Thursday, May 26, 2011

Friday Finds

It' Memorial Day weekend for those of us in the USA! I hope you've made some fun plans... Hanging out with your family and friends, maybe a barbeque or a picnic, or even camping! Sounds fun to me, I love that stuff. :)

But let's also take a little time to think about this great country, and the freedoms we enjoy.... And remember how we got it. Remember all the brave men and women who gave their lives to protect ours, and all those who are protecting us now. And maybe say a little prayer of thanks.

Now I hope you'll enjoy some hand made patriotism, and have a great weekend!

Land of the Free American Flag 8 x 10 Canvas Wall Hanging by Mark My Words Studio

Misty Battlefield 8 x 10 print by Wild Wilderness Photos

My Husband My Hero by The Beaded Butterfly

Custom Dyed and Screen Printed Navy Wife T-Shirt by Piki Niki Designs

Arlington Cemetery 20 x 16 Original Oil Painting by Art de Joie

American Flag Baby Tutu by Teddy's Tiny Tutus

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Can You Picture This? (Part Two)

I have been working on some of the things I wrote about last week... remember, this is not "instructional" as much as it is "exploratory!" I am on a quest to improve the quality of my pictures, so I have been researching, practicing, and reporting here. I am not a professional. That is my disclaimer.

The first thing I did was to borrow my son's light tent. It really is great, I don't know why I don't always borrow it... except that maybe I am too impatient to set up a good shot, or it could be that I feel bad borrowing the stuff that he paid for instead of getting my own... Either way somethings gotta change! I did decide that if I buy my own, I would like a smaller one than he has. His is about 2' across by 2 1/2' tall, which worked well, but the jewelry seemed so small inside that I felt like some of the light kind of got "lost" in that big area. I wanted it to be more condensed. Smaller would be a little less awkward to work with too. But, all in all, the tent made a great improvement.

I also played around with backgrounds. You may remember that in the DIY light box tutorial it suggested getting two pieces of poster board; one white and one black. I tried that, and I, personally, don't care for the black. There is probably a method for using it that I'm not aware of. If someone knows it, I would love to hear about it, because it came in a package of 5 sheets. :)

 Amethyst Spinner Ring

See? It just doesn't do anything for me. Again, The Tabletop Studio has a solution, this black acrylic sheet and accessories, which look pretty, but has a pretty price too. But look at this! Here's a 12" x 24" piece of black acrylic for under $8. Of course that's minus the lights and other accessories, and you'd want to read up on how to set up the shot, but it's definitely a more affordable route.

Back to poster board.... I did like the white.

The white background is nice and clean. I tried to adjust my lights to minimize the shadows, and while I wasn't able to completely eliminate them, I still think they turned out quite well. You'll notice the bottom left picture has a different hue. That piece is made of bronze, and I tweeked it a little in Windows Live Photo Gallery to make the bronze color a little more accurate. I don't do much tweeking, frankly because I don't know how. But I also wonder why you would want to make the picture you're posting look any different from the piece you'll be mailing out? I almost always click on "auto adjust" though. It usually makes to colors look more accurate than the original picture does.

Although I like the white, I experimented some more by printing out some gradient backgrounds. I just googled "gradient backgrounds" and clicked on "images" and there were a ton of them. I found a few I liked and printed them out on photo paper (be sure to find non-copywrited backgrounds). I tend to like the more subtle backgrounds, but that's just me. Find what works best for you.

This blue was a bit bright for me. I chose it because I thought it might help bring out the purple color in the amethysts on the top ring. It didn't. I had trouble with those amethysts! I do kind of like the reflection in the picture of the ring on the bottom.

The above pictures were taken with a background that was very light blue (almost white) in the center and became more of a sky blue as it radiated out. Because the jewelry is so small it was hard to position it in a place where the camera would catch the gradient color. In other words, in the background immediately surrounding a small piece of jewelry there was not a lot of graduation of color - it almost looked all the same color. The necklace shot was easy because it covered more of the background. I took several that way, and they all turned out nice. You might notice I have the amethyst ring propped up, hoping to catch the color. It's a bit better, but I don't like that particular prop.

In this picture is a black gradient background I tried. I don't recommend it. I still don't think the black is black enough. It was also hard to use because it was so easily scratched. By the time I was done there were little scratches all over it, and I was being careful! Printer ink is too expensive to print out backgrounds that can't be used more than once. But, again, I do like the reflection.

These are my favorite! It's a gray gradient background, less subtle than the blue. Just enough! I tried to get tricky in the bottom picture. I was getting really frustrated with trying to catch those purple amethysts! I read about the sparkler light on The Tabletop Studio website. Its a third light that can be used, which should be positioned at about the same angle as the camera. It's designed to catch the color and sparkle of gemstones. I used my son's desk lamp. :) I held my camera just at the top of the lamp, I wanted the light and the camera to be as close together as they could be so that the shadow cast behind the ring would be hidden from the camera's view. It resulted in the shading at the bottom of the picture, which was unplanned, but which I really like. Sometimes good things just happen. I stood the ring on it's side, not so much because I like that position, but because it raised up the amethyst to a spot where it could really shine.

Two more things that I definitely think are worth mentioning are to always use a tripod (and maybe your camera's timer or remote if you have one) so there's no wiggle, and to have your camera set on the highest quality pictures. Especially if you aren't using a camera with a macro setting, because you're probably going to have to crop them. That can accentuate any blurriness, and make them a little pixely if they are on a lower quality setting. If you have trouble uploading them onto a site because the file is too big, you can always resize them. But I like to keep the original in case I ever want to print them for a catalog or something.

Ok, I think I've told you everything I know! Hopefully I have not confused you or led you astray. Remember, I am on a journey of learning. Any tips, comments, or corrections are welcome, and in fact, hoped for!

After last weeks post, Cheryl @ Sew Can Do made a comment about a light scoop. I didn't know what that was, but she loves hers! I found it here. It looks like a great invention to me, and I'd love to give it a try, but I don't have the right kind of camera. I've been trying to think up a way to rig something up for me to use.... haven't finalized that thought yet.

I also want to thank UKZoe for mentioning looking on ebay for less expensive light tents. As I mentioned last week, less expensive makes me happy! :)


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can You Picture This? (Part One)

Because pictures are so vital in selling anything online or in a catalog, I'm always trying to improve mine... or I'm always thinking in the back of my mind that I need to improve mine. :) Some days I will take some pictures and they turn out great, but then on another day I can't get a single good one. The frustration has pushed me over the edge!

I decided to learn more about taking professional looking pictures, specifically close up, or macro, shots. At first I was a little daunted, as I don't know much about aperture, composition, white balance or any number of other photography terms. I have a point and shoot digital camera, and am not interested in spending obscene amounts of money on a fancy camera and equipment. I was happy to find that there are some very effective techniques that are also inexpensive. Inexpensive makes me happy. And so does effective.

Ok, so you need a camera. Most, but not all, point and shoots have a macro setting, which allows you to take very close up pictures. If you are in the market for a new camera, definitely find one with a macro setting! If you already have a camera, and it doesn't have macro, don't despair. You've just got to be sure to use a tripod to get nice, clear pictures that will still look good after you crop them... More of that next week... Other than that, if you know few helpful hints, the auto setting works great!

This is my camera, a Canon Elph, and I love it.

Lighting is a biggie. Natural light is the easiest, and it's free! I've got a window in my house that I like to take pictures by, especially in the morning. It faces kind of southwest, so mornings are good for the light because at that time of day there is no direct sunlight coming in. Going right outside also works great, either in the shade or on an overcast day. You want to avoid both direct sunlight and a flash; the goal is bright diffused lighting.

There are other ways to get good lighting, of which I am not an expert. You can use a light tent and some lights, which gives you a lot of control of the brightness and direction of the light, and also allows you to get that smooth seamless background that looks so classy. The Table Top Studio Store has all the fancy-schmancy photo equipment you could ever want, and it also has some very helpful (and free!) tips and instructions for taking great pictures. You could learn more about professional photography there than what I can tell you. But, they won't tell you this: How to make your own light tent for $10 or less. But This Guy can! He's got some very simple instructions for a DIY light tent that will cost you $10 only if you're a big spender, but probably less than $5.

Commercial light tent
My son has one of these commercial light tents and it's great. You could find one for under $50 (without the lights), and you'd have a nice, durable and portable tent that will last you a long time, no hassle.

The Stobist DIY macro photo studio

Or, if you're a do-it-yourselfer, this one works just as well, plus it has the added feature of the side flaps for more light control. A bit more fragile maybe. Click on the above link for instructions. Either choice is a good investment, in my opinion.

Alright, I'm going to play around with my camera and the lighting (and hopefully you will too) and be back next week with some pictures, and more tips I've found helpful! If you've got advice or questions I'd love to hear them!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Finds

I found some great Springtime Finds this week! I love Spring, when the days get longer and warmer, and the flowers start blooming. Ahhhh, it makes me happy!

I love this sweet, simple Pillowcase Dress that I found in a shop called The Uptown Baby! She's got them in lots of colors, along with other adorable baby fashions.

And this Chippy Blue Mosaic Chair by Rush Creek Mosaics... Wow, I love it!

What says "fresh spring day" better than Crisp Apple Daisy Soap found at Satin and Birch?

As a child I remember watching for the tulips to start appearing as one of the first signs of spring. This Dew Tulip print from Walda Photography takes me back!


Monday, May 9, 2011

Proud Mother Chickens

Good guess, but no. PMC does not stand for Proud Mother Chickens. Or Partially Melted Chocolate, or Pineapple Mango Cookies. It stands for Precious Metal Clay, and it's amazing!

Do you remember when you were a kid, and you got to play with Play-doh? I remember sitting at a table when I was little, making snakes, and birds nests full of eggs, and all kinds of stuff. After I had kids of my own, I learned that Play-doh is magical when it comes to calming kids down and keeping them quiet and busy for a while. I used to like to play with it right along with them. It's like one of those stress balls... all soft and squishy and relaxing.

Well, here I am, in my 40s, and I'm still playing. But I've graduated from Play-doh, and I've moved on to PMC! Anything you can make with Play-doh you can make with PMC... But it turns to silver, or bronze, or copper, or even gold!

Each type of PMC requires little differences in handling and techniques, but since I mostly use silver, I'll stick with that here. PMC (you can also find it under the brand name Art Clay) is made up of tiny particles of recycled silver that are mixed with an organic binder and water to form clay.  After it's been shaped into a masterpiece, it's dried, filed and sanded until it's just right, and then fired either in a kiln or with a butane torch. This burns off the organic binder, and sinters together the particles of silver. Sintering is different than melting. Sintering means that all the particles bind together at their contact points, so it keeps its shape instead of melting into a puddle of silver. What you have left is 99.9% pure silver, or fine silver, as opposed to sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure. One of the fun things about PMC is that you get a completely different look than what you get with traditional metalsmithing techniques.

PMC pressed into a mold I made from a honeysuckle leaf.

PMC cut into shapes, then joined together.

PMC mixed with water and painted onto a leaf.
PMC really lends itelf well to custom pieces of jewelry, too. It's easy to make a mold of something small that's sentimental, or to take a texture from something larger.

Made from a mold of an ancient Roman coin.

This was made from a texture I took from the bark of a pine tree

Is it any wonder I love PMC? You can find the rest of my jewelry here. Check it out, and let me know if you have any custom projects in mind! :)


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For All You Do... Happy Mother's Day!

Being a mom is hard. The most rewarding thing you'll ever do, yes, but hard!

When my first child was a little over a year old, I felt like I had it pretty well figured out. I decided it was time for that boy to have a sibling. But the second boy was not the first boy! I had a whole new set of lessons to learn. Same scenario with my daughter, and then again with my youngest son. I finally learned that I will never have it figured out! What works with one child doesn't necessarily work with the others. That goes for everything from discipline, to motivation, to entertainment, to what to have for dinner! And then as soon as I think I've got a handle on things, one of them enters a new "phase" and it disrupts the whole organized chaos of the family. Phew. It's exhausting. But oh, so worth it when they're all laughing together. Or when I overhear my sons telling my daughter that she better marry someone good (she's 12, ha ha!) because she's too nice and they don't want anyone taking advantage of her. Or when they bring me breakfast in bed on Mother's Day.

Speaking of Mother's Day, I hope all of you mothers, and all of your mothers have a beautiful one! I'd like to contribute to that with a gift. A gift that's good through the end of May.... Because gifts from me are usually late, so get used to it!

From now through May 31 you can use the coupon code MOMDAY11 to get 20% off of either the Family Necklace or a Birthstone Ring. (which makes a great set of stacking mother's rings!)

Happy Mother's Day!

Family Necklace
Birthstone Rings


Monday, May 2, 2011

Gemstones: Pretty or Pretty Holistic?

As a creator of handmade jewelry, I sometimes come across articles and information about the holistic qualities of gemstones. I have to admit, I find them fascinating. Am I certain that there's truth in these beliefs? Not at all. But I have never put them to the test, so who am I to say?

I do believe that there are innumerable things that we don't understand. I believe there is a God who created the earth for our benefit. And I believe there is a large portion of our intelligence that we just can't access... not in this period of our existence, anyway. So, I try to keep an open mind.

I have been told that we are most attracted to gemstones whose properties we are most in need of. So I researched some of my favorite gems. Here's what I learned:

Kingman Chainmaille Necklace
* Neutralizes over acidity
* Alleviates rheumatism, gout, stomach problems, viral infections
* Increases growth, muscular strength
* Alleviates pain, relaxes cramps
* Contains anti-inflammatory and detoxifying effects

Garnets in the Rough Bracelet

* Helps to build a successful business (I like that!)
* Kept under your pillow, it can cure depression
* Increase popularity and self esteem when worn as jewelry (I didn't make that up!)
* Brings consistency to friendships

Larimar and Pearls (Sold)

* Powerful healer of mind and body
* Empowers creativity, communication and speech
* Calming, and brings mental clarity
* Neutralizes negative energy and enhances positive energy
* Has the ability to draw together soul mates

You know what? A lot of that stuff applies to me! And there's much more... This list has been pared down significantly. Here is a link to a wealth of information on this topic.

On the other hand, all of the gemstones I studied cover a wide variety of ailments. It's not really surprising that the gemstones I like would hit on some things that apply to me. It would be hard to find one that didn't. Along that same line of thinking, one who uses gemstones consistently could easily attribute improvements in health, or avoidance of maladies, to the healing and protecting powers of a gemstone. For instance, I rarely have stomach problems, and I wear turquoise often... Interesting. I have some unfailingly consistent friends; could it be the garnets? As for larimar... I'm pretty much in need of all those things, except finding a soul mate, which I already found without the use of this gem. But I only recently discovered larimar, thus, my need for its powers.

I am not trying to sway anyone towards one opinion or the other. This is merely exploration. Like I said, I've never given gemstones a fair opportunity to prove themselves.

Here's one way to look at it.... Wear the gemstones. What's it gonna hurt? You might find healing, and for sure you'll look good trying!