Four artists share the gifts they’ve created for loved ones
There’s nothing quite like receiving a handmade gift, and when it comes to making well-loved, personalized, and handcrafted objects, no one does it better than artists and makers. Here, four creative professionals, painters, and more share their processes for when it comes time to making personalized and highly artistic keepsakes intended for loved ones, family, and friends. They share what inspired them to create unique handmade gifts as well as their processes, and even the lucky recipients’ reactions to receiving these special mementos. We hope you are as inspired to create and paint your way through the holiday and gift-giving season as we are! Enjoy!
Gigi Chen & Handmade Painted Gifts
It is no surprise that prolific and talented artist Gigi Chen chooses to create handmade gifts informed by her painting ability. From neon bowerbird paintings (you’ll see!) that are small but mighty to bright murals to lovingly painted keepsake boxes, Gigi crafts gifts with quirk, care, and a great deal of meticulousness.
For her painted boxes, Gigi starts by sanding and gessoing old cigar boxes, and then draws up plans for the scenes that will decorate each one. Usually those decorations are elements that Gigi simply loves painting. For one box, Gigi celebrated her friend John with small renditions of robot bunnies, yellow bunnies, and bowerbirds. “John and I have done many hikes together and I chose to set the whole scene in the woods,” adds Gigi. “I painted everything in acrylics and then used a clear shellac to protect the surface.”
For another friend, Gigi used the same process for the box-making, but went with a totally different theme. “I made this Space Box for my close friend Kateri,” Gigi shares. “I have been painting houses into my work as a way to make sense of the idea of home and house, safety and comfort. Home is a very close, and occasionally contentious, subject for both Kateri and myself. I painted a starscape and added a Dream Home inside the box. The whole piece is supposed to feel like a mirage. It was also done with acrylic and coated with a clear shellac.” Gigi’s friend Kateri nicknamed her box “An Inconvenient Gift” because of the dilemma she is having with how best to display it!
Gifting Paintings Small…
The artist also uses more traditional two-dimensional surfaces for gifts too. In 2019, Gigi created several of her signature neon bowerbird paintings that are all acrylic paintings on 6 x 6 inch wood panels. Many of Gigi’s own clients bought them during the holiday as gifts, and Gigi gifted a close friend with one as well.
Of late, Gigi has also used her painting skills to gift or give back to her workshop attendees. “My friend Heidi has this glorious art festival on her land in Winnipeg Beach in Canada,” says Gigi. “The event is called PROUTOPIA and she invited me to be her special artist guest in 2019. I created a mural as a gift to PROUTOPIA. The mural was hung up at the event and the best part was everyone who attended had been encouraged to bring gifts too. People brought all sorts of beautiful little handmade items and hung them up next to the painting for an installation. It was the best gift an artist could ask for.”
If you love painting, take inspiration from Gigi on all the ways you can use those abilities for exceptional and meaningful gifts this holiday season. The use of readymade boxes and small panels shows just how accessible and doable these processes can be.
Learn more about Gigi’s work here.
Jeanne Oliver & The Gift of ‘The Envelopes’
Jeanne Oliver is an artist and creative living and working in Castle Rock, Colorado. She uses art to tell her current stories and also those of growing up among gravel roads, cornfields, and early life surrounded by open spaces. Her latest workshops offer attendees the opportunity to explore the natural dying processes, stitching, journal making, and abstract collage work. In her own work, through mark-making, layers, and mixed media, she hopes to convey that we all have a story to tell.
Experience Over Object
The emphasis on a person’s unique story is what ignites Jeanne’s creativity when it comes to putting herself in the position of a giver-artist-maker. “It shows that you took the time to really think about the receiver and what would bless them. It takes more time but the end result is so much sweeter,” says Jeanne.
For this artist, the emphasis is not on object but experience: “I love to give experiences whenever possible. Often these experiences are through gatherings here at our home, studio, and land. Sometimes they have been outdoor dinner parties, small outdoor concerts, or outdoor movie nights.” On these occasions Jeanne’s creativity seems like an almost instinctive addition, as she creates special objects, written messages, tablescapes, and floral arrangements to reflect the special atmosphere and moment of celebration. The same goes for when birthdays arrive in the Oliver household.
How Jeanne’s Envelope Tradition Began
“Almost 23 years ago our birthday tradition began,” says Jeanne. “We barely had any money in those years but what followed made me feel so rich. It was my birthday during our first year of marriage and my day started off with a stack of envelopes.”
Each envelope was numbered and each envelope led to an adventure. Jeanne couldn’t open the next numbered envelope until she accomplished what had been described in the preceding envelope. “We did all of my favorite things, from visiting a bookstore and my favorite café to a picnic on the Mall – we used to live in Washington, DC.” The point of the day was that it was all about Jeanne and all of the little things that she cherished.
“After we had children I knew I wanted to start ‘the envelopes’ tradition for them,” says Jeanne. “If you ask our children what they want for their birthdays they will always yell, ‘envelopes!’ Who can turn down a day completely filled with all of the little and big things that they love? Who can turn down the excitement of a day of surprises and adventures? We have continued this tradition for 20 years and now our children even gift this experience to close friends.”
The Present Process
When it comes to the process leading up to the day of the envelopes, Jeanne confides that she gathers ideas for months leading up to a birthday or special occasion, slowly collecting anything she may need to make the day special.
“The night before birthdays I handwrite a card describing each thing we will do and place it into a numbered envelope. I then tie up the envelope bundle with twine. The bundle is waiting for the birthday girl or boy on the kitchen table the next morning,” she says. “Whether it has been my mom, my husband, one of our children, a close friend or me…you can not get the envelopes and not feel loved.”
What’s so inspiring about Jeanne’s envelopes is that the creativity comes in on so many levels. There’s the observing and reflecting on the interests and hobbies of your loved one to create that perfect envelopes day. Then there’s the presentation of the envelopes themselves. You can create envelopes and notes that are simple, or ones that are designed to reflect your artistry, and who said they have to be envelopes at all? Boxes, handmade books, postcards — they could all be the starting point for your holiday gift surprise. Use Jeanne’s wonderful gift-giving tradition as a jumping off point for your own.
Find more about Jeanne’s work here!
Sandrine Pelissier and the Gift of Bowls, Wearables, and More
Sandrine Pelissier, a French artist who lives and works in North Vancouver, Canada, creates paintings, drawings, and mixed media creations that celebrate the beauty of women of all ages and shapes. A full-time artist and maker, Sandrine’s well of inspiration seems to never run dry. Her portfolio of gifts can be seen in the same way — an outpouring of her creativity and urge to explore and discover.
Sandrine has made felted objects like hearts on a string for a loved one to decorate their room with. She’s used her knitting skills to make a basket of crochet-covered rocks that display gorgeously. One gift that Sandrine has explored several variations of is handmade bowls.
Artist-Made Bowls = Beautiful Gifts
“I like to make bowls. They are an easy gift to make, and you can always use them to sort things at home,” says Sandrine. So true, and Sandrine has proven there are so many ways to create such useful tokens. She’s made delicate papier-mâché bowls that look unassuming from the outside and display bright colors and lovely patterns on the inside.
On her process to create these, Sandrine shares: “These bowls are made from newspaper and a paste of flour and salt. I used existing bowls covered in plastic wrapping paper as a mold. Once the bowls had time to dry, I painted them with white acrylic on the outside and pink alcohol inks on the inside. I then added patterns with a dipping pen and ink or stencils. Then I varnished them. You cannot use them to eat food, but they look great just as a decoration or to hold small objects.”
Sandrine has also created bowls by crocheting recycled plastic bags and crocheting rope, but the material that packs an element of surprise when it comes to bowl-making is a standard material: wool yarn. “Felted bowls are fun to make, you only need wool yarn that is going to felt,” says Sandrine. “I just crochet a bowl and wash it in the washing machine and then dry it in the dryer. The reveal of the result is always fun as I am never totally sure how much the wool will felt and what the bowl will look like.”
Another category of gift that Sandrine loves to explore is clothing or accessories altered with artistic techniques. For the handmade printed scarf below, Sandrine selected a light-weight fabric and printed on it with fabric ink and round lino stamps that the artist carved by hand. She created several stamps and each has a different design. When it came to printing, Sandrine liked the look of white ink on the dark gray fabric she’d chosen, which made the stamp patterns pop.
Sandrine also likes the idea of repurposing clothes from thrift stores and making something a bit different with them. After attending an interesting presentation on textile work and how it can be connected to your art practice, Sandrine decided to look a bit more into the art of visible mending and sashiko. “I was fascinated by the embroidery patterns you can sew in sashiko and I see a clear parallel with the patterns I incorporate into my paintings,” she says.
For the design on the back of this second-hand jean jacket, Sandrine’s inspiration was the idea of pairing a crescent moon with flower patterns and a typical sashiko background. “I do not pretend to have the patience or precision of sashiko artists, but I see this as an interpretation of sashiko by a very impatient beginner!” The result was a lovely one-of-a-kind jacket that Sandrine gave as a gift.
Take encouragement from Sandrine’s inventiveness and her ability to create variations on a theme or object type. Think about your artistic skills and interests, reflecting on how they can be applied to different materials or used to iterate on a theme in creative ways. For example, if you are a watercolor artist who loves painting leaves, what about creating a set of small-scale paintings of leaves in monochrome, giving them as a colorful set that a friend or family member could display as a series.
Find more about Sandrine’s work here.
Eleanor Mill Gifts Portraits to Friends & Family, But Goes Beyond
A graphic artist and watercolorist, Eleanor Mill works mostly in a realistic style with the cityscape being a central motif. Her art is guided by her emotions and desire to express her feelings at a certain place and time.
Gifts are an interesting topic for Eleanor because she always tries to create unusual and memorable gifts for friends. “Since I am an artist, a painting or drawing is what I most often give as a gift. Usually this is a present for a celebration of an anniversary, graduation, or family celebration,” she says. “It is always a portrait, a most beloved and long-awaited gift for most people. I am a landscape painter, and I don’t normally create portraits but this genre is often associated with gifts.”
But Eleanor acknowledges that portraiture is not the only way she congratulates or honors a loved one. Sometimes the creation of a gift is associated with a hobby. For example, when Eleanor was fond of painting clothes (who isn’t?!), she painted shirts for family members. She depicted each one’s passions, hobbies, or occupation on the shirt.
When Eleanor was fond of working with cold porcelain and polymer clay, she created a whole series of jewelry for her sisters, cousins, and friends. At other times, she even toes into wedding planning of a very creative sort, making everlasting wedding bouquets and jewelry for brides.
In terms of orchestrating her creation of gifts, time is the last thing on Eleanor’s mind. And there is only one deadline she keeps in mind: the day she will be giving the gift. The rest is up to you, she says! “A gift differs from an order in that I strive to realize my idea as precisely and fully as possible. Neither the materials nor the time spent matter. This is 100 percent my idea and my responsibility to myself,” she says, and Eleanor takes that responsibility to heart. “A gift made with my own hands is my most vivid and sincere expression of friendly feelings. I devote my thoughts and time to it, apply my skill and mastery. I invest a part of myself in making this one of a kind thing, and it’s the only such object on Earth!”
The time spent on realizing these handmade, personalized gifts has been always worth it for Eleanor. The reactions of friends and family are a clear indication of that. “It is always admiration that stretches over several days of gratitude. I’m really embarrassed, but pleased when the recipient examines every detail of my creation, notices all the nuances, tries to guess how I did it. A handmade gift turns into an art object for a while!”
No matter when inspiration for a gift strikes you, Eleanor’s reminder is don’t flinch away from making it happen. Just keep that crucial deadline date in mind. Like Eleanor, consider what creative processes and techniques you are working with now. How could they translate into gifts this coming holiday season? What inspires you will surely inspire your loved ones!
Learn more about Eleanor’s work here.