Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Cutest and Most Versatile Felted Hair Accessories Yet

Zazzy Peacock felted hair accessories available at More Than Paper
Designs include ladybugs and rainbow hearts and peace signs
This week, I am very pleased to announce that some of my cutest girlie hair accessories ever are available at a wonderful, well-established online retailer, More Than Paper.  As the name would imply, More Than Paper carries way more than a great selection of custom stationery.  In fact, they offer such a variety of wonderful gifts and stellar customer service, you'll want to peruse the whole site and do lots of your holiday shopping there.  But first, check out my exclusive Zazzy Peacock offerings at More Than Paper.  The fun and colorful woolen hair accessories will make terrific gifts for all the girls and teens on your holiday list.   Each is available as a headband or a combination hair clip/ ponytail holder.

Zazzy Peacock Rainbow Heart hair accessories
What's a combination hair clip/ ponytail holder?  Well I'm so glad you asked!  (Can you tell I'm super excited about this?)  I recently came up with a new and original way to make my needle felted hair goodies so that the same little ladybug or heart or peace symbol can be used interchangeably as either a hair clip OR a ponytail holder.  And your little girl can change her mind and swap it back in a matter of seconds.  All I did was to felt a loop onto the back of the felted accessory and --voila! -- it can be used with a snap clip or a hair elastic or with anything else that creative girl in your life can think of!  I keep thinking about that big drawer of ribbons my mother kept when my sisters and I were girls.  How fun it would be to thread one of these adorable felted hearts onto a beautiful satin ribbon or a soft thick rope of woolen yarn.   . . .  Ah, nostalgia gets me every time.   Anyway, I hope you get the idea:  these are really fun and versatile.  Each one comes with both a snap clip and an elastic ponytail holder in coordinating colors.  But of course, you can also use your own or anything you like -- that's the beauty of it!

Zazzy Peacock "Sherbet Swirl Hearts" in pink, purple and orange, 
showing the unique felted loops on the back
And that was the real impetus for me coming up with this new multi-functional hair accessory.  I had been considering offering ponytail holders for a while, but I was concerned about the elastics not lasting.  Maybe it's just me, but my hair is very thick so no matter how high the quality of the elastics and scrunchies I buy, they just don't last more than a few months tops.  I didn't want my customers to buy a beautiful handmade felted ponytail holder only for the elastic to stretch out or break.  So, I came up with this loop idea.  It worked great!  Then, I quickly realized that the snap clips could slide through the same loop too.  Actually, if I make the loops just a little bigger, little girls could probably wear these as finger rings!  I'm also working on some similar products for teens and adults -- felted accessories with triple functionality that can be used as brooches or hair clips or  ponytail holders.  Look for those soon in my Zazzy Peacock Studios shop on Etsy.

Thanks for looking! Have fun holiday shopping for your loved ones!

All Zazzy Peacock Studios designs and images are © Jill Newman 2012.  All rights are reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Sale on Unique Felted Zazzy Peacock Gifts!

Happy Thanksgiving!  To celebrate the start of the holiday season, I am having a holiday sale in my Zazzy Peacock shop.  Now through Cyber Monday, use coupon code TDAY10 to get a 10% discount.  I think my one-of-a-kind needle felted creations will make very special holiday gifts for your loved ones.  Thanks for looking!

Zazzy Peacock Abstract Teal Felted and Beaded Jewelry
Zazzy Peacock Felted Wool Coasters with Swirls

Zazzy Peacock Leopard Print Swirl Jewelry and Accessories
Zazzy Peacock Orange Art Deco Felted and Beaded Jewelry
Zazzy Peacock Color Block Bangle Bracelets

Peacock Motif Accessories from Zazzy Peacock Studios

Monday, November 19, 2012

Breaking into the Retail Market: Putting My Felted Goodies into the Customers' Hands

I've been so busy felting and juggling all the other aspects of my life that I've been neglecting my blog.  And, as usual, I have a backlog of felted goodies that I have yet to list in my Etsy shop.  The truth is I've been a bit disillusioned with Etsy.  I think people need to see and touch my felted wares in person.  Ideally, I'd like to do craft shows, but the lead times are long.  I have an application in to do the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this May, but I'm getting antsy to get "out there" now.

Zazzy Peacock needle felted cell phone and camera cases soon to be available at Leila Jewels in Potomac.  These are a unique one-piece seamless construction with a magnetic snap, created through an elaborate process of needle felting and wet felting the wool fibers until they are very strong and durable.  And each one is truly one-of-a-kind. 
Zazzy Peacock Abstract Felted Rings

So, I've decided to explore retail options.  I'm excited to say that I just left 25 items at a beautiful local shop that really shares my modern sense of color and design.  They sell gorgeous jewelry and gift items!  Seriously.  The store is Leila Jewels in the Cabin John Shopping Center in Potomac, Maryland.  They will be selling several of my one-of-a-kind felted gadget cozies, some colorful rings, a few intricately felted and beaded bracelets, and some of my fun purse hooks.  

It feels really good to open new doors and explore new opportunities.  I appreciate Deb Shalom of Leila Jewels giving me this chance.  Wish me luck!  If you're local, please stop by and check it out. 

Time for me to start cooking now. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Zazzy Peacock felted purse hooks with my signature animal print swirls

An example of my intricately felted and beaded bracelets with matching rings.
The sparkle of the crystals balances the earthiness of the felted wool.
The silver-plated lace edge settings add a vintage touch to the modern designs.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fun Felted Color Block Jewelry for Summer

Needle felted color bangle bracelet and rings
So, I’m happy to report that somehow just admitting I was stuck got me unstuck.  Within a day or two after my last post, I had completed twenty new felted jewelry items for my Etsy shop.  By Friday, I had managed to list seven of them.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but man, it’s a lot of work to create a listing on Etsy!

I focused on my latest designs – my own take on color blocks.  I'm really not one to follow trends just because they're "in."  But I just love it when a design that is very much my style is actually “in style.”  Lately, I’ve been enjoying all the animal prints, peacock feather motifs, and now – color blocks. 

I’ve been painting color blocks and geometric designs for years.  So I thought, how fun would it be to felt color blocks?  With needle felting, I can create such versatile pieces in just an incredible array of rich, vibrant colors.  And when something like animal prints or color blocks are “in style,” it’s fun to add a splash of high fashion with colorful jewelry -- without committing to a whole new wardrobe.  Am I right?

So here are some of my new felted color block rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces – perfect accessories for this summer season.  Hopefully, I’ll get some more listed this week.  Thanks for looking!

Zazzy Peacock color block jewelry set -- necklace, post earrings and rectangular ring

Another colorful geometric bangle bracelet and needle felted rings
                       A New Hook for My Colorful Animal Print Swirls

All Zazzy Peacock Studios designs and images shown are © Jill Newman 2012.  All rights are reserved.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stuck in a Holding Pattern: Felting without Finishing

I’m stuck.  Stuck, stuck, stuck.  It’s not that I haven’t been creative and somewhat productive, but I just can’t seem to finish anything.  I have needle-felted and wet felted many colorful little pieces over the past few weeks (I counted 62 in all), but I can’t seem to get myself to make them into finished products.  They will eventually be rings, bracelets, hair clips, etc., but for some reason, I just keep starting new projects instead of finishing these.  Actually, come to think of it, I do have about a dozen finished products sitting around, but I haven’t managed to get those listed on Etsy.  That would involve taking and editing photos and writing detailed descriptions – not that difficult, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Every day, I just reach for the wool and start poking something new.

Oh yeah, and by the way (in case you hadn’t noticed), I seem to have writer’s block as well.  And here again, it’s not that I haven’t written anything, it’s that I can’t seem to finish a blog post.  Last week (or was it the week before?), I wrote a post, but I never published it.  I typed up a rough draft, but then I didn’t get around to the final steps of revising my writing and adding the photos and links for it.  And I had taken the photos weeks before that but never got around to editing them.  Ughhh!  What is going on with me?

I’m hoping that writing this -- and yes, publishing it! -- will snap me out of this holding pattern and get me moving forward again.  I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what’s holding me back, but I think I just need to push past it.  
Some of my unfinished felted Zazzy Peacock creations -- hopefully, soon to make it over to my Etsy shop.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Finding Inspiration at the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival

Wow, it’s really hard to stay on track when life throws you curveballs!   Metaphorically speaking, I’ve been off my game the last few weeks.  Among other things, my youngest spent five days in the hospital with a skin infection and allergic reactions to antibiotics. Needless to say, I spent the week fretting over him, sleeping on a foldout hospital chair, and arguing with doctors.  I could write a whole blog of advice on how to advocate for your child in the hospital, but I’ll cut to the chase:  If you can go straight to a specialist, do that!  The pediatricians didn’t know what to do with my son, and it took a few days and transferring to another hospital to see the specialists who knew how to treat him.  If I had taken him directly to a dermatologist’s office instead of to the emergency room, chances are we would have greatly shortened the hospital stay or avoided it altogether.

After being so strong in the hospital, I promptly fell apart as soon as we got home – migraines, back spasms, etc. – and spent the better part of the following week in bed.  By this past weekend, it had been two weeks since I painted, felted, blogged or exercised. (Have I mentioned I’m an exercise fanatic and that it keeps me sane?)  I needed to turn things around and get back to doing the things that make me feel good.  Luckily, it was Mother's Day weekend, and I could get the family to do something artsy with me without too much complaining.  So we headed to the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival for some fresh air and inspiration.   And it seems to have done the trick.  I spent all day yesterday needle-felting and remembered how therapeutic it can be to poke soft, colorful wool with a barbed needle.  I even managed to do a little photo shoot, even though that's not my favorite thing to do.  And here I am today – writing again. :-)

Here are a few examples of the wonderful work by the talented and inspiring artists we saw this weekend:
I absolutely flipped over this table by Douglas Durkee of Infinity Furnishings!
Tanya Tyree's Raku sculptures are so beautiful!
The black and white photography of Chris Coffey is simply breathtaking.
My husband has a few of these on his Father's Day wish list.
We actually bought some beautiful photography by Edward Holland and Mark MacKinnon. I'll share those too once I get them up and take some photos myself.  Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Hook for My Colorful Animal Print Swirls

Felted leopard handbag hook holding
a leather bag I hand-painted with a
leopard print after accidentally
splattering it with nail polish.
One of my pet peeves is restaurants that have rounded back chairs.  You can't hang your handbag on the back of those chairs! Where am I supposed to put my purse?  I'm not putting it on a dirty restaurant floor, if I can help it.  If possible I use an extra chair; otherwise, I end up keeping my bag on my lap, which is not comfortable.  Then I discovered these great little purse hooks or hangers that you can carry around in case of such an "emergency."  It has a magnet that keeps in flat in your handbag, and then it opens up into a hook.  You place the flat round part on the table, and voila -- you can hang your bag.  

The problem was, I couldn't really find one I liked.  The solution:  I decided to make some, of course.  So here are my latest felted purse hangers.  My  favorite designs are the ones that look like the swirled branches of the animal print trees I'm so fond of painting.  It's really fun to take a design from one medium and translate it into another. I love combining bold beautiful colors with leopard, giraffe, tiger, and ocelot patterns.  It's a lot of work to needle-felt these intricate little animal prints and swirls, but I think they're worth it.  I also made some purse hooks with yin yang and peacock motifs that I'll be adding to my shop soon.  Next, I think I'll try making some of these designs into rings and pendants too.

Zazzy Peacock purse hooks with colorful swirls and animal prints, available in my Etsy shop
Thanks for looking at my latest creations!

Related posts:  Loving the Swirl of Life  (to learn more about my swirl tree paintings and the universal meaning of swirls).
So I Have a Thing for Peacocks

View of the handbag hooks in the closed position
Visit my Zazzy Peacock Etsy shop to see these and lots more!
My painting, "Peacock Ocelot Tree," shows the origins of my animal print swirl designs

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Modern Mondrian Kitchen -- Part 2: Appliances

So now that you’ve heard all about the design of my kitchen cabinetry, here’s a little (or a lot) about my appliances.  Like the cabinetry, I chose appliances to maximize form and function.  They needed to look sleek and modern (or disappear behind panels) and help make my cooking better and easier.  I know from experience that choosing appliances can be the most agonizing part of doing a kitchen remodel.  Here's what I chose – the good, the bad, and the don’t bother.  (It mostly turned out good-- phew!)

Induction cooktop:     First of all, I love my Thermador 36” induction cooktop.  This is truly one of the best decisions I made during the remodel.  We don’t have a natural gas line to our house, but I was leaning toward installing a propane tank so that we could get a big professional style 48” oven range.  But then I realized that while those are really beautiful, they’re not so modern or sleek. Once I learned about induction technology, I knew that it was for me.  The induction works by magnetic energy, so it is more efficient than gas or electric.  It heats faster on high settings, maintains a very low simmer, and you can adjust heat settings instantaneously.  Best of all, the burners themselves never really get burning hot, and they go off as soon as the pot is removed – making it much less likely for a clumsy cook like myself to burn herself.   Seriously, with gas cooktops, I’ve been known to set fire to my robe sleeves, and I’ve melted a couple of spatulas and plastic containers on electric cooktops in my day. The only downsides of the induction were expense and needing all new -- magnetic --  pots and pans (i.e., true stainless steel or cast iron pots work). For me, it was a wash because it would have been expensive (not to mention unsightly) to install a propane gas tank in the backyard, and frankly, I wasn’t really willing to consider electric.  As a bonus, I don’t have to worry about my pyromaniac cat setting himself on fire.  (We have to watch him like a hawk when we light candles, and he still managed to singe the fur off the tip of his tail last Chanukah.)

Twin ovens:  Once I ruled out the big range, I realized I wanted two ovens for entertaining.  The dilemma was that I don’t like double ovens.  Because I’m petite, I can’t even reach the upper oven without burning my arm.  Plus, they use up valuable counter space.  It was my kitchen designer, Fred Grenfell’s idea to place twin ovens symmetrically to either side of the cooktop. I went with the 30” GE Monogram convection ovens mostly because I liked their sleek styling with the stainless steel t-bars to match my hardware, but they have so many other great features.  I especially appreciate the full extension locking racks -- that you can’t accidentally drop on your foot.  ;-)

Range hood:  While we’re in the cooking area, I’ll just mention that I really like my Thermador hood.  I wanted something modern but with some soft curves, that would fit snugly between the cabinets.  This was trickier to find than you would think.

Dishwashers:  In the dishwater department, I made both a very good and a very bad decision.  The really good decision was to buy the Miele Optima dishwasher.   The European water and heat efficiency is great.  They say it does a better job when you don’t rinse the dishes, because it has sensors that determine how dirty the load is.  I love that you don’t have to worry about putting plastic in the “top rack only.”  The way the heater works, the whole dishwasher is “top rack” safe.  My favorite feature, however, is the top utensil rack.  Utensils not only come only cleaner, but they are already sorted and ready to put back in the drawer. 

On the other hand, we did NOT need the "extra" Fisher & Paykel single dishwasher drawer.  The thing does a terrible job, we hardly even use it, and really we never need it.  Unlike an extra oven, which you sometimes actually need to get all your food cooked and heated at the same time, you can leave a sink full of dishes for the hour or two it takes to run a load.  Lesson learned.

By the way, I got wood panels for both dishwashers.  I still really like that they just disappear into the cabinetry, but I will say that we’ve had some issues early on with the wood delaminating along the edges.  The cabinet maker was great about coming back to do repairs, and it's fine now, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when deciding between the integrated panels and stainless.

Refrigerators:  I’m happy with our main refrigerator – a GE Monogram 48” built-in side-by-side with a filtered water dispenser. It has lots of space and keeps veggies fresh longer than anything I’d had before.  It does have the same drawbacks as other built-ins  (not as much depth) and side-by-sides (not enough width in the freezer for an ice cream cake, etc.).  We compensate for this with a standard, extra refrigator in the basement for large items and overflow.   My only real complaint about the GE Monogram is that we have to change the expensive water filters so frequently.  We even got a whole house sediment filter installed recently to see if that would help. The jury’s still out on that. 

I’m also really happy that we opted to get the 24” under-counter refrigerator – another GE Monogram. The top drawer is always loaded with fruit (which leaves both crispers in the big frig for lots of veggies). The  bottom drawer holds snacks for the kids, like cheese sticks, yogurts and apple sauce.  When the kids were younger, it was full of juice boxes too.  And because this little frig drawer was small and low to the ground, they were able to help themselves at a younger age.  It feels good the first time you can answer, “Can I please have a snack?”  (hopefully, they’re this polite) with “Sure, go help yourself.”

Microwave:  Here’s another mistake I made.  We opted to put the microwave under the counter in the island, which I had seen in a couple of magazines, because it seemed like a great way to save counter space.  I didn’t want to put the microwave up high because again, I can’t reach, plus it would have messed with my cabinet design.  But as it turns out, below the counter was a bit uncomfortable for my 6’2” husband. 

Coffee!  Okay, this is not a built-in appliance, so it probably doesn’t belong in this post, but I just couldn't leave it out. My favorite appliance and morning BFF is my DeLonghi Magnifica SAM 3500 Espresso machine.  I probably could write a whole blog about it.  It makes perfect lattes and cappuccinos because you program exactly how much espresso you want, how strong you like it, and steams and/or froths just the right amount of milk from a separate dispenser that you store in the frig. And then it does all that at the touch of a button. This thing has spoiled me rotten.  But it saves so much time (and burned milk) compared with the other machines I’ve had over the years.  And it saves money if you would otherwise be running to the Starbucks every morning.

If you hung in there this long, thanks for reading all about my kitchen appliances. I hope this discussion helps someone with their decisions.  I have more to say about my kitchen, including tidbits on the countertops, backsplash, outlet covers, lighting, sinks, faucets and more, but I think it can wait a little while.  ;-)  

Our Home Remodel: A Modern Take on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Modern Mondrian Kitchen, Part 1: Geometric Form Meets Gourmet Function

For those of you who have been following along, a few years back, we transformed our 1950’s rambler into a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie style house.  Next up on the tour of our remodel is our kitchen addition.  I decided to go with a clean, simple modern design, but with an emphasis on geometric shapes and interesting compositions.  The design was Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, but the final result reminds me more of Mondrian (despite the lack of punches of primary colors --so not me!).  I have so much to say about my kitchen that this will most likely be a three-part series, starting with the cabinetry. So here are my top 10 favorite things about my kitchen cabinetry, along with some explanations of why I think they work.  

1.  The Composition:  The Christiana Cabinetry frameless cabinets with full overlay panel slab doors in natural maple are simple, modern and well-made. What I think makes them interesting is the composition of horizontal and vertical rectangles with the occasional square element.  It really does feel reminiscent of a Mondrian or Frank Lloyd Wright design.

2.  Lift-Up Cabinets:  In the upper cabinets, the mix of horizontals and verticals was accomplished with the use of several lift-up cabinets.  These not only added to the visual design, but they also offered better functionality for me than if we’d had all tall vertical cabinets.  At 15” high, these lift-ups only gave us one shelf, but the truth is -- I can’t reach above that without a stepstool anyway!  Plus, with standard cabinet doors, I was constantly bumping my head.  I just love how these lift-up cabinets marry form and function.

3.  Frosted Glass: We used frosted glass inserts in the horizontal lift-ups (except for the appliance garage, of course) to add even more interest to the cabinetry, as well as to tie in with the glass tile accents in the backsplash.  We use the glass lift-ups mostly for glassware or pale dishes so that they look neat and uncluttered.  
4.  Mixed Use Below:  The under-counter cabinets are also a composition of horizontal elements (i.e., drawers) and vertical elements (standard cabinets, as well as verticals pull-outs).  All this variety in form also maximizes function.   I find drawers and pull-outs much more useful than standard cabinets.  I especially love our narrow pull-outs – one is a spice rack and the other holds upright trays.

 5.  Symmetry and Balance:  I think part of what makes the composition work is that we have enough symmetrical elements to look organized, accented with a few asymmetrical components to add interest.  I think if you have no symmetry it looks chaotic, whereas too much symmetry looks stagnant and boring.

6.  Fun Geometric Island:  For the island, I wanted to create an unexpected design. My idea was to have a rectangular counter with a circle at one end (with a prep sink) and a crescent-shaped bar.   My dilemma was that the price of a round cabinet was steep. Then I had an epiphany. I could put a round counter top on a square cabinet and get my round element with even more geometric interest.  I turned the square cabinet on a 45 degree angle at the end of the long rectangular island.  I put a little square prep sink, also on an angle in the round top.  So now I had a square in a circle on another square!  I think this turned out even more interesting than a round cabinet with a round sink, and at a fraction of the cost.  

7. Hardware:  My first instinct was to use long stainless steel t-bars on all the cabinets, but my very wise kitchen designer advised me that it would look too busy to have the long pulls going in both the horizontal and vertical directions.  I could have put long pulls going horizontally on all the cabinets, but I thought that might make it confusing to figure out which direction the standard cabinets should open.  Anyway, we went with long t-bars on the horizontal elements and simple thumb pulls on the standard cabinets, and I’m happy with the look and the functionality.

8.  Unique Refrigerator Door Panels:  I had to do something a little different to break up the large vertical panels on our 48” side-by-side built-in refrigerator.  The solution was pretty simple:  I had the cabinet-makers add grooves to create faux panels with the illusion of a composition of verticals and horizontals.  The hardware is also offset for a more unconventional look.  I probably should have gone with heavier duty appliance handles.  We just used longer versions of the stainless t-bars, and you have to pull REALLY hard to open the frig!   I think it looks cool though.

9. Corner Shelving:  We had a corner in this kitchen where the upper cabinets would have been really tight, so I decided this area would better serve as open shelving for cookbooks and display.  The offset verticals in the shelves continue the geometric theme by creating square spaces at the upper left and lower right.  (This particular composition is repeated in several windows around the house.)

10. Display Space Above: I really like having space above the cabinets to display decorative items.  Originally, we planned for glass cabinets to the ceiling for display, but then I realized this would limit not only what I could put up there, but how well you could see it.  I like having my collection of African baskets, masks and artifacts out in the open.

Thanks for looking! Next up:  My Modern Mondrian Kitchen Part 2 (Appliances)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Photo Follow-Up: Making Progress with the Light Box and Lightroom

The Square Perfect light box out of the box,
in its convenient self-storing case
So I don't know what was wrong with me that first time I tried Lightroom last week, but I did have much better luck the next time.  Well, the next day, actually, my light box kit arrived, so I had to give it another shot, so to speak.  So I did a little photo shoot in my new light box kit by Square Perfect, and then tried editing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.  
My set-up of the light box, with the sheer white on top

First, I have to say that the light box was great, but not the  cure-all I was hoping for.  The kit I got comes with two little lights, a little tripod, velvet backdrops in white, black, blue and red (although for the life of me, I can't imagine I'll ever use the blue or red), and the collapsible light box itself folds into a nice sturdy case that holds everything.  My only real complaint about the kit is that it didn't come with instructions, and I was confused about how to set it up.  At least one side has to be black, i.e., opaque.  My instinct told me this should be the back, but the photo on the box shows the black side on top (or maybe even the back and the top).  I stuck with my instinct and set it up so that I'd have natural light filtering in from the top, with the lamps lighting each side.  I was disappointed that this set-up did not allow as much light in the box as I had hoped; I expected flooded natural-looking light with absolutely no shadows.  I will say that even thought I don't really love the look of a pure white background, it did allow the colors of my products to show better than on the natural travertine stone I'd been shooting on.  So, I think this is a style compromise I'm willing to make.  Maybe I can make up for the boring white background with more props.  And I'll try shooting in the light box on very sunny days, to see if that helps.  Although I must say the idea that, in a pinch,  I can do a decent photo shoot any time of day -- regardless of the whether it's a cloudy or sunny day -- takes some of the pressure off.  

As for my Lightroom experience, the second time around was much better.  The first day, I had trouble at every step.  I couldn't even figure out how to import photos off my camera into the program.  And then, even though I was doing okay with the "developing," i.e., editing, I couldn't figure out how to do the key things I really needed to do for my Etsy shop: (1) make sure the files were in sRGB color mode instead of Adobe RGB, so that hopefully, the colors wouldn't change when I uploaded them; and (2) reduce the file sizes to no more than 1000 pixels.  I kept trying to watch tutorials, but they kept buffering.  Arghh!

An assortment of my Zazzy Peacock needle-felted
spring hair clips shot against a white backdrop
The second day, I looked at some non-video tutorials and quickly realized that you choose the color space (the sRBG option) and the file size when you export from "Library" mode.  Aha!  Things went much more smoothly after I figured that out!  And miraculously, the second day, when I clicked on "Import," it automatically pulled up my camera as an option.  In "Develop" mode, I was able to make some improvements to the images, but I still didn't really know what I was doing.  (Notice that the white background does NOT look white!) I was disappointed that the "auto" functions for white balance and tone did not do the trick; in fact, they looked awful.  I had this fleeting fantasy that I could just hit "auto" and magically make each photo perfect.  The background got somewhat "whiter" when I realized I had to click on a neutral gray with the white balance eye-dropper.  Lucky I had those shadows after all!  It's still not great, but oh well.  I know if I keep working on it, I'll keep getting better.  I have 23 days left on my 30-day free trial to get good enough to feel like it's worth paying for!

The background may not look white, but it shows the
colors of the crystals better in this felted jewelry set
So these are the first few photos I edited and exported as sRGB in Lightroom.  By the way, they're not optimal, but I sent these three photos with an application for my first juried craft show. I'm looking forward to a live-and-in-person venue where people can see and touch my creations, and I don't have to rely on photos to convey their vibrant colors and soft, fuzzy textures.  In the meantime, I do hope to get better at this photo editing thing, so that looking at photos in my Etsy shop will be the next best thing to seeing my felted jewelry and accessories in person.  

I think this shot of some of my felted peacock accessories came out the best, so far

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting Photo Savvy for Etsy: Can I Figure Out How to Use Lightroom and a Light Box?

This week, I am feeling overwhelmed by how technically unsavvy I am. My goal for this week was to get a light box and learn to use Adobe Lightroom software, so that I can optimize my photos for my Etsy shop. At the moment, my photos do not do justice to my creations. Those of you who have Etsy shops are likely very familiar with this problem. For whatever reason, when I upload photos to Etsy, no matter how good they look on my computer, they become dull, drab and lifeless. It’s aggravating to say the least.

Peacock Tree on my  beige wall
Anyway, I did such a crappy job of taking photos of my paintings, that I hired my very talented photographer friend, Charles Sichel-Outcalt, to take professional photographs for me. (He was already working on creating incredible giclee prints of my paintings) OMG! When I saw his photos, I realized just how much room for improvement I have in all of my photography. His photos of my paintings are vibrant and true to the originals, and the colors magically do NOT change when I upload his photos to Etsy. Wow! Mine, on the other hand, look like I spilled coffee on them.

My painting, Peacock Tree; photograph by Charles Sichel-Outcalt
Here’s the thing – while I have lots of natural light in my house (well, probably too much), I don’t have a single white wall. There’s just no place in my house to photograph my art without building my own photography studio. So I knew I needed professional help to photograph my art. I thought I was doing an acceptable job with my felted jewelry and accessories on my own, but now I realize that better lighting and the right software can make a world of difference.

Composition:  Six and Two

Charles has encouraged me to use Lightroom editing software to optimize my photos. I downloaded a free trial version and tried it for the first time today, but I’m already frustrated. I’ll keep trying, and I’m excited to get my light box kit tomorrow. But if I can’t get up to speed pretty quickly, I may end up paying Charles to photograph all of my creations.  Oy!  I'd just rather be felting or painting, frankly.

My original painting, Composition: Six and Two; photograph by Charles Sichel-Outcalt

At least then I know I’ll be sure to get professional, beautiful pictures that will really capture the true colors and textures of my work. Charles is brilliant with a camera as well as with photo editing software.  He blogs about his photography at Honeysicle Studios and sells his work on Etsy with his business partner, Honie Howarth. Here are a couple of his incredible images –- true works of art. Enjoy these and be sure to click over to his blog and shop to see more.
Photograph of the U.S. Capitol
© Charles Sichel-Outcalt
Photograph of the Louvre © Charles Sichel-Outcalt

Monday, March 12, 2012

Our Home Remodel: A Modern Take on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style

When I launched this blog, I promised to share our experiences with the agonizing and exhilarating experience that is home remodeling.  So, for starters, this week I’ll show some before and after photos of our house and highlight a few of the design elements, particularly those that were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style homes of the early 1900’s.  

After:  The Prairie style front elevation blends with the landscape as well as with the neighborhood.  The most notable prairie style features or Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired elements are the banks of casement windows, the horizontal banded trim, the hipped roof with deep overhangs, the covered entryway, and the use of stucco and horizontal ledge stone.
Before: Front elevation of the original 1950's rambler 

I chose the prairie style because it feels very modern to me, even after more than 100 years.  And yet it is not so modern that my house would stick out like a sore thumb in our traditional neighborhood. I love the hipped rooflines, especially with multiple levels.  And the deep overhangs not only look beautiful and extend the horizontal lines of the house, but they keep energy costs down by shading the house in summer.  Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius when it came to marrying form and function, and I tried my best to follow his example.  I also share Wright's affinity for geometry and incorporated compositions of circles and squares throughout the exterior and interior of the house.

By the way, getting that hipped roof and the deep overhangs made this remodel much more extensive.  You can’t very well live in the house through construction if they have to rip your whole roof off!  We decided it was worth it because we wanted to “pop up” and build the kids’ bedrooms upstairs, but man, we didn’t really know what we were in for.  The demolition alone took five months.  I was concerned about our impact on the environment and hated the idea of a teardown, so we were trying hard to work with the original floor plan and footprint.   But ultimately (and ironically), we would have saved lots of time and lots of money by doing a teardown.  So that’s my remodel advice for this week, keep your renovations simple (avoid lots of demo) OR, if your changes will be so extensive that you can’t live in the house during construction, get advice and budget projections early on to figure out whether a teardown is more efficient and economical. 

After: Our fireplace got a facelift with slate tile and a modern mantle in the new family room.  We kept the original fireplace because, as in Frank Lloyd Wright's designs, it was well-located in the center of the house. I designed the custom cabinetry and shelving around the fireplace to give the wall a unified look.  I thought the old fireplace just stuck out into the room without feeling connected to it.
Before:  The original painted brick fireplace
During:  The fireplace survived demo!

After:  Our master bedroom got a dramatic makeover with just a small "prow" (or v-shaped) window bump-out, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired element that feels more modern to me than a bay window. Of course, it helps that my decor is much more modern too. ;-)  Really though, the room feels so much less boxy with the bump-out, and any type of window bump-out would have done the trick.

Before:  The previous owner's
photo of the master bedroom

After:  The rear elevation shows the two-story prow window, as well as the large geometric window I designed for our kitchen dining area. 

Thanks for looking!