Designing jam labels

For this activity you will need:

One pound of creativity
2oz Autumnal appreciation
Several jars of homemade jam
Copious cups of tea
...and a good dollop of art supplies.

Jam making is one of those wonderful seasonal activities that puts you in touch with childish excitement, on par with planting the first seeds in spring or baking a christmas pudding. For me though, there's another enticing element that never fails to get my creative neurons firing; the prospect of the labels. How to design an image that fits in around text, confined to a small and possibly unusual shape? One look at the wealth of antique labels online is enough to set me off and consider what to chose. As if the jam itself and this design brief isn't enough, I also delight in an application of my artistic tendencies to an everyday activity and a chance to make the humble, homely jam-jar beautiful.

My process for this can vary depending on my mood for experimentation and the flavour. Last year's jam was glorious raspberry and tasted like summer on toast so I began by picking a selection of aesthetically pleasing raspberries. After narrowing it down to one, I drew and painted a simple watercolour illustration, resisting the temptation to eat it. The chosen fruit still had it's stalk intact and was the perfect epitome of an autumn raspberry. I could have stopped there, scanned in the illustration and printed it on to some labels, but I wanted to create a small lino-cut so that I could use it over multiple years.

In order to transfer my design from illustration to print, I proceeded to research label shapes and, in the mean time, created an ink version of the watercolour, deciding which areas I was going to carve. I then scanned my design with an outline for the label boarder and put the two together in photoshop, reducing it to the perfect size before printing it out (this step could be done manually if preferred). After I had the final design, I traced it onto soft lino and carved out the areas I wanted to remain white. Important note: when tracing the image, it came out backwards on the lino which will then print the correct way around once carved and finished.

To avoid the washing up involved in working with printing ink, I first experimented with stamp pads, which came out well enough for my purpose, and then made the final labels by printing them onto high quality writing paper. Dates and descriptions were added with a flourish before the labels were stuck to brown craft tags tied around the rim, or affixed directly to the jars (all an assortment of mixed matched sizes). Many of these were gifted for christmas but we still have one last jar, to tide us over into this years batch. I was pleased with the result and still have small feelings of excitement and satisfaction every time I open the fridge to retrieve the jar.

This autumn, the prospect of a more complex label is dancing around my mind. For weeks I have been collecting and processing fruit in an unusually strong nesting instinct. I feel as if I've been storing away food for the winter, or more accurately, my secret jam plans. A bag of english plums from a were the first to go into the freezer, washed and halved. Next, a bowl of mixed soft fruit from the garden: the raspberry patch is prolific at this time of the year but is also bordered by overflowing brambles, heavy with blackberries ripe for picking. Also thrown into the mix was a handful of last, sharp blueberries. After this, several more bags of separate raspberries and blackberries were surreptitiously tucked into the freezer, the latter carried home in handfuls on the way back from the post box and finally given full attention on a dedicated picking-walk where the large tub I had brought for the purpose was quickly overwhelmed and I carried yet more home in my hat. I'd barely scratched the surface on the hedgerows; there will be plenty for the birds come winter.

Here's my progress with this year's label. I haven't decided what to do about the text and am yet to print the final design but I hope you've enjoyed looking through these processes. Stay tuned for a final label update and possibly some jam label workshops to come next autumn!

Blog Posts you may also enjoy:
Nature Walks and Art
Garden Journalling part 1

Ms Emma Leyfield currently trading as 'Valerian'. The copyright to all images and graphics used within this website are owned by Valerian, or Valerian has sought the appropriate permissions to use them.

Trademark number: UK00003464494

April Cottage, Kilcott Road, Hillesley, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, GL12 7RJ