SPOTLIGHT: CatiesBlue

Name: Brandi
Etsy shop name: My finished jewelry shop: CatiesBlue (http://catiesblue.etsy.com), My destash and supply shop: CBStash (http://cbstash.etsy.com)
Website: www.catiesblue.com
Blog: http://catiesblue.squarespace.com/blog, but I’ve been really bad about updating it lately
Location: Dallas/Ft., Texas, USA
 
 
1. What kind of materials do you use in your creations?
I use sterling silver, fine silver, gemstones, and occasionally Czech glass. My newest obsession is artisan lampwork, borosilicate (boros) beads specifically. I’m having a grand ol’ time collecting those!! They are soo pretty.
 
 
2. How did you get into this form of art?
I feel like I was supposed to be a jewelry designer, it just wasn’t the time before now. I remember getting a jewelry kit from my grandma, the kind with gemstone chips. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember that I loved playing with the stones. Jump ahead to college, where I got to take a jewelry/metalsmithing class. I wasn’t the world’s best metalsmith, but I still liked the beads. Jump ahead a few more years, when I was a representative for a jewelry company. I stumbled into a bead store by accident, and four days later, I was taking any class I could. The rest is history, but if you’re wondering what I was doing between the jumps, I was painting.
 
 
3. What inspires you? Do you have a plan before you make a piece, or do the materials “speak” to you?
I have a general idea, but most of the time, I’ll adjust that idea if the materials are speaking to me. I approach jewelry in the same manner I approach a painting. Basic idea of where things will go, but once I start, I may like the way a particular brushstroke looks and just paint around it, rather than over it. It’s a pretty organic way of doing things, but it works well for me. I appreciate the creative process just as much as the end result, so I’m open to any changes that may happen as I work.
 
 
4. Do you have a certain design style?

I’d have to say that my style is probably more contemporary than anything else. I still love gemstones, and I love boros. I have my own color language, and style language, so I’m just trying to stay true to that.
 
 
5. What is your favorite technique?
Clusters. Hands down, I just love the way they look.
 
 
6. Other than Etsy, where could someone find your creations?
To purchase? The occasional home party, and that’s about it right now. I’m exploring other opportunities, but my Etsy shop is the only place to buy my work right now. As far as being visible online, I have several profiles – Flickr (http://flickr.com/photos/catiesblue), TalentDatabase, and Indiepublic, just to name a few. To find out more, visit my website at www.catiesblue.com.
 
 
7. What is your favorite part of being a member of EtsyBEAD?
The people. etsyBEAD members are so friendly and helpful, and that makes it so easy to be a member. It’s nice to know that I have a place to go when I’ve got questions. There are certain things only other jewelry designers and fellow Etsy sellers can help with.
 

       

Tips: Photography Tips, Part 4 – Editing

Written by Brandi of Catie’s Blue

•••••••

Since I started selling online, the importance of great product photographs has been hammered into my brain. With jewelry, it is your selling point. People can’t pick up the piece and hold it the way they can at a craft show, so the photo will determine if someone clicks to view your listing or just leaves your shop.

Good photos have become an obsession of mine, so I figured I’d share what I know so far. Please note, I’m not saying that my photos are the best ever nor am I a professional photographer (I’m not); but I do work hard to make them the best they can be. In doing so, there are four major things I think about when it comes time to start snapping away – lighting, macro setting, staging, and editing.

This is the last of a four Part series, broken down for easy reading. Here is Part 1: Lighting, Part 2: Macro Setting, and Part 3: Staging in case you missed them.

••••••• 

IV. Editing

Editing photographs can sometimes feel as daunting as taking them. But here’s the honest truth – you don’t need to use a fancy photo manipulation program like Photoshop if you don’t have it or are not familiar with it. I have several photo-editing programs on my computer but the one I use the most is the one my camera came with (which is Kodak EasyShare, and my camera is a Kodak Z740, in case you’re wondering).

Assuming your photos are well lit and in focus, all you really need to do once you’ve uploaded your photos to your computer is to brighten and crop each picture. I’ve found that unless the sun is perfect, which is hardly ever, or I use a well lit light box, which is hardly ever, I have to adjust the brightness on my photos. That’s because everything is shot in the macro setting, which doesn’t use a flash, so some minimal adjusting on your computer is required.

adjusting-the-brightness-in-kodak-software-a-copy.jpg

Click the photo to see it full-size.

When adjusting the brightness level, go slow. See what looks best. For me, I want the colors to be as accurate as possible on my monitor. My focus is actually not on the background so much as the piece itself. I photograph on a neutral background, and while I do try to get it as light as possible, I won’t sacrifice the quality of the piece to do it. Meaning, I won’t “overexpose” or brighten the pair of earrings I’m working on, just to get a white background.

When I’m taking photos, I’m usually doing a bunch of pieces at once to save time. With at least five or six shots per picture, I really don’t have time to be thinking too much about centering each picture, or making each picture look “cool”. The only thing I concern myself with is making sure each picture in focus. Then, once it’s uploaded, I’ll play around with the cropping. Some pictures and pieces look better with a lot of negative space around it. Others look better close-up, it just depends.

Be patient with yourself, and save the edited version under a different title, i.e. IMG100b, so you always have the original if you make a mistake.

At first, it’ll take some time to figure out what works for you. But the more you do it, the easier it will all become, and the faster you can get things done. Promise. If you have any questions, just let me know!

Tips: Photography Tips, Part 3 – Staging

Written by Brandi of Catie’s Blue

•••••••

Since I started selling online, the importance of great product photographs has been hammered into my brain. With jewelry, it is your selling point. People can’t pick up the piece and hold it the way they can at a craft show, so the photo will determine if someone clicks to view your listing or just leaves your shop.

Good photos have become an obsession of mine, so I figured I’d share what I know so far. Please note, I’m not saying that my photos are the best ever nor am I a professional photographer (I’m not); but I do work hard to make them the best they can be. In doing so, there are four major things I think about when it comes time to start snapping away – lighting, macro setting, staging, and editing.

This is Part 3 of a four Part series, broken down for easy reading. Here is Part 1: Lighting and Part 2: Macro Setting in case you missed them.

••••••• 

III. Staging

When I say “staging”, I’m referring to the way things are arranged in your photo. Besides the piece you’re selling, there’s also the lighting, the background, props, and the way you angle the object to consider, too. Each choice you make creates your own style.

A lot of the way a photo looks can be determined ahead of time, and with Etsy, we have five photo slots to use, so we aren’t limited to only one snapshot to sell our pieces. So, we can take a really engaging, maybe a little artsy first photo, then do more traditional and standard pictures for the other four.

To start, look at catalogs or magazines, or even other sellers. What stands out to you? What kinds of photos do you like? Are the pieces on a colorful background or a neutral one? Are you attracted to photos with a lot of props, or do you prefer a very simple set up? As you begin to find photos you like, also start thinking of how they can fit into your style; basically, how can you make them your own?

Then, look at your own photos as objectively as possible. Give yourself a little critique, or ask a few trusted friends for feedback. What can be improved? What’s working well for you? Are your photos too dark? Are there too many highlights? Do your photos look washed out? Can the background be improved?

Here are the choices I made:

a. Photos I like: I like the artsy photos, with simple backgrounds and simple props, but prefer to see at least two or three clean, completely in focus photos showing me the details. I try to have one “artsy” shot, but if it doesn’t work for a particular piece, I don’t push it.

b. Semi-neutral backgrounds for a consistent look. Colored backgrounds can affect the way the colors in your piece can look. A green stone will appear to have different shades when put against a red background versus a gray or white one.

c. I want to keep it very simple, with only a white coffee cup as a prop to hang earrings off of, so the focus of the photo is on the piece itself (see photo), and I save time not having to set up different scenes for each piece.

d. I want each of the five photos to show something different, whether it’s the clasp of the necklace as well as the pendant, or earrings lying down as well as hanging.

If you’re stuck, consider just adjusting the angle of your jewelry piece. Angles are interesting because angled lines create the illusion of movement. Movement in a photograph keeps your eye moving around, keeps the viewer engaged.

Other low-cost ways to play with your photos: visit the scrapbooking aisle in your local craft store and pick up cardstock (be careful that it’s not too busy or it will overwhelm your piece) or look around your house for a hardcover book. Take off the dust jacket and photograph on the fabric cover (which works because the fabric is pulled tight, see photo on the right), or open the book and take photos on the pages themselves (see the first photo in Part 2). The words will then become a recognizable pattern. Whatever you choose to photograph on, try to avoid a super shiny surface – it may bounce light off its surface in an unpleasant way – or play with it till you get the results you want.

If you like the look of props beyond what I’ve shown here, check out the recent Storque article about staging and styling your photos.

Tips: Photography Tips, Part 2 – The Macro Setting

Written by Brandi of Catie’s Blue

•••••••

Since I started selling online, the importance of great product photographs has been hammered into my brain. With jewelry, it is your selling point. People can’t pick up the piece and hold it the way they can at a craft show, so the photo will determine if someone clicks to view your listing or just leaves your shop.

Good photos have become an obsession of mine, so I figured I’d share what I know so far. Please note, I’m not saying that my photos are the best ever nor am I a professional photographer (I’m not); but I do work hard to make them the best they can be. In doing so, there are four major things I think about when it comes time to start snapping away – lighting, macro setting, staging, and editing.

This is Part 2 of a four Part series, broken down for easy reading. Missed Part 1: Lighting? Click here to view it.

•••••••

II. Macro Setting

The macro setting is the “close-up” setting on your camera, and if you’re photographing small items, like jewelry, it’s really the setting you want to use. I never use anything but macro when I’m photographing my jewelry pieces.

Macro allows you to get extremely close to a piece to pick up the fine details that may be lost on a wider shot. You have to be generally within 2 feet of the item, and you probably want to get even closer. Macro has a narrow depth of field, or a very short range of focus. What this means for your photos is that anything in the background and anything in the immediate foreground will be out of focus or fuzzy, which is kind of nice for an artsy shot if that’s the style you’re going for.

100_4211a.jpg

For an example, look at the photo above. Notice how the bottom third and top third of the photo is fuzzy? How only the middle third is actually clearly in focus? That’s what I’m talking about. If you use a smoother surface with no discernable pattern, like a stone table top or a smooth piece of paper, you may not see the fuzziness as well.

100_4211acc-copy.jpgWhen taking photos, press the shutter button down halfway – on most digital cameras, this will cause the lens to focus and a box or brackets will show up on your screen. Whatever is in that box or those brackets will be what the camera is focused on first. Here’s a digital recreation of what you might see on your screen.

By playing with the angle of you in relationship to your piece, i.e. stand up, sit down, hover over it, etc., you can play with what’s in focus and what’s not. If you want to get one particular part of your piece in focus, do your best to have that piece be in the center of your screen, then press the button down halfway to double check. If it is, go ahead and press the button down all the way just like normal.

As for me, I get right up to my piece, leaving only a few inches of space between my camera lens and the piece itself. I go as close as I can without losing focus, so you may have to move around till you find that threshold. Additionally, I try not to use my zoom if I can help it. Digital cameras now come with two kinds of zoom, optical and digital. Optical is what the actual lens in your camera can do – mine has a 10x optical zoom, meaning the lens itself can zoom in up to ten times. When it reaches that maximum, that’s when the digital zoom kicks in.

Digital zoom is when the little computer chip in your camera takes over. It’s not actually zooming in any closer; rather, it’s blowing up the image, which can distort it by making it fuzzy, and completely defeats the purpose of a close-up. Think of it this way: a digital image is comprised of thousands of little pixels. The digital zoom enlarges those pixels, but it’s not adding any new information. So, at some point, you’ll begin to see the blank bits in between those pixels; hence, your photo will be fuzzy.

541531299_bg-mini-2.jpgIt doesn’t really matter what style of camera you have, or what brand it is. Most digital cameras now come with at least a few options, one of which is the macro setting. Take a moment to look at your camera. Macro is usually denoted by a little flower, so just switch to that setting, and stay there. If in doubt, pull out your camera’s manual and look at the diagram written there to find it.

Tips: Photography Tips, Part 1 – Lighting

Written by Brandi of Catie’s Blue 

•••••••

Since I started selling online, the importance of great product photographs has been hammered into my brain. With jewelry, it is your selling point. People can’t pick up the piece and hold it the way they can at a craft show, so the photo will determine if someone clicks to view your listing or just leaves your shop.

Good photos have become an obsession of mine, so I figured I’d share what I know so far. Please note, I’m not saying that my photos are the best ever nor am I a professional photographer (I’m not); but I do work hard to make them the best they can be. In doing so, there are four major things I think about when it comes time to start snapping away – lighting, macro setting, staging, and editing.

This is Part 1 of a four Part series, broken down for easy reading.

•••••••

I. Lighting

100_4186cc-copy.jpgLighting is important for obvious reasons. Without light, we can’t see colors. But when taking digital photos, lighting is critical to getting a good picture. Here’s why: A camera lens is not as sensitive as a human eye. Where a human eye can differentiate between millions of shades and tones and colors, that number becomes dramatically smaller for a camera. Where we see hundreds of shades of gray, the camera may see a dozen. And areas that we think are well lit appear dark once viewed on a computer screen. A camera needs the help of even external lights to see things properly; don’t rely on the flash.

There are two ways of taking pictures at home: natural light and mini studio light boxes. Both have die-hard fans that swear by them. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

100_4187abcc-copy.jpgI’ve found that with natural light, the colors of the piece I’m photographing come as true to life as possible, so that’s what I use. I’ll go outside and set up on my patio table. However, I have to depend solely on the weather when it comes time to take a picture. And when the seasons change, that perfect time of day when the light is exactly right changes constantly, so it’s a (fun and not so fun) guessing game.

Natural light isn’t always an option for everyone. For some, it’s the changing seasons that prevents year-round outside photography. For others, it may be a full-time job that keeps them busy during key daylight hours. lightbox2-copy.jpgOr, maybe you don’t have big windows that let in a lot of natural light. If this is the case for you, consider a light box (a.k.a portable light studio, portable light tent, tabletop studio). When using a light box, you never have to worry about the weather. You can take photos at night after the kids are in bed. You can set up anywhere, including the garage or the kitchen table. You are in complete control and, assuming you have the space to do so, you can set up your light box the way you like it once and leave it till you need to take pictures again.

Ultimately, you need to decide what works best for you. For jewelry, which is generally pretty small, you don’t need much space, so either natural light or a light box would work. It’s really going to come down to what works best for your lifestyle.

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When using natural light

  • 100_4190bcc-copy.jpgStay in the shade and avoid direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will cause your photos to become overexposed and the colors will be washed out.
  • Don’t use your flash. It, too, will wash out the colors in your photos and cause extreme highlights that no photo-editing software can really fix.
  • Play around with the positioning. In my photos, the sun is to the right, so there are shadows on the left. To avoid as shadows as much as possible, position yourself between the sun and your item. This will create evenness to your photo, and you can always adjust the brightness later.

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When using a light box

  • If you want to be fancy and buy special light bulbs, go to your local hardware store and get either tungsten light bulbs or natural light light bulbs; both simulate the natural light you’d get if photographing outside. Ask the sales associate there for help if you can’t find either of these bulbs.
  • Do use as many light sources as you can. Notice that most light boxes use multiple light sources that come from different angles. This is to provide an equal amount of light to all areas of the piece being photographed, as well as to minimize shadows. Use one light on top and one on the side at least, though you can also use lights on both of the sides and even the front as well as the top.
  • Diffuse your lights. Diffusing the light will create an even shine on the piece, which means that the shadows and super bright highlights will be minimized. If you paint the inside of a cardboard box white or line it with white paper like ChristysQuilts did, don’t direct the lights to shine directly on your jewelry. Instead, follow her lead and angle it towards the sides of the box so that the light bounces off the side onto your piece. If you cut out the top and sides and cover it with tissue paper, like the Strobist example, you can position the light on the outside of the box. The tissue paper will soften the light that comes through it.
    • Using white on the top and sides, even if you want your piece on a colored background, will help bounce the light around your light box. A colored background can go along the back and bottom.
  • Don’t use your flash. Let the external studio lights do the work.

Tips: Home Parties

Originally posted by Brandi of Catiesblue on her blog, reposted with her permission

The topic of home parties has come up a few times recently, so often that I became inspired to write down some tips.

Before I ever thought to consider selling online, I did home parties that were really succesful. All of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error, but I’m not going to say that what I do will work for everyone (it won’t), nor am I going to guarantee gigantic sales right off the bat. But I do believe that if you work at it and be as prepared as possible, you, too, can do really well! So, here we go.

** Disclaimer ** I love parties. I love planning them, so there may be more information here than you want or need. I apologize for that, and encourage you to take what you like and make it your own. Use these tips as inspiration.

1. Decide what kind of party you want to have.

All of my parties fall within two major categories: a) a smaller luncheon-type of party with a set guest list; and b) mini craft shows that have a set start and end time, but where guests are free to come and go as they please.

It’s easier for me to define what kind of party I want it to be, because I approach each one a little differently. If it’s Party A, then my focus is on the food and the mood, while aiming to keep things like the presentation casual. If it’s Party B, then I focus on an organized display that is easy to navigate and easy to see.

I will also say that different parties worked for different groups of customers and for different times of the year, but if you’re just starting out, go with what you’re most comfortable with and what appeals to you most.

2. Invitations and the Guest List.

I always send out invitations, mostly a paper invite as opposed to an e-vite, since the majority of my customers are older, and not all have email or even a computer. However, this is where your personality can shine through, and where you should consider your potential audience. Are you looking to invite a group of professionals or have a group of technology-saavy friends? Then maybe an e-vite is the way to go; they can plug the date and time directly into their calenders and Palm Pilots. Do you have a group of friends that may really appreciate a colorful postcard? Not only is it pretty, it can double as a visual reminder on the fridge.

Invitations themselves don’t have to be elaborate or expensive; I used postcards or flyers for the “craft shows” and cute handmade invitations for the smaller parties. Send what you can afford to do, it doesn’t matter – but it is nice to get a piece of mail that isn’t a bill.

As far as the guest list is concerned, here’s what you do – either have someone host a party and invite 20 of their friends, or, if you host it, send out invites to people in your address book that say “Bring a Friend!”. You can even offer a coupon like “save 10% on one item if you bring a friend – save 10% on two items if you bring two friends!” to get customers to show up with more people. Also, always over-invite people – I’ve noticed that for every three people or so I invite, maybe 2 show up, though usually that number is closer to 1.

3. Decide the party’s location.

Where will you be holding the party? Your house? A friend’s house? In your backyard or garage? It really doesn’t matter because you can make anything work, but make sure your location has enough parking for everyone, is easy to get to, and that you have enough seating for everyone who comes (it’s not an issue inside a house, but it is in the backyard if you don’t have patio furniture).

Other things to consider is how much space you’ll have (or want) to display your pieces, what the flow of traffic will be, where the bathroom is, and where the food will be kept.

Additionally, you may decide or you may be asked (if you’re doing a party where someone else is the hostess) to have your party outside of the house. These can be fun – my first party was in a chocolate shop! – but they pose their own set of issues. Is there a cost involved? Are there limitations, such as amount of people allowed in a particular area? How early can you get in there to set up, and by what time do you have to be out of there? While it’s nice to not have to worry about strangers in your home, also know that you will have time constraints, so you’ll have to gently (or not so gently) nudge your guests on home, so be prepared.

Wherever you decide to have the party, make up a little map and slip it into the invitations if it’s some place most people don’t know how to get to. That extra step will be greatly appreciated by a customer who may not be familiar with the area.

4. Set up.

Where I was having the party, as well as the type, dictated how I’d approach setting up and displaying my jewelry.

If the party was at a home, or was a smaller group, I’d confine the jewelry to an area or room, but display it all over – i.e. coffee tables, down the center of the table where we were all seated for lunch, someplace unusual or unexpected – any place that would get people to pick it up and try it on.

If it was a craft show type, I would use more traditional displays, like picture frames, busts, etc., and keep my display confined to a table or two.

5. Food.

Regardless of what type of party it is, my main concern where food is concerned is that it be “non-greasy”. Non-greasy snacks mean clean hands, and cleaner jewelry. Simple and easy food also gives you more time to prep your jewelry pieces (assuming you’re throwing the party yourself).

*** If you’re thinking of doing a home party for something small, if possible, put everything in little plastic bags. I’ve done picture frames and cards at my parties, too, and both of those were packaged in plastic because, as my wise aunt once told me, it’s cheaper to replace the bag than it is to replace the item. I’ll even confess to my jewelry being in bags sometimes.

6. Hostess Benefits.

It IS nice to offer a little something to the hostess (having been a hostess myself), but don’t feel like you have to go overboard. Figure out what works best for you without you essentially paying the hostess to have a show. Here are some examples of what I’ve done (but not all at once!):

  • 1 free pair of earrings (hostess choice) + 3 more items 25% off
  • 1 free pair of earrings (hostess choice) + 10% off entire order
  • 10% off entire order
  • A custom made necklace/earrings set (only did this once for a big repeat customer/hostess, and only because I knew her style well
  • 3 items at 25% off (hostess choice)
  • A percentage off hostess order depending on the total amount of the show’s sales: 5% for $500 show, 10% for $1000, 15% for $1500, 20% for $2000 – the hostess then will become a sales person for you, getting her guests to buy more!
  • A little gift bag full of goodies

These are by no means the only things you can choose to do – there are many options, including coupons for a 10% off their next order or free shipping (I’ve also used these as door prizes).

7. Theme and Time of Year.

All of my parties have a theme, whether I announce it or not. Sometimes, it’s as simple as picking Spring Flowers for a Springtime party; this will give me a jumping off point for the color scheme (pastels), the food (light tea cakes), the decorations (flowers everywhere), and the invitations (floral themed cards). Other times, I’ll plan it around a holiday like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day.

Those are pretty self-explanatory, but think of other times you can have parties during the off-season – birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers (mommies need attention, too!), a Just Because party, a Girl’s Night In party, a Wine party, or to celebrate a new collection you have.

8. Relax and have fun!

I’m a very laid back seller. I generally say a few words to introduce myself (if I don’t know all the guests) and to explain what I do and what they’ll see. I tend to keep it short, then let people browse. I try to keep things as relaxed as possible; I may have music playing, maybe some fun drinks, because those are the kind of parties I like to go to. I don’t like people breathing down my neck or being really pushy, so I consciously try not to do it myself. Plus, if people can see that you’re not enjoying yourself, they will, in turn, be stiff and unreceptive, which can (and will) hurt sales.

So, take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and smile.

I hope these tips helped! I know it’s mainly geared towards jewelry, but can be easily changed to any handcrafted work. Best of luck to you in your home party!