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MEMBER SPOTLIGHT - NICOLE ELDERS
The Giftware Association spoke to one of its newest members Nicole Elders on her brand, her audiences, and some of her inspirations as an artist.
Can you tell us a bit more about your brand?
Of course. I am a calligraphy artist, I blend this ancient art form with a modern sense of style and humour to create unique artwork, prints and giftware; pieces that catch the eye and draw you in. My artwork is completely unique and tells a story, sometimes light-hearted and full of humour, others are informative, but all of them intricate and complex designs and all created by hand, initially with a pencil sketch and then in ink.
I am very passionate about unique design, the independent high-street and fair trade; I work exclusively with British artisans and small UK firms, using sustainably sourced products wherever possible to bring my work to life.
Who is your audience?
My target audience is predominantly women 30-60. The reason being my products make excellent gifts, especially for hard to buy for people and women in this range typically are the principle gift buyers.
How long have you been trading and what is the history of the company?
I am an aeronautical engineer by trade; I have always been fascinated by the amount of information transmitted by an engineering drawing, including the size and 3D shape of the component, the tolerances and intended material. The same cannot be said for other images. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but which words? No two people would describe an image the same way. This can be a blessing for the artist, art is subjective after all, but what if the artist wanted to tell a story?
I started with wedding artwork in 2017- a piece of art to celebrate a couple’s story, hand lettered text about how they met, what they love, stories and anecdotes of their time together and culminating in their wedding day. One piece of artwork, telling their story and all created by hand. From these beginnings something slowly grew.
I have worked on some fabulous pieces, creating artwork celebrating the return of The Open golf tournament to Northern Ireland, and a piece celebrating the Entry into Service of the Airbus Beluga XL aircraft, telling the story of Rolls-Royce and Airbus and their working relationship over decades.
I have since introduced more commercial work, with several ranges, including unique greetings cards and giftware unlike anything else on the market. Chief among these is a range of county maps, each containing the major towns, cities and tourist destinations, complete with major landmarks, both natural and man-made, battlefields and history, with details of regional culinary treats thrown in for good measure. The result is a salute to the county, a celebration of all that is great about our country, and a fantastic keepsake and gift. I also have a growing range of greetings cards, each image made of quotes and facts that match the subject of the card. The result is an intricate image filled with the kind of things you would love to write inside the card if only you could think of it.
What three words best describe your business and its products?
Innovative, story-telling, calligraphy
Where do you find your inspiration?
It’s difficult to say if I’m honest. Some ideas seem to land in my brain fully formed and some take months/ years to fully come together.
The challenge with my work is marrying an image and its content, and then carrying out the research to make it happen, and all of that happens before I can really put pencil to paper. Each image is made up of words and phrases that match the subject of the piece. The result is an intricate image that can be humorous or informative depending on the text I’ve chosen. For example, when designing a new tractor card (coming soon), I first had a choice between a vintage or a modern tractor, but I also needed to choose what words would make up the tractor. That could be facts about tractors, jokes about tractors or the names of different popular tractors… or something else entirely…. then of course not being an expert on tractors I had some research to do, but the result is a card perfect for any vintage tractor lover. You’d be amazed how much incredibly niche knowledge I pick up- I just wish I could remember it all!
A lot of my work celebrates what is great about this country. I adore doing the county maps because I learn so much with each one. I don’t have to search far for inspiration there, there are no end of websites, guidebooks or information leaflets in service stations that proclaim all the amazing must see places nearby. The difficulty sometimes is not being able to include everything, and making some tough calls. How do you decide whether a famous museum is more interesting than a major battlefield or a major walking route?
Do you use social media to promote your business? How has this landscape changed over the years within the home and gift industry?
I do use social media, but I am by no means adept at it. The landscape has changed significantly and it can sometimes feel hard to stand out or make an impact. For example, I’m no good with a song and dance routine, and debating at length which quotes to use in a piece is hardly considered imperative viewing when it comes to reels and videos. In short, I struggle.
Do you do any advertising/PR?
Honestly I don’t do nearly enough, however my peak PR success was achieving front page of The Open website during the week of the 148th Open golf championship in Royal Portrush, with my artwork celebrating the return of the tournament to Northern Ireland (it was only the second time the tournament was held in Northern Ireland in it’s history).
What do you wish you’d known at the very beginning of starting your business that you know now?
I’m not actually sure that I would change an awful lot. My business has grown very slowly and organically, but this has given me the chance to hone my style and fine-tune my ideas. Some ideas have fallen flat, others have needed iterating and since grown far beyond what I Imagined. My work now is a marked improvement over my original pieces. As with most artists and designers I’ve gone through ups and downs, but at every stage I’ve learnt something new, and I’ve still not seen anything similar to my work on the market. Perhaps the one thing I would change would be to join the Giftware Association sooner, I never realised what a valuable source of support and guidance it could be. It is wonderful, just knowing that there is a team of fantastic people out there with guidance and advice if you need it.
Do you feel the economic climate is improving or is it getting tougher to trade?
The market is definitely changing, the economic landscape has altered significantly recently, families have less disposable income and as a result are more cautious about how they spend it; however since the pandemic we are also seeing a shift towards British artisan products, and away from mass produced imported goods. This is an opportunity for the independent high-street, the opportunity to demonstrate that thoughtful British handmade and designed goods are desirable.
What do you see as being the biggest problem for giftware suppliers in the gift industry?
The problems, as I see it, are two fold. Firstly, recovery following the pandemic; Many retailers, and designers struggled enormously through the pandemic and having to pivot very quickly to a rapidly changing environment and purely online presence.
Secondly, since the pandemic, we are seeing a preference for British high quality artisan products, people want to know where things are from. They have less money to spend and thus are putting more thought into how it is being spent; in supporting their local independent shops they want to see gifts that are useful, thoughtful or thought provoking – in short they want something new, something they can’t find on amazon. The challenge is therefore to constantly innovate, to produce things that are different, new and exciting, that make people smile and brings joy in challenging times, no mean feat.
What news do you have to share with us so we can celebrate your achievements in 2022, and what are you looking to achieve?
I have a fabulous new range of greetings cards that I’ll be debuting soon, and which I am very excited about- these are perfect for country lovers, with a range covering fishing, farming and riding. They are quirky and fun and I’m excited to properly launch them at the Harrogate Home and Gift Fair in July – if you’re there do pop by and see me on stand DP5-B06
I also have an ever-increasing range of county maps, with several, including County Durham, Devon and Tyne and Wear due to make their debut shortly, with several others in the pipeline.
I do have an exciting commission that I am working on behind the scenes, but I’m afraid there is very little that I can tell you about this just now.. suffice to say I will be working this one through to completion and celebrating with a large glass of prosecco when it’s complete!
You can find out more abut Nicole Elders and get in touch at her website here - https://nicoleelders.com/