Artist Feature: Sappling Creations
Gemma of Sappling Creations has been on my 'to interview' list for several months, so I was delighted when we finally managed to schedule a call (even if it did have to be via Skype, the bane of my communications life).
I've been friends with Gemma for over ten years, and she's always been a maker of things - music, drama, all sorts of art. Sappling Creations materialised a few years ago and I've had the pleasure of being a customer as well as an admirer, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to introduce her and her work to all you lovely people.
If you ask Gemma why she started Sappling Creations, she laughs. 'I became unemployed, that's what happened!' Since when is that a bad reason to set up a business, I reason? But of course, there's a lot more to it than that. As with so many creative people, it came down to a mix of talent and opportunity.
'Well, I started making the paper flowers during my MA, when I was doing my dissertation. Then I had a gap year and started making more, and some of my friends saw them and asked me to do all the flowers and table decorations for their wedding, so it started there.'
Gemma had strong artistic interests beforehand. 'I’ve always done art and made things. I did a music degree, with drama on the side – so there’s always been something creative in me, and this was another way to express it. In this instance my mum sent me some pretty paper, so I found something to do with it!'
I'm intrigued by how these flowers work - they look so intricate. Is it similar to origami?
'It’s modular origami, so you cut a square then fold it into a little cone to create each petal, and then construct the flower.' She demonstrates with one of the flowers she's currently making for a bridesmaid's bouquet. The process sounds simple enough, but it clearly requires a careful eye and hand. It takes around 2 hours to make a batch of six from start to finish, cutting, folding, sticking and assembling with stems.
'If I have a huger order I can sometimes rope in a friend or two to help me with the folding - occasionally I reward them with wine! I tend to work in large batches, so I can do a job lot of folding or sticking in one go and it doesn't feel like it's taking forever.'
These flowers were the starting point for Sappling Creations, and they've come a long way since Gemma started making them as a dissertation distraction technique.
'It was probably 2015 that I really got going with a proper business. The first wedding I was commissioned for was in 2013, and I didn't do another until January 2015. After the third wedding I started to realise that actually the flowers were quite good, and I got a lot of compliments for them. I put some photos online and - along with various other crafts - they were the foundation of Sappling Creations.'
The weddings are where things have really taken off, and each one has been different. Gemma loves how she can create something unique for each one.
'People can really put their own stamp on things. The first wedding theme was books and they were picked by the bride and groom, who were scholars. Lord of the Rings featured, and I used Scrabble tile letters for each flower centre. I also made all their centrepieces which were crafted from various books, and the tables were named after different libraries in Oxford.'
Other wedding themes have included blue and white, for Sheffield Wednesday, 'with a bit of pink and purple in the bride's bouquet to make it pop,' adds Gemma. Another, for her friend Sophie with whom she played in an orchestra at university, was created using shades of purple and sheet music.
I ask whether people find it difficult to decide what they want - does she have to help them with themes?
'Some have a clear concept, others just look at my images online and say, "I like these ones". Now that I’ve made a greater volume there are more examples for people to base their decisions on. But of course they don’t know what materials I have or the different things I can use, so it really is a bespoke service where we discuss options and I narrow it down with them. If there’s an idea I really don’t think will work, I try to steer them away from it, but hey - it’s their wedding day!'
There is more to Sappling Creations than just the flowers. 'I love the weddings and big projects, but there are lots of other fun little things I make as well. Lately I've got into making flower cups, which are paper roses in cups and saucers. They make sweet gifts and go down well at the craft fairs. Between those and the flowers I was inundated with orders over Mother's Day!'
Since moving to Liverpool earlier in the year, Gemma's had a regular stall at the local craft fairs. It's been encouraging to see that her creations are considered unique by her fellow exhibitors.
'When I go to the fairs, the other traders say they’ve never seen the kinds of things that I make anywhere else, so that’s good – and a lot of the traders come and buy my things, or we do an exchange if they have something I want. But I know some of them really struggle trying to sell their work, because people look at them and say ‘it’s not worth that’, but it is. You always get someone who looks at your stall and says 'I could make that,' and we all just bite our tongues and smile politely.
'Fellow crafters know the time and effort that go in. If I charged for my time at say the rate I charge for giving a music lesson, people wouldn't be able to afford it! So you have to be sensible, figure out what things cost to make and then add a bit on for your effort. I'm using better materials and making better quality products now, but my family's motto is "you get what you pay for", and I'm happy to stick to that.'
Gemma enjoys the craft fairs, but she's looking to expand and is in the process of setting up an Etsy shop. It will feature mostly bouquets and other arrangements, with some ready to go and some customisable options. She's always trying out new techniques and materials, and has recently started working with old maps.
So what does she enjoy the most?
'It has to be the weddings, really. The flowers are a big part of someone's wedding day, and everyone gets complimented on them, from the groom and dads with their buttonholes to the bride's and bridesmaids' bouquets. There's a lot of satisfaction in handing over a big order and knowing you've contributed something beautiful to that event. And of course, they don't die like real flowers do!'
'But I also enjoy the tiny projects, like the rose cups. It’s very simple, just rolling paper and gluing and pinning it, but it’s very satisfying to me. And if I’m in a bad mood then needle felting is the way forward!'
Gemma is passionate about reusing things and making the most of resources that would otherwise become unnecessary waste.
'Basically what I’m doing is upcycling – I’m reusing paper, and I love to reuse things I already have or that people have discarded but still have value. The china cups and saucers for the rose cups are all from charity shops, as are the old maps which have been thrown away because they’re out of date. To pick up something and give it new life as an object of beauty is a real pleasure.'
You can visit the Sappling Creations Facebook page here, and a link to the Etsy shop will shortly be available.