The Dos and Don’ts of Handmade Gifts

The holiday season is quickly approaching, bringing with it the flurry of decorating and choosing perfect gifts for our loved ones. Of course, as artists we’re inclined to make many of our decorations and gifts, which means it’s time to get busy! In the article below, mixed-media artist Seth Apter shares his expert list of dos and don’ts for creating handmade gifts. Seth first shared these tips in his “The Creative Pulse” column in our November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

”4 Others 4 Self” (Art and photos by Seth Apter)

The Creative Pulse: The Dos and Don’ts of Handmade Gifts By Seth Apter

Every year, as the holiday season approaches, my thoughts turn to gift giving. As an artist, my own artwork makes up a good deal of the stash of presents I give, and I sometimes make cards as well. On the flip side, I also receive many handmade items from artist and non-artist friends throughout the year for various occasions.

This got me thinking about the hows and whys and the dos and don’ts of giving handmade gifts. Why do people give handmade gifts in the first place? Does the giver have different expectations of the recipient when the gift is handmade? Are these handcrafted gifts appreciated by the receiver, or do they somehow add an extra burden or level of obligation that might not be appreciated?

In the best-case scenario, the maker has given thoughtful consideration to the gift, planning it with the recipient in mind. The maker loves the art and feels it reflects the sentiment she wants to share. The recipient is thrilled, genuinely compliments the artist, and proudly displays the object. They then live happily ever after, or at least until the next occasion that requires a gift.

But we all know that the best-case scenario doesn’t always occur, and that gift giving can sometimes make for awkward moments. Let’s explore the hows and whys before moving on to the dos and don’ts.

”Wish”

For the maker, there is typically so much more to a handmade gift than the object itself. You are also giving the time and energy that went into your creation and sharing your passion for your craft. As our art is an expression of who we are, you are truly giving a piece of yourself.

However, gift giving can also be less romanticized than the above description implies. The artist or crafter who has shelves of handmade items may just want to clear space for more, pass on work that they no longer make or love, or simply not be able to afford to give store-bought gifts. All of these are valid reasons to move something to the gift pile.

As the maker, once you choose and give the gift, do you have different expectations or hopes when you are gifting something you made, even if you don’t always admit it? Perhaps some of the following apply to you: You hope to hear a compliment or praise in a way that wouldn’t matter to you if you had bought the present. You are disappointed or frustrated if it’s clear that the recipient doesn’t like the gift when it’s opened. When you visit the recipient, you look to see if your gift is displayed.

Thoughts and feelings such as these are relevant to the receiver, too. Think about times when you were given a handmade gift. What happens when you don’t like a gift, even though you may appreciate the sentiment and thought behind it? How do you balance being honest with not hurting the gift giver’s feelings? Do you feel more obligated to keep and/or display a gift when it is handmade and perhaps feel guilty if you don’t? Would you ever consider re-gifting it and passing it on to somebody who might appreciate it more?

”Spark”

There are obviously no formal rules when it comes to handmade gift giving, but some sensible guidelines—the dos and don’ts—might be helpful.

For the maker:

• Consider the tastes and likes of the recipient before you choose what to make or give.

• Remember that just as you do not like all of the artwork you see, nobody else does either. Therefore, keep your expectations at bay, and don’t take it too personally if your gift is not loved.

• Change it up. If you have already given a person one of your handmade books, maybe it is time to give something different.

• Recall past experiences. If you noticed that the recipient didn’t seem to embrace your handmade gift, think twice before going in that direction again.

• As a rule of thumb, only give handmade gifts that you love and are proud of.

For the receiver:

• If you know your friend or family member is an artist, be prepared in advance to receive handmade gifts.

• If you are disappointed in the handmade gift itself, remember that the giver put a lot of time and energy into its creation. That is a part of the gift that you can fully appreciate.

• There is always something nice to say about a piece of art and a thoughtful gift. Mention, for example, that you love the colors or the surface texture in the work.

• Don’t feel obligated to display something you don’t like, or feel guilty when you don’t. Once a gift is given, it is yours to do with what you like.

And for all parties involved, remember it is truly the thought that counts. Happy holidays!


Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist, instructor, author and designer from New York City. His artwork has been exhibited in multiple exhibitions and can be found in numerous books and national magazines. He is the voice behind The Pulse, a series of international collaborative projects that are the basis of his two books: The Pulse of Mixed Media and The Mixed-Media Artist, both published by North Light Books. He is also the artist behind six mixed-media workshop videos, also from North Light. Seth is an instructor at Pratt Institute in New York City, and his live workshops have been held throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the UK. He is a member of the Association for Creative Industries, and designs products for Spellbinders Paper Arts, StencilGirl Products, Impression Obsession, and PaperArtsy. See more of Seth’s work at sethapter.com.


Our November/December 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is filled with fun projects that make wonderful handmade gifts for the holidays. Preview the issue here!

Want more tips and ideas from Seth Apter? Don’t miss his new products below:

A Seth Apter Creative Workshop: 10 Techniques for Painting Layers
A Seth Apter Creative Workshop: 10 Techniques for Mixed Media Artists with Seth Apter
Seth Apter’s Mixed Media Supplies Kit

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