The Life Ledger series of interviews with the individuals and organisations changing the face of the modern bereavement sector continues with Sarah Crane, founder of the The Coffin Canvas Company
LL: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to find yourself in the bereavement sector?
SC: I’ve been working professionally with paint for over 20 years. After graduating with a fine art degree from Camberwell Art College I trained as a Scenic artist at RADA. For the last 16 years I have been painting scenery for Theatres in the West End and around the world and I have just finished painting ‘in’ the Lion enclosure at London Zoo.
When my granddad died in 2013, I fulfilled his wish to paint his coffin so as to surround and protect him with my painting which he had always enjoyed and loved. I needed to make the coffin belong to him instead of just being another wooden box, offering comfort to our family and friends, sharing in the reflection of his personality.
As a final gift I wanted people to celebrate his life when they looked at his coffin, I wanted them to see beauty and feel love. After Granddads I did my Grandmas coffin and I was blown away by the amazing responses from family and friends and by the professionals in the industry.
Mourners asked to photograph and walk around my coffins, some wanted to touch them, and they were an ice breaker for conversation on such difficult days. I have always been a very busy Scenic Artist but knew one day when the time was right I would offer my work to other families as a coffin artist, and that time is now!
LL: How did The Coffin Canvas Company start?
SC: In 2020 I approached a fabulous company called LifeArt who make beautiful coffins from Enviroboard. After speaking with the CEO and getting lots of advice, I was reassured I had something really unique and valuable to offer!
It was going to be hard to make myself known in a fairly traditional industry, but I was very passionate about the individuality of my work and determined to make The Coffin Canvas Company accessible and successful.
I decided on a name, set up my studio workshop at home, bought some coffins and started making content for my website. I put out on social media and approached funeral directors and was lucky to have so much support!
LL: What is the main aim of The Coffin Canvas Company start?
SC: Our main aim is to offer bereaved families and friends coffins which are entirely unique and beautiful. A personalised, bespoke service from initial talks and ideas, through design to the finished work of art.
Alongside our painted wooden coffins we aim to try to break down customers perceptions of the base materials coffins are made from, helping more people to realise they can get a really beautiful painted finish on a coffin made of cardboard or solid pine providing stunning eco alternatives to the standard veneer.
LL: What have been the biggest challenges The Coffin Canvas Company start has faced to date?
SC: Publicity and marketing has been pretty challenging due to the sensitivity of the product we provide. We need to raise awareness of the benefits and appeal of our company before people need us.
To showcase our coffins people, need to see pictures of what we do and we are aware that this can be quite emotive for some, especially when newly bereaved. This has been one of our biggest challenges, to advertise sensitively in the right places.
Despite the amazingly vast range of options for funerals available now, and the accessibility of advice from Celebrants and open-minded Funeral Directors, as a majority the bereaved are more likely to choose a traditional ceremony.
So a challenge for The Coffin Canvas Company is to try to move into a traditional market with a non traditional product. People who see our coffins love and feel a connection to them, once painted our coffins become works of art, our biggest challenge is to build confidence and trust from our customers in what we can offer.
LL: What do you feel have been The Coffin Canvas Company start biggest successes to date?
SC: The company has received amazing interest and intrigue from the general public together with a positive response from other professionals in the field. The standard of our work, energy and uplifting feeling has received considerable praise.
A review by a local funeral director said that in the 20 years she has been in this profession she has never seen anything like our painted coffins. Working with one of our coffins she was “blown away by the quality and beauty” of our painting. The review went on to say she could “feel the love in our work”.
LL: Where would you ideally like to see The Coffin Canvas Company start in ten years’ time?
SC: In ten years time The Coffin Canvas Company will continue to provide and offer a personalised service. Our passion is working with people to create really special, meaningful and high-quality artwork and we hope to continue to do this through the years.
We intend to expand and extend a dialogue and encourage people to consider what they would like for their own funerals and rid the taboo of the subject.
We are passionate to give people the opportunity to develop different options to choose their own designs and artwork for their coffins.
LL: What do you feel is the single biggest issue currently facing the death/bereavement sector?
SC: Not necessarily the single biggest, but one of the issues facing the bereavement sector is the environmental impact of the funeral process and pressure to go greener. An option in the coffin providing corner of the sector for sustainability is the use of eco friendly coffins which reduce emissions and can help with lowering impact.
Our current supplier makes Enviroboard coffins to a very high specification. They have invisible joins and once painted you would not be able to tell what they’re made of.
We hope to be able to change perception of cardboard coffins by offering an opportunity to choose beautiful finishes on eco friendly surfaces.
LL: Which other organisation/s or people really impress you in the death/bereavement sector?
SC: LifeArt make Enviroboard (looks like cardboard) coffins which are very strong and well made. They can print on their coffins, and they are beautiful when painted!
Feet first coffins make attractive coffins from solid wood.
Finally, I admire a number of artists and craftspeople using their unique talents, to give people unusual and amazing choices, making the bereavement sector an exciting place that’s worth talking about!
To find out more about The Coffin Canvas Company you can visit the website here.