Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making an imprint in a rather unusual way. Gill from @Ruralfranceshop

This week, I'm branching out into pastures new and have nipped across a couple of borders into France in order to meet one of my newest Twitter contacts, Gill of @Ruralfranceshop. Gill loves boats, the countryside and horses and has harnessed (sorry) her passions to start a Zazzle online store where she sells products with prints of her lovely photos on them. There are beautiful images of canal scenes in both England and France. I think they would make wonderful gifts, so in trying to find out more, I asked Gill to talk to me  and tell me more about herself and her interest in France, and especially boats. 

Firstly, Gill, could we ask you for a little personal information, such as who you are, what made you move to France and what is your artistic background? 

Firstly, thank you very much, Val, for inviting me to your blog! Hi everyone, I’m Gill, born on the outskirts of London, which was “countryside” then. From the age of about 3 I wanted a horse, but didn’t get one until I was 28. At around 10 years old I became interested in photography, developing and printing - when people still used film, and at school, art was my best subject. Leaving school I went straight into graphic art which I followed for my whole career, most of it self-employed. 

We moved to France partly because of our two horses, as it’s very expensive to own your own land in the UK, here we were able to have 7 acres. We both learnt French at school so had a mediocre grasp of the language - which is much better now after 11 years though a long way from fluent. We love the laid-back French way of life and the community spirit that’s gone from much of the UK. And the countryside is beautiful too. It’s great being closer to the rest of Europe as well.

That must be wonderful, Gill - to have land, horses and France as well! Looking at your online shop, I've seen all your products feature your photos. I think readers will want to know what Zazzle is? How does it work and how do you go about building an online store under this umbrella?

Zazzle is an American based print-on-demand company. The products are mainly manufactured in the USA, and when a customer orders a design (for example, on an iphone case), it is printed on that product as a one-off and shipped direct from the manufacturer with a 30 day guarantee. They have a huge range of products now from keyrings to stretched canvas, tableware & home furnishings, greetings cards & stationery, phone cases, bags. There are too many to mention here, I think the last count was around 450 different items.


Two of Gill's canal products found on 

Setting up a shop is easy! Once you’ve named your shop and uploaded your images, it's a fairly easy process. Selling, however is a different story. It’s definitely not a get rich quick scheme! There are a vast number of designers on Zazzle, so plenty of competition! 6 years later, perseverance and patience are beginning to pay off.
However, you don’t need a shop to design something for yourself. Anyone can upload a photo, add it to a product and buy it. The design controls do have a bit of a learning curve though!

It’s also possible to just be an associate, and earn referral fees (quite nice ones!) by promoting other peoples designs.

That sounds like a really great idea! You obviously love the countryside and also the canals. Tell us a bit more about this part of your life

I’ve always had a love of the countryside, wildlife and gardening, I don’t know where it came from - although perhaps it was because my mother was a keen gardener. I’ve always had pets as well, from mice through guinea pigs, dogs, sheep, goats and chickens, to horses. My love of canals started with the first hire boat that my parents organised c1970, on the Llangollen canal, and after getting hooked, it was an annual holiday, or sometimes twice a year, on different UK canals. We had canoes for a while to satisfy the canal cravings.

Later, I had two different friends who lived on narrowboats, one an old working boat with a canvas covered hold and no mod cons whatsoever - that was my favourite, much more of an adventure, especially being a deeper draft on the fairly shallow canals! Happy memories of cooking bacon butties on a little camping gas stove in the hold, walking along the top plank to jump off the front at locks, and sleeping in the boatman’s cabin with the door open as it was too hot with the stove, even with it snowing outside. 

Another time, a friend had a boat built, and we brought it back from the Midlands to near London as an unlined shell with newspaper curtains and sleeping on the paving slab ballast.
Over the years I’ve explored quite a few of the derelict canals on foot, and always having had dogs, it’s an opportunity to go somewhere different with them. That got me interested in canal history. I belonged to a restoration society for a while, and I’m impressed with how much progress these organisations have made - I remember when the Kennet & Avon canal was derelict, and that’s been open for 25 years now. 

No wonder you have such a lovely blog on canal history! I love your photos and articles. You mentioned you wanted to buy a barge to live on. What kind of barge and do you want to cruise with it too, or simply live on it?

I like the idea of a Tjalk style barge, though we don’t intend to do any sailing. Now we’re getting on a bit, the wide beam looks more attractive than the English narrowboat for space and comfort, and with nice wide gunwales. We plan to explore all the French canals and neighbouring countries as well. Who knows, we may even cross the channel again one day! One thing I love about French canals is the towpaths, wide, well made and less populated compared to the UK, and great for dog walking.

Gill, I'll be incredibly envious if you get to do all that before I do! It's my dream too, but work is preventing me from moving far. But back to your business. How do you transfer your photos to the products you sell? 

Quite simply, I upload the images to Zazzle, they supply a blank template for each product to which I add the image and any text online, adjust everything for the best layout, add the royalty of my choice which depends on how much work was involved, and post it for sale in the appropriate shop. In practice it can get quite complicated with layered images (e.g. a background image, plain coloured shapes over the top, a cut-out image on top of that), and several different lines of text which are made as templates for ease of customization - mostly that is the way wedding invitations are done. Occasionally customers will contact me for a variation of design, layout or product, and I do my best to please.

I was going to say it sounds a bit like self publishing books and all the formatting, but at least we don't have to worry about layers! Just out of interest, do you do any other kind of art?

When my grandfather died, I inherited some old cameras and postcards, so vintage cameras and photography became one of my passions, and I now collect old photographic images as well to scan and use in my shops. They can be very labour intensive for retouching. I make digital patterns using software, just because I like doing it, but they look great on cushions! I also use some of my photos with different filters to make digital paintings, if I think it improves on the original. A little bit of graphics - for example, my canal roses range, I learned the method for painting them years ago, and decided to reproduce the style using the same technique but digitally. I also like painting and sketching, but rarely have time to practice it. I need 48 hours in a day!

Gill's dog Raffles

Haha, I know that feeling! I love canal art, and think what you're doing is a really excellent idea! It seems to me that you've really worked out how to use modern technology to market your artistic abilities. Amazing! So having got everyone interested. how can readers reach you, make contact and buy your products.

Well, Val, I have 6 main stores. They are as follows, so people can take their pick: - my original shop, mainly photography of France and other European countries, landscapes, wildlife and plants - my canal themed shop, with photos (vintage and new) and digital art - images from vintage postcards and photos - digital patterns and designs - patterns made from photographs - business cards and stationery with a mainly rural theme
Each of these stores has a “contact seller” at the bottom of the home page, and are also available on most country domains in that currency - i.e. just substitute .nl for .com
I can also be reached by email at

Gill, it's been great to meet you and thanks so much for sharing your ideas and interests with me here. I wish you heaps of success in finding the barge of your dreams. Let me know when you've got it and maybe we can meet on the waterways sometime!


  1. Did you say horses? ;) Gill sounds like a kindred spirit. I am definitely going to check out her art. Thanks for offering the new perspective, Val! xx

  2. Did you say horses? ;) Gill sounds like a kindred spirit. I am definitely going to check out her art. Thanks for offering the new perspective, Val! xx

  3. Fascinating! I have popped over to Gill's sites and her art is lovely. They would make very different Christmas presents for our boaty friends x

  4. Lovely, horses, photography, boats and France -kindred spirits! :-)

  5. What an iteresting life Gill has had. I will now be spending my day looking at those websites. I love the mug with the flowers on it,very different from anything I have seen in the shops.

  6. How wonderful, Gill is able to live in beautiful France, follow her passions, and sell online. Fantastic!

  7. Hi Val - sounds like Gill has really explored life .. through her art, her love of horses, outdoor life, canals and the techie stuff of late ..

    Great to meet her through you Val .. cheers and good luck to both - Hilary

  8. What a great interview - and such an interesting woman. (You, too, Val - you're special too!)

  9. Thank you all! Yes, I'm very privileged to be able to live here, and virtually do what I want to do work-wise. And thank you again Val, I can't wait for your book to arrive, to spur me on to putting dreams into action!

  10. Val what a great idea for a post - really enjoyed meeting Gill and seeing her designs. Thank you.

  11. Thanks to you, Gill and to everyone else for these lovely comments! I had a feeling this would go down well :) I'm going to be looking at some of Gill's products for special gifts too. By the way, she has a lovely blog about canals past and present too. Total immersion stuff!

  12. Lovely to 'meet' Gill and read about her life in France with her horses, boating and photography! Our lives are immeasurably enriched thanks to blogging and other forms of social media. Vxx


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