Monday, May 31, 2010

In Search Of Inner Freedom And Peace

First I want to say a huge heartfelt THANK YOU to all of our incredible service men and women who defend this great country of ours and who willingly put their lives on the line for us to live in freedom. God bless you and your families!!

Here is a shot of the lovely mammatus clouds that passed over us earlier today, at the tail end of the thunder and rain. Aren't they cool looking?

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to lately. I've been studying SEO and making changes to my shop. With over 200 items it is quite time-consuming and I am really hoping that these changes will help my sales start to climb. I feel like I've done as much as I can handle for awhile, having spent the past month on this, almost exclusively.

For a little change of pace I am looking at re-organizing my work area. For those of you who read my blog, you know this is an ongoing project for me. I am still in search of that ever-elusive perfect arrangement! This time I'm trying to apply some of the techniques I have learned for other areas of the house, like putting items nearest to their 'point of use'. I have certain drawers and places that are easier access than others. For those places that are prime real estate, I want to only keep things that I use most frequently. Things I use less frequently will go in the harder to reach and farther away spots. That seems simple enough until you start to apply it and there is limited space and it can get rather complicated.

Being a person who recycles old jewelry and bits and pieces of almost anything, makes it even more of a challenge to maintain order. I keep things that many people would deem "trash". Of course it also makes it hard to ever get rid of anything! I do have to be a bit brutal here and let go of some of these things. I just dread the thought that I will finally get rid of a piece and the next day the inspiration for that piece will hit me, and I just threw it out! It almost seems inevitable. But I have to thin things out a bit so I will have to bite the bullet! I can at least place those questionable items in a farther away place from the work area.

One thing I find most challenging is how to store my tools. I use them constantly, so I don't want them in a drawer. But I don't like them strewn about either. For now I have them in a re-purposed oatmeal box. I cut the box to the right height, then removed the inner cardboard circle from the lid and replaced that plastic rim onto my cut down box for added strength. I keep all my tools in there and it's worked very nicely. It's not the most attractive piece. I could finish it with duct tape, which would make it even stronger, or I could paper over it. I don't mine the Oats label enough to bother.

I'm a huge fan of "bouquets" - those open round containers like this one, for keeping tools, or kitchen utensils or pencils in one easy to reach spot. It's so much easier to grab something out of a bouquet than to open a drawer and go fishing around. I have a stainless steel one in the kitchen for all my wooden spoons and cooking utensils. I found it at the thrift store of course. That's where about 75% of my belongings come from. I especially love finding the kitchen throw-aways from restaurants, which are very high quality stainless steel pans and utensils. Maybe they have a dent or ding but they are perfectly usable for me and I could never afford this stuff new!

Another project on my mind is to set my house to "cottage mode" for the summer. I like to lighten the load in whatever areas I can so that I have to spend less time washing dishes and doing laundry, and can spend more time doing fun things like yard work and swimming, and making jewelry.

One way to lighten the load in the kitchen is by reducing the number of dishes we use. There are only three people in my little family, so why do we need 8 dinner plates? Whatever number of dishes I have, that is how many will be used. It's a law of housewifery. It doesn't matter how many people there are, or even how often I wash the dishes. At some point, every plate in the house will be dirty, and this will happen often. I don't own a dishwasher so even with only three people, dish washing is a constant chore. I will give each person one plate, cup, bowl, and silverware set. Then the most I will ever have to wash is 3 of each item! Sounds good to me. I'll keep the rest in an upper cabinet for when we have company.

I have done the same with bed linens and towels. Cut down the number of items available and it automatically cuts down laundry time. We've actually managed to cut our laundry time to half of what it used to be. We have one set of sheets that are washed, dried, and replaced on the bed in one session. No more washing several sets of sheets and pillow cases. We used to use, wash and dry a dozen towels every week. That's two loads even in the big front loader. We cut that in half by simply putting half the towels into storage, along with the extra bedding. When the ones we're using wear out, we'll pull out the next set.

If you are feeling really brave, you can cut down laundry time even further by taking an honest look at your wardrobe. Here's where the old 80/20 rule comes into play. It says that we typically use only 20% of the clothes we own. The other 80% sits there either waiting for "when I lose this weight" or "that special occasion", or whatever the case is that you have made for keeping it. The advantage to never culling your wardrobe of course, is that someday you will have a closet full of awesome vintage items! You can amaze your grandchildren. If you have plenty of space and that's your thing, go for it! If you want to live a little lighter, definitely give this a go. You will be amazed at how freeing it is to get rid of those pieces that you only hold onto because you spent "good money" on it - even though it's ugly or doesn't fit you anymore. It's a purifying and exhilarating experience to unload those pieces and in the process, unhooking yourself from all the bad feelings associated with them! Just imagine opening your closet in the morning and seeing only clothes that fit you today, only clothes that are flattering and pretty, and only pieces that you really like to wear! Talk about lifting your spirits!!

I take this philosophy to every room in the house. You can apply it to the bathroom shelves, the kitchen drawers, those storage units in the garage, everywhere you keep things that you own.
It is an ongoing process for me. I have purged the entire house a few times, and the result was a profound experience of new inner freedom and peace. Our material possessions do cost us beyond their purchase price. We need to periodically weigh those costs and benefits to be sure our possessions aren't possessing us and squelching us.

Here's to finding more freedom in our lives!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Think I'm In Love!

Good morning folks!! Happy Friday to all!

Ok, I admit it...I had never heard of "rhodochrosite" before this week. I obtained some in my 'grab bag' of goodies from the antique store. Well I think I'm in love!! I do love pink - very very much. Copper is so beautiful with pinks and purples so I did a wire wrap of this little beauty. I'm very please with how it turned out. I will definitely be using this rock again! Plus I have several more pieces in my stash!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ooh Pretty!

I went to my favorite antique shop last weekend. They have had a bowl of $1 items for many months sitting on the counter. I have found some interesting pieces in there from time to time. This time they consolidated all the items in the bowl into one bag for $6. I went for it! Here are some of the treasures I got.
There were several bags of semiprecious stones, most of them in a rough state. A few are polished. Not sure what I'll do with them, but they are beautiful!

There were also many chandelier crystals. I love these gorgeous pieces for jewelry. They're big beautiful chunks of shine!!

I wire wrapped one of the rhodochrosite pieces, and made a pendant from one of the extra large crystals.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Take Better Photos In Three Easy Steps

Go from this:

To this:

I've been reading every article I can find about improving my Etsy shop. Things have been very slow in the shop so I have plenty of time on my hands for expanding my horizons. In general I'm stuffing my head with every bit of information I can about this whole business of selling jewelry online that I can!

I've been making lots of treasuries in the brand new Treasury East on Etsy. What a wonderful! I think it is a fabulous way of finding great artists on Etsy and getting to meet them. It's a wonderful creative outlet being a curator of these beautiful collections.

In all my searches for brilliant items for my treasuries I have found my eye being trained to what kind of photo really "pops" off the pages of Etsy. That has led me to re-read my camera's manual. I've been experimenting with different techniques, lighting, settings, and re-shooting many of my items, while doing some editing of others. I thought I'd share some of what I have been learning.

I have found myself often frustrated in my treasury searches because I will find a piece of jewelry that is absolutely beautiful that I would love to include, but the photo is so dark and small that I can't use it. Here's what one may look like:

You can see this Aquamarine Teardrops In Steel Necklace is a lovely piece, but this picture doesn't do it justice. It needs to be brightened up and cropped. I use Windows Photo Gallery for all of my editing. It has everything I need. There are plenty of free online photo editors available like Picasa and Picnik. These are easy to use and have everything you need.

The first and most important part of taking pictures is to get a clear and crisp photo that is not blurry. For this you will have to familiarize yourself with your camera's macro setting. The macro setting is for closeups and is indicated by a yellow flower. If you don't have your camera's manual, you can use Google to find it online. Just setting the camera to macro is not enough for a clear picture. Here are three essentials for getting a crystal clear shot:

1. Plenty of light, either natural light or full spectrum bulbs.

I use Reveal 100 watt bulbs in a clamp-type lamp. I have two of these lamps and I can move them around for different effects and shadows. If I want more shadow I use just one lamp. I personally don't like to use natural light because it is impossible to manipulate. You have to go where it is and that is less than convenient. I have plenty of windows but not in positions that give me good angles. Direct sunlight is too bright and will wash out the pictures. Besides, the weather is never reliable! So I stick with my little clamp lamps. That way I never have to wait for a sunny day to get great shots.

2. Use a tripod.

I always use a tripod. You can get a tripod for as cheap as $1. I had one from the dollar store and granted, it did break after about 3 months, but that was more than my dollar's worth!! This tripod in the picture is one that my dear sister gave me. I don't know exactly where she got it, but you can get a desktop tripod for around $15-20. If you can't shell out for a tripod, then at least put your camera on a pile of books or a box - something solid that you can line up with your subject so that you are not holding the camera in your hands. It is virtually impossible to get a sharp picture when you are holding the camera in your hands!

3. Find the correct distance from the camera to your subject.

This is crucial. If your picture is blurry, there is nothing you can do to improve upon it in any editor.

You can get an idea from your camera's manual of what distances it can handle on the macro setting. But then you will have to experiment to find just where it works best. I read my manual fully, but when I went to apply it all, it seemed nothing was going the way I expected. So I just started snapping pictures and experimenting to see what would give me the sharpest shot.

I see lots of pictures on Etsy that are blurred simply because the subject was too close to the lens. Sometimes you have to take a picture further away and then crop it later in the editor. Don't worry about getting in close to the subject when you take the picture. Just make sure the picture is in focus and you can crop it later, which will make it fill the frame.

That brings me to filling the frame. The picture below is better as far as the brightness, but the necklace is too far away. You really want to see the central part of the item and nothing else. Too much empty space around the item is no good. Don't worry about showing the entire piece in your first picture slot. Just zoom in on the very best part of the piece for the first picture - that picture will be in all the searches where people are shopping! You really want to fill the entire frame with the best part of the subject.

So in the picture below, I need to crop out the extra space and hone in on that centerpiece of twisted wire and aquamarine. I also want to brighten it further.

Here is the final picture:

That really pulls your eye in nicely.

Next I'll show you a good first slot picture, and a better first slot picture.
The first picture of the Get It In Gear Earrings is fine. It's sharp and bright, easy to see. Not a lot of empty space around the subject. It's a very respectable photo. But I really wanted to add some drama and I wanted to play up the industrial feel of these earrings.

So I switched out my lace background for an etched glass tile and zoomed in very close to the earrings. I used just one lamp which made beautiful deep shadows which highlight the piece brilliantly.

Here you can see the difference between one picture taken of Etched Brass Steampunk Earrings in natural daylight (top picture) and one taken at night with only incandescent lighting (bottom picture). The daylight picture has a clarity that the other does not have. But it also has a kind of flatness about it.

I like the mood in the second picture better for this piece. I wanted it to have that "ruins" feeling to it.

Well, I hope this little article has been enlightening for you (pun intended). Have a wonderful photo session!!