Monday, October 5, 2015

Two-toned: Mixed Metals

First off, a sincere thank-you to everyone for all of the wonderful comments posted on my sterling silver hollow beads tutorial (posted here, in case you missed it)!  The winner of my 2-bead giveaway is Ms. Shirley Moore! Congratulations Shirley!!


I am always on the lookout for learning new techniques to incorporate into my designs.  I watch my fair share of You-Tube videos; my magazine collection is obscene; and, I have more books than I should (but, I do read and refer to them, often).  I have been blessed to take only a few classes in my area, a few years ago.  But, the one-on-one with the teacher is THE WAY to pick up on new tips for doing "such and such".  I have been itching to add a technique to my repertoire, and since classes are out of the question, I turn to online classes.

I have purchased a few on-line classes/videos through Craftsy (link here).  While today's post is not an official endorsement or a review for Craftsy, if it were, I would give it an A+.  Craftsy has sales on their videos all the time; the videos do not expire - they are always available and just a click away; lessons can be viewed at one's leisure - usually in my pj's; there is a supply list available for download; and, questions can be posted directly on the site and the instructor will do his/her best to provide an answer.

I recently purchased a class on Foundations in Silversmithing (this one).  The instructor is Mark Nelson, from Rio Grande (who is awesome, by the way). In this particular class, Mark is making a ring. There is a great session in this video that simply reviews the steps involved for successful soldering and why it is so important to have a clean surface and joints that are completely FLUSH. I have not even finished the video yet, but I did already incorporate one of the design elements into a pendant comprised of mixed metals...this time, brass and sterling.

My "first" attempt for any new technique is always practice, and if wearable, ends up in my personal jewelry box.  I chose a Labradorite cab that has very little flash - I have had it for years...even the top of the cab is lacking shine in spots - perfect if I screwed up!

I made the fine silver bezel around the cab, textured my sterling silver backplate around the outside edge of the bezel setting, and then cut an oval shape (with my saw) of the final bezel set cab outline from of a sheet of 24 gauge brass.

Ultimately, the brass plate will be cut, textured, and will fit snugly (hopefully) on top of the silver back plate. (Yup - I use dental floss!)  After sawing out the circle from the brass, there was lots of filing involved to get the brass to have a snug fit around the bezel.  Not perfect - but close!

I used my dividers - snugged against the silver bezel - to scribe a saw line for the brass sheet.

After sawing, but before any texture or final filing of the edges around the brass.

I then used the dividers again to scribe a saw line for the silver back plate (forgot to take a picture, but you get the idea)!

I sweat-soldered the brass sheet to silver sheet.  My brass sheet was not a perfect fit in my eyes (so close though!), so I soldered on some sterling silver balls to the top and bottom of the pendant where the tiny bit of space was glaring at me.

I then soldered on some 14 gauge textured sterling wire to serve as the bail.  Polish, polish, polish, then tumble.

After tumbling, I added liver of sulfur, polished again, tumbled again, and then I set the stone.  

I added a bit of handmade chain, and I now have a new necklace.

Not perfect, but I can live with it.  I hope to perfect this technique - the combination of metals in one piece is what speaks to me.

So tell me....what is your favorite way to learn a new technique?

Thanks for stopping by today!  Now, go make something wonderful!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Setting up Shop at Handmade at Amazon?

by Sherri Stokey

If you sell handmade products online, chances are you've heard of the new Handmade at Amazon soon to be launched by the folks at Amazon to offer handcrafted products to their millions of customers worldwide.  As we speak, an untold number of artisans have already been invited to set up shop and yes, folks, yours truly is one of them.  I’m not sure entirely sure why I’m putting myself through this, but it does seem like an exciting opportunity to get in on the ground floor.  I manage to muddle through with my Etsy shop and my blog and a little social media.  How hard can this be?  Right?

Well, let me tell you… I don’t want to scare anyone off by any means, but this has not been easy for me.  I haven’t felt this inadequate for a long time - and that’s saying something because I often feel inadequate.  I couldn’t even find my way back to my shop again after closing my browser.  My only consolation at this point comes from knowing there are many other people experiencing the same thing.  Hint #1, if you’re trying to find your shop (the way it looks to buyers), try (Hint #2: you’ll want to substitute your own shop name there where it says yourshopname).  If you’re looking for the Seller Central dashboard part, after you log in, go to Your Account and on the right hand side there’s a spot for “Your Other Accounts” where Your Seller Account is one of the options.  I felt about ten times better just being able to navigate to my shop (stop laughing).

Once you locate your shop, you need to set up your Artisan Profile.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Not so fast there, Skippy.  For the store “cover image” they suggest that you use a photo of your work space.  That’s all fine and dandy if you have a photogenic studio space.  If your “work space” consists of a couch and end table and your “studio space” is the furnace closet (are you laughing at me again?), it’s not so glamorous.  I ended up cobbling together some photos into a collage banner (Picmonkey or CollageIt are good for this) which will just have to suffice.  It's a pretty big space to fill, so keep in mind if you use a photo of yourself, your nostrils might look huge (speaking from experience here).  Bonus, though, you can link up to five of the products in your store to your banner.  If something in your banner, I mean “cover image”, catches someone’s eye, they can click it to be taken directly to that product to purchase.  Points to Amazon for that one.   No time to rest, though, because they allow another three photos in this section and according to all the Smart People, you need to put something in there.  I’m putting that one on the back burner for now because the Little Dog won’t hold still for a portrait and she's the only other thing I can think of to photograph at the moment.

 After all that (and a glass of wine or two, because let’s face it, this is work), there’s still the bio writing to be done.  You know the “why everyone should want to buy from me” space?  Amazon calls it “How are your products made?” but I’m sure they want more than “I tied string into knots” in there.  There are other boxes to be worded up, too, like “Inspiration” and “About You”.  I’m a grandmother from the middle of nowhere Nebraska.  The “about me” section is going to be about as dull as… well, you get my point.  Words, people.  You’re going to need to spend some quality time with your thesaurus or get someone to write it for you.  I glossed over mine and stuck something in there just to get past this step.  I’ll go back later and refine it (famous last words).  Oh, did I mention?  When you make changes to your profile, it takes 15 minutes to show up.  Or more.  Like up to 2-3 hours more.  If you’re a fusser like me and make a hundred little changes, you have to wait quite a while in between to see how the changes will actually look to customers (which gives you time for more wine). 

If you’re still awake/alert/sober and haven’t reached information overload or achieved a total frustration meltdown, you’re now to the part where you can actually list an item to sell.  Yay!!  OMG, hold on… they want your product photos to be on a neutral background without props and without watermarks or logos or whatnot.  WHAT!?  Who DOES that?  Actually, for Etsy selling, we should have been doing this all along.  In my defense, I tried that years ago and my photos were crummy.  So then I staged them a little bit and added a backdrop and “the hand” and hit my stride for a little while.  Not that my photos were spectacular, mind you, but they were apparently good enough for enterprising folks to nab them and pretty soon I started seeing my pictures plastered all over foreign web sites (pictures of jewelry, people – get your minds out of the gutter).  After that I started putting my shop name on all my photos.  Turns out Etsy doesn’t recommend that.  In fact, they say “watermarks make photos unsuitable for features within Etsy marketing materials and offsite advertising programs like Google Product Listing Ads”.  

Most of my photos just had to be retaken.  Above is an example of before (with a prop and watermark) and after.  I tried getting the background and/or props and/or watermark out of the photos, but that required even more work doing the editing than retaking the photos.  I have to say, the only thing I like better than learning a new system and writing about myself is editing photos (can you sense the sarcasm there?).  I think this is about the time that I started whimpering.

I’ll just skip the part for now about photography tips, because despite a lot of trial and error, I still don’t know what I’m doing.  I did just discover Fotofuze (hello Beautiful, where have you been all my life?) which will help you clean up your Etsy photos pretty painlessly if you have a fairly neutral background to begin with.  I will also admit the nice white background and lack of props has given my shop a whole new, fresh feel.  The photos below are an example of what the Fotofuze tool can do in just a few seconds.  The facelift was probably long overdue.

Is anyone still with me?  Kudos to you for sticking with me this long!  You realize, don’t you, that we haven’t listed a single item yet!  Not one.  *sigh*  Let me fast forward a little bit for you – listing requires about 3-4 different tabs, with numerous fields for entry, most of which don’t apply to everyone (read: me.  Because I only care about the ones that apply to me).  I have to scroll through a whole bunch of stone size, treatment, pearl color, etc. and try to make sure I don’t miss the two or three fields in the midst of all that that actually do apply to my stuff like color and size.   According to the Smart People, you really need to fill in as many of these fields as you can if they apply.  Those are the fields people can use to narrow down their product searches and if you leave it blank, you might miss out.

The titles require a totally different mindset than Etsy titles, too.  I just started putting a whole bunch of relevant terms in my product titles over there and now we're going back to square one.  Search terms are totally different and instead of using short phrases like on Etsy, you don’t need to repeat words.  So on Etsy I might enter “macramé bracelet” and  “macramé jewelry” but for Amazon I just need macramé, bracelet and jewelry.  (Without commas, by the way.)   So, all new keywords and no pressure, folks.  Only most of the time will Amazon users perform a search before purchasing.  

I’m not giving up yet, though.  I am bound and determined that Amazon customers are going to see my micro macramé jewelry and be wowed by it.  If it kills me.

If you’re going to jump in with me, here’s the short list of advice I can offer (and keep in mind I am not an expert in any way, shape or form):
  1. Find your shop (see Hint #1 above) and bookmark it and your Seller Central page.
  2. Put some thought into your cover photo and artist info.  Get a friend to help you if you aren’t good at talking (or writing) about yourself. 
  3. Find a support group.  Join a group on Facebook or bring up the conversation in a group to which you already belong.  You’ll feel better just knowing you’re not alone in your frustration and you might just find someone who can offer assistance or critiques.
  4. Work on your photos.  I know this has been said over and over and is true no matter what online venue you’re using, but it couldn’t be truer.  When your customers don’t have the luxury of picking up your piece to look at it, you need to have really good pictures of all different angles.  Give them a way to visualize the size (note:  props are allowed in alternate item photos, just not the primary photo).  Be sure your colors are good.
  5. There is no “copy” function for listing yet.  Using your browser’s “back” button will save a few of the things for you, but none of the ones I wanted it to save (just my experience).  My solution was to start a word document with some of the things I used over and over so I could copy and paste. 
That’s about all I can offer you at this point.  I will be doing more research on keywords/search terms and I’ll be sure to share that with you when (if) I figure something out.  If you need me before then, you can probably find me hunched over my keyboard  trying to list as many products as I can before Handmade at Amazon launches - if any of you have any hints and tips for this process, we would love to hear them!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Evolution and a WILD WILD GIVEAWAY

by Staci Louise Smith

I have been playing with wire again in the studio.  I started making these fun wire chokers last year, but had to take a break because of some shoulder problems.  However, I had lots of great art beads crying to be the focus of a simple necklace again, so I am at it once again.  These looks so amazing on!

They of course started much more simple last year (pictured above- the wire work was not as "much")......

but this year the wire part got to be a bit "more" each time I made them.

Now I am making some metal cages, and wire wrapping around them to create a wire focal of its own, with a pendant being secondary.

I love when my ideas grow and evolve.  I have so much fun taking one of my idea and just letting it grow.  Here are some of my original ones from last year, they started out as going through a donut focal, (which was an evolution from my vertical pendants that go through donuts like this)

and then the wire part grew into being their own focal, no donut involved.

So this is what I have been working on for my next show.  
Since I haven't done a giveaway in FOREVER, I thought it was time.  You can win this necklace below by leaving a comment on this post.  Winner will be picked at random next Thursday.

This is 14g, 16g and 18g copper wire, and a gorgeous pyrite nugget, that the pictures don't do justice to.  it sort of shimmers in the light.  It is adjustable from 15-20"
Value $75

Open to US residents only. 

UPDATE:  International entries welcome, however, you must be willing to pay shipping that is above $3  Please state in your comment you are willing if you are international- thanks!

 Winner will be announced on the blog next Thursday so please check back then. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sigh...I Flaked Again by Karen McGovern

Last week I swore that I was going to get back on track and post on time. LIAR!!! I am sitting in front of my computer frantically typing at 8:00 pm because I JUST REMEMBERED I AM SUPPOSE TO POST TOMORROW. Crap.

In my defense, I've been busy. I mentioned last week I HAVE A NEW STUDIO SPACE and moved my tonnage of jewelry gear to a free standing building of my very own. That has been such a dream come true, and also a slap in the face regarding ALL THE STUFF I HAVE ACCUMULATED over the years during my journey as a jewelry artist. Which has lead me to the next chapter, MY FIRST DESTASH SALE which will be held this coming Friday (Oct 2) thru Sunday (Oct 4). If you are interested in piles of cool beads, art supplies, mixed media stuff (so many glass and silver framed lockets) and finished works, then this sale is for you. I am donating proceeds to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (where I live and work) in support of our wildlife conservation programs. This will be a fun sale. I plan to do some GIVEAWAYS and have silly contests and stuff along with some MAJOR BARGAINS. And did I mention all sales proceeds will support WILDLIFE CONSERVATION????? Win/win for reals! 

Buy beads and art supplies to help save us!!! That's what these
baby bongo antelope are saying.....seriously.

I've never held a sale like this before. I've watched and participated in other artist's sales and marvel at how organized and well run the sales have been. Cross your fingers, folks, I'm not the most organized person. But I do like to have fun, so this will either be hilarious and successful, or go up in spectacular flame. Either way, it will be INTERESTING.

Just a fraction of the piles of stuff I have for the sale. Beads, cabochons, art supplies and finished works. 

In the meantime and on a completely different topic, many of my artist friends have been chatting away about the looming AMAZON HANDMADE site. Many of us (myself included) have been invited to open shops. Initially we all were like, "WOW! I will have a shop on AMAZON? AMAZEBALLS!" Now, reality has begun to set in in the form of a series of emails Amazon has sent out to all prospective shop owners detailing how it all works. This is AMAZON, people. The giant megalodon of online retail sales. The fine print has intimidated many artists and many have decided not to sell on the site. I am on the fence and have not made my final decision yet. Basically because I have not had enough time to freaking read all the fine print, and believe me, there is A LOT OF FINE PRINT which is in no way surprising.

From what I have been hearing many are nervous about the fact that your images and shops sort of remain on the site forever, whether your shop is live or not. In other words, just like every other website you publish images on, Amazon can use those images in perpetuity (FOREVER, GIRL) and in any way shape or form that they wish. So, you could close your shop, but Amazon can use any image you posted to continue to promote and sell other stuff on their platform. They can also direct folks that visit your shop to go to other shops that sell similar items. You know, like every other online selling platform that fills the bottom of your screen with "People who purchase this also purchased....(insert images of similar stuff being sold by other shops). 

While all of this is important to understand fully, it should in no way be surprising. Etsy does the EXACT SAME THING. All large online portals do. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, we'd all love it if Amazon would embrace us as a handmade community that doesn't want to feel ripped off, taken advantage of or used but as I said before....THIS IS AMAZON. The fact that they are even considering working with independent artists is kind of mind boggling to begin with. In my humble opinion, it's a total crap shoot. I might give it a whirl. What's the worst that can happen? I close my shop and 50 years from now they are still using my photos to sell jewelry? Maybe somebody will see that photo and search me out whether I am on Amazon or not. I have done that--seen an incredible image of artwork and scoured the 'Net to find the original source. I discover artists like that quite often. So, the idea of my images being out there doesn't upset me one way or another. The Internet is forever, dears. Bottom line for me is can I sell enough to justify the fees? Isn't that everyone's real bottom line? We get a freebie trial....I'm considering going for it. I'll let you know.....I would love to hear from other artists out there that are considering joining Amazon. What's your take on all this???

Anyhoooo, sorry for the lame-ish post. Come check out my destash this weekend, Buy some beads and stuff and have fun and SUPPORT AN AMAZING WILDLIFE CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION! What could be better? Beads, jewelry, art supplies and saving the planet. SCORE!!!

Finally, one more shameless self-promotion...If you have a chance, grab the fall issue of Jewelry Affaire Magazine. My sugar skull pendants are featured along with a step by step tutorial explaining how to make them! Perfect for the season.

Now, go make something AMAZING!
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