The Artistry of Gift Giving

Ho! Ho! Ho! The holiday season has arrived. 'Tis the season for gifts if you follow the typical holiday traditions. While gift-giving can be somewhat overwhelming, there's also an art to it, and interesting history too.

Our tradition of gift giving dates back to the Romans, who gave gifts to one another at celebrations like the Winter Solstice and the New Year. In later years, gift giving became associated with the celebration of Christmas and the Wise Men who brought gifts to Jesus at his birth. 

The artistry of gift giving comes not only from choosing the perfect gift but also in its presentation. For a designer and artist like myself, the outer package can become a work of art, and gift wrap is often a part of the art.

I love paper. It's something that I've been drawn to since I was a kid. I've made paper using a blender and pulp from cotton fibers, crafted paper sculptures using quillery and translucent papers, and even have a nice collection of art papers with which I create handmade books or block prints. During my time in college, a student colleague and I in university's publications department designed a paper sculpture for the cover of the law center's catalog which went on to win a local ADDY Award. Not bad for two college students aspiring to create great graphic design! Even today, paper in all its forms is still a magnetic force to me. I find choosing paper can be the most fun part of a print design project. There's a whole cabinet filled with nothing more than paper samples in my studio; and my rep at our local paper house is always ready and willing to show me what's new and exciting in the world of printing papers.

So it would make sense that I'm drawn to beautifully designed gift wrapping. With the holidays approaching, what better time to reflect upon it? Recently, I've begun to create designs that would be perfect as gift wrap patterns.

 IMAGE: Samples of Studio Haus surface patterns, ©2014 Christa Schoenbrodt, Studio Haus

IMAGE: Samples of Studio Haus surface patterns, ©2014 Christa Schoenbrodt, Studio Haus

The history of wrapping gifts with paper first occurred in ancient China, where paper was invented in the 2nd century B.C.E. But not surprisingly, our country had a hand in making it part of the tradition of Christmas:

When stationers J.C. and Rollie Hall ran out of red, white, and green tissue paper in their Kansas City, Missouri store during a busy 1917 Christmas season, they grabbed a stack of fancy French paper used for lining envelopes and showcased it as wrapping, pricing it at 10 cents a sheet. It sold out instantly. When it sold out again the following year, the brothers decided to print their own paper. Now, wrapping paper is a $3.2 billion industry, and you can buy it by the roll not only in Hallmark stores, but in many others. 

In the 1930s, the invention of Scotch tape made it even easier for consumers to wrap presents in paper, replacing rope, twine, strings and sealing wax.

Since the last century, we have become more aware of the enormous waste of paper that gift wrap creates. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for 4 million tons of the 85 million tons of paper trash Americans create annually. In Great Britain, consumers throw out enough wrapping paper each holiday season to wrap around the Equator nine times. 

That’s why I’m a big proponent of the reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy, and buying recycled products when available, or wrapping gifts in cloth (which is reuseable) instead of paper, which was popularized in Japan. This custom of using furoshiki dates back as early as the Nara Period (710-784) when it was used for keeping the valuables of the Emperors. 

No matter what treasures the wrapping conceals, gifting from a spiritual perspective clearly enhances a gift’s meaning:

The Buddha spoke constantly of the value of generosity, saying it is the most effective way to reach enlightenment. He recommended giving simple gifts—pure water to drink, food, shelter, clothing, transportation, light, flowers. Even poor people can be generous, he said, by giving a crumb of their food to an ant. Each time we give something away, whether it is a material object or our time (it is “ours”?), we are letting go of a bit of that carefully gathered and fiercely defended temporary heap of stuff we call, “I, me, and mine.” — from Mindfulness on the Go: Simple Meditation Practices You Can Do Anywhere by Jan Chozen Bays

Wrapping gifts in a special way just might help create the suspense, surprise and gratitude of what's hidden inside. A gift may last lifetimes in someone's heart.

I hope that someday my talent of pattern design becomes part of your gifting process. If you are interested in seeing more of these designs or know someone who buys or licenses such art, please don't hesitate to contact me or refer me. I have many designs to share and even more yet waiting to be created. It's another thing that I love to do!

May you have a very merry and blessed Christmas! If I don’t see you before then, I look forward to being in touch in the new year!