Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hello Goodbye Hello Again

Well well here we are, the turn of the year already in site and - on this part of the world - settling down to winter's quiet. Tempus Fugit, eh? It's ridiculous that I haven't updated since October last... I swear I'm better at this blogging thing than it looks, I've been extremely busy, my head full of different projects and big decisions - nothing unusual there, but lately my brain tends to push out information once there's too much going on. With my internal thinking and pathways looking more like a cloverleaf interchange than a simple crossroads, I um... well, I forgot I had a blog! Oh dear.

Anyway, in light of all that, this post is about changes. Perhaps a boring post for some but for myself, very necessary. I've been in draft with it for a while now; funny that I'm finally ready with it while autumn is having it's brief turn on the stage here. One of the reasons this post has taken so long was the various Etsy changes that have happened in the last 5 months. We've had some real monsters - some not as friendly as you'd like - and I wanted to break them all down and analyse what they mean for sellers, and also give opinions because you know, I have them.

But last night I decided I don't care. At least, not enough to go on about them in great lengths. I've had this post in draft for 4 months, and they were really holding me back as I researched and soap-boxed and added things as they came. But really, apart from that I still have a shop there, I washed my hands of Etsy's convoluted machinations some time ago. That's not to say I will never speak of them again - far from it! But I don't want to focus on their changes any more - I want to focus on mine, because there are quite a few.

First- on the future of Sparrow Salvage.... this will be the last proper post on this blog.

But don't freak out; it is not the end of my blogging! In fact it's just a new chapter, as I will be starting TWO new websites/blogs quite soon. I know you're sitting there thinking 'you can't even update this blog regularly, now you're gunna do two??' Believe me I lectured myself on the same things, which is why all these deep life changes were made.

Sparrow as a shop will continue to run probably up until Christmas, or whenever I run out of supplies to list! I've almost finished sorting the studio but I haven't been buying any 'new' supplies for it; I'm happy to let it go now and let it run it's course. To be honest I did expect to close it in July when I move house (another huge change on the horizon), but it was far too stressful trying to box everything up in lots of reasonable value and non-nightmare shipping! I am happy to keep going; really I enjoy selling supplies - in fact the only reason I'm choosing to put it in the background is because I need the time to concentrate on the new blogs/websites. 

So let's talk about those. The first website is my teaching. For the last four years now I've been writing a book/course on how to sell handmade online, with specific focus on those of you who sell OOAK or limited edition products, people who feel their work is intimately connected to their creative core. In a previous newsletter I announced that I was developing it into an online course, but after a little thought I've decided to release it as a book after all. It's a lot easier on me and much less pressure than the weekly intensity of a course. Perhaps in the future I may turn it into a course, we shall see.

After the first ebook - what I consider the foundational stuff - there will be other books too; social media and pricing being two half-drafts so far. The blog itself will be free, updated every 2 weeks with practical advice on everything to do with branding an authentic handmade store. I also plan to do interviews with people who are 'getting it right' and seeking out guest authors to bring their own facet of expertise.

I'll tell you more about it in a couple of weeks!

The second project is much more of a labour of love - a sort of lifestyle blog where I can return to my roots as a photographer. It's been a kind of 'one day' idea up the back of my mind for some years now, and it's finally time to push it into the spotlight. It will be a blog centred around living a quiet, creative life in the country - or at least the vibes of the country, even if the landscape doesn't accommodate! I'm aiming to do it in magazine style, with lots of lovely big photographs and articles on things like countryside walks, visits to museums, antiquing day trips, traditional food rituals (picnic, afternoon tea, sunday roast) and all that sort of loveliness.

It was originally just a blog, but I am entertaining the idea of connecting a shop to it as well. that all rather depends on how soon I go to England, how much time the teaching blog takes up, what my energy levels become once I've moved house etc.  I try to take things one step at a time... who am I kidding - I don't try at all! I do all the projects right now.

So there we are. Short and informative, as I intended. It is time for things to change; big scary important real changes, and I rise to meet it. I will post again to let you know where you can find my new online homes. There is a season for everything, so they say - and my next season is upon me, bigger and better than ever before.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Drop In Dropout

Quick drop-in post! I'm working on getting some more business stuff done, but this is just a quick one for the old-school crew. 

So briefly - Sparrow Salvage now has listings in it again! But don’t get excited - I haven’t gone back to jewelry. I’ve changed the path for the shop; now it’s called Sparrow Salvage Studio and it’s a focus for a large destash project. Now that I am 100% sure I will no longer return to jewelry as it was in that form, I want to put Sparrow Salvage in the past with gratitude and move on with a clean studio, ready for new ideas that are waiting to come in. So there is a lot of stuff to come!

 Right now there’s mostly doily brooch kits as you see above; these come with a bunch of hand-dyed doily rounds, an antique button, felt backing and a bar pin - all you need is a needle and thread. Because this is a destash, this 'kit' is just supplies - like all the kits to come, nothing has a tutorial attached though if you need help figuring anything out you're always welcome to ask. Tutorials sell well but they take an enormous amount of time and I want this all done as soon as possible. so we're keepin' it simple.

After the doilies are listed (only a few more to go) I'll list the next wave of stuff, which is earring ‘soups’.

These are pairs of charms, beads and connectors and every pack has the potential to make at least 3 pairs of earrings; more if your designs are simple ones. All the beads are vintage and there are charms and bits, all either salvaged, handmade by me and from other artisans I bought from over the years. The one above has hammered hoops and sticks, 1930s faceted glass beads, tiny Czech and Swarovskis, 1920s metal connectors, Hmong tribal charms and 1980s capiz shell focals.

After I’ve got a fair few of those up, I’ll be continuing on with kits for textile necklaces, assemblage necklaces and cuffs, as well as just general lots of scrappy stuff, found objects, collector's beads etc. Some of you might remember the kits I once listed in Sparrow Salvage, these new ones are even better!

I'll be announcing every new round of listing on my Instagram - I might do them in big lumps, I might do them every day, depending on how my brain wants to utilise it's time (like I have any say in it!) You can follow me over there if you want to know as soon as anything lands! I'll be using Shop Updates as well so if you don't have Instagram you've still got a good chance of knowing when things land.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Hollow Muse, or: Rebuilding Penelope

This post started out being about the teaching plans I have for this year and the direction this blog would be taking. But as I wrote, it became more obvious that what I was really doing was delivering a personal story on my own creative journey - and what I want to learn and work toward.

This won't be a post about the mysteries of Etsy (thank goodness, I've had enough of their mysteries for now!) but it will be a heartfelt and hopefully not too long exploration of where I have lately been in my life, where I find myself and where I intend to go.

So if you're reading for the business... sorry! This one's a personal post. If you're interested in what business stuff I'll be offering I'll talk about that toward the end. For those of you who are interested... I want to briefly share my creative journey over the last few years in the hope that it might help others in a similar situation. And because it's my blog and it's what it's for.

I hope this post will be useful to people -  not least of all because it's honest. There is far too much 'cheerful façade' in the blogging world which leads us all to think everyone is motoring along on their own steam and perfectly happy with it too. Blogging the shadows is critical - after all we are here to help and share, and what help is it to pretend what you do is working when in fact it is not?

So, first a little background of the last 5 years. Most of my 'old' readers know about my car accident in 2011, in which my mother died and I almost did too. I've been fairly quiet about the lasting effects of that moment in time but I'm sure it doesn't take Sherlock to guess what sort of time it's been. Apart from the trauma, grief and healing difficulties, the accident became something of a catalyst to my life playing out as a country music song.

As a direct result of that event, I lost the house I was living in, my cat died and my parrot died. I underwent extensive therapy, wherein the true nature of some friendships was revealed and in order to heal, I had to let them go. This in turn meant I lost good mutual friends as well. Therapy also revealed a lot of pre-accident stuff that had been affecting me my entire adult life, and though pre-accident me had always been able to get a handle on it (read 'repress like a boss'), post-accident me had in addition so much more to deal with, and I crumbled under the weight.

I eventually became so worn down by the decimation of my life that I wound up living in my father's spare room in the town where I grew up. It was supposed to be temporary, but ended up being 3 years. I love my Dad and we get on well so I had no great trouble living with him, but the cottage is small and I took up space I knew he needed. I was just 'camping' in the spare room, and it felt transient.

I tried to move out once during that time - keen to 'get on with life' and regain my independence, but I was so unable to function in daily life and so riddled with anxiety and paranoia that I broke the lease and moved back to the spare room, fearing I'd never be able to live 'out in the world' ever again.

This then was my lowest point. The accident had come at a time where I had finally felt I was getting my shit together and creating a life I actually wanted. I was officially 'grown up'. Then my world was ripped apart; the more I fought, the more it crumbled. I felt the universe had dumped me in the gutter. Stripped of my home, my mother, my pets, my friends and my independence, there was little spirit left in me to care and I became numb from the effort.

Amazingly that's the short version, but as much as you need to know to understand that at the same time I was going through all this, my creativity was eroding rapidly. I kept up with Sparrow Salvage in the first couple of years just by going through the motions and doing what I knew. I didn't do it for creativity's sake, I didn't really even do it because I enjoyed it. I did it because it was virtually the only thing I retained from life before the accident. Perhaps in still making jewelry and still 'being sparrow salvage' I at least had one recognisable element of my reality, and I clung to it.

Eventually I got to a point where I had no energy to even go through the motions. Though I have tinkered with jewelry now and then in the last few years, it has never held my passion long enough for me to want to do it for a living. And that's a critical thing about earning a living with your art; you not only need to be passionate about it, but you need to be able to keep that passion when things become about the plain practicalities of retail. At that point I had passion for neither.I cut the cord and left behind the last vestiges of my old world, drifting in the void.

After a fair amount of void-drifting and a ridiculously huge amount of inner work, this year my natural fighting spirit was finally able to beat off the Dementors. Recently while reading the tarot (an invaluable psychological tool) I was struck with the realisation that because I had so much taken from me in these short years, there was a lot of empty space inside me.

And the upside of empty spaces is they can be filled with anything you want.

Slowly over the next few days I turned that concept over in my mind. I felt the excitement of possibility. That week marked the moment I was out of the woods, out of the darkness. I turned my face to the sun and I began to re-build myself.  I moved out of Dad's and this time into a sharehouse with someone highly compatible to me. (This was an extraordinary event in itself - you just don't get share houses in this regional area, let alone with my kind of people. Usually you have to go to the city for that!)I fought hard to reclaim my life, dragging back the jungle in my mind; revealing problems and dragging them out by the roots.

My time in this house has been critically important in healing. I have since purged much 'dead wood' from my spirit and cleared the ground to plant and good things are starting to show themselves. For the first time since the accident I feel like I'm 'back in the saddle' and on a path I want to pursue. I love this house and am content to be here until my journey to England is at last a reality. I am a grown up again, and this time I'm a grown up I want to be, rather than the one circumstance had made me.

The only thing that's remained firmly 'desolate' is my creativity, which I had thought best as left to it's own devices while I got on with my foundation stuff. But this past month, being an Aries, I figured if it hadn't done it's own thing by now it was never going to, and it was time to draw up a battleplan and force some kind of forward action.

source unknown

I'm a big fan of making lists and building strategies - heck I'm not just a fan of it, I'm a total nerd for it. I can build a strategy for anything. (Again, Aries.) I had a lot of stuff to consider but when it came to the subject of my creativity (or more pragmatically 'what am I going to do for money') and had what felt like 100 ideas.

When I say 'ideas' I mean 'things I'm capable of and won't run screaming from if I have to do it on a daily basis'. My ptsd means I can't work outside the home (unless conditions are dreamland perfect which we all know the real world is soooo good at...) so if I was going to get any closer to that light at the end of the tunnel, I had to build a boat and sail there myself.

I wrote out all the ideas I had - as detailed as possible - jewelry, print-making, photography, writing/coaching, doll making, fashion design, candlemaking, illustration, graphics...

Then went through them and crossed out everything that took too much energy, time or resources I couldn't easily obtain. I also got rid of anything that just didn't make me feel excited - in fact with ptsd rewarding me with a serious case of apathy, anything that did make me feel excited was such an event that I gave it extra points and moved it up the list of 'likely stuff'.

Some of the ideas didn't make it very far through analysis for me to know they weren't viable. Things like doll making and fashion design are nice ideas, but I don't know if I'll ever do them on a level more than hobbies. Print-making, illustration and graphic design are all calling me again, but it'll be some time before I'm ready to answer.

I discovered this week (after what feels like an eternity of mind-changing!) that I am entirely finished with jewelry, especially in the Sparrow Salvage incarnation but in any form generally. I have a totally different aesthetic in myself now and it does not include anything rusty, crusty, worn out or overly rustic. This is a complete 180 turn-around for me; I now find myself attracted to clean, colourful, elegant things, and anything that represents the old sparrow aesthetic actually makes me uncomfortable to look at. No doubt there's some really juicy psychology in there, but the gist of it is that Sparrow Salvage is an old world to me now, and other shores are calling.

 source unknown - he's no relation, by the way. ;)

But Sparrow Salvage is not destined to go quietly into the night. I want to leave something of a legacy, and here's where the teaching comes in.

I still want to teach the business of handmade, mostly because I've built up so much useful information that I feel so many people can benefit from. But I've been putting the whole thing on the back burner for a while now because it seems that in order to do these things, one has to become a full-time 24/7 guru, and I don't really want to do that. I have knowledge I have built up, wisdom I have attained... but I just want to pass it on and leave it at that. In addition there just isn't much mental space for it right now with all the other rebuilding going on.

It will happen, I just don't know when. It might be in 3 or 4 weeks, it might be next year. I have books 'almost done' (as they have been for years) and am thinking of offering an online course that we do via email and a private etsy team or facebook group... I will keep you up to date on that via the newsletter so if you're interested in knowing when that part of my brain kicks in, make sure you're on it.

It caused me a bit of anxiety to put the teaching on the backburner. I have a fairly good mailing list for the blog now and every time I look at it, I'm filled with the knowledge of all those people expecting me to guide them. The more time elapses, the more guilty I feel that I haven't, and further that I don't have the energy to. I also feel a little fake teaching the nature of handmade when I don't do it any more.

So now we come to what I want to be doing with the rest of 2016. First to the future of this blog; I mentioned that sparrow salvage is an old world to me and that includes this blog. I don't know when I'll stop posting here; maybe this will be my penultimate post, maybe not. I do know I have other things to focus on. My teaching will have it's own blog and I'll be sharing that when it's time. I do have blogging in my future, I enjoy doing it as long as the subject motivates and inspires me.

See, what I really want to focus on is vintage. Specifically pre-1960s, specifically home décor which has been a life-long passion of mine. I've been working on a new website, a new blog and a new shopfront (to be revealed when there's something to reveal) and the whole thing is ripe with 'this is it' excitement. I have an idea this will lead me back to handmade, because as much as I'm focusing on vintage homewares I'm already having ideas about creating my own line of vintage inspired homewares.

I am still running Fagin - in fact Fagin has become the major influence in choosing to focus on antiques. I noticed one afternoon that all the things I'd written on my analysis were all art/creative... I hadn't bothered questioning Fagin because it was something I have continually loved since the day it started. There was simply no question of it being under review, but I was so focused on the loss of my creativity I hadn't stopped to consider it as the vehicle to my future.

And that was a bolt to the brain.

I love vintage and antiques and if there is any creativity left in me, Fagin gets it all. I am currently making a huge, wonderful, purging mess of my house in sorting out all my left over Sparrow Salvage supplies, purging everything. Coming regularly to Fagin is antique and vintage beads, findings, found objects, dyed textiles, scruffy old bits of paper and anything else I think might be useful to the assemblage artist.I have an Instagram you can follow to keep up with the new listings.

Once I have everything listed  - hopefully by December - Fagin will take a back seat (with a view to retiring) so I can devote all my time to a new antique shop I am building, one that is located primarily as a standalone but will have an Etsy outlet. I want to get away from Etsy because I feel it keeps me thinking of my businesses as borderline hobbies; a standalone is more real to me. I also don't want to have to apply for manufacturing should I design my own homewares, and frankly in my moral opinion manufacturing (while perfectly fine) should not be on Etsy at all. Let's save that rant for another time!

When January 2017 hits, hopefully my world will be a different place. Out with the old Sparrow, in with the new Penelope. I've made plans like this before, but more through the necessary flexibility you need when life dictates circumstance. Never really with such conviction that it is the right path. And that's because there's such an enormous amount of baggage I have unpacked, sorted out and tossed out. My load is lighter and my choices are easier for it. If you're travelling to the New World, you don't need old ways.

So there we have it - I hope that wasn't too boring! It's a little self-indulgent but this is a personal blog after all,  and it will hopefully help you understand why I've not been around and where I will be in the future, if you choose to be there with me. At the very least perhaps my 'life crisis walkthrough' has helped you realise some things yourself about where you are in your life, and if it's where you want to be. 

Rebuilding yourself after total decimation isn't something many people do and it's hard to understand, especially if you've never really felt you're on the wrong trajectory. It's not just a matter of gathering a few things together, sorting out some issues, laying it all out neatly and getting on with life. It's not like doing a jigsaw puzzle or making dinner, where you get the stuff you need, apply it how it needs to be applied and then you're done and you move on. It is long, it is very difficult, it is messy and complicated; there are issues within issues, you often have to double back or just 'sit' and wait for answers to reveal themselves. This requires patience and dedicated focus, both of which I have been forced to become good friends with.

But perhaps that is my creative outlet now, and for who knows how long. If it is, for the time being, am happy with it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Sparrow Returns

Hey you guys I'm back! Yep - almost exactly a year after I closed Sparrow Salvage I've re-opened again because... well... the muse woke up!

I've started slowly - it's soft and earthy and romantic with a touch of my 'bohemian galactic' as Fanci calls it. The muse is still fumbling about, unsure of what's going on like most of us when we first wake up. I might change my style in a couple of weeks, I might give it up again! My muse does have a reputation for going on sudden holiday for weeks at a time. I have a newsletter you can sign up to so you'll know when new things come into the shop - it'll also tell you when I update here, which I do very much hope to make regular again.

So what have I been up to all this time? 

Well, remember a million years ago when I did the series of posts on pricing handmade? After all the lecturing and lead up, I didn't end up posting the final post about the actual formula and the maths and giving you a better alternative. You know why I didn't post it? Because I couldn't find a better alternative. No matter how much maths I did, no matter the approaches I took, I couldn't come up with a system that worked out better and that I was comfortable advising you to employ. This lead me to query why....and long story short I ended up falling down a rabbit hole of branding, social media and online shop development. Basically I've spent the last 2 years quietly becoming an online merchant geek.

The plus side for you is that I am now a master of it all! I've developed a whole series of tutorials to teach you how to make a living selling handmade online, including social media, shop branding, Etsy-specific secrets, running your own standalone website, pricing and successful one-of-a-kind selling - most handmade business people say you can't make a living as a OOAK maker; they are wrong!

One of the biggest reasons for me teaching this stuff is I'm sick of seeing good handmade shops not getting off the ground and making the sales they need and deserve to make. I wander all over Etsy and I see great shops with great stuff that could be selling great too, with just a few changes. There's not a lot written about selling handmade online that also enables people to keep their own style and gives clear, practical, actionable advice, and that's what I plan to do.

There is no substitute for hard work - Thomas Edison

I should warn though I teach this with the end effect being a full-time income for any maker and it requires a lot of work. A lot of it will take people out of their comfort zone - maybe way out of their comfort zone. But it's necessary; a comfort zone doesn't require you to change or challenge yourself and that means nothing happens. Selling handmade is hard and it's getting even harder as time goes on - more people dive into it every day and competition rises. In addition, Etsy - who I think almost all of us rely on - have recently made a change in how their search algorithm works. After reading about it at length I've seen it as a bit of a death knell for shops who don't know what they're doing. I'll detail here it in another blog post in the next day or two as well as showing you how to get the best from Etsy if you choose to keep selling there.

There's plenty of usable information coming up for free though, so anyone who doesn't want their handmade shop being a full-time gig can still benefit from it. But that's not all! I'm also finally getting around to releasing some handmade tutorials so you can learn how to make assemblage jewelry in Sparrow Salvage style. The first tutorial should be done by next week and involves the techniques and tricks for making my Bollywood bangle earrings.

My other project is something that's only just been coming back from the dead - my photography. I don't think it's going too far to say I'm fairly well known for my imagery both as a jewelry maker/blogger and as a photographer.  Since the accident I feel I lost something of my natural ability, and though I have now and then tried to coax it back again, I think even my shop photos are just not what they used to be. I've always wanted to sell my work as prints and I have tried now and then, but nothing I put any great effort into.

I think reconnecting with my photography is not only good for my creative muse but is also highly desirable as a future income. I've long dreamed of contributing to magazines or even better, working with heritage groups to showcase the buildings and natural resources they protect. It's a bit of a dream to do a calendar for the UK National Trust for their Buildings at Risk campaign.

So I've additionally decided that I'm going to use my (re)budding photography pursuits both to fulfil me creatively and prove that my teachings about online selling work. By starting from scratch with a standalone website/portfolio, rebuilding my social media and defining a whole new brand I hope to show anyone who'll listen that making a living selling your handmade - furniture, paintings, jewelry, photography, clothing - is definitely possible.

And of course Fagin will be with us again this year, providing unusual antique and vintage craft supply. I have so much cool stuff to share - a whole range of found objects I uncovered moving house recently, as well as paper kits and a whole suitcase full of my custom dyed fabrics!

Who's that girl with too many projects? Muggins here. But you know, what's life without overly-optimistic project levels? I didn't even mention my vintage clothing shop or the potential projects with my local museum and a textile-collecting friend or two...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Memories

Monday memories on the Sparrow Salvage blog

 Came across this little memory moment while cleaning up the shipping desk - a couple of old stamps including one for Little Brown Sparrow. The Sparrow Salvage one will be used again soon... Does anyone still have these cards I used to give out? Hold on to them, they'll be worth millions when I'm famous! The pages they're sitting on are part of my packaging materials; books bought long ago in auction lots that were too far gone to be of worth. Now they add a little romance to every purchase.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Weekend Wandering

 My brother joined us for the weekend down here in the country; the second weekend of every month is a double market weekend here, with the Coal Creek market and Loch market both occuring, one on each day. So we decided to make a trilogy of it and visit the weekly Kongwak flea market as well. (Except Dad was the only one that made it to the Coal Creek market, it was too early for me!)

 old house in Loch

I've been wanting to flex my photography muscles again and this time of year is perfect for it. Intense blue skies, big fluffy clouds and bonfire bright autumn trees all create an explosion of colours and depth. And of course the countryside with it's old houses and rolling velvet hills doesn't exactly hinder!

tissue pom poms, pressed tin, carved wood and an intensely pink blind in the beautiful old Loch church hall
 Loch's main street, alive with heritage and green - enticing glimpses of antique shops can be seen in the distance.

 The main interestion in town, complete with heritage Post Office and the rolling green hills that are seen from almost every angle in these local tiny towns, snuggled into the dales.

 Standing in the middle of the road is pretty safe in tiny country towns, plus you get great shots of the wide old streets and heritage shop fronts.

 picture perfect - usually I wait for people to move before I take my shots, but not this one...

 I wanted to explore this back lane - but I wanted to shop for antiques more! I meant to go back but shopping swept it from my mind. Next time perhaps.

A modest little house dressed in aqua blue and dusted with autumn leave.

I bought a few things  - plenty of locally grown veg and home made cakes, a 1970s tooled leather handbag (I've been searching for the perfect one for ages- finally scored!) and a splendid baby pink 1950s cake box. We were worn out by lunchtime and came home to a roast pork dinner with all the trimmings; every bit of it was local produce!

 Photography, country drives, home grown food and family company... I decree we should do Market Weekend every month. That's if I can master the art of getting up before midday...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Death to the Sun King


 Rejoice! For supplies are once again trickling into fagin's daughter. I pulled them all during the summer heat and only sold jewelry for a while, most because I didn't want to have to go to the PO in all that 39 degree heat just to post $5 worth of beads. I love every order don't get me wrong...but if you've ever known heat that hits you like an oven door the moment you leave the house, you'll understand. Ugh- I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it... 

Thankfully that time of the year has now passed, and we're in that odd realm between summer and autumn, where the weather is a rollercoaster of lovely grey skies and cool winds, peppered with one or two scorchers. I've only had to use the AC once in the last 2 weeks, something of a miracle for early March. Usually by this point in the year I've burst into tears halfway through making dinner just from the sheer exhaustion of the merciless heat! 

Possibly the whole thing will make a liar out of me and we'll get a whole week above 30, but for now- grey sky bliss. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Making the Most of your Etsy photos - Using your first image

So I've been writing a bunch of tutorials, and one of them is a photography tutorial, all about what kind of set up to use and various tricks for lighting and etc. But I'm starting to think that it's a bit unnecessary. There's a thousand tutorials out there on set ups and lighting and composition, why do you need me to tell you all about it?

Well I've decided you don't. But where I think I do have experience is in what kind of photo to take. How to represent your item, what to think about, how much trouble to go to etc.

So here's some free wisdom, gained from experience that (hopefully!) will help you create better images for your Etsy shop. Yes the first 3 are technical and I said I wasn't bothering with that, but I'm only including them because I consider them very important - if you never learn your way around photography any more than these, you'll be OK.In fact they're so important I've called them 'technissentials'. So important I made a new word! Let's just accept that and get on with it.

Technissential #1 - natural sunlight

Sure I know, everyone says it- because it's true! Though there are some truly amazing ways to set up an artificial lighting rig for any budget, fact of the matter is nothing beats Mr.Sunshine for the best results.Wait for overcast days and shoot as much as you can, when you can. Don't just shoot a few things and say 'that'll do' - it's good to have about a week's worth of listings ready to go on your hard drive for the times when weather and schedule are inflexible.

 Above, (unedited!) shots of the same necklace using natural and artificial light. Though there is only a subtle difference, you can see below after editing there is still something 'off' in the artificial shot; the blues and yellows aren't quite right and the whole thing looks a bit too harsh and flat. Even after editing (see below) the lamplight shot is still somehow 'not quite there'. It might not look that different to you, but I'm holding the necklace in my hand right now and I can tell you, it's not the same colour as the lamplight image shows. Natural light is jut a flattering to an inanimate objects as it is to humans, so use it whenever you can.

Technissential #2 - Any camera will do - just learn how to use it!

Any camera is fine for shooting images for your shop- really! My first digital camera was purchased 10 years ago and still takes a great picture, even though it's only a 3.6 megapixel dinosaur. But if you want to get the best from your camera, switch it to manual and learn how to understand the settings of white balance, apeture, shutter speed and ISO.

So get out your manual (or download it if you no longer know where it is) and learn your camera's settings. Even if you only learn how to set your white balance - a simple setting on your camera which will turn your yellowed or blue-soaked shots into more natural tones.

Above, changing the white balance has changed the light and tones drastically in these (unedited) shots. The center image is correct- on the left it is too blue and on the right too yellow. All 3 photos were taken within seconds of each other; the only thing that's changed is the white balance setting.

Technissential #3 - post-process

Post-processing your images after you shoot them can mean the difference between a good photo and a great one. Not just perfectly good photos made better, but you can save low-exposed pics, or wrong white balance setting, or most frustrating of all, when purple doesn't want to come out purple. In the image below, the left half is unedited - straight out of the camera- while the right side has had basic post-processing in terms of light/contrast, colour adjustment and sharpening. You don't need Photoshop for this; Gimp is free and easy to use, and if you want more control you can get PS Element fairly cheaply on eBay. Consider it a good business investment!

That's the technical taken care of, let's move a bit deeper into some Research n Development. These tip will hopefully teach you to achieve pictures which both stand out from the search results and give you an improved social network presence. Practically every category on Etsy is flooded now and it's no longer enough just to have great photos - you gotta know how to flaunt it!

Know what you're shooting for

If you just head on into it randomly snapping images, you're going to have a bad time. Know what you need for the listing, and make sure all 5 images convey the whole piece without repeating themselves. Don't bother uploading similar or out-of-focus images, it's just a waste of time and gives the impression you don't know what you're doing.  Make sure you have an image that shows the object in it's entirety as well as images which show details like clasps on jewelry, lining in bags, labels in clothing etc. An Etsy specific tip- to avoid those ugly grey edges around some of your images, make sure all your photos for the listing are either landscape or portrait. If you're intending to pin your listing, use portrait orientation as it looks better in Pinterest.

Take as many pics as you can - the more the better. Above is a cropped screenshot of my listings folder; I average about 20 shots for every item I list; from these I'll narrow it down to the best 5 and discard the rest. Being able to pick the good apples from the bunch is much better than just dealing with the few you've got.

Love your background

There's a lot of people that will tell you the best background to use is the one everyone else uses - the white background. I can't see the sense in this- your background is what makes your shop; it showcases your inventory, captures the heart of your target market and helps you accentuate your brand (what they now call 'tell your story'). Used to be that everyone was keen on the pure white background, though lately I'm seeing a rising trend in a dove grey backdrop. You don't have to live like that!

Above is a shot of various papers and old book covers I recently explored for backgrounds; I've settled on a staggered pile of old papers now and I use it in varying layouts across all three of my shops. If you set yourself apart and define your style by having a signature background, soon enough people will recognize it by sight outside of Etsy. This is especially helpful on social networking sites where credit of the original image can be lost. A distinctive visual style will work infinitely better than any watermark. If you want more help on what background is right for you, check out my older blog post on the subject.

Props are your friend

Backgrounds aren't the only thing that can set your style - a consistent prop or display is a great way to create unity in your shop, especially if your stock has a large variety. If you sell a lot of something particular like jewelry, but in many different styles, the same one or two jewelry cases or bracelet prop can bring a cohesion.

Boxes, tins, candlesticks and small china dishes all have their own personality. Props are fantastic not only for giving a sense of scale but also for conveying mood. If you have a tea set or some fine dishes to sell, fill them with delicate pastries; baskets look great filled with rustic bread rolls and handmade candles always look nice displayed in silver trays. Furniture is especially in need of props- that antique kitchen table will look even better laid with a tablecloth and garnished with a chair or two. If it all seems a bit too much like hard work, just keep the prop shots for listings where the selling price makes it worthwhile.

Follow the leader

Your first image (which I call the leader) is the one that gets you the attention, so make sure it's a sparkler. It doesn't necessarily have to be one that shows the whole object, some shops have a style that relies on showing just tantalizing glimpses of details. Your image isn't just there to illustrate what's for sale- it's also going to work it's butt off networking and advertising you all over the internet. It may seem as simple as standing out from search results, but from there it's noticed on activity feeds and in a user's favourites. Before you know it it's in treasuries and being shared on Pinterest or Tumblr and featured in blogs. When people are attracted to images online, it often isn't really about what's for sale, it's about the picture of the thing that's for sale. The more engaging your image is, the more likely it's going to get around.

This little blue dish was in my shop for about 5 months before someone bought it; in that time however it racked up an incredible 636 hearts and 89 treasuries! This padlock gained 253 hearts and 44 treasuries.They weren't particularly expensive objects, but the images were so admired that they paid for themselves time and time again in advertising for me and were seen by thousands of people. And I didn't have to lift a finger!

Change is good

Once you have something listed, it could run it's whole 4 month listing time without being purchased. When it comes time to renew expired listings, take a look over it and make sure there's nothing that might be a problem in it's being sold. Are the images showing the right scale? Is the texture on the material being showcased? Does the reflection of your camera make it look like there's a mark on the glass? Maybe the first image jut isn't appealing; many's the time I've had a listing that wasn't selling, so I changed the picture and boom- off we go.

On the left is the leader image I originally used on the listing for a tie. It was okay, but the board didn't give an idea of scale and the tie looked too long for it's 1940s origins. In the right image, I used the male torso; it gives a nicer idea of scale and looks more appealing (I can show the whole tie in another image in the listing). Sure enough, using the vintage mannequin rather than the board gained me much higher views. 

My final tip is - don't overdo it! These things take time and are filled with trial and error- I doubt there's a single 'online merchant' who's 100% confident they're doing everything right. What's most important is that you're happy with it, and it's working for you. Not all your listings have to be perfect treasury fodder, not all your images have to be prize-winners. Aim for about 80% gold and 20% glitter.

Saturday, January 18, 2014



Boy I've been slack on this blogging front- a month since my last post! Well it is what it is, volcano season is upon us here on the wrong side of the planet and I've been spending most of my time laying on the bed in a zombie daze. The last 4 days were hotter than Satan's sauna/hot tub room with built in pizza oven, but I managed to get through thanks to a good supply of homemade watermelon slushies, cool showers and a barely coping portable AC unit, clinging to the knowledge that in a couple of days we would have a week of the weather out there now; cloudy, cool and intermittently rainy. For now!

antique books; scanning digital download fodder

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I love TV

Here's a TV series I just finished watching- found it a couple of days ago when needing something to take away the pains of the ladycurse. You can watch the whole thing all at once on You Tube - as I did! (There are seperated episodes there too, if you need that.) 3 very enjoyable hours. Essentially, 'Amanda is an ardent Jane Austen fan who lives in present day London, until she finds she's swapped places with Austen's fictional creation Elizabeth Bennet.' I'm not an Austen girl (have never read any of them, maybe saw Pride and Prejudice once, 1000 years ago) but I thought it would be fun and I was right! To say Amanda is an 'ardent Jane Austen fan' is wrong though, she's just obsessed with reading Pride and Prejudice over and over. There were a few discrepancies; I don't think the costumes were paid too close attention to, but it's a fun ride. Mr.Darcy is hilariously, typically and relentlessly cranky and there's a few nods to the classic Firth incarnation. ('Wet shirt' is all I need say, I'm sure.)

There's also this- The Paradise. I advise not watching any of the trailers for this as they're all awful. (The BBC really need to talk to me about their promotion/advertising/DVD artwork etc.) It's easiest to flog this as a better version of Mr.Selfridge, but it's more accurate to say it's a witty, elegant and lovable series about a large department store and the people who work there (and opposite it). The characters are all likable in their own way, there's plenty of familiar faces and the production design is amazing. The only thing I wish for it is that there had been more exploration of the other shops who are suffering under the expansion of the larger store. But they've just started showing season two, so maybe there will be!

I can't wait to live in England, where I can get great TV like this all the time instead of hunting it down online. Australia is a cultural desert.