“Have you written a thank you card yet?”
This was a familiar refrain of my childhood following every Christmas and birthday. At the time, I always grumbled. I mean, I had thanked my aunt/uncle/grandparent on the phone already. Writing something out took time. I had to think of what to say. Who could be bothered?
And of course, that’s the entire point of it. Sending a card, whether a thank you, a birthday greeting, or just a note to say hello, is automatically imbued with thoughtfulness—someone took the time to go to a shop, purchase a card, handwrite a sentiment, and post it. If you believe it’s the thought that counts, then the humble greeting or note card is priceless.
All of this was brought into focus last week when I attended my first Ladder Club event in Southend-on-Sea. The Ladder Club was founded by Lynn Tait and Jakki Brown to help budding greeting card publishers get on the industry ladder. It was informative, inspiring, and insightful. For example, did you know that the greeting card industry is worth over £1.7 billion annually to the UK? Yet it’s not an industry that you go into to strike it rich; rather, the people I met at the Ladder Club were there for the sheer love of art, design, and cards. Indeed, it is a very human industry, working hard to help people connect through the medium of pen and paper. And learning what I know now about the backs of cards would have saved me hours, if not days, of my life.
Because, needless to say, my relationship with writing out cards has undergone a metamorphosis since my childhood. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not a surprise that I started to design my own. I grew to love looking at greeting cards, finding the perfect one to go to a friend of family member for their birthday or special occasion. I even bought cards for myself and framed them – forget posters, these miniature works of art are probably the cheapest way to decorate a student bedroom!
However, using my own photography for cards took some time. I was running a website for my parents and dabbling in digital design when I learned how apply photos to shapes. I used my father’s photos of the Florida coastline to make soaring pelicans, swimming sea turtles, and even text to show local pride.
It’s not often that you can point to a seabird or turtle and say they turned into a stag or hedgehog, but that’s exactly what happened. I eventually realised that I could use my own photography, which was, I admit, gathering dust on my hard drive, and do something interesting with it.
The stag was my first experiment at combining silhouettes and landscape photography. It was also one of the hardest to get how I wanted. I turned into Goldilocks, going through several silhouettes before finding one that was “just right”. However, that time was well spent, as this is one of my best-selling cards. I’m not sure if it’s the bright autumn colours or the dynamic stag that attracts people, but it’s always one that gets commented on when I sell at craft fairs. The photo I used for the stag is also one of my favourites, showing vibrant Japanese maples (acers) at their finest, and I’ve actually turned the complete photo into a large canvas that hangs above my bed.
In many ways, the stag led the charge into my interest in producing my own cards. It was quickly followed by a wildlife menagerie: badgers, foxes, squirrels, and hedgehogs all got the silhouette treatment. This became my first set of cards, which I sell packaged with a wildlife magnet or badge (this sparked a whole ‘nother sideline, but that’s a story for a different day!).
I call this budding range The Shape of Nature, and it was later joined by Nature’s Rainbow and Nature’s Blueprints. Looking back, it’s funny how this one design led to so many more. At the moment I’m trying to find a bit of time to play matchmaker, finding the perfect animal silhouette to go with just the right photo. I’d love to add many more animals: hares and bats, birds and bugs … basically the full spectrum of British wildlife!
But, in the meantime, I am trying to learn as much as I can, and that is one of the enormous benefits of attending the Ladder Club—it provides the opportunity to learn from those who have been there, done that, and who are willing to share their experience and enthusiasm with those of us just starting out on our journeys.
This is why, as a confirmed introvert, I was grateful to have the chance for a one-to-one chat with the lovely Sharon Little, the CEO of the Greeting Card Association, who took the time to answer my questions and offer encouragement. She also reminded me that 25th September – 1st October is Thinking of You Week in the UK. This nationwide event is now in its fourth year and intends to inspire “people to create a wave of love, caring and happiness by sending greeting cards to different people during the week.”
The cynical will say this is simply a ploy by the industry to sell more greeting cards. But don’t underestimate the potential of reaching out to a friend or family member for no apparent reason—as I discovered all those years ago, cards have power. Perhaps even more so now: in a world of emails, texts, and instant messages, cards are something to be kept and treasured, a tangible reminder that someone cared.