Wear your heart on your sleeve (or neck, or finger, or ears)

I just designed another custom order, and it occurred to me that one of my favourite things about designing for a specific person is that it often allows people to physically wear their interests. The current design is music-themed (a customer after my own heart!), but I’ve recently created a few science and maths-themed pieces. These are in some ways more interesting for me because I’m an Arts girl, so it’s nothing I would ever design for myself.

The three bespoke STEM pieces I’ve made recently are:

  • A large ammonite necklace for my nature-loving grandma
  • An ammonite and amethyst lariat necklace for a Geology student’s ball
  • A set of mathematical symbol studs for a Maths student

The first piece was a commission for my grandma’s birthday. She’s a botanical artist married to a Wildlife Trust director, so she pretty much loves anything related to natural history and plant life. She also likes a statement necklace, so my grandad and I came up with this:

The smaller version of this ammonite necklace is one of the most popular in my Etsy store, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a custom order enquiry about it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such an interesting commission. The enquirer was a lovely Geology undergraduate called Mo who was hunting for a special piece for her graduation ball. She’d seen my ammonite necklace and was hoping for a themed necklace to go with the outfit she’d already bought.

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This was a really fun one, because I bloody love designing for specific outfits and occasions. Mo had chosen an absolute show-stopper – a dark purple, v-neck playsuit with a flowing train:

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With a dress that eye-catching, the necklace had to simultaneously match up to and not detract from the dress. An amethyst was the obvious option, and I chose a faceted stone to suggest natural minerals. Paired with the ammonite, it made an unusual, perfectly-themed choice:

The final STEM design I’ve done this season is a set of tiny, delicate, algebraic earrings and a nose stud for a Maths student. I love these, and was tempted to make some for myself, but I felt it might be a bit strange to wear symbols that have no meaning to me…

So, from my recent designing experience, it seems that students wear their interests more than graduates. I suppose this makes sense, since their whole daily lives are defined by their degree choice. ‘Theming yourself’ has another benefit though – it helps you find like-minded people. And, as a relatively-recent graduate myself, I also know how hard it is to meet adult friends once you leave university (or school, if you don’t take the uni route).

Suddenly, for the first time ever, you’re not surrounded by an immediate pool of your peers that you can fish friends out of. How are you supposed to tell if that likely-looking person in your office is actually interesting on a friend level without quizzing them like a creep? (Seriously, if anyone has the answer, let me know in the comments…)

Sometimes it’s easier to start a conversation if you already know you have an interest in common, and interest-based jewellery (or clothing, or accessories) is shorthand for similarly-inclined potential friends to read and start conversation:

Wear a quaver pendant and someone might pipe up, ‘What an unusual necklace, do you play an instrument?’

Ammonite necklace: ‘Ooh, do you like fossils?’

Mathematic symbol earrings: ‘Did you by any chance study maths?’

Boom, instant small talk and a foot in the door to talk to a potential friend (without feeling so weird). I know that probably sounds a bit forced, but there’s also possibility 2: they notice your pretty necklace, comment on how they like it, and you start a conversation about the meaning behind it and find out if you do or don’t have that topic in common. Or you’re already talking and you find something else you both like. Or you decide you hate them and can therefore avoid them. Whatever the outcome, your choice of accessory has enabled a conversation…

The best thing about Etsy is that there are so many wonderful artists you can find something to express your interests. If you can’t find exactly what you’re after, almost everyone will make a custom order if they can (as I may have mentioned before, they’re some of my own favourite design projects). This is just a tiny selection of the interest-based jewellery Etsy has to offer:

So get out there, let your stylish freak flag fly, and meet some fellow humans!

How to create gorgeous Instagram flatlays

Ah, the flatlay. If there’s a style of shot that sums up Instagram (aside from heavily posed bikini shots and too-good-to-eat plates of food), it’s the flatlay. It’s one of the most-searched hashtags on the site. Why do I want to do what everyone else is doing, I hear you cry. Well, there’s a reason flatlays are everywhere: they sum up the kind of pretty, curated, visual content people are on Instagram for in the first place. And why not?

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Source: Instagram (obviously…)

Flatlays are also an amazing tool for creative entrepreneurs. If your business is product-based and aesthetic, throwing a couple of pretty flatlays into your Insta feed is a must. They’re shorthand for your style and a great way to showcase your products.

With such beautiful examples already out there (the ones above were the first when I searched just now) it can feel a bit intimidating, but taking a good flatlay doesn’t need to be a chore. Once you get into it, it’s actually quite fun! It can take quite a bit of prep, though, so I often end up doing mine in batches to use later (Blue Peter eat your heart out).

So, here are 3 easy tips to help you take gorgeous (and efficient) flatlays:

1) Background

Broadly speaking, the plainer the better.

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Lots of people favour plain white (I use standard printer paper for this, but fabric and blank walls/floors also work well), but subtle patterns can work too. Marble or small geometric patterns with lots of space between each element are both popular. If you don’t have a stunningly white background to use, don’t worry. Wood (real or fake) is always a good bet. In fact, most of my flatlays are taken on my wooden workbench. It’s not a completely plain background, but I think it adds a bit of character. It’s also already there, which cuts down set-up time!

2) Props, props, props

As I mentioned in my previous tips post about product photography, I like to keep a stock of photo props about, and this is even more important for flatlays. You might have a new book/lipstick/camera that you want to make the focus of your shot, but the props around it are what make the photo complete. They also don’t have to be expensive. I know a lot of flatlays feature Macbooks and iPhones, but they can also feature Poundland tat if you arrange it nicely. One of my absolute favourite props, a ceramic swan planter, was £3 from Tiger:

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Props can be anything you like, but some of my go-tos are: pretty notebooks and pens; coffee cups; tools of the trade (so, for me, a lot of pliers!); fake flowers and plants (see last week’s post for why they have to be fake); jewellery-making materials. Obviously some of mine are specific to my work, but that’s why flatlays are great. You’re an artist? Throw some paintbrushes and paint tubes in there. Flower arranger? Well, duh. General human just taking pretty pictures? Whatever you damn well please. And that’s the point of all this; your flatlays reflect your personal tastes and interests. That’s why people scrolling through Insta never get bored of flatlays, because there’s so much potential for variation.

Here are some of my favourite props:

3) Arrangement/set-up

Whatever background and props you settle on, the way the items are laid out is what will make or break the picture. The short answer to how you get a great shot is really to just play around and see how things look – helpful, I know…

There are a few things you can try, though, if nothing is jumping out at you:

  • Envision how the image will look as a square (I often take a deliberately wide rectangular shot so it’s easier to crop down into a square for my feed)
  • Line items up at right angles to each other and the sides of the box
  • Put like items together (pens in one place, notebooks in a pile, etc)
  • Try ‘The Scatter’ (paperclips, earrings, glitter – if it’s small, scatter it across the space for instant effect)
  • Try putting all the items on one side/one corner of the square, leaving lots of blank space
  • Arrange items across the borders of the image, so some of them are just peeking into view (this gives the image depth)
  • Draw some pretty calligraphy onto your background (as long as it’s paper!). If you can’t do real calligraphy, fake it like I do: write the phrase in nice handwriting, then draw a second line on all of the downstrokes and fill in the space between:

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Now go forth and lay things flat! Tag your flatlays with #tidingofmagpies – I’d love to see them.

 

 

New designs, old inspirations

Last weekend I went to Stratford-upon-Avon with one friend and one goblin (my fiancé), and it made me think about the Elizabethan obsession with pearls (of which more in a later blog post). I’ve created a new pendant inspired by the trip, and by the success of my other Tudor-inspired piece (which was actually based on a coin I got from Kentwell in Year 5). Enough brackets; I thought I’d give you all a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating a new design from scratch.

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I didn’t actually draw up a design for this one, so the process was a little messier than usual, but here’s the rough blueprint…

Start with some D-shaped sterling silver wire (this is 4mm x 1.4mm):

Cut it to size with a hand saw:

File the ends smooth:

Bend the filed wire into a teardrop shape, continuing to file and shape the ends to get a perfectly flush fit. This will make for a much more successful solder.

Once the ends are filed and bent flush together, saw through the seam. This removes the tiny gap between the ends and allows for a tighter seam and better solder. (No pictures, because it involves both hands and a lot of swearing.)

Have a bit of a soldering mishap, blacken and warp the teardrop, and give up for the day to embroider and write a blog post. After some sewing, napping and sulking, redo the above steps…

Once soldered with a hand torch, the teardrop shape goes into the pickle pot (a slow cooker full of water mixed with a chemical compound that removes the residue from the flux used when soldering).

After that, file down any visible edges of the seam.

Draw guide spots for drill holes with a pencil, like this one I got on my Stratford trip:

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Drill through each side (I use The Goblin’s power drill with a 1cm bit):

Shape and cut a silver pin, then affix into a half-drilled pearl (half-drilled as in only one hole which reaches halfway through the pearl):

Cut some unfinished chain to the desired length (I went with a classic 18-inch):

Thread the chain and pearl through the holes drilled earlier. Later on, decide the pearl needs to hang lower and add a couple of jump rings (see later pictures)…

Solder fixings to each end of the chain:

And finally, back into the pickle pot! (Just the ends though – don’t want to have to re-polish everything.)

 

Et voilà! Tudor-inspired, minimalist pearl pendant, available now at Tiding of Magpies.

 

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Clent Hill I see you again?

Juggling work and life admin and relationships and health and everything else is always a tricky one, and recently I’ve been feeling a little burnt out. One of the best things about running a one-woman operation is the (relative) freedom to work to your own timetable, but being your own boss can make it difficult to stop working.

I love Birmingham, I love the Jewellery Quarter, and I love being 30 seconds away from gin cocktails at all times, but…I’m less fond of being near crowds and away from nature for long periods of time. I also love that we’re smack in the middle of the country so friends and family are always visiting us so we can show off the city, but The Goblin (my lovely fiancé) and I do try to have one weekend a month with no visitors. Last weekend was our March weekend to ourselves and spring has finally sprung (sort of), so how better to unwind than to get out of the city?

Despite being a massive urban sprawl, it turns out Brum is actually pretty near a fair amount of lovely countryside. Exhbit A: the Clent Hills –

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A wild goblin appears

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Yes, the bench was too tall for my tiny legs.

It was so beautiful and so quiet and so green and so full of dogs and so only-25-minutes-drive-from-the-flat. Pretty much perfect.

Our excursion was going so well that we also stopped by Hanbury Hall – you can take the heritage nerds out of the National Trust, but…*

Definitely getting some design inspiration from these wallpapers and from the formal gardens…

There was only one downside – nice as a bimble at the NT always is, we definitely underestimated how many people a smallish property could attract on a Saturday afternoon. So many children. So very loud. So incredibly high-pitched and annoying, in fact, that The Goblin (usually one of the broodiest men alive) begged me to sterilise him…and so we finished up with the gardens and came back home for some quiet snacks in front of Psych.

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And have I stayed relaxed? Well, I’m writing this at 7.15pm on a Tuesday night, so that probably answers the question…maybe I’ll have better luck next time! Any suggestions for where in the West Midlands to try next?

*We both used to work at National Trust properties in Shropshire.

#etsysmallbusiness contest and #marchmeetthemaker

So, I recently entered the Etsy Small Business Contest. (It closes 6th April 2017, so if you’re reading this before then, please pop along and vote for me if you haven’t already https://etsy.wishpond.com/small-business-contest-intl/entries/149579637)  I’m well aware that there are thousands of Etsy sellers with much larger followings than mine, and that when it comes to a public voting contest, my chances are pretty slim, but nothing ventured and all that…

Plus, writing the application gave me something else which is really helpful and often forgotten by creative entrepreneurs: it gave me the time to check in with my aims, goals and progress with the business so far. It’s something that’s always recommended in how-to books on starting a small business, but I’m not great at remembering to do it… If any readers are in the same boat and have any advice, drop me a message!

Days focusing on my business (when I’m not at my day job) tend to pass in a bit of a blur of metal shavings, Instagram and Post Office queues, and it’s sometimes hard to take time to pause and regroup. For the contest application, the character limit was 500 per section, which is a ridiculously low amount for someone as verbose as I am, so I decided to expand on my application text to properly figure out where my business came from and where it’s going. A lot of Etsy sellers on Instagram are also doing #marchmeetthemaker, where they talk about their businesses on a personal level, so this kind of fits in there.

Sound hokey? Fab, let’s go.

For the application, I had to write about how my business got started and what the prize money would mean to me. Well, this time last year, I was stuck in a horrible job in an incredibly toxic company, and my (already shaky) mental health took a major dive. I felt like I was losing myself and wasting my potential, and I felt completely trapped. I knew something needed to change but fuck me if I knew what. Anyone who knows me IRL can also probably guess that corporate recruitment was never going to be my bag long-term; I don’t like jargon, I’m incapable of looking neat and presentable for longer than about 90 minutes, and I find it difficult to care about things that bore me.

Aside from the soul-crushing bleakness of working somewhere where ‘feminist’ was an insult, one (slightly more shallow) thing that bugged me was having to dress ‘business formal’. I totally get why traditional businesses need their employees to look smart, but just ughhhhhhhh… One thing my jewellery aims to do is to give people who work somewhere with a strict dress code the ability to bring a little of their personality to work without breaking the rules. It might be a little thing, but having an unusual necklace to wear can make crawling into a suit at 6am every day slightly more enjoyable. Also, I know fashion generally can be seen as shallow and inconsequential, but the power of how you present yourself can’t really be underestimated; it’s why I always put on mascara, my watch and a bra when I’m working from home*, no matter how tempting it is to sink into a pyjama pit instead…

So, I was in a mentally-damaging job, and I’d moved all the way to Birmingham for it. Luckily The Goblin (my now-fiancé) had got a proper job too, meaning leaving my job to do something more fulfilling had actually become an option. But what? By chance, not knowing much about the different parts of Birmingham when we moved here, we ended up in the Jewellery Quarter. Being in this historic centre of jewellery creation was the inspiration for turning my hobby into a business, and continues to be a big source of motivation. I got a part-time gig somewhere much less corporate which suits me a lot better, and, more importantly, allows me to focus on my business two days a week. It’s been unbelievably therapeutic.

St Paul’s Square in the JQ

The difference between my brain now and my brain a year ago is ridiculous – in a good way. Making things has always been an escape for me, and my hope is that by being open and honest about my mental health issues on my blog and social media (this post being Exhibit A), others struggling might see that things can get better. Like, I’m not saying that everyone with PTSD should sack off their garbage jobs and hang out at home playing with metal, but things can change, whatever that positive change looks like for the individual person.

Okay, so, schmaltzy bit over: how would (very, very hypothetically) winning actually change my business?

I’m very new to running a small business – I opened my store in December 2016 – and what I most want to do is learn! I’m developing my skills all the time through practice, but there are certain techniques I can’t learn at home. Winning this contest would enable me to take advantage of the training opportunities available in the Jewellery Quarter, particularly the courses on stone-setting, the skill which would make the biggest difference to my jewellery. Because, let’s be real, stone-setting is hard. And expensive if you mess it up. And overall just daunting af. Being in the JQ is ridiculously good luck, though, because there are a ton of decent stone-setting courses basically on my doorstep. So near, yet so far…

The prize money would also allow me to really stretch myself in terms of creating new designs and really building up a range of pieces for my buyers, because one of the biggest things currently holding me back from reaching my design potential is the prohibitive cost of ‘experimenting’ with precious metals. My best designs have come from experimentation (my haematite pendant being a key example), but the amount of precious and semi-precious materials that get wasted in the process just isn’t sustainable at the size my business is now.

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Finally, I would gain something essential to develop my business: time. With this money, I could afford to devote more time to being creative in my jewellery and my online content, as well as working on my jewellery-making ability. For any creative entrepreneur, there basically aren’t enough hours in the day, but with the contest prize, I could afford to ‘pay’ myself for the time I spend on the business, which would make the world of difference.

For now, it’s back to planning, journalling, and sticking adorable motivational postcards to my business board…


 

*Obviously with other clothes as well, perverts.

Mothering Sunday: buttons and blooms

Inspired by all the Fashion Week talk of new collections and seasonal trends, I decided to do something new this month. I’m releasing my own ‘capsule collection’ for Mother’s Day, or rather, for Mothering Sunday.

Mothering Sunday vs Mother’s Day vs Mothers’ Day is on the list of things-which-confused-me-as-a-child-and-still-do-a-bit, so for clarity, Mothering Sunday or Mothers’ Day is the UK holiday celebrating all things mum. It falls on the 4th Sunday of Lent and has been going on and off since the 16th century. Mother’s Day (as in, the day to celebrate your one mother and definitely no other horrible old mothers – the founder was very clear on that) is an early 20th century creation, and is celebrated in the USA in May.

I’m working my collection around the UK date partly because all of my customers so far have been UK-based, as am I, but also because ‘Mothering Sunday’ as a phrase just tickles me. Imagine the scene: ‘Where you going?’ ‘Oh, I’m just off to go a-mothering.’ To go a-mothering could mask any number of sins…

So, my Mothering Sunday collection has three new designs (I did tell you it was capsule!), all necklaces, and here they are:

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Quite a few of my designs take sewing or vintage clothing as an inspiration, and the idea for my Mothering Sunday collection is no different. Since reading The Button Box: Lifting The Lid On Women’s Lives by Lynn Knight, I’ve become increasingly interested in the importance and application of seemingly insignificant found objects like buttons in the transmission of stories, skills and relationships, and it was with my brain going along those lines that I started designing this new collection.

This design is from the cast of a vintage button from my own mum’s button box, which I used to sort through for hours at a time. My mum is also the one who taught me to sew, knit and quilt, all of which she does beautifully and pretty much constantly, so she’s a fairly significant design influence all round. Particularly apt for this collection, I think.

Mums who might like this design include: The Crafter, The Historian, The Vintage Fan, The Understated Mum.*

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Design number two is a precious-metal take on giving your mum flowers for Mothers’ Day. After casting it from part of another mum-sourced vintage button, I filed and enhanced the design’s natural ridges to give a more lifelike appearance. I think it looks the most like a geranium, but if anyone has any strong botanical views on the type of flower it could be, let me know!

Mums who might like this design include: The Gardener, The Artist, The Elegant Mum, The Classic Mum.

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The final design was actually a collaboration between my aunt and I for one of her best friends’ birthdays. I added a second row and hanging feather charm to my popular ammonite design, strung on an unusual hammered trace chain. This piece is a prime example of how designs can grow and evolve as part of the custom design process – I love it.

Mums who might like this design include: The Nature Lover, The Walker, The Traveller, The Dreamer.

All of the Mothering Sunday collection, along with my other pieces, can be found in my Etsy store.

 

*Obviously mums, like all other humans, are multifaceted, and I’m reducing them down to generalised types for comic effect and style shorthand.

Bespoke bridesmaids: inside the design process of a commission

So I recently received my first commission, and it’s a special one. Sami, one of my best friends, a uni housemate and fellow 2017-bride-to-be, asked me to design some bespoke jewellery for her bridesmaids and flower girls. Being part of Sami’s wedding by getting creative and designing her the perfect bridesmaid gifts? #jewellergoals right there…

Since it’s my first custom order, I thought I’d share a little bit about the process, which is pretty excellent so far.

The first time Sami mentioned the idea of me designing her bridesmaids’ jewellery was over (several) glühweins at the Leeds Christkindelmarkt, and I leapt at the idea. Not literally; I was a bit pissed and full of doughnuts.

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After a party nap on the train home, we started batting Pinterest boards and ideas back and forward to get started on the right track. Luckily the wedding’s not till May, so we had plenty of time. With weddings, two key considerations are colour schemes and overall theming, so we started there. The wedding is going to be set up as an afternoon tea party (so lush!), and Sami’s bridesmaids will be wearing full length gowns in a pretty, soft blue:

 

Once I had some of Sami’s ideas locked down, I got to work. For me, the design process involves playing with a lot of different materials at my workbench, chain-drinking nice coffee and (poorly) sketching almost anything that comes into my head.

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It was clear fairly early on that both Sami and I were drawn to the idea of an elegant lariat necklace, so the final winner was the bottom left design in my sketchbook. I also always knew I wanted to draw the blue of the dresses into the jewellery, so I had a great time one day last week fiddling about with a range of blue beads and stones.

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The simple Swarovski pear-shaped drop worked best for the design; in fact, Sami liked it so much she agreed that putting the crystals into drop earrings rather than the originally-planned studs was the best idea. With this integral part of the set decided, I started putting together some prototypes.

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Unsurprisingly, communication has turned out to be an essential part of designing custom jewellery, so I was live-texting Sami the design process above. It was at this point that she mentioned she had also been wondering about getting something designed for her flower girls, who are 3 and 5, but wasn’t sure what would work for them; did I have any ideas?

I haven’t made jewellery for children since I was one myself, and my 90s designs do lack a bit of finesse, so this proposition was an interesting challenge. Now, when I was little, I absolutely idolised any older girls I knew, and wanted to copy everything they did. That got me thinking about how to make the flower girls’ jewellery work with the adult bridesmaids’ pieces whilst being comfortable and age-appropriate for little ones on a long day.

I didn’t realise the amount of practicalities involved in making bespoke jewellery before this project, but I’ve found that making designs that work perfectly for the wearers and the situation is some real logistical fun. For the flower girls, bracelets seemed like the obvious choice: comfy, stretchy and pretty. I chose beads rather than chain for the body of the bracelet for flexibility and to minimise the potential for snag-related accidents. The flower girls’ dresses are these adorable ivory numbers, so I settled on faux pearls for the main beading.

 

I also wanted the girls to have pieces that echoed the jewellery worn by the ‘big girl bridesmaids’, so I added the same Swarovski drop bead in a simpler setting: rather than wire-wrapping the crystal, I’ve attached it with a simple silver fixing. Add in a little personalisation with heart-shaped initial charms, and hopefully these bracelets are something the girls will keep, treasure, and wear again.

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Too. Cute.

So, with 75 days to go until Sami ties the knot, all that’s left now is to get cracking and try not to think about just how many bridesmaids she has! Check back in May for some shots of the girls wearing their gems (and at least one or two of Sami being a ridiculously stunning bride).

 

Product Photography 101 (no experience needed)

Anyone who’s ever shopped online, let alone sold online, knows that having good photography can make or break a sale. You can make the most beautiful earrings imaginable, but if they’re presented in a poorly lit and uninspiring photo, they’re probably not going to get chosen out of the millions of pairs available online.

When you’re just starting out selling online, it can be difficult to know how to set up and execute good product photography, which is why I enlisted the help of my more camera-savvy friend, @imlfox, for my first round of pictures. (Her Instagram is great by the way, you should all go follow her now. I’ll wait here…)

Bella shoots with a Nikon D5000, which is excellent for making tiny adjustments, but my little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot works great too. You don’t need fancy equipment unless you’re taking product photos every day, and chances are that at this stage you don’t have that many products to photograph! I would advise against using a phone camera, though, purely because I find the pictures don’t tend to blow up as well on different screen sizes.

So, to get to the point, I have 4 key tips for product photography: lighting, theming/composition, variety, and patience.

1) Lighting

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it makes all the difference in the world. Natural light is best, as much as you can get. I’m lucky my flat has tall windows, but I still need to shoot right next to them to get the best results.

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Exhibit A: Photoshoot on the windowsill with me on a stool to get the best light and angle. The glamour of a small business!

I’m including flash on/flash off in this category as well. If you’ve got shaky hands like me, the balance between the darkening effects of flash and the blurry-but-light results of no flash is pretty delicate. Macro mode and patience are really your only options, unfortunately. They’re worth it for images like this, though:

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2) Theming/composition

This is the fun bit. To start with, you’ll need a rough idea of the sort of aesthetic you’re going for. This will inform the sorts of props you might use and what composition might suit your pictures best. Going for a clean, modern, minimalist look? Think plain white walls, lots of greenery, and maybe a copper candle holder or two, all shot from above. Feeling a more hippy, gap-yah vibe? Break out whatever trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels, find some warm-coloured wood as a base/background, and you’re good to go.

I was going for a vintage-meets-modern sort of thing, since my pieces are generally a mix of old and new inspirations and techniques, so books, sheet music and house plants all worked for me. In fact, I may have got a bit carried away with the themed props…

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Having someone to bounce things off is also really helpful. Don’t be afraid to try things – if they look stupid, you don’t have to ever use the photos. My lovely hand model and bridesmaid, Beth, and I tried many Valentine’s-themed prosecco photos in last weekend’s session. They were all awful, but at least we got to drink the fizz afterwards…

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And this was right next to the window!

3) Variety

I don’t know about other platforms, but Etsy will let you have 5 photos of each item, so you really have to make sure you’re showing every angle/use of the product. This means taking a ton of different shots and whittling them down to the most attractive/useful ones. Of the 40-odd photos we took of Beth wearing my S-shaped hammered ring, these 5 made the cut for the following reasons:

  1. Romantic theming (Valentine’s Day approaching); fingers slightly bent
  2. Different background (tube lines echoing lines of the ring); hand flat
  3. Close up of the texture of the ring when worn
  4. Ring alone to show its shape
  5. Ring alone from a different angle

4) Patience

So, I sort of mentioned this above, but it bears repeating (a lot, like taking pictures. See what I did there?).

My mum likes to terrorise us on holiday and at home with endless snaps (she’s a scrapbooker, it’s an occupational hazard), and always assures us it’s for our own good. We’re always a bit dubious about this, but she explains it’s because the more pictures she takes, the more likely it is that there will be a few nice ones. Despite our family being composed entirely of stumpy little goblins, she does manage to get decent pictures of us all, so it seems she has a point.

It’s definitely the case with product photography, too. Even though trawling through hundreds of photos can seem like a chore, those few shots you (and your potential customers) love will be worth it. Besides, you can always sift while you’re watching TV, and I guarantee you a good proportion will be blurry instant deletions, which speeds things up…

After the 183 pictures I took last weekend (of 5 products!), I ended up with this gem. Love knot midi ring on a hand holding a flower, posed on top of the piano music for ‘Your Song’ – Valentine’s theming at its finest.

If you’ve got any particularly good product pictures you want to share, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll retweet/regram them!

Creative anxiety: some tips to get your small business moving despite yourself

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.” – Carrie Fisher*

Starting an Etsy store has been on my goals list for a good two years now, so why did it take me until December 2016 to bite the bullet and actually open Tiding of Magpies? I mean, there are obviously a ton of different factors, but if I was going to boil it down into one reason, it would be this: anxiety.

Now, anyone who knows me IRL will know that my mental health isn’t the best, but I’m talking creative anxiety, not can’t-leave-the-house, medical anxiety. It’s something that affects even the most ambitious and confident creatives from time to time, and never more so than when we’re starting out. Because, let’s face it, starting something new is scary. Putting yourself and your work out there is no small ask, and it’s so tempting to immerse yourself in market research and procrastinate by tinkering with your products and your brand and a million and one other things. I feel you. But if, like me, you’re struggling to get started, here are a couple of things that might help.

Be prepared…

There are a few things you need to be ‘ready’ to start selling: a name, some products you’re proud of, a platform on which to sell them, a way of getting products to your customers, a working brand identity, realistic prices, an idea of the market you want to enter, and an online presence. Sound intimidating? That’s where preparation comes in. Being prepared is crucial for success, but it’s also crucial for actually starting something which could be a success in the first place. Feeling like you know something about your area and your business is an essential part of overcoming creative anxiety and putting yourself out there.

…but know when to stop preparing

That said, there’s no such thing as having every possible duck in a row with this sort of business. Honestly, you’ll never feel ready. The closest you can get is to have the key details in place and a decent idea of the market you’re about to enter. It’s mostly the practicalities which will trip you up in the early days, so once you have got the details sorted, you’re ready to go. You can tweak your brand and everything else once you know what works and what doesn’t, and the only way you can know that is to just take the leap. If you sit around forever trying to know ‘everything’ before you start, you risk never actually doing it. Plus, online platforms like Etsy make it so easy and so cheap to start selling your handmade goods that you basically get a free pass to try things out. Still need a push? Consider relinquishing a bit of that control (easier said than done when it’s your ‘business baby’, I know, but bear with me).

External factors

My dad, who is a wonderful human (but always right and, my God, he knows it) was actually the catalyst for the ‘grand launch’ of Tiding of Magpies. We were on the phone last November when he came straight out with it: ‘So, when are you opening your shop? It’s nearly Christmas, just pop some things online and see what happens. You might not sell anything but you’ll get your jewellery out there.’ In his annoyingly-right way, he had given me the shove I needed. I stopped fussing over every word on my Twitter bio and obsessively polishing the various pieces of jewellery that were mounting up on my workbench, and decided to open my shop by the start of December.

My dad had given me the encouragement, but it was setting the target and telling people about it that finally got my store open. I fixed Friday, 2nd December as my opening date and started telling everyone who’d listen what date my stuff would be on sale – partner, friends, family, Instagram followers, both of my parents’ dogs… Once the outside world was ‘holding me accountable’, I felt a real obligation to get my shit together. Of course, nobody would have been upset or angry with me if I hadn’t met my target, but I knew I would, and that everyone else would know I’d failed. That turned out to be enough.

Look for some inspiration

This helps before, during and after you start out, in my experience. These are a few podcasts, blogs and Instagram accounts that help me if I’m feeling negative about my business.

Being Boss – These ladies never fail to get me motivated to work hard and aim high, plus they do it all in a chatty, entertaining way.

Create and Cultivate – A ton of inspirational women doing feminist crafting and sharing ideas. Discourse + inspiration + creativity = my dream! Their Instagram is pretty fab, too.

Rachel Lucie – Yorkshire-based jewellery designer whose blog is full of lush photography and interesting behind-the-scenes posts.

Rising Tide Society – Gorgeous, motivational images and advice. Need something to kick off a business brainstorm? Look no further.

Silver Pebble – I booked onto one of Emma’s workshops for my Mum’s birthday present after seeing her in Mollie Makes Magazine, and it was a pretty key moment in figuring out my design process. Her Instagram feed is stunning (and makes me wish I could draw).

Quick disclaimer: Inspiration is great, but if, like me, you’re prone to perfectionism and self-criticism remember that your success and someone else’s success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram for a bit and become paralysed with the thought that you’ll ‘never be as successful as x, y or z, so why bother?’, but that’s bullshit. Inspiration, not comparison, is the way forward.

Look, I know ‘just do it’ is basically a crap piece of advice unless you’re selling sportswear, so…

…do your homework, make things you’re proud of, and then kick anxiety in the face and go out and start your business! It’s hard and it takes time but it’s so incredibly exciting to do something you really love and to discover that people outside of your immediate circle actually value your work (literally and figuratively). I know anxiety deals in ‘what ifs’, but what if you get an order, or two orders, or even just someone favouriting a product? The emotional boost that gives you will be worth it, and anxiety can do one.

Fiiiiinally, if anyone else has tips or opinions on starting a small creative business, let me know – I’m still figuring this stuff out myself…

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*Obviously I’m still gutted about Carrie’s passing and may or may not be quoting her at every opportunity, but it’s also solid advice.