toll. Here’s a few tips that might help make it more comfortable and keep you from arriving at your destination looking like you haven’t slept in three days and smelling like a trashcan.

 

  • Bring wipes for your face, hands, and body. Hand sanitizing wipes are great to use before eating and after returning from the lounge car (there’s a lot of people on these trains and not everyone covers their cough). Washing your face is almost impossible on the train, so if you can swap face wash for face wipes or even make some to take, that will be super helpful and help you feel less grungy and oily after long segments. Deodorant only lasts so long. At some point, you just need to wash those pits, and as I mentioned, washing anything in the tiny train sinks is near impossible. Again, wipes. They are also helpful for more than just the underarms if you catch my drift.
  • This one is going to sound weird but trust me. There are several bathrooms under the seating car and also usually one or two in the cafe car below the lounge. Try them all. Not all bathrooms are created equal on Amtrak and after using the tiniest stall possible for an entire two day trip, I discovered a much larger bathroom with a bench and two sinks two doors down. Imagine my frustration that I had not been using this all along.
  • Know when to go. Or just when to clean and groom yourself. There are times when the bathrooms are always busy and times when they are empty for hours on end. Go then and take your time brushing your teeth, taking a wipe bath, even flossing. It will pay off. Some of the stops along your route will be longer than others and the conductor will typically tell you over the speaker when the train will be stopped for longer than usual. This is a great time to use the restrooms for changing, cleaning, etc. while the train isn’t swaying back and forth and you aren’t at risk of accidentally tumbling into unclean waters. If it’s a particularly long stop or you have a layover before switching trains, you can find a restroom in the train station to change and freshen yourself up in.
  • If you are going for more than a week, try to do laundry at least once a week. This will prevent your entire suitcase from getting incredibly stinky (especially if you are traveling in the summer) and reduce the total amount of clothes you have to pack.

 

4. Ice… cold… beer. Know your spending/comfort balance.

My boyfriend and I came into this trip knowing it was a stretch to afford on our budget. We purchased the 15 day Amtrak Rail Pass for $460 each, $80 for a National Park Pass, $4-500 for car rentals and gas, and almost $600 for AirBnBs. And that’s before feeding us anything for two weeks which, when spending approximately six of those fifteen days on a train, gets really REALLY expensive. Why? Because train food will cost you an arm and a leg. Eating in the dining car is fun, but we only did so once or twice simply because spending $20-$30 each on a less than filling less than amazing meal every day 2-3 times a day was just not in the cards. Instead, we subsisted on overpriced, prepackaged cafe car offerings, and the nonperishable food we managed to pack and carry on the train with us. I realize I sound pretty bitter about this situation but it’s hard not to when your train conductor is coming on the intercom every 30 minutes whispering, “Ice… cold… beer. Ice… cold… beeeeeeer.” Don’t get me wrong, this was incredibly hilarious every time but also really made me want a $6-$10 cold one at least 4 times a day.

 

So where did that leave us? We wanted to prioritize our off-train meals because I’d much rather spend $30 at an incredible cajun-creole restaurant and conveniently located hipster brew taproom in Berkeley, CA than a well-reheated meal on a train any day. But we also didn’t want to starve. Going into the trip, we knew train food was expensive. And that’s why we decided to pack Soylent (a meal replacement drink) to feed us for one meal a day on the train. After the first large segment of the trip, we realized just this and cafe food was not enough, so we decided to purchase peanut butter, bread, and other nonperishable snacks to bring with us on the train. It wasn’t ideal, and I would have loved to get a decent lunch and dinner every night in the dining car. But it just wasn’t in our budget. We sacrificed some comfort, and still probably spent more than intended. If you have the money to do so, one hot meal with real meat and vegetables and maybe a beer a day does a lot for the soul while traveling cross country.

 

As I mentioned in tip two, if you can afford a sleeper car, get one. Particularly if you are traveling for more than a day at a time. They are quite expensive, but you get excellent service and all meals are included with the price. Apparently some rooms even have private toilets and showers?? Again I wouldn’t know, but if your budget allows this luxury, take it.

 

5. Spend at least two nights at each destination.

One of the hardest things you will do, particularly if this is your first big cross-country trip, is decide where to go. There are SO MANY amazing sights to see, food to eat, and experiences to be had. We ended up with the following destinations: Moab, Utah to see Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park (2 days, 2 nights), San Francisco, CA (2 nights, not consecutive), Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park (1.5 days, 1 night), Yosemite National Park (1 day in the park, 2 nights), Denver, Colorado to see Rocky Mountain National Park (1 day, 1 night). That’s six National Parks and I was still upset we couldn’t figure out how to fit in Yellowstone somehow. I love that I got to see friends and family and see so many different sights (I had never been to any of these parks before), but I can’t help but have some regret that I didn’t get to stay longer at every single location. It was so hard traveling through Arches and realizing the places and hikes I wanted to go on most would just take too long since we only had one day for the whole park.

 

I know it is so tempting to fit as much in as possible, but take my advice and stay longer at each destination even if it means you see less overall. Go to the places that are most different from what you are used to; they will be the most rewarding. Every National Park I saw was absolutely stunning, but the landscape of Arches and Canyonlands in Utah was so magnificent, so vastly different than anything I had ever seen, that it has left the biggest impression in my mind and I most regret not staying there longer.

 

Stay as close as possible to wherever your destinations are. It will save so much time driving to and from your destination each day. If you are going to parks, try and stay in the actual park and book early!! We made this mistake and by the time we had our itinerary down (mid Spring for our trip in July) and were ready to start looking, there was literally nothing available in Yosemite. Instead, it was a 15-30 minute drive to get into the park, but then another hour or so to get to the main valley of the park. That’s around 3 hours lost just getting to where we wanted to be, and it prevented us from being able to go to the park for more than one day.

 

View from the top of Aztec Butte in Canyonlands National Park looking down over the canyon.

View from Canyonlands. One of the many reasons Utah was my favorite stop despite 100 degree weather.

6. Spend as much time as possible out of your seat.

You will start to get cabin fever on some of the long legs of the trip if you are truly going across country and have several legs of the trip over 24 hours long. And you probably won’t have wifi at all. Even if you are doing something that could be done in your seat (watching a movie, reading a book, sketching, having a snack), get up, go to the lounge car or the cafe car, and do it there. The cars are literally brighter (because there’s no window shades) and you won’t feel like you’re living in your seat. Make sure you get up and move around at least every hour or so. Chat with the cafe car attendant, they are usually super friendly. Meet some of the other passengers on the train in the lounge car… the veteran train travelers will be rather apparent quickly and always have cool stories to tell. Be sure to get out of the train just to stretch whenever you have longer than usual stops.

 

7. Bring your camera. Don’t use it in the train.

Whether you have a DSLR, point and shoot, or just your cell phone, give up all hopes of getting good pictures of the amazing sights you’ll see from your window right now. It’s pointless. As an artist, I wanted to capture these memories as well as gain source images for future paintings. Every. Single. Picture I took from the train was awful. There is simply too much of a reflection (you can hold your lens right up to the window, but you usually won’t be able to capture the scope of what you want to that way), too many people also all trying to take pictures, and too little time (these beautiful sights are fleeting), to capture something stunning while on the train. I regret not simply sitting back in the lounge car in wonder over the beautiful sights in front of me. In fact, I made sure to do so on the route home after looking over my terrible pictures. It is disappointing, to be sure, that you can’t share with the world the canyons you pass through, the wildlife you see, and the expanse below as you chug up a mountainside, but savor it for yourself rather than not at all. If anything, take a video to share with friends and family. You can look up, down, out both sides of the train car that way. It won’t be a beautiful and frame-worthy picture, but it captures the mood of the car when passing through something really amazing (which is really cool by the way) and the sheer expanse of things, and your friends and family will appreciate seeing what you’re up to.

 

If you want to take some pictures, take them of your friends or other passengers (with their permission) looking out into the beautiful landscape while on the train. Those do make great photos and memories of the people you’re with, not just the places you see. Also you may have better luck in the seating car versus the lounge car for landscape photos. It’s generally darker so less glare and you can get your camera right up to the window more easily (assuming you have access to the window seat).

 

View from the train of the Colorado countryside

One of the few decent pictures I got from my phone looking out from the seating car

 

8. There are benefits of traveling with a companion.

Let me start by saying I 100% do not want to discourage someone from traveling alone. But as I didn’t travel alone and can’t speak to it, I do want to share with you some of the benefits (expected and unexpected) I experienced by traveling with someone.

 

  • Shared Costs. This one is a no brainer. If you have to rent a car. It’s half the cost. If you’re going to a National Park, cost is per car. You can split Lyft fares and hotel/AirBnB costs.
  • Shared supplies. You can share some packed items like shampoos, sunscreen, and wet wipes to reduce what each person carries individually.
  • Shared time. If you have to rent a car, one person can drive while the other sleeps to both improve productivity and decrease your chance of burning out.
  • Having someone you are comfortable confiding in and sleeping next to. I had more than a couple minor health issues during the trip, one of those being bruising my big toes so badly at our very first park that I *should have* gotten them drained to reduce the extremely painful swelling that happened. Having someone with you to literally help you walk back to the car and offer to drill through your toenail for you was invaluable.
  • Safety. As unfortunate as it is that this is true, safety is a big concern when traveling alone as a young woman. To have a male companion put the majority of my worries at ease when traveling in subways, walking through the city, at night, and when few other people are around. With the exception of one incident on the train, everyone at the National Parks and on the trains were extremely nice and not threatening at all. In all likelihood I would have been perfectly safe by myself or with a female companion and there is a problem in our society that we have to feel otherwise. That being said, travelling with a companion anywhere, as a male or female and with a male or female is always safer when it is someone you trust completely.

 

9. There will be unforeseen delays. Plan accordingly.

Train delays happen. We had a fire alarm go off in the station as we were boarding in DC (cue total panic on my end), an unexpected stop due to a medical emergency in the middle of the night, a change of routes due to a purple sign with a D signifying we would derail if we went further, and just normal minor delays because we are human and not perfect. Fortunately, we usually managed to still arrive within the hour of our expected time, which meant that we had scheduled in enough wiggle room for any layovers, car rental pickups, hotel/AirBnB check-ins that we had planned. Know that not everything always goes to plan and either have a backup plan or be flexible enough to plan on the fly. Know whether you can get refunds on car/house rentals, tickets, and anything else you paid for in advance. Fortunately, Amtrak is typically SO accommodating if you miss you train or need to reschedule. We spent what seemed like hours on the phone with Amtrak booking our destinations in the beginning and they were very helpful in advising us on where/what times to book in relation to our other plans.

 

Giving yourself some extra time between legs of your trip also just lets you get out and stretch a bit and enjoy your temporary stop. We had a layover in Chicago both ways to switch trains and I was able to try my first (and second on the way back) Chicago deep dish! It was great just to get even a glimpse of somewhere new.

 

10. Consider your ultimate priorities because you can’t do it all.

I’ve laid out a lot of tips and a lot of “ideal” situations, but in the end this is your trip and your priorities, necessities, and budget may be different from mine. It’s important to map out the things you definitely need, the things you want in order or importance, and the things that would be luxuries that you probably will skip. Our must-do’s were Arches, Yosemite, San Francisco and Sequoia. Yellowstone would have been on there if at all possible, but it was just too out of the way. Our wants were reduced travel times, minimized expenses, and getting to see as much as possible. To the expense of these wants and needs, we didn’t get to stay in each location as long as we’d have liked to, we didn’t pay for those extra comforts on the train that would have been really nice to have, and we still didn’t get to go to all the destinations we would have liked to because we only had a 15 day rail pass.

 

You may prioritize differently or have different starting parameters and that is crucial to planning out your trip beforehand. Take these tips to help influence and inform your decisions, not make your decisions for you. Because you can’t do it all. Know that there will be good (amazing sights, meeting great people, flexible travel) and bad (difficult sleeping, questionable hygiene, longer travel times) to any train trip and that you’ll be most successful if you’ve thought about these scenarios and what’s important to you beforehand so that you can make the best out of whatever comes your way. Know your strengths and faults. My strength was self-entertainment. I was able to do a ton of sketching which took up some long hours of the ride. My fault is I’m a very light sleeper and all of the different elements from noise to lights to the swaying of the train combined made sleep virtually nonexistent for me.

 

Sketchbook drawing of the USA and the names of the National Parks I traveled to.

Sketch of the parks we’d be visiting before knowing we’d go to Rocky Mountain National Park as well.


 

There’s 101 more things I could tell you about traveling by train or about my broader trip in general. I hope to do the latter in a future post. But these are the things I didn’t expect, didn’t account for, or simply didn’t know in advance despite my in-depth research. I hope it helps you make the best of your cross country train trip, and I would love to hear where you’re going! If you love National Parks and travel like I do, check out my park series gouache paintings on my Etsy site and soon to be available here. 

 

As my grandpa would have said, happy motorin’.

Opt in to SRC email list and have the option to receive a free original illustration in your mailbox

Creativity in your inbox. Free art in your mailbox.

Hey everyone! I’m so excited to *officially* announce a new way for you to stay in touch with me and my business that doesn’t involve silly algorithms and you hanging out on social media all day. I’ve finally taken the plunge and created an email list for my most dedicated supporters.

So what does that mean? It means special sales just for subscribers during the biggest buying seasons of the year. It means behind-the-scenes looks at my work and my process, including videos and timelapses. It means you get to know as soon as something new goes up in the shop… especially those one of a kind pieces. But if you’re anything like me, I know you’re not interested in getting emails daily that you never even end up opening anyway or emails that don’t relate at all to what you’re interested in. And I wear a lot of different hats at South Ranch Creative. That’s why I’m letting new subscribers choose their interests. Less unnecessary emails. More of what YOU want. If you’re only interested in DIY and craft tutorials, just select that option. If you’re not creative, but have a small business that needs a branding upgrade, select graphic design and custom services. And if you just love my work and watching me make it, choose the home goods and arts option. Don’t worry though, you can select as many as you like!

But there’s one more bonus I am particularly excited about because I’ve never done anything like it before. The first 50 subscribers to my new email list will have the opportunity to receive a FREE original 5×5″ pen and ink illustration from the series I started through Inktober (check it out on my Instagram). I’ll send out an email once the first 50 people subscribe, and you’ll all have the option to opt in and receive your free illustration and maybe a little thank you note from yours truly. I’m so thankful too to those of you who have already joined. I’m BLOWN AWAY by the amount of support I’ve gotten and I’m so happy to be able to offer something to my biggest supporters.

I hope you consider signing up and feel free to email or comment with any questions.

-B


Contact Info

SRC for Purpose: Funds Raised June – Sept 2017

Oh my, I am a little embarrassed by how long it’s been. But in my own defense (warranted or not, you decide), I’ve been SO BUSY since May. I moved out of my apartment in Richmond, went on a two week, cross country train trip (and then recovered for another two weeks), moved AGAIN to Philadelphia, PA, celebrated my baby niece turning one year old, got a new part time job with an event planning agency, and somehow kept up and even expanded my own business. Life is weird.

Becca and Winston at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

But I’m finally back and hoping to be a little more consistent with my posts now (haha, yes, I say that every time). I’m even working on a new activist print! I haven’t determined yet if this will be included in my for purpose series, but I am so excited to share it with you all as soon as I get all the supplies in. I wasn’t able to focus as much on selling during this time period (see paragraph 1) and actually had my shop closed the entire month of July while I was travelling. I think my results reflect that a bit. Though I’m always proud of being able to give anything, it does get me motivated to work even harder for next months and the months after.

Part of what I’ve been working on to boost my business I just quietly launched late yesterday evening. I’ve finally taken the dive to start my very own email subscription list. I know that can mean a lot of different things, and don’t worry, if you sign up you won’t be getting 20+ emails a week (maybe in a year), but I did want to offer people a chance to stay connected with me that may not be on social media as much or want a more personal connection. Everyone who subscribes will get the chance to choose where their interests are more focused, that way you won’t be getting emails about web design for small businesses when you really just want coupons for my Etsy shop. I get it! You might see my sign up form poking out around my website here and there (*cough cough* check out the right sidebar) and I hope you’ll consider being one of my first subscribers! There may even be a little special treat for my first 50 subscribers.

If you’re interested in any of these nonprofits, and want to help support them and get a great piece of art at the same time, check out my “nevertheless, she persisted” design in screen printed posters, digital prints, and tshirts, my “wash your spirit clean” design in limited edition screen prints and tshirts, and my compassion honey bee design screen printed posters.

Unfortunately this summer wasn’t all fun and games. We had devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida (I had family in both states in hard hit areas) and Puerto Rico. Even more recently, Las Vegas and the whole country has been devastated by the worst mass shooting in modern history. In August, the world lost an incredible human being and high school friend of mine, Karen Shollenberger, to her sixth battle with leukemia. Life is unexplainable.

I wrote this tribute to Karen in late August while creating a work of art in her memory (accompanied by a picture of the original work):

You’re on the rim of a valley. You’ve come all this way up from the floor looking for something but you know not what, all you know is the feeling you get inside as you soldier on. You can see beauty around you, everywhere. No matter how many times you see the same tree or stream or patch of wildflowers, your heart still swells with the magnitude of it. “Pity the poor beloved needs [sleep], weak, weary, forespent; oh, the pity of it, to sleep in the midst of eternal, beautiful motion instead of gazing forever, like the stars.” You march on, arriving towards the edge of a river as it tumbles off the imposing rock into the green valley below. You know at once, this is what you’d been searching for. But you can’t get close, the rock refuses it. But you know this is what you need. You scan the rock face. You see a ledge of rock not three fingers wide, and no way to arrive at that point. You “therefore concluded not to venture farther, but did nevertheless.” You arrive.

That was Karen. Taking danger and hardship and any obstacles in her way and venturing foreward nonetheless for the beautiful gifts life has to give. Too many people miss these gifts because it is too easy to get distracted, to find a reason not to look. Karen didn’t. I only know a few people who have achieved this so fully, and Karen was by far the youngest. You battled leukemia 6 times over 13 years, but somehow you made that just a side-story to your life. There were bigger, better things to focus on and so many mountains to tackle. But despite your other interests, your schooling, your treatments, you became a guiding light and source of strength for others going through similar things through Cool Kids and Camp Sunrise. I still have so much to learn from you.

I am creating this work of art in honor of someone I never knew as well as I wished, but has taught me and is still teaching me so much about how to truly live. A portion will be donated to Cool Kids Campaign or Camp Sunrise or one of the organizations helping other kids and families battling cancer live life beyond the disease just like you made sure to do. Rest in power, Karen 

Picture of 11x17" Venture Farther poster print with digital tree illustration and John Muir quote

 

The print is now available on my Etsy page, and 25% of all sales will be donated to Johns Hopkins’ Camp Sunrise. Camp Sunrise is a youth overnight camp for kids who are undergoing or have undergone treatments for cancer and is 100% free for campers. Karen knew so well the importance and beauty of finding oneself in nature as often as possible, and I wanted to honor that message through this print and the donation.

 


Funds Raised June–September 2017

350.org

Number of sales: 3

Profit made: $105.00

Amount donated: $15.75

ACLU

Number of sales: 7

Profit made: $170.00

Amount donated: $25.50

Pollinator Partnership

Number of sales: 0

Profit made: $0.00

Amount donated: $0.00

Camp Sunrise

Number of sales: 0

Profit made: $0.00

Amount donated: $0.00

 

Funds Raised To Date

350.org

Amount donated: $59.10

ACLU

Amount donated: $72.45

Pollinator Partnership

Amount donated: $13.50

Camp Sunrise

Amount donated: $13.50

 

 

With Love,
Becca

SRC for Purpose: Funds Raised April + May 2017

Whoah how time flies! From selling at markets to planning a move to dealing with car problems and my own health, this spring has flown by and humbled me beyond words. I am finally finally getting around to my accountability updates, combining that of April and May! To recap, earlier this year, I started a series of “for purpose” works in attempt to create art that does good in addition to looking good. In March, I released my “wash your spirit clean” design in limited edition screen prints and tshirts, benefitting 350.org. I also released for preorder my “nevertheless, she persisted” design in screen printed posters, digital prints, and tshirts, benefitting the ACLU. You can learn more about the original designs and the nonprofits from my original post, here.

"compassion" bee design screen printed on wood plaque

I am also so excited to share with you my newest design, “compassion”. This design is in response to the decline in our honey bee population and concern for what that could mean for nature as well as our own food production. I have created screen printed posters (not in my online shop yet) and wood wall art of this design. 15% of the sales of all of these products are being donated to Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of all pollinators and their ecosystems. A huge amount of what they do revolves around educating kids and the public on ways to protect and support pollinators such as by planting native plants that provide food and habitats for the different pollinators.

This design reads, “Compassion is our deepest nature. It arises from our interconnection with all things.” The source of this quote is not entirely agreed upon, but is believed by many to be a Buddhist proverb. I thought this quote fitting of the pollinator cause because this is one most people don’t really feel impacted by in their day to day lives. Many people are scared of bees. But they are so important for us. We need to have compassion towards this cause because while we may not feel the effects immediately of fewer pollinators, our ecosystem is so interconnected with theirs. Pulled from the Pollinator Partnership website, here are just a few reasons they matter to the human world:

  • Worldwide, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend.
  • Foods and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include: apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila.
  • In the United States, pollination by honey bees, native bees, and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.

 


Funds Raised April + May 2017

350.org

Number of sales: 4

Profit made: $121.00

Amount donated: $18.15

ACLU

Number of sales: 8

Profit made: $313.00

Amount donated: $46.95

Pollinator Partnership

Number of sales: 3

Profit made: $90.00

Amount donated: $13.50

Funds Raised To Date

350.org

Amount donated: $43.35

ACLU

Amount donated: $46.95

Pollinator Partnership

Amount donated: $13.50

 

 

With love,

-B

SRC for Purpose: Accountability Update, March 2017

Hey everyone! If you’ve been following me on social media or Etsy lately, you’ll know that I’ve started a series of “for purpose” works in attempt to create art that is not only beautiful and looks good, but does good too. During March, I released two designs. The first is my “wash your spirit clean” design, available in limited edition screen prints and tshirts, and the second is my “nevertheless, she persisted” design available in screen printed posters, digital prints, and tshirts available for preorder!

"Wash your spirit clean" design on tshirt

My wash your spirit clean design is a quote from environmentalist, John Muir, and the mountain and campfire design is to serve to remind us that we were born from nature, it is our true home, so we must be considerate and always evaluate our impact on it. For that reason, 15% of the sale price of all items with this design are being donated to 350.org, a global grassroots movement focused on reducing climate change by reducing carbon emissions and creating and implementing sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

"Nevertheless, she persisted" gold ink screen print

My nevertheless, she persisted design comes from a women’s empowerment motto that developed after the nomination hearing for Jeff Sessions’ as attorney general. While Elizabeth Warren was reading a 1986 letter by civil rights leader, Coretta Scott King, in protest of the nomination, she was interrupted and ultimately silenced by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. His words: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Because this phrase has feminist, racial, and civil rights implications behind it, I chose to donate 15% of the sale price of all items with this design to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

Funds Raised March 2017

In the coming months, I will continue to do each of these updates after the month is over and also include in them an amount raised to date.

350.org

Number of sales: 6

Profit made: $168.00

Amount donated: $25.20

ACLU

Number of sales: 0

Profit made: $0.00

Amount donated: $0.00

* I was pretty bummed about this too. The good news is, I’ve gotten 3 orders already at the start of April and it has gotten lots of views on Etsy, so I am still very hopeful!

 


 

If you want to support my work, but can’t make any purchases right now, you can still vote for my shop until April 6th for Etsy’s #DifferenceMakesUs Small Business Contest! All you need to do is enter a valid email address and select whether or not you would like to receive emails from Etsy in the future. Easy as pie. Please consider voting here: http://wshe.es/7YXq6zJs

 

With love,

-B

Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf

Etsy #DifferenceMakesUs Small Business Contest

I recently entered Etsy’s #DifferenceMakesUs small business contest for a shot at winning $10,000 to put towards advancing South Ranch Creative. It’s a long shot. A very, very long one, and yet one I need to make. I pushed off applying for weeks with the thought in my head that there was no chance, so why waste the time? That my shop wasn’t real enough, big enough, or successful enough to be deserving of a $10,000 prize. But I was wrong. This is the year I want to stop telling myself I’m not ready or not successful enough yet. So here it goes.

The contest required a simple answering of three questions, upon which I would receive a url to share and start gathering votes for my shop. The shops with the 1st and 2nd highest votes at the end of the contest (April 6th, 2017) will win $10,000 and $3,000, respectively to put towards their shop. I wanted to share with you all my extended answers to the questions after realizing that I was only allowed 1000 characters per question on the actual application… I had typed almost triple that for each…

 

Briefly tell us about your business and what makes it different. Details could include how you got started, what makes your business stand out, or how difference has helped your business and others.

I’ve always been a creator. As a toddler, I drew a yellow cat that was actually recognizable as such. It had ears, stick legs, even whiskers. In elementary school, I blew around ink through a straw to create trees. In middle school, I wrote poems and made trompe l’oeil drawings and drew funny dragons. In high school I learned film photography and how to paint in oil. In college I studied graphic design. I learned screen printing, made sculptures, built furniture, laser cut posters, and started growing all the plants I could fit in my temporary home.

I’m not an artist. I’m not a designer. I’m a creator. It’s in my blood to take pieces, to take materials, and to create something new out of it. And until college, my motivating factor beyond personal satisfaction was simply to create what the world deemed “beautiful”. To create awe and wonder. But two moments in college changed me. Though I am a creator, to create is not my purpose. It’s a means to my life purpose, something which I am still in the infancy of learning. And learning that purpose began freshman year when I discovered a nonprofit, Invisible Children, and took an environmental class on climate change. These two events were significant at the time to me no doubt, but I certainly did not realize just how much the course of my life would be changed by these events over the next five years. It perhaps was not seen to the naked eye, but my heart was changing. My mind, once solely focused on the narrow scope of my own existence, was now obsessed with humanity, past and present, and the preservation of future life in a sustainable and peaceful way. Everything was about more than just me. I became an activist. I volunteered. I started making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable and create less waste. I paid attention to the things I bought and what they supported.

At the end of college I knew working for a big agency wasn’t for me, but I realized that if I were to be so critical about the brands I was already purchasing from, I had to make sure that anything I sold didn’t negate my own views on environmentalism, sustainability, and human rights. I started South Ranch Creative in 2015 as a means to sell my creations. My creations varied: paintings, wood burned home goods and art, screen prints, natural wall art, and more. But what brought and continues to bring my work together now is my love of nature and my interest in empowering individuals and advocating for the causes I care about.

I create because I like it. I create because it incites awe in others. I create because I can send a message. But the reason I sell my creations, and hope to turn it into a full time occupation, is because I want to redefine what it means to sell things for a living. After listening, relistening, and listening again to Charlie Kaufman’s Screenwriters Lecture, I’ve found such a powerful truth in these words about what it means to sell things for a living:

“People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’ And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now.”

And it hurt me as a creator to listen to these words but at the same time I recognized just how true they were. And I don’t want to be part of it.

 

How would you use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale your business in a big way this year?

I would use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale up my ability to do more than just sell my work for a living. My dream for South Ranch Creative is eliminate the stream of waste in packaging, create products that use natural or reclaimed materials whenever possible, and develop a business model focused on creating quality products that last and will be cherished for years to come, thus reducing a consumer need/desire to constantly buy new things. While I am currently working towards some of these goals already such as using biodegradable packaging tape and materials or organic natural fiber clothing, with a limited amount of funds to invest in my business, I am not currently able to go as far as I would like.

This money would help me research the best ways to create art without creating waste, and then implement those findings. Because much of what I sell is online and must be shipped, I am most interested in using a portion of these funds specifically to invest in entirely recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging for my products… both for shipping and any display packaging or labels. Secondly, I would like to invest in my screen printing equipment and supplies to ensure that I won’t be using excess water or energy, creating excess waste, or flushing chemicals down the drain during my process of creating. This includes a filtration system for when washing and cleaning my screens and a chemical recirculation system that would allow me to reuse the same chemicals again and again. It would also include research and application of the most sustainable and eco friendly inks and paints to work with. For screen printing, this means finding the best non-toxic, water-based inks to use on only natural fiber fabrics. For painting in oil, gouache, or acrylic, this means avoiding paints that use highly toxic pigments to create their color and finding safer alternatives.

Creating a business model that isn’t dependent on creating needless waste is by far the biggest and most important thing I can do this year for my business.

 

Describe a truly special moment you’ve had with a buyer. Did they request an extra special item? Inspire a successful new product? We can’t wait to hear!

My most special moment with a buyer was actually with several buyers. My hometown is in rural central Maryland and in late July 2016, a horrible flood ravaged the nearby main street of Historic Ellicott City. Old Ellicott City had always been a favorite place of mine to spend weekends shopping at the local small businesses, go hunting for antiques with my mom, and peruse the various art galleries with pride at knowing some of the great artists within them. Main Street was home and meant so much to me and I know countless others. The destruction of this flood was astonishing and numbing. Two lives were lost. So many shop owners lost everything. They are still rebuilding.

But the aftermath was also one of the most beautiful outpourings of support I have ever witnessed. The community rallied in every way to raise funds to rebuild, help with the cleanup effort, and donate supplies and services. I wanted to do my part and that meant creating. I illustrated what Old Ellicott City meant to me and sold posters and tshirts of my illustration of some of my favorite buildings and landmarks… including the man that blew giant bubbles outside the toy store every weekend since I can remember. I donated 80% of my profits to the Ellicott City Partnership to help rebuild and was able to raise over $2,600 for the cause. While this is a tiny fraction of what was needed to rebuild, I could see just how much this meant to those who were buying my work. I received so many words and messages of thanks and appreciation and nostalgia over some of the landmarks pictured in my illustration. It was so incredibly heartwarming to how I could use my art to truly make a difference not only monetarily for this cause but also emotionally. This event has since inspired me to begin another series of works focused on particular issues I care about that donate a portion of the proceeds towards related nonprofits.

 


 

Thank you so much for all the support over the last year and a half, and I hope you can support me and my dreams for bettering South Ranch Creative! In order to vote, all you need is an email address and you only have to vote once! It ends April 6th, so if you’d like to vote and/or share, it would mean so much to me and you can do so here: http://wshe.es/7YXq6zJs

#DifferenceMakesUs

-B

Your Mission. Your Voice. Take a peek inside my process for creating, lettering, and designing these passion posters for Voice A Story Magazine.

Your mission. Your voice.

On creating visual passion statements for Voice A Story Magazine.

 

Just over a month ago, I had the pleasure of sharing some of my favorite hand lettering work to date with the world through Voice A Story Magazine. If you don’t know, I am lucky to be the Creative Director of this digital magazine, so in addition to creating it’s very first physical product to sell in collaboration with South Ranch Creative, I also design each quarterly issue, create marketing graphics and images, and keep the website looking sleek and up-to-date.

 

WHOAH, you’re thinking. She’s got a LOT of passion for this company. And you’re right. My work as Creative Director for this magazine is currently 100% pro bono because the mission behind this magazine, this movement, is both powerful and necessary. And that’s where this whole idea started. The mission statement of Voice A Story magazine is as follows:

 

We are a magazine devoted to telling worthwhile and relevant stories, conducting thoughtful interviews, and publishing excellent fiction, poetry, and art without the media biased lens of what is or is not "news." We think people should able to define their own news based on things that really matter to them, rather than what the media thinks is sexy, dramatic, or contentious. Our goal is to point people to news and stories that matter. But we want to do more than that. For every issue of our magazine that is purchased, we donate one dollar to a hand picked nonprofit that’s helping give others a voice or bringing a voice to an issue. It is our belief that the best stories are the ones that have not yet been told, and we promise to do our best to provide the most relevant content on things that really matter, whether it is mainstream news or not. - Voice A Story Magazine

 

We are a magazine devoted to telling worthwhile and relevant stories, conducting thoughtful interviews, and publishing excellent fiction, poetry, and art without the media biased lens of what is or is not “news.” We think people should able to define their own news based on things that really matter to them, rather than what the media thinks is sexy, dramatic, or contentious. Our goal is to point people to news and stories that matter. But we want to do more than that.

 

For every issue of our magazine that is purchased, we donate one dollar to a hand picked nonprofit that’s helping give others a voice or bringing a voice to an issue. It is our belief that the best stories are the ones that have not yet been told, and we promise to do our best to provide the most relevant content on things that really matter, whether it is mainstream news or not.

 

The idea.

 

I created this visual mission statement for Voice A Story because I wanted the mission statement to not only tell of our passion and dreams, but show it. A visual portrayal of emphasis, passion, dedication, and most importantly, flaws was built to prove to readers that we mean what we say and we mean. We are here to share stories that matter from people and charities that have something powerful to say.

 

Our mission statement simmered in the back of my mind for weeks, as I continued to feel empowered by its message. I thought to myself, why not bring this same message of empowerment to our readers, our contributors, our supporters? To our adventurers, our storytellers, our activists, and our dreamers? That is the heart and soul of Voice A Story.

 

Process shot of hand lettering Voice A Story Magazine's Mission Statement. I created this visual mission statement for Voice A Story because I wanted the mission statement to not only tell of our passion and dreams, but show it. A visual portrayal of emphasis, passion, dedication, and most importantly, flaws was built to prove to readers that we mean what we say and we mean. We are here to share stories that matter from people and charities that have something powerful to say.

 

Putting our mission into action.

 

I set out excitedly sharing this idea with Voice A Story’s Founder and Editor-In-Chief, Ryan. With the rest of the VAS team, we set out to collaboratively write four passion statements for the adventurer, storyteller, activist, and dreamer. It has a little bit of all of us in it, and we hope it speaks to you too. These missions are both utterly personal and globally understood. We find commonality in our deepest convictions, where we can acknowledge our differences but see the beauty and strength in this thing we both feel.

 

These passion statements were written entirely by hand, with minimal retouching for prints. Because for me, it is important to recognize the inherent power in our very fingertips. That, while they may have flaws or hit a few bumps along the way, have the incredible power to create and feel and build. That we don’t need computer and technology and money to be fulfilled. We need passion and humility and creation.

 

Inspiration is a powerful tool because it allows us to see that we are the masters of our life, and thus we have the ability to shift and shape it into something good, something meaningful, something better than what came before.

 

 

So which are you?

 

You may notice that the four pillars of Voice A Story relate strongly to the core of South Ranch Creative: create. dream. explore. act. So it was incredibly difficult for me to say that I am not every one of these things! Let’s be real, most of us are probably at LEAST two and I know that in my own way I AM all of these things and more!

 

The print that kept me coming back, though, was the activist print. I praise many of the wise words of my friend Sara in this statement, for she (and we) were able to touch on everything I care about in six little sentences. Because activism is about donating or volunteering for nonprofits. It’s about the deeply felt belief that you are an equal being to every other on this planet. It’s about the feeling of obligation to lift up those who are down, in trust that you will be lifted up when you need it. It’s about humility and service and using your voice. Creation, art, crafts, design. Those are all tools for me to act. To be the person I want to be and help others do the same.

 

The print that kept me coming back, though, was the activist print. I praise many of the wise words of my friend Sara in this statement, for she (and we) were able to touch on everything I care about in six little sentences. Because activism is about donating or volunteering for nonprofits. It’s about the deeply felt belief that you are an equal being to every other on this planet. It’s about the feeling of obligation to lift up those who are down, in trust that you will be lifted up when you need it. It’s about humility and service and using your voice. Creation, art, crafts, design. Those are all tools for me to act. To be the person I want to be and help others do the same.

 


Which are you? The activist? The storyteller? The adventurer? The dreamer? Are you all four or something else entirely? I’d love to hear your story and which poster resonates both with you. They are available for purchase here so check them out along with our latest issue of the magazine! For a limited time, you can bundle issue 04 (our most recent issue) with a passion print of your choosing to get the ultimate passion package deal! That deal is available here and you can feel great about your purchase because $1 of every current magazine purchase goes to our featured charity of that issue. Issue 04’s featured charity is Far Away Friends, a brilliant and youthful nonprofit that just put the finishing touches on a school they built from the ground up in Namasale, Uganda.

 

So my adventures, my activists, my storytellers, my dreamers, and my CREATIVES, never stop looking for your passion and working towards the reality of it. You may just surprise yourself when you make it.



Stay creative. Stay you.

-B

 

Your Mission. Your Voice. Take a peek inside my process for creating, lettering, and designing these passion posters for Voice A Story Magazine.
When I first started collecting leaves last fall, they were for props to use for my other listings, ornaments and coasters mainly. But the more I collected, the more I started to appreciate the colors, the shapes, the patterns, and the uniqueness of every individual leaf. It happened by accident, almost. One day I looked down at one of my flattened leaves and thought to myself, this would be a great canvas to paint on. And so I did.

New in the Shop: Framing Nature

When I first started collecting leaves last fall, they were for props to use for my other listings, ornaments and coasters mainly. But the more I collected, the more I started to appreciate the colors, the shapes, the patterns, and the uniqueness of every individual leaf. It happened by accident, almost. One day I looked down at one of my flattened leaves and thought to myself, this would be a great canvas to paint on. And so I did.

 

From there I couldn’t be stopped. It was actually strange to me how much fun I was having doing the same thing I normally do, just on a different surface. It was like nature’s coloring book, and I had to stay within the lines of the leaves. My only regret is not collecting enough leaves to last the year!

 

Though I’ve had a couple of my framed leaves in the shop for a while, I finished four new ones this week and am so thrilled with how they turned out so I wanted to share the whole collection with you, newest first. I was even bold enough to show myself in a few of these pictures. Looks like it’s time to start recruiting friends as models!

 

Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf Explore Framed Painted LeafExplore Framed Painted Leaf Explore Framed Painted Leaf Explore Framed Painted Leaf Small Red Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Small Red Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Small Red Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Explore Broken to Pieces Framed Painted Leaf Explore Broken to Pieces Framed Painted Leaf Explore Broken to Pieces Framed Painted Leaf Large Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Large Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Large Geometric Framed Painted Leaf Multi Pattern Framed Geometric Painted LeafMulti Pattern Framed Geometric Painted Leaf

 

Hope y’all enjoyed! Everything shown above is (while supplies last) available in my Etsy shop that you can find here. I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’d like to see painted on leaves next so drop a comment and lets chat.

Till next time,

Live creatively.

-B

 

When I first started collecting leaves last fall, they were for props to use for my other listings, ornaments and coasters mainly. But the more I collected, the more I started to appreciate the colors, the shapes, the patterns, and the uniqueness of every individual leaf. It happened by accident, almost. One day I looked down at one of my flattened leaves and thought to myself, this would be a great canvas to paint on. And so I did.