I am fairly haphazard about doing business networking and I certainly don’t attend those ridiculously early breakfast networks which I imagine are full of wannabe Elon Musks and Gordon Geckos. Something I do always make time for, however, is events run by the Milspo Business Network.
Officially, the Milspo network is “a global network that supports all UK military spouses, partners and other-halves who are building the business of their dreams.” That’s a good description, and it is certainly helping me to achieve that, but it is so much more than that.
I can ask questions, test ideas, share wins, find suppliers, and collaborate. I can also share worries and sadness and get wonderful support and kindness. I have made life-long friends whom I treasure. It is everything a business network should be. We collaborate rather than competing and everyone is lifted by the success of members of the group.
The brains behind this fantastic organisation is Jess Sands (who is a graphic designer and runs Design Jessica) and I am incredibly grateful that she was tenacious enough to make this work. I know it has taken a lot of work!
If you are interested in joining us take a look at:
I always like to support charities when I can; from being a charity partner of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, to designing a serious of cards to raise funds for Rowans Hospice, to donating pictures for fundraising raffles. So, when I was approached to have a small entry in a cookbook celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion I was very keen!
You can get your hands on this lovely book here: https://stjamess.org/product/cooking-with-heroes/
Having a business which produces "things" always comes with a responsibility for considering one's environmental impact. To make my pictures we obviously have to buy materials, packaging, and all the sundries that come with making something. I thought it was about time that I highlighted what we do to minimise our environmental impact. It is something that is built into the fabric of the business and has been a concern since I started way back in the good old days of 2012.
You will not come across much plastic in our products. In fact, just about the only plastic you will see is if we are reusing it; for example bubblewrap that has been used in a parcel we have received. All of us save bubble wrap, boxes and other packaging materials for reuse. I do admit that the key rings we currently make are plastic and I am on the hunt for alternatives! All suggestions gratefully received!
When we do have to use new materials, we try and source from the UK and where possible choose recycled or recyclable materials. Our "bubblewrap", for example, is made of recycled paper rather than plastic. The tape we use on our frames and boxes is also made from paper and can be recycled, unlike the plastic tapes often used for packaging.
The paper on which we print all our pictures is made in Somerset by St Cuthbert's Mill who "take great pride in protecting the environment we live in, making paper in harmony with the local countryside". The inks we use are water rather than solvent based and we are in the process of moving to all FSC certified wood mouldings for our frames.
The glass in our picture frames is real, rather than the "plastic glass" often used by companies which post frames. By using decent cardboard packaging we can protect the glass and I can only remember one occasion in 9 years where a picture arrived with broken glass.
A fair amount of our workshop equipment is second hand, including our wonderful MORSO guillotine and my "new"toy an Adana Letterpress (you will be hearing more about that in a future blog!) It is obviously an ongoing process but I am proud of the choices we have made and continue to make.
Thank you for reading!
Last but not least are all the people I have met in the course of running this business. Whether they be customers, suppliers or people met through networking groups; I have been very lucky in the support and understanding that has been forthcoming. Thank you to everyone who makes Gillian Jones Designs so much more than just me sat at a computer.
Continuing on from previous posts about the difficulties in booked / accessing entertainment venues I thought I would share my recent experiences at Cineworld in Whiteley, Fareham. Booking was okay this time....it was the seating arrangements. As described below in my cathartic "feedback" e-mail:
I have just put all of this in one of your feedback forms, but thought I quite fancied a response so decided to e-mail in addition.
Yesterday I made my first visit to Whiteley Cinema. I booked my tickets online without any difficulty and attended with my husband and two children. I am a wheelchair user. I sometimes transfer out of my chair into a seat but since I didn't know the layout of the cinema, and there is no accessibility statement on your website, I decided to book a wheelchair space. I booked the space near the back, along with the adjacent seat. I also booked two seats the row in front assuming it would actually be the row in front as is normal.
Unfortunately on arriving at the cinema we were split up! I, along with one son, was taken upstairs to an "access booth". My husband and other son went into the main auditorium. I was in a little "keep the disabled people away from the normal people" box!! This was a good 6 foot above where my husband and son were sitting. My sons decided they wanted to sit together but they are young enough to still need supervision so they both came in to the box with me. Problematic because my husband was now not with us. We had to choose between my husband being near me to help with any medical problems I may encounter and someone supervising our children.
I cannot possibly fathom what went through the designers' heads when they decided this was a good idea. How on earth am I supposed to go to the cinema with my family? Apparently there are wheelchair spaces right at the front but, quite frankly, who wants to sit there?! The problem is compounded by the fact that the auditorium is stepped rather than sloped, meaning that I cannot even get to a decent seat and transfer out of my wheelchair. Were any wheelchair users (or indeed people with mobility problems) consulted during the design process?
I am afraid I find it difficult to express how utterly demeaning the whole situation was. From being taken to a "special lift" to being put in a box; the whole thing was quite frankly appalling.
I won't be going back to Cineworld because it would be impossible for you to rectify the problems without major work, and I most certainly won't be recommending it to my friends with disabilities.
Dr Gillian Jones
Won't be going there again....
This time two years ago I was desperately trying to get well enough to restart my teacher training course. I was endeavouring to become a secondary school maths teacher. I was loving the teaching and, if I do say so myself, I was pretty good at it! I am still proud of my "learn algebra using Lego superheroes" lesson. It seemed I had found my calling. Unfortunately, my health had other ideas. I ended up in hospital for a week during my first term, and again during the second. It turned out that my particular variety of asthma hates schools! Floor polish, whiteboard pens, cleaning sprays and teenagers wearing far too much deodorant were too much for my sensitive lungs! I reluctantly decided it was not going to work out and left the course.
Prior to starting my course I had been selling my pictures through Gillian Jones Designs, but it always seemed like a temporary activity. A bit of a hobby to keep me entertained until the kids got bigger and I got a "proper job". Since I had always expected my proper job would be teaching it was a bit of a blow (I am good at understatement!) to discover I couldn't do it.
After a bit of reflection, and some counselling*, I decided there was no reason not to focus on Gillian Jones Designs as a "proper job". I enjoyed it, people seemed to like my pictures, I could work from home and I could fit it around my children and my health.
Two years down the line and my business is more successful than ever. Last year I sold precisely zero pictures in January; this year I have sold several. I have a growing partnership with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. Knowledge of my designs is spreading and people often contact me on recommendation. In contrast, my health is significantly worse. I now have another chronic illness to add to my collection, I often use a wheelchair, I have days where I am so tired I cannot move from my sofa and I am currently in discussions about getting a stair lift fitted in my house (good grief!). This could be a fairly grim tale, and there are days when I am more than a little frustrated (understatement) but the decision to make Gillian Jones Designs my proper job was one of the best I have ever made. When I am feeling very unwell it can be tricky to keep on top of things. Fortunately I have a husband who is very good at mount cutting and friends who are excellent at packaging and don't mind doing Post Office runs! Plus I find customers are very understanding if one is honest with them.
So, here's to a home based, flexible, family friendly, health preserving, but "proper" job.
*As someone who had always been very self sufficient and more inclined to just "suck it up" than indulge in group hugs, I found counselling remarkable. Do it if you think you need it.
Today is mostly about melding with my sofa feeling more than a little rough. Whilst ticking off in my mind the symptoms I am experiencing today, I realised I could do my bit to increase awareness of the little known condition that I get to "enjoy" on a daily basis.
It's called functional neurological disorder and today it means I'm extraordinarily tired to the point my ears are ringing and my limbs feel three times their normal weight. I have stabbing pains in my sides and what feels like a little dude with a drill living in my head. My joints ache. My hands shake and my right leg keeps moving without me asking it to. My eyes aren't focusing properly. I can't stand up without the world spinning.
At the moment there is no consensus on the cause of FND and there are few effective treatments. It might get worse, it might stay the same, it might get better. It is one of a number of similar conditions that are not well understood such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
I don't normally reference Wikipedia but this is a pretty good summary:
And here are some of the symptoms:
And then there is my annoying unpredictable asthma which may or may not be related to the FND. It is all quite fascinating really! Just a shame it is so unpleasant at the same time 😉
Let's talk materials! They are one of the most important parts of my prints. In fact there are a collection of components to one of my pictures: the design, the printing, the paper, the mount, the mounting tape, the framing and the packaging. The first is usually all one thinks about and to be honest when selling via a website it is really all the potential customer can see. The beauty of the print quality and the paper is difficult to show on a screen. So I am going to try and explain it here!
Paper & Ink
This is a photo of my robin design. Hopefully you can see the texture of the paper and the clarity of the colour.
On top of the look of the paper and its ability to hold the ink, one also has to think about how long the print is going to last. I don't want you to put my print up and phone me a year later saying it has gone yellow!! The paper I use is of archival quality which means it has a neutral pH and won't yellow over time or affect the ink. The inks in my painfully expensive printer are pigment inks which means they hold their colour over time and the fading effect of exposure to light is minimised.
The mount boards I use are also pH neutral to minimise the effect of the board on the picture. If one does not use an acid-free board it can have an impact on the longevity of the print and the paper. In addition I use specialist mounting tape which retains its cling and also won't cause yellowing of the paper.
All my frames are made by a local framer who has the same high standards as I do! Website here: http://www.shearartpictureframing.com. The frames are solid wood and glass. I tried perspex glazing for a while to try and reduce postage costs but it is a nightmare for static and collects all the dust in the local area! I don't want my customers constantly having to dust their pictures.
You may occasionally find a piece of bubble wrap in one of my parcels, but that will be recycled from a parcel I have received! Generally speaking I wrap my pictures in recycled brown paper which not only looks good, it is a tad greener than bubble wrap.
The boxes I use to send out framed prints are specially designed for keeping pictures safe and in all the time I have been doing this I have not yet had one picture frame broken in the post (touch wood!).
If you order an unframed print I will usually mount it and put it into a plastic envelope with a backing board. Even if a picture is unframed it should look good and be well packaged! For larger unframed prints I wrap them in tissue paper and carefully roll them into a wide diameter poster tube. Why a large diameter tube? Well it means I don't have to roll the print so tightly and reduces the chance of creases.
Hopefully that gives you a little insight into the care I take with all my pictures!
My favourite thing about Gillian Jones Designs is the design. It is, however, easy to get comfortable and just produce new designs which follow a particular style or theme (see the Union Flag designs!). I have therefore decided to shake things up a bit and give myself the challenge of coming up with a new design every day. This design will be based upon whatever has inspired me that day; whether it is a suggestion by one of my customers or something I have seen or done myself. If my children get involved in making suggestions you could be seeing some rather peculiar designs....
So, without further ado, here is the first design....Jenny Wren. Many of my customers are former Wrens and have been wonderfully supportive; so this is for you!
These daily designs are going to be limited in number but priced very reasonably. Jenny Wren is only £15 unframed! The print measures 24cm x 30cm which is a standard size so you can also buy your own frame easily if you won't want to splash out another £25 on one of mine.
I hope you enjoy these designs. Feel free to suggest ideas!
Unless the first time you have come across Gillian Jones Designs is in reading this blog you cannot have failed to notice that I am now a partner of the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity.
It is a brilliantly mutually beneficial relationship. I donate £3 from each navy themed print that I sell; donate the occasional print to be raffled or auctioned; and am designing an annual limited edition print from which 40% of the proceeds will go to the charity. In return they display my pictures whenever they have a stall at an event; are arranging an advert for me in Navy News; promote my pictures on social media; and allow me to use their logo.
I am very proud of my association with this charity and love that I can give a little bit to this fabulous organisation which works so hard to support sailors and their families.
In one of those moments of irony I have recently contacted a military charity which is supported by RNRMC to ask for some help! I use a wheelchair for any distances greater than about 10m or for any standing up that lasts longer than about 10 minutes. My wheelchair is fabulous on nice hard smooth surfaces but becomes an unwieldy monster the minute I leave the beaten track. My boys love being off the beaten track and I would dearly like to follow them. The solution (subject to a test drive) to my problem seems to be this...the Mountain Trike:
Unfortunately they cost rather a lot and having already bought a wheelchair this year the coffers are empty! Hence the request to the military charity. Watch this space.....