Ara the altar
earth-aware adornment for the everyday
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Letters of Ara

An online journal & e-mail newsletter in which to explore areas of interest and influence for Ara the altar.

Ara's accompanying cards: a responsible journey

Ara’s new information booklets, printed locally with vegetable ink on FSC accredited paper

Ara’s new information booklets, printed locally with vegetable ink on FSC accredited paper

The brief

I see part of my role with Ara as being vocal about the considerations I make, to help raise awareness and normalise a responsible approach to production and consumption. So, in addition to my existing comment cards, I wanted to introduce something that would share with the recipient the thought and care that goes into the entire journey of every Ara piece - something that would also serve a purpose for those who receive a piece of Ara adornment as a gift from another - but it was important to me that this should not be at the expense of producing something excessive or wasteful.

When it comes to anything that accompanies Ara adornment, striking the balance between creating something purposeful and low impact can take me on quite a journey. Whilst many companies now offer ‘eco-friendly’ solutions, it’s really tricky to find business cards, postcards or stickers that truly feel like the right fit for Ara. For example, smaller batches (often required by small businesses) of cards are often printed digitally, using toner rather than vegetable ink (even ‘eco friendly’ toners are still made using plastic polymers within the ink) with limited options for recycled paper, often white thin and bleached bright white. The paper used to make the stickers may be recycled or biodegradable, but the glue may not be etc. - there always seems to be a compromise. As nothing on offer felt quite right, this led me to have Ara’s existing comment and necklace/earring cards letterpressed here in the UK without ink on recycled stock, by a small independent company, Artcadia, who also work to minimise waste throughout their own production process.

As a consumer myself, I have in the past received many accompanying letters, cards, envelopes etc. from brands, and whilst they added to the initial experience when opening the product, many of them served little purpose thereafter. I was very mindful that anything I created to accompany Ara pieces should be something the recipient would want to keep, would have purpose, that could be easily recycled, and ultimately -at the end of its journey- would safely and easily go back into the earth.

Ara the altar - info booklet and comment card.jpg

Ara’s approach

After a lot of research, it was evident that what was on offer from larger printing companies was not the right fit for Ara. After some further research into the least impactful route, I decided to go with lithography printing, whereby the image is printed using a lithographic limestone or metal plate. The image is printed four times (CMYK) and -most importantly- the printing can be done with vegetable inks. Typically, this process is adopted for large scale runs as -due to the set up- it is not cost effective to litho print in small batches. Knowing this was the route I wanted to take, I did some initial research to determine roughly how much this option would cost. Rather than choose a cheaper option that did not site quite right with Ara’s values, I chose to wait until I was in a financial position to pursue this as an option. This is a prime example of where making considered decisions really does slow down the rate at which I am able to introduce new offerings. Naturally - more considered options are more heavily reliant on not just time, but also money. I knew that I eventually also wanted to offer some new postcards as well. By waiting until I was in a position to have them both printed, I was able to put the job through together.

Without question I wanted the the cards to be printed in the UK, but I also wanted to produce them as locally as possible, not only to keep CO2 footprint to a minimum, but also to support the local economy and a fellow independent business. Upon consulting my local printer, Heaton Press, I explained to them the approach I was trying to take -with minimal environmental impact- and, although comparatively to their regular litho jobs this would be a small job for them, they agreed to support my project.

Ara’s new postcards, printed on carbon neutral paper made in the Lake District

Ara’s new postcards, printed on carbon neutral paper made in the Lake District

The design

I decided to produce not just another card, but a neat little four page booklet, something that could be kept and revisited at a later date, to give the recipient a sense of the thought that had gone into the journey of their chosen piece of adornment, allowing them to get to know Ara a little better along the way. I also chose to include some practical information about how to operate Ara’s unique bags.

Making the cards A7 would keep materials to a minimum and, thinking more practically, A7 would also fit neatly with Ara’s existing comment cards for packaging. To keep ink to a minimum, and make the most of my chosen paper, I kept the background transparent, choosing to print the text, logo and illustration using one colour.

I designed each of the four pages using Adobe Illustrator. Graphic design is one aspect of managing a small business that I really love but admittedly not something I know I whole lot about. I’ve just figured out what I’ve needed to know as I go. I had all the fun of the fair ensuring my images were exported correctly in CMYK, rather than RGB which I usually use for anything digital.

The finished booklet design

The finished booklet design

The postcard proof from the printers

The postcard proof from the printers

The paper

Aware that I was after something suitable not just for this particular job, but also to suit Ara’s values, my printer offered me the flexibility to source the paper myself. This was great as it meant I could liaise directly with the paper supplier, and ask any questions I had about the production etc. to determine what would be most appropriate. In the end, I chose two papers to complement the off-white recycled card stock I was already using for Ara’s comment cards - both FSC accredited papers made locally in the LakeDistrict; a soft blush tone for the little booklets and an off white, carbon neutral paper for the postcards. Both of the papers were uncoated to ensure that they would biodegrade and were not treated unnecessarily.

At my request the printers also saved all of the off-cuts of paper for me, so that I could put them to use for another project, rather than needlessly letting them go to waste.

Loading up the postcard paper

Loading up the postcard paper

Paper off-cuts for me to take home

Paper off-cuts for me to take home

The printing

Once I had supplied the final artwork for the booklet and postcard to the printers, I popped in to drop of my paper and to have a look at a printed version of the proofs. As I’d chosen to work with uncoated paper, the printers advised me that it would be tricky to get a sharp image for the full colour postcards. Uncoated paper is prone to absorbing more of the ink, resulting in a less predictable end result, and why a coated paper is the more common choice. They showed me a version of my postcard printed on coated paper - the level of detail was incredible by comparison but I knew this was not worth compromising Ara’s values for the sake of a sharper image.

Due to the paper’s absorbency and warmer than white colour, the printers explained that it would also be tricky to get an accurate colour match from the proof. The beauty of working with a local business meant that they were in a position to invite me to pop back when they were putting my job on the press, so that I could see how it would look and check I was happy before printing. When I popped in on the day, the staff were able to tweak the input of each colour (CMYK) to adjust the overall finish. Working with a limited supply of my paper, this wasn’t the easiest of tasks but they did the best that they could do for me within the time available and I really appreciated their efforts to accommodate my approach.

Images taken during my visits to   Heaton Press

Images taken during my visits to Heaton Press

Ara the altar - postcards printing

As the uncoated paper and vegetable ink can take a while to dry, I picked up my jobs and scrap paper the following week and was delighted to find them packaged without any plastic.

I’m so pleased with the finished products. It was definitely worth the time and effort to be able to offer something that feels like a true reflection of the brand.

I hope that you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes and that you love receiving Ara’s new postcards and info booklets with your adornment. I’m always looking to improve so would love to hear your feedback.