Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cuteness Alert!

I have to admit, I have somewhat of a paper addiction. In one of my college life drawing courses my professor brought in a sampler of paper for us see and feel and I fell in love. Its not just drawing paper, but wrapping paper, wallpaper, scrapbook paper and cardstocks of all kinds. My last trip to the craft store for one item (yeah, right, like that ever happens!) resulted in picking up a pack of the most adorable pack of woodlands themed paper. I have big plans for this stuff and my first creation is now up for sale in my Etsy shop. I don't usually brag, but I can't get over how cute the little things are that I've made with this. Here is a set of two journals just listed:

Can't get enough of woodland cuteness? Me neither. Here are some other great Etsy picks to tide you over until the others are listed in my shop. Have you hugged a deer today?

Monday, January 26, 2009

This is not Helvetica

That would have been the title of my treasury last night had I paid enough attention to the time to get one! Darn. Maybe next time. I've grouped together a great collection of items with a typography theme- something I've gotten very interested since seeing the film "Helvetica." I'm not convinced this film is for everyone, but if you have an interest in typography, graphic design, or the like you should check it out. Here are some of my favorites from that roundup:

Other than checking all the Etsy listings for awesome typography items, I've been working my little fingers to the bone finishing up a bunch of fun custom orders and introducing some new products to my shop. After finishing my light box I started adding new items daily like these little guys- eco felt reusable coffee sleeves. I am so in love with these sleeves and am looking forward to making more. SO addictive.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Artist Interview: GudonyaToo

Lets kick off the weekend with another artist interview, shall we? Today's interview is with one of my favorite Etsy sellers for beauty products. I ran across GudonyaToo, a husband and wife shop, when searching for a natural shampoo and I've been back several times. I've asked Tina to answer a few of my questions to help us get to know her and her great products. Here is what she had to say:

Randi: What motivated you to start creating bath and beauty products, and how do you come up with your ideas?
We used “handmade” soap and thought it was great! We did our research (the legal and government rule stuff too!), and massive amounts of testing and trials on family and friends, and then started selling. Our ideas come from all sorts of things…Like coffee shops, nature and from our customers. Doing custom orders for people gets the creativity level really high! The world is full of scents, good and bad, and the way people perceive them is even a bigger mystery! What one person might LOVE another might hate, so you do your best interpretation and hope it sells!

Randi: I've noticed that your shop is full of Vegan products (which I love), can you explain why you create them that way?
Our favorite ingredients fit well with the Vegan lifestyle. I think that renewable plant products are a better resource than animal products. Although we are not strict Vegans ourselves, we do respect the lifestyle and hope we can make products that EVERYONE can use and enjoy!

Randi: What is your favorite product that you carry? What is your favorite scent?
Tina: As of right now, the Mocha Razz Salty Dawg Shampoo
Randi: Oh, man I love this stuff! I use Salty Dawg and salon shampoos can't even come close to how bouncy and shiny my hair is with this. The scents are yummy too and I can't wait to try your new ones.

Randi: Any big plans for the Gudonya Shop?
Bunches of new scents (hopefully a Men’s line), some new products are being tested, and spinning off the hair care products (with new stuff being added) on a new Etsy shop!
Randi: Coming soon, check out Tina & Brian's new shop that will house their haircare line- including the awesome Salty Dawg Shampoo.

Randi:When you're not creating awesome beauty products, what can you be found doing?
Family time, and of course all of the daily work that is put off due to the business…Sometimes there is not enough hours in the day!

Randi: You've managed an amazing 11,000+ sales on Etsy. Any advice for other folks out there?
Tina: Unique products at GREAT prices! STAND OUT! It is the only way to sell!

Randi: Name 5 blogs that you're following right now.
I have to admit that the time is just not there to follow much of anything, sorry!
Randi: Oh, man. Ok, I'll cut you some slack considering you're a crazy busy gal and I'm new to blogs myself. :)

Randi: Name your top 5 favorite Etsy Shops.

And now, some of my favorites from Tina and Brian's shop.

Half Round Bar Soap, Coconut Pineapple

"Baby Legs" Shaving Soap Rounds, Spa Fusion

Intense Hair Conditioner Wild Strawberry Fields

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let there be light(box) part 2

Yesterday I shared how I've finally made my lightbox after a little inspiration from a commercial and a great online tutorial found here. Check out the post for all the info about what lead up to this project.

Once I finally had this thing built (which was super easy!) I was excited to take photographs. Right away I snapped a lot of pictures but found that the overhead lighting and my lack of blinds in our living room was interfering with my photos. As excited as I was to start using my lightbox I knew it would yield the best photos if I could wait until dark. That didn't solve all of my problems- I still had lots of expirimenting to do.

Here is my light box set up on the kitchen table with my reflector lamps off and the overhead lights on. The second image is what it looks like with the overhead lights off and the lamps on.

I followed these instructions to create a lightbox that is roughly 20x20 inches. Inside I've laid a piece of white bristol paper (although I also have a sheet of black, green, and a few pieces of patterned wrapping paper just in case). The lamps are professional photography reflectors that I bought in college and I am using 150 watt daylight spectrum bulbs.

Although a light box is a huge step in the right direction, using it without the correct camera settings is like using a video camera with the lens cap on. While I have a great camera, a Canon PowerShot Digital 8.0 mega pixel, the auto settings only produce mediocre photos that require a lot of work in photoshop. Not something I have time for! In order to create the best quality images I had to try several settings on my camera.

Using a manual setting on your camera is the best option when trying to fine tune the lighting and color in your photographs. Since each camera is different I won't go into a lot of detail here, but reference your user manual (or just start pushing buttons, whatever your style) and record on a scratch pad what each setting is as you snap away. It is important to review your photos on a computer screen- not only is it larger, but it is how your photos will eventually be viewed. This helps me compare the images as well so I can choose the best setting. Here are some examples of what my expiriments yielded:

Photo 1: "Auto" settings, no flash
Photo 2
: "Daylight" manual setting, no flash

Photo 3: "Tungsten Light" manual setting, with flash, exposure at +2/3
Photo 4: "Tunsten Light" manual setting, without flash, exposure at +2/3

What is amazing is the last two photographs are basically the same setting only one uses flash and one does not. I should also mention that I use macro (looks like a little tulip) on all my photos to help pick up the details. Ideally I would also use a tripod and the timer setting so the camera can't move around a cause blurriness.

In order to pick the best photo, I set them up in photoshop so I can see several at once and minimize the worst ones until I have only one left. If needed I then enhance the sharpness and light balance using photoshop settings.

I ended up using the manual setting: tungsten light, no flash, macro, and +2/3 exposure. Here are some of the before and after shots I was able to achieve:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let there be light(box)

A light box has been on my to-do list for some time now. I've depended for a long time on good sunlight and comfortable weather to photograph items for my Etsy shop and with the recent downpouring of snow here in the Inland Northwest I have yet to photograph anything. With the shop makeover series on Etsy and Flickr this thought kept nagging at me, but the thing that really pushed me over the edge was a Taco Time commercial and an online tutorial. Don't laugh yet, just let me explain.
Light and Time Photograph by sevenbridges

Hubby and I were enjoying some time in front of the tube when this commercial comes on for Taco Time. They talk about how great of a deal this burrito is and when they finally show a shot of it you feel like you're playing a game of Where's Waldo. There is so much stuff in the shot that you hardly notice the tiny little burrito- the whole point of the commercial. This concept applies just as handily to Etsy. If I'm trying to sell something and I surround it with a bunch of other stuff that distracts people, how effective is my approach? Sometimes a background or artistic shot is great but it should enhance rather that detract from the item you're marketing.

Kitchen floors, bedsheets, or a computer desk piled with papers rarely accomplishes this, which is why a light box can be so handy. It not only produces nice photos, but it gives you a controlled background. You can use white or switch it up by placing colored or patterned paper inside as well. But these are expensive and bulky, right? Wrong. I went with this online tutorial because the cost was less than $10 and it flattens and tucks away easily!

Over the next couple of days I will be posting some info on using this handy little tool and giving some pointers on camera settings and technique. Until then I'll leave you with some photos showing the difference it made in my product photos for one of my journals. Enjoy.



Monday, January 19, 2009

My biggest art project, ever.

Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl hate their apartment. Boy asks girl to get pre-approved for a home loan. Girl isn't interested. Boy and girl move in to girl's parent's house. Boy goes crazy. Girl finds home on Craigslist. Home is trashed. Boy and girl buy home. Girl paints and paints. Boy builds and builds. Boy and girl move in. Home sweet home. The end.

That is the short version of what my husband and I have been through in the past couple of years. We fell in love with a little 1908 fixer-upper and have been working dilligently with my parents to fix this baby up like new. Yes, it was hard work. Yes, it was disgusting at times. (Bank repos are not usually left in pristine condition, if you know what I mean.) We've finally crested the home-improvement hill and are somewhere on the downward stride- finally!

This week my husband found our picture hanging supplies in a box marked "Miscellaneous." I was so excited that our bare (although freshly painted and lovely) walls could house our photos. I threw them up and realized I hated where I put all of them, and we are in some serious need of some artwork. Apparently a 900 sq. foot apartment doesn't house enough photos to fill the walls of a 1500 sq. foot home. Bummer.

Ok, ok. I admit, I was a little excited to see open wall space. I've spent all afternoon on Etsy looking for that perfect piece that my walls can't live without. I am now taking a break to address my long-neglected blog and share some of the little triumphs of our new home ownership before the gimme-gimmes kick in.

Two very scarey and very real "before" photos of our bedroom. Stained carpet, ugly boarder, unpainted drywall. Ick. (Oh, and check out the very yellow living room through the doorway!)

Two "after" shots. Ah, that's better. New blue paint, bamboo flooring, and new trim all around. The unfinished part on the second image is a soon-to-be wardrobe.

Laundry room before and after. Paint, bead board, trim, ceramic tile, and new appliances. Yay.

Before and after in the living/dining room. Gone is the yellow sponge paint and stained carpets. New bamboo floors, mocha paint, and white trim. Ignore the front door- its still the yellow from before until spring comes and I can take it outside to paint.

I'm so pleased with our progress this far, especially doing all the work ourselves. Now comes the fun part- decorating!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Artist Interview: My Little Sunshine aka Rachel 323

I thought I'd mix things up a bit today and do a little interview with a friend, teammate, and fellow Etsian- Rachel from My Little Sunshine. I've always been in love with her great shop, and what's not to love? Eye-appealing photographs, darling jewelry, and awesome vegan lipbalms in the yummiest of flavors. It's no wonder that she reached her 1000th sale on Etsy today. Congratualtions Rachel!

Randi: I love the name for your shop, My Little Sunshine. Is there a story behind it?
Rachel: this will be a very special blog post when i reach 1000 sales as well. i grew up living with my grandma, and this is what she called me. i also have a mascot for it. it's a stuffed sunshine that plays the tune 'my little sunshine'. i have had him since i was one year old, he is overly loved, and now lanna my 4 year old sleeps with it every night. he has one eye and is completely matted. and he is still cute!

Randi: What is your working process like? How do you work, and where do you get your ideas?
Rachel: my working process comes in whenever i have the time. even if it's just 20 mn and i can get some lip balm base made or just a pair of earrings done, i will do it. my idea's come from various sources. for the lip balm, it's generally something i want or a scent that a friend suggests. the jewelry can be completely on a whim. i sit down and pile all of my bead containers in front of me and just go with it. I also might see something that i like on a website or in a store, and then turn it into something that i love.i have a very small house, so all of my jewelry supplies are in one corner of the living room. i cant tell you how much i love earrings.

Randi: Tell us some of your favorite materials to work with.
Rachel: hands down brass. its so beautiful, natural and what does it not go with?
i love glass. and it can't really get any better than vintage glass.

Randi: I am a huge fan of your vegan lip balms (seriously, they work great!). How did these come about, and why did you choose vegan?
well, thank you. my lip balms love you too. i guess vegan chose me! i am not vegan or even vegetarian, but i can appreciate a great item with no animal products.
i do often think of the vegan population and really how hard it is to find various products. i really wish it was easier. so i am trying to do a very small part. i started off using beeswax and then later discovered that unrefined cocoa butter was hearty and would hold shape wonderfully with just a bit of candelilla wax. with the two combined i was able to eliminate the beeswax and add so much more healing properties and keep a creamy texture. (whipped butters are coming soon!)

Randi: When you're not crafting, what can you be found doing?
Rachel: besides having a wonderful husband and a hoot of a 4 year old, i have a full time job. i work at holy family hospital monday-friday. i am gone from 7am-5pm. it really is great there, but i would love to do this full time. my dream is to be featured in an ETSY aritcle 'quit your day job'.

Randi: What is the favorite item you have listed in your shop?

Rachel: that's hard and it can change daily. i like whatever is new. right now, i am in LOVE with the spring sprout earrings. they are my january giveaway at the moment.

Randi: Congratulations on almost reaching 1000 sales. Any advice you have for other Etsy folk?
Rachel: thank you! i reached it today!!!!
be active, list, re-list, refresh. an idle shop will remain idle. make sure your photos are bright, clear and appealing.
advertise! get yourself an add on facebook, follow lots of blogs, add your etsy shop & blog to the bottom of your emails. get a google adwords account. i have found that to be very helpful with getting the name out. do monthly giveaways, people love free stuff that that's what will keep them coming back for more. and...they will bring their friends back.

Randi: What are 5 blogs you're following right now?

Rachel: this is hard to narrow to 5. but i can only religiously read so many...
Randi: Wow, I'm seriously flattered to be on this list. Thanks for keeping up with my little corner of cyberspace.

Randi: Name your top 5 favorite Etsy shops.
Rachel: i have so many, i hate to leave people out, but i do actually shop these.
sweet petula : sidney ann designs:
spirit girl:
bead supplies:
patina queen:

And now, some of my favorites from Rachel's Shop. Also, be sure to check out her blog Always Sunny.

Raspberry Lemonade Vegan Lipbalm

Toffee Bracelet

The Sage. Necklace in silver

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Curious Classroom

If you've read my blog post Reverse Craftology you probably already know that I'm hitting the sketchbook hard in '09. I've been having a lot of fun using the sketchbook rather than just making them all the time! I've been learning a lot along the way too, and from the most curious of classrooms: Etsy.
(Turquoise Sketch Roll by Beacon Hill Goods)

Now, I'm one of those people that feels that artistic inspiration can come from anywhere so I shouldn't be surprised by this. What I did find surprising is that Etsy is full of prime examples of what makes visual art successful and does a better job conveying that than most lesson books or lectures. Here are some of the things I've noticed, as taught by Etsy:

1. Perspective is key. Using close-ups and smart angles makes a more interesting visual than a static, face-on composition in almost all cases. In Etsy, this is your first image and those gracing the front page use smart perspective to catch our eyes. (See StudioCherie's blog post on this) In fine arts, this is also true- an interesting composition is half the battle.

2. Leave them wanting more.
The difference between someone looking at your work and someone really looking at it is how much you reveal at face value. If someone feels like they've seen everything at first glance they will move on quickly. With Etsy this is evident in the difference between "clickable" photos and those that aren't. I tend to click on interesting photos that leave me wondering what an object is, or what it is made from.
A good piece of art stops someone in their tracks and holds them for that extra moment.

3. Find your voice.
The way to stand out above the crowd, whether it's artists or Etsy shops, is to find your own style. Maybe that means that you only make one type of item, or you have a central theme to your work. Whatever it is you do, give it your own twist. With Etsy and fine arts that means embracing your own style and licks that help identify work as yours.

4. Produce work often.
Its obvious that in order to sell a lot on Etsy, you have to have a lot to sell. Plus, keeping your shop full and updated keeps you at the top of the searches. The same principal applies to fine arts. Very few successful artists have small portfolios, plus, if you want a solo exhibition you have to have enough to fill a gallery, right?

5. Network, baby!
Sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know. Develop strong relationships with others in your field. In Etsy this is done by joining teams, posting to the forums, hitting alchemy, and strong customer service. A personal interest in you helps direct people to your work. The same concept applies to fine arts- attending gallery openings and being seen can make the difference between a quiet career and an eventful one.

Don't turn in your student parking pass yet- any school is a great opportunity to meet people (network a little, won'tcha?) and learn a lot about yourself. Seeing other people in the working process through a shared studio is a priceless experience, but don't forget that the learning isn't over when you graduate. Sometimes the lessons keep cropping up in the most curious of places.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Apple Never Falls Far...

Apple Jacket by jaquelineknits

Today as we were leaving to run some errands I saw my mom's little silver Kia pull into the driveway. That's odd. She usually works on Mondays and hardly has time for a lunch break and here she is- no advance phone call or anything. I pulled on my paint-covered Crocs and ran out to meet her. Much to my surprise she's carrying two big bowls of what appeared to be potato soup- one with bacon for the Hubs and one without for me.

"Oh. Potato soup? Um, thanks." was about all I could say and she knew right away what the problem was.

"You just made soup, didn't you?" Yes, actually, that has been dinner two nights in a row. Must just be that kind of week, we agreed.

As I'm eating potato soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next two weeks I'll be thinking of my mom and how much I'm turning into her. A thought that would have horrified my teenage self, but, surprisingly I'm ok with this now. Usually it's her little oddities that I find myself repeating, like her long drawn-out "hell-oooooo" when she leaves you a voicemail or her tenancy to talk to my dog like he's answering back, but occasionally it's the normal stuff like making the same dinner. Yup, I can live with that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

We Read Ingredients

This is the catch phrase adorning the banner for Vegan Etsy- "we read ingredients." Since becoming a vegetarian I've learned that this statement is more true that most people realize. I've gone from being able to buy groceries in 20 minutes to having to hold up everyone in the supermarket while I read each item I buy. Just because you can't see the meat in a dish doesn't mean its vegetarian. Because of this I've become more aware of what's going into my meals but I've been surprised at how many people don't understand my eating habits.

Vintage Collage Bracelet by foundandmade

Yesterday at the supermarket I placed my purchases on the belt and the cashier's face went white. "How are you?" she asked. "Fine, thanks. How are you?" I said. "Um, I'm ok. I'm just am wondering what this stuff is." The stuff she was referring to was two jugs of Mega Greens juice. I explained to her that it was a mixture of fruit juices, wheatgrass and barley juices. Poor thing cringed and rushed us out of there before she lost her lunch. It was an amusing experience, although I don't think she'll ever be the same.
Pineapple Juice Notebook by ivylanedesigns

Another wasn't as funny. Annoying is more like it. While remodeling our new home I went to Wendy's down the street to grab lunch for everyone helping out. Fast food is basically unheard of with a vegetarian diet, but it was close by. So I asked for one of their salads without the chicken. Two managers and a few dirty looks later I was told that my request wasn't possible. Instead I ordered the salad and ask for the chicken on the side. They reluctantly agreed but warned me that they wouldn't leave the piece of chicken whole- they were going to cut it up. What did I care- I wasn't going to eat it. Upon paying the gal at the counter said to me, "So, what? Are you a vegetarian or something?" Why, yes I am.