22 March, 2021

How I take Photos & My Studio Setup

2021-03-22T13:09:33-05:00An Artist's Life, Everything Else, Tutorials|1 Comment

I thought it might be really appropriate to start off with a “How it started; How it’s going” kind of meme to talk about photography. When I first started making my art to sell or to show at gallery exhibitions about 20 years ago, the first and worst stumbling block was getting good photos. I had a camera, but I had no experience in what it took to get great photos of objects and I absolutely couldn’t afford to hire someone to take photos for me. So I needed to learn how to do it myself. This was before Etsy was really around, so there weren’t a bunch of tutorials to help you or recommend photo white boxes that were easy to find. (Wow, I am making myself feel old!) So everything I learned was by trial and error and I mean LOTS of trial and error.

The felted dragon shown up above was one of the first photos of my art that I found when I went digging through my photo archives. This is the photo straight off my camera. You can barely see the little guy because the image is so dark. I thought a plain background would be best, so I draped some white fabric behind it but it’s really wrinkly and not really professional looking at all.

Things I learned: You always need more light.
LIGHT. Light is the answer to nearly every photo dilemma. This is absolutely the one thing that made the most difference to my photos. My very first photo setup was to put objects on a table in my guestroom and masking tape a piece of white muslin up behind them. I had four utility shop lights that I got from Home Depot and I put the brightest bulbs in them that they were rated for. I clipped them on the back of a folding chair so I could aim them at whatever I was photographing. The photos still looked a little dark, but I could usually fix them in Photoshop to make them a little better. They weren’t amazing photos, but they were pretty good and it worked for me for a long while. It was a struggle to photograph some things, so I started to look for something that would help.

I did a lot of searching around for a light box because that was something people were recommending on Etsy. I found a folding plastic white box called a “Foldio” with a strip of LED lights that were attached to the top edge of it. It ran off of a 9V battery. It was brand new, just off a Kickstarter campaign. The Foldio has gotten much fancier and more powerful than the one I had; some of the new ones look awesome. But that original basic model really gave my photos a serious upgrade. The bracelet above is a beaded silk cuff and these were best sellers in my Etsy shop for a while. That photo is also straight off the camera without any edits.

Things I learned: Ditch the fabric.

One of the things I learned when I had the Foldio is that a sheet of white posterboard or craft foam is 100 times better than a piece of fabric as a background. Paper doesn’t have wrinkles and no matter how many times I would iron that piece of fabric, you still saw wrinkles and folds. Now I have both large sheets of white foam core and a big roll of white paper that I use as the background for everything in my studio. The bonus of using white versus another color as a background is that white reflects light. So effectively it’s like adding more light to your scene and more light is always helpful.

The problem with the white box was that I really couldn’t photograph anything larger than a loaf of bread because it wouldn’t fit into the box. And I started to make larger pieces that needed much more light again. One solution was to take things outside. If I could get a bright overcast day, photographing pieces against a piece of white paper taped up to my house worked great. This bag (made by my friend Pat Grady) was something we needed an image of for a postcard at the art center I worked at. So I took it home, dressed up in this cute ensemble, and my husband helped me take this photo using natural light. You can see we had to do some Photoshopping still to make it work, erasing the seam in the paper and so on.

Things I learned: Use a reflector.

For bigger items it helps a lot to have a big white surface to reflect extra light back on to the scene. For this shot, we had a big sheet of white foam core that we propped up on a chair to help get more light on the bottom of the scene where it was a little shadowy. You don’t see the effect with your eyes very well, but the camera can totally see the difference.

Natural light works amazingly well, but let’s be realistic. I live in MN and there is about one day in every month that has the right combination of bright, overcast, no snow, and not windy to be able to take photos. And especially with an Etsy shop, I can’t be limited to hoping I can take photos once a month. So, we borrowed some lights from a co-worker to get this shot (above). We set it up in the corner of an office, taped up a piece of white paper and had a couple of really bright lights and one big light with an umbrella on it to light up the whole scene. We thought we’d try out his set up and see if maybe we needed to buy some lights like this. You can see there is still some Photoshopping that had to happen, but this turned into a pretty great photo.

What I learned: The larger the item, the more light you need.
Getting a whole person lit up evenly from head to toe takes a lot of light. I realized that if I wanted to continue to photograph my garments, I was going to need to invest in some photo lights. We started looking at the free-standing umbrella style lights that you could buy as a kit on Amazon. We talked about painting a corner of our unfinished basement bright white to use as a giant sized white box.

Here’s the part where we got lucky. A friend of ours who is an artist and photographer decided to downsize his studio and gave us some hand-me down equipment in exchange for us helping him with his website. Best trade ever. Instead of reflector lights, these are strobes inside big fabric boxes which are like a giant camera flash. We have two and you can see them in this photo. The large one is to the left and the smaller one is behind me. On the right hand side you can see sheets of white foam core that we are using to reflect light to that other side. This was a photo that we staged for an event at the art center where I worked where they were giving me an award and needed a photo of me for the invitation. I wanted to show off the skirt without it being a photo of my face and so we came up with the idea of doing a parody on the Magritte “Son of Man” painting. You can see the final photo up at the very top of this post.

Our setup is a Speedotron kit similar to these. (You can also find them used like we have.) It’s amazing. I photograph nearly everything in my basement studio with these lights. I say nearly everything because for things that I post on social media, that’s still a piece of white posterboard next to a window with the camera on my phone. Because that also works amazingly well. And using this pro equipment is a little bit of a process. I have a checklist taped to the wall downstairs so I turn on everything in the right order. And I never remember the settings on the camera so I have a cheat sheet for that too.

Other than the lights, our studio isn’t fancy. We have an unfinished basement (which I LOVE) and we have about a quarter of the space dedicated to photo equipment, mostly because I use it often enough that it’s nice to not have to get it out and put it away all the time. The backdrop is a roll of white paper that we roll up when it’s not needed. I’ve upgraded to wider paper since this photo was taken so I don’t have to Photoshop out that seam all the time. We have a shelf that holds all of the clips, clamps, dress forms and props that I use for photos and a stack of large sheets of foam core to act as backgrounds and reflectors. This is where we take most of our annual Halloween photos as well. This one took a lot of creativity to get this mood lighting just right.

You’ll notice that I haven’t even mentioned the kind of camera I have. That’s because having an expensive or super fancy camera isn’t necessary for great photos. I take a lot of photos for things like social media and all of the instruction sheets for my Etsy kits with my iPhone because it’s small and convenient and does a great job. When I shoot things in the studio, I have a Canon 60D which we got in about 2010 and it still works super well. We got a couple of upgraded/specialized lenses that are for specific tasks like shots for my Etsy shop (24mm pancake lens).

I’ve also talked a lot about Photoshopping, but really you don’t need to have Photoshop either. I did when I first started out because I couldn’t quite get the photos I wanted. My goal with photos now is to get it right in the camera so I never even have to open it in Photoshop. That saves so much time!  It took me a long time and a lot of learning to get to that point, but I can now do an entire photoshoot of new designs without anything but minor touchups. It’s not hard to learn, but you have to be willing to take a lot of photos and try new things until you get something you like. There’s no one cookbook recipe for how you need to photograph your work; everyone has different items with different challenges. I still get it wrong sometimes and have to go back and move lights around and try things set up in different ways.

I wrote this post because I friend said “You should write something about your photo setup; you always have great photos of your work.” and I wanted to show that there’s a lot of behind the scenes work to make it look that way. Hopefully this will give you an idea of where to start if you want to try learning how to photograph your own work too.

11 January, 2021

Resting the Creative Brain through Stitching

2021-02-12T18:28:39-06:00An Artist's Life, Embroidery|1 Comment

I spent August stitching. And September. And October, November and December. In fact, I still have a box of stitchery on my dining room table and I pick up something almost every night. My job as an artist means that I am making things during most of the hours of my work days. Depending on the day I am writing, or photographing, or assembling kits or making things for my Etsy shops, or making art for one of half a dozen projects. But all of those things I do during my work day are “me powered”. I am the one designing, making the creative decisions, assembling the practice pieces, doing the edits. It’s a one-woman-show here and if I’m not doing the work, then nothing gets done. Most of the time I love it and I love being busy.

But with everything going on in 2020, my creative brain was feeling just tapped out. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you. I managed to keep a lot of my regular juggling balls in the air, so to speak, but I just didn’t have much capacity for taking on anything new or thinking of the next new thing or the next big art project. The class proposals that I used to put together in an afternoon were taking me a week (with a lot of procrastinating). I couldn’t think of anything to write here on the blog. I didn’t want to make art because it just felt like it was simultaneously too much to take on and why-bother-because-no-ones-going-to-see-it-anyway-because-everything-is-cancelled. It was really frustrating and exhausting, so I just kept getting sucked in to doomscrolling and reading Firefly novelizations because it was just easier.

Mr Scrooge Ornament, pattern by Larissa Holland mmmcrafts.etsy.com

Let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Scrooge. He’s an ornament pattern designed by my friend Larissa Holland at mmmcrafts. (This one’s stitched by me.) He’s grouchy and “bah humbug”ish and utterly delightful. At least I think so. In August, I decided that Mr. Scrooge was the perfect metaphor-in-an-ornament-form for 2020, so I decided to make Scrooges for my sisters as a Christmas gift. He’s made from embroidered and beaded felt and entirely hand sewn, so really a perfect kitchen table kind of project while watching vintage episodes of All Creatures Great and Small.

What I realized as I started stitching was that it was exactly what my brain needed: to follow someone else’s pattern. There are lots of studies and reports about the physical act of stitching or knitting and the meditative effects it has on the brain. But what I also came to realize is that there is something really restful in following a pattern and letting someone else steer the creative ship. Although I got to do the fun part of picking out the colors, for everything else, I didn’t have to problem solve, troubleshoot, design, or choose anything. I just followed the directions. Stitch the beads to lower left coat trim, then go to step 5.

Soon, almost every night after dinner, I would turn off the news and the social media and pull out some felt to stitch. Although I don’t do embroidery or beadwork for my business (for many reasons), I love both things and my hands have years of practice. It was fun to have a reason to dive into my stash of beads and vintage sequins for the perfect shade of rosy pink or try out that Kreinik metallic thread. I made one Scrooge. And then another. I stitched my way through the rest of the autumn making Santas, Scrooges and sardines for friends and family. And even though it’s January, I started a partridge and a pear for myself this week.

I realized, as I was thinking about writing this post about my new-found daily stitch practice, that it was the practice of craft that I needed right now. I didn’t make a lot of art this past year, but instead I found myself drawn to the craft: the precise, detailed, fine craft work with my hands. That’s what made me feel grounded and my brain feel a little less overwhelmed. And it’s not just me. My mom took up cross-stitch again this year after a couple of decades. My dad made me a turned wood rolling pin for Christmas. I saw a good friend post a finished cross-stitch piece on her Facebook feed just this morning. Another friend made a delicate straw star ornament for me that I have hanging in my window and I Instagram chatted with someone else about learning to make our first hard covered books coincidentally on the same week. My friend MissChiff has assigned herself 1000 hours of painting to practice her watercolor skills.

So maybe if you’ve run out of Mandalorian episodes and you want to reduce your mindless phone surfing, try folding some origami. Or teaching yourself cross stitch. Or finger knitting. Or sketching. Or making friendship bracelets. Maybe it’s the thing your brain needs too.

30 October, 2020

This post is brought to you by me, or how affiliate links can make it harder for the rest of us

2020-11-15T14:06:37-06:00An Artist's Life, Classes & Teaching, Everything Else|1 Comment

I got an email a few days ago asking me a question about a Spoonflower fabric. I get questions like this on a semi-regular basis with someone wanting a recommendation for a project they are working on. I am happy to chime in with my experience; I’ve used most of the fabrics for one project or another. My site is covered with Spoonflower fabric in use. But as I was writing the email answer, I thought to myself, “didn’t I already write a blog post that answered this?” It felt like deja vu. I checked and it turns out I hadn’t, but my first instinct was to just look up that post and send the person a link to it. After all, if I wrote up a post it’s probably more in depth, more detailed, more thoughtful than what I would answer writing you an email in response.

But, I was talking with another colleague and apparently there is a kerfluffle in the craft/knitting/sewing online community because a teacher responded to a question just like I was going to do: “here’s a link to a video on my website where I answer that question.” Only the problem is that the person asking didn’t like that response and accused the teacher of just being self-promotional. Apparently a personal email in response to a question would have been fine, but a link to a video answering the same question wasn’t. Wow.

This made me think about an Instagram account that I unfollowed just a couple of days ago. The person was demonstrating some kind of a tool in a video post. It was something about quilting, which isn’t really my thing, so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the post. But there were lots of comments asking about a tool that they used. It was the follow up video to that which really caught my attention. In that follow up post, the IG Influencer basically went on a rant about how they weren’t going to answer the questions about the tool and they weren’t going to provide a link so everyone should just stop asking. The reason? They stated they get paid for doing promotional posts and this tool creator didn’t pay them to do a post and they don’t work for free. I found that so distasteful that I unfollowed right then.

So don’t get me wrong, I believe people should be paid for their work. This especially goes for artists and makers. But the Influencer culture has started to creep into what I do; that idea of being paid to make recommendations for things.

I teach about things which require some technology. It’s not like knitting where I can grab any set of needles made by anyone (or even some chopsticks) and show you how to do a cast on. I have to pick an app or a software and show you how to use it in order for you to learn how to make a repeating pattern or extract a HEX code. I can’t know every app on the planet, so I am going to pick one I know and I like working with it. I can teach you a class on how to sell your work online in big general ideas, but the class people really want is the one about how you understand advertising in Etsy; a very specific thing that they need help with. I can’t teach you anything about that without talking about Etsy. And in some ways that can start to feel a little bit like an infomercial.

So here’s where it starts to get sticky: when is a recommendation really a recommendation?
It’s hard to tell anymore. 

I taught two classes recently. One was a technology related class where I showed a bunch of different kinds of apps and software. I talked about how I know some of the app developers because I have been a beta tester for them for a lot of years. Why do I volunteer to be a tester? Because I like the tool and how it works and I’m married to a guy who writes software for a living. We know lots of people who write software and apps. I like to help make this app better because I use it all the time and I know how important those beta users are. But I got some feedback after the class that it felt like I was promoting my friend’s stuff. In the another class, it was more hands-on and everyone got a packet of materials for the project. I let everyone know the specifics about where I got those materials and what they were working with. I always buy materials for classes from small businesses if I can possibly do it. That means I’m not buying in bulk from a big box craft store, but I’m getting everything from Etsy shops (or locally). And I know some of those sellers a little bit because I order from them often. And I order from them often because I think their shops are awesome and carry quality stuff which gets to me fast, which I can’t always say about those big box stores. I love being able to use my business and art practice to help support other artists. That’s really important to me.

But then I started to second guess myself. Would people think I was only recommending these shops/apps because I get a discount or a kickback? (Spoiler: I don’t.) Another teaching colleague mentioned a Facebook group that she belongs to that only allows you to post a recommendation for something if you don’t know the person you are recommending. So you can’t recommend your own video that answers a question and you can’t recommend one by someone you know. What’s left? Recommending something you randomly found on Google? That doesn’t seem super helpful. (And why do I want to spend my time Googling answers for someone else? Sheesh!)

So I thought about it. And I talked to some colleagues. And I decided that the person who thought I was a little too infomercial-like had a point. Because how would anyone know that I’m not a paid Influencer if I don’t say so? So many things we see online are so artificial. You can Photoshop anyone into any scene; you can mock up 100 different virtual products with your design on them; you can add virtual eye makeup to your Instagram videos. We all should look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism, right?

It made me think about the language I use when I talk about the things that I love and how important it is to be transparent. I need to talk about why I choose to use the tools I use when I am teaching about them if I want people to understand that I am not just showing you this because I get a little kickback when you click it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an Influencer and having your business rely on affiliate links and ad income, but it’s not what I do. And I realized that it was important to me to say that.

So I decided to write this post and say that I don’t use affiliate links or ads or cookies and I added that to the blog footer. I don’t get any discounts, kickbacks, credits, promos, royalties, freebies, or commissions for any of the services or apps I teach about or recommend. I teach about Spoonflower and Etsy (and lots of other things) because I like what they do and I have a lot of experience with those platforms that I like to share with others. I am a teacher; that’s what I do. I absolutely recommend shops and apps and things made by people I know because that’s probably why I know them. I had a great experience and came back. I believe in community, whether it’s a tiny online community or a big real-life one. It’s why I’ve served on Boards of Directors and grant evaluation panels and why I participate in pilot programs and beta tests because it’s important that someone does that work to help make the community thrive.

24 August, 2020

Behind the scenes of my setup for Online Teaching

2020-10-10T17:40:11-05:00An Artist's Life, Tutorials, Videos|9 Comments

I posted a couple of “behind the scenes” posts of my online teaching set up on my social media last week and I had LOTS of questions from all of you about how I put it together. So I thought maybe I’d write a post and talk about it. All of my setup are the results of many months worth of experiments, trial and error. I’ve been teaching via video/online since April when a couple of projects I was scheduled to do suddenly needed to pivot to something else. I started with what I had and added to my setup as I discovered I needed something.

My Space

I do all of my filming or video meetings in my studio. For a very long time, I just worked anywhere in the house, but this spring (before all of the work-at-home things happened) I had decided to reclaim a room in our house into a space that would be easier for me to record things because I was intending to start doing more video based classes. We have a 1920s house so my studio is basically a “sun room” or “sitting room” space, but that means it has amazing huge windows on two sides. So I have tons of natural light, which is really helpful. I’d say 80% of the time, I can work with just that natural light. The wall behind my desk is a creamy white about the color of masking tape, so it makes a pretty neutral background and having a light color helps my space look brighter.

My Laptop & Microphone

I use my laptop as my webcamera and I film all of my class videos and screensharing videos with it. I have a Macbook Air. I don’t have an external microphone because so far, I haven’t needed one. The one in my laptop works great for what I need and because I am working in a pretty small room, the space doesn’t sound like it’s echoing. We have wood floors, and I did get a plush throw rug to put under my desk, which helped the sound a lot.

I did get a stand for my laptop to sit on. I realized quickly that leaving my laptop on my desk put the camera at a weird angle that was kind of aimed up my nose. It wasn’t flattering. And when you spend several hours editing video of yourself, you start to notice these things. I was using a couple of boardgame boxes as a way to make my laptop sit at eye level, but they took up a lot of desk space, so I found an adjustable aluminum stand. It gets the laptop up so I have a little more space to work and it’s ventilated so my laptop doesn’t get as hot. Processing video is a lot of work and listening to the cooling fans makes me nuts. So that’s a bonus. This is the one I have and it works great. If I need to type a lot while the laptop is on the stand, I have a bluetooth keyboard I can pair with it so I can type more comfortably. I don’t need it often, but it is helpful when I do. In the photo above, you can also see I put the stand on a thick rubber mat. I use this for my serger because it vibrates a lot, but it’s also perfect when I am doing video to keep the stand stable and I think it cuts down on the wiggle when I bump the table.

My Overhead Camera

I use my iPhone as my overhead camera. I got an articulated arm that clamps on to my desk and it has something that looks like a hair clip that holds my phone. With it, I can aim my phone’s camera to capture nearly any part of my desk, so I can do how-to classes with steps where people need to see my hands. I have used it to show fabric samples for lectures about fabric design and to teach a whole series of art making classes. This is basically the one I have; I think they’ve updated it since I bought mine.

I can use an extra camera directly through screenshare when doing something in Zoom and you don’t need to log in as yourself multiple times (which is one tutorial I saw.) The software I use to record my other video also supports a second camera. (I’ll talk about that software a little later in this post.)

I learned that it works best to have my phone plugged directly into my laptop to get the best video. I have a new Macbook which only has USB-C ports (which is one of the more annoying things that Apple has ever done) and I had a multi-port adaptor so I could have a mouse plugged in and a couple of other things, but the camera doesn’t work at all through the adaptor. I got a USB-C to Lightning cable so I could plug it directly into the laptop and that was like magic. I tried using the camera in Zoom using Airplay, which is one of the screenshare options, but it only worked for about a minute before the video would freeze up or lag about 15 seconds behind what I was doing, which was not cool. But plugging it in directly and screensharing that way works beautifully.

The key thing that I learned about using my phone as my extra camera is to keep it simple. It’s really kind of a hack. I tried looking for an app and setting up different video settings, but I realized that I don’t need any of that. I set my phone to the Camera app, set the “Auto-lock” to “never” and just screenshare it.

It looks just like this. Yes, you can see the “camera” controls on the screen, but it turns out no one really even notices that. I don’t switch it to video mode and I don’t actually record anything. I just screenshare what my camera is seeing. I told you it was a hack. But the thing is, it’s super simple so it just works. There isn’t any trouble shooting or updates or weird things not connecting or incompatibility.

For live video like teaching a Zoom class, I just use it exactly like this. When I pre-record something for a video class, I use the same trick and I just crop the camera controls out of the video later, which just takes a few seconds.

The last thing I did was to get a tiny LED ring light. I don’t use it to light myself, but I clip it to my phone and aim it at the table to light up the work surface. This made a HUGE difference in how clear the video is and it has an easier time with focus. I won’t link to the one I have because although the light is decent and I like how it clips to my phone, the battery life is literally about 10 minutes. I have to keep it plugged in all the time. I actually mounted a small powerstrip with USB ports to the bottom of my desk so I can plug the light in (since I can’t plug it into my computer because I don’t have enough ports). There are a zillion different ring lights available and basically anything would work.

You can see the laptop stand, camera arm clip, and ring light in the photo at the top. The last thing I’ll talk about is the surface I am filming. You can see from the photo just below that my studio table is a vintage formica table. It’s awesome. But it makes a super distracting background. So I got a vinyl desk blotter in a pale blue/grey that I roll out on my desk when I am using the overhead camera. It’s soft so it cuts down on noise when I pick up and put down things like scissors and it makes a really nice neutral background so people can easily see my fingers demonstrating an embroidery stitch or whatever. When I’m not filming, I roll it up and it lives on my bookshelf.

More Light

In this view of my desk you can see my hidden light. I realized that when I am doing video in the evening, the light is fading and it was making my video look grainy. So I brought my LED panel up from the basement. I realize that you probably don’t have one of these just sitting around, but I have a photo studio for shooting my work and so I borrowed this panel from the photo setup. In the evening, I put the panel on my desk just behind the laptop stand and point it directly at the ceiling. My ceiling is white and so the bright light just diffuses all over the room. Because it’s behind my laptop stand, I don’t have light glaring in my eyes and it’s not making a harsh light on me. It depends on your room, but an extra bright desk lamp pointed at the ceiling or something similar might work for you if you don’t have a panel like this.

Software

If I am pre-recording video for one of my online classes or to post on Facebook etc, I use video editing software called Screenflow. It costs about $130 and it only works on the Mac. The reason I chose it is because in addition to just basic video editing, it is designed to do screen capture and picture-in-picture video. Since I teach a lot of technology related things that means I can show full screen video of my screen showing you how to do something in Photoshop and I can have a tiny video of me talking in the corner of the screen. Or I can fill my screen with the overhead camera shot and you can also see me talking (shown at left). It can capture these simultaneously, so everything is synched up and so so easy to put together. I can also add closed captions, which is something I didn’t even think about previously, but when a partner I was teaching with asked me if I could do it, it took me only minutes to figure out. Like any software, there is a learning curve, but it’s not too difficult.

Edited to add: Get an external hard drive. A big one if you can. I did not appreciate quite how enormous video files are. I had filled up my laptop’s hard drive after a week of filming. Now I get done with a video, compress and upload it to my class site and then I move it to the external hard drive and delete it from my laptop. I have the laptop and external drive set to do two backups every night (yes I am completely paranoid about this) so I don’t panic about deleting anything. But my computer works a LOT better when the drive isn’t full of video files.

My Backdrop

One of the “treats” I got myself for my new studio space is a background curtain so I can have a pretty background if I want to. It is 2 yards of Spoonflower’s Longleaf Sateen Grande, which is 116″ wide. That is bigger than my room is. I stitched buttonholes into the top edge and put up a shower curtain rod and curtain rings. I can pull it back if I want my neutral cream colored wall or I can pull it out and have a sea of kelp. It’s one of my fabric designs and so it always gives me something to show people and it often makes sense with what I am teaching. The extra-wide fabric is only available to Spoonflower Pro members, but there are several 60″ fabrics that might also work in your space.

I did have a green-screen curtain behind me for a while and while that was fun to experiment with, it turns out that I don’t have enough light in this space to really make it work well. My hair, which has far more white in it than I am really delighted with right now, either ended up looking green from the curtain or the video filter that removed the green-screen would just edit it out, so I would lose the top of my head. I’m trying to be an “embrace the grey” kind of girl, but it’s challenging when it comes to video.

I hope this has given you some ideas for how you might make video work better in your space. My set up works really well for me and I like that I’ve managed to put it together with some pretty simple extras that have made big improvements. Do you have any video meeting/teaching tricks or tips you’ve discovered? Share!

6 May, 2020

Brains… (no, zombies have not invaded my blog)

2020-05-06T11:27:54-05:00An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design|Comments Off on Brains… (no, zombies have not invaded my blog)

The Spoonflower design challenge theme for this week was “Designs for Good”. From the design spec, that is defined as “challenging you to create a repeating design inspired by a cause that is close to your heart. From raising autism awareness to creating food security in your local community, we want to know what inspires you every day.”

I decided to make my design about brains and if you follow any of my social media channels, you saw a little sneak peek of this design in a video I made for #GiveAtHomeMN to highlight some organizations that are trying really hard to figure out ways to help artists in this new world we are living in. In fact, I made the paper collage pieces for this design while I was listening and participating in an “Artists Town Hall” Zoom meeting.

I call this design “Your Brain’s Not Broken”. It is made from recycled magazine pictures and I really looked for things that were bright colors and interesting textures. I grouped them generally by color to make rough rectangles and then cut each one into the shape of a brain.

For the background of the design, I cut stripes of black and white patterns: the text from magazine pages and safety paper envelopes. I scanned each of these components and assembled the design in two layers, creating a seamless repeating pattern of the black and white bars and then putting the bright colored brains over top.

Why brains? I wanted a way to represent mental health, and although that might seem like a pretty obvious choice, I liked that it was easy to understand. I like that it’s a little science-y. And it feels busy and vibrant. This design is about brains and about how brains are made up of different colors, textures, and patterns and no two are alike. We all have something beautiful and something wacky and something that frustrates. These are brains that are doing their thing in the best way they know how.

I don’t know about all of you, but I am pretty aware of my brain these days. We are all learning so many new things right now about how to do our jobs and our lives in different ways than we are used to. I never knew how exhausting video meetings were. I didn’t know how different it was to teach to a laptop screen instead of a group of students. I’m too tired to be creative some days. There’s so much information to wrap your head around about how to be safe and well and responsible to others. Some days are easier and some are really hard.

The funny thing about this design is that it really felt like *me*, more than many other things I’ve worked on the past few months. I love participating in the weekly design challenges from Spoonflower because as an artist it’s great to be pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to go a different direction than I would choose, but I have struggled with the design challenges this spring. The themes and the colors felt more like a drag than a challenge for some reason. With one exception (my roller skating labrador for the roller rink nostalgia challenge), nothing has made it to the top 100 in the weekly contest voting and mostly I’ve finished somewhere around 50%. I don’t get too caught up in the voting part of the design challenges, but it is an interesting source of feedback to see how people are responding to what I am putting out there. And to go back to that theme of brains, it feels great to see a design do well and pretty discouraging to finish somewhere solidly in “meh, whatever” territory. And have your treacherous brain-voice tell you that you are kidding yourself and you should just quit and everyone is better than you are. It’s a lie, but we all hear it sometimes, right? So maybe this week’s design is a little about that too. I don’t think this one is going to be a top 10 design; I just don’t make things that follow that “look” that the top 10 usually have. But I think this one is going to resonate with some of you. At least I hope so.

18 February, 2020

Learning things takes time.

2020-02-18T14:19:31-06:00An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design, UpcomingClasses|Comments Off on Learning things takes time.

Tutorials that say that a project is “quick and easy” are kind of a pet peeve of mine. You see entire pages of results on Pinterest: quick, easy, no-sew, only 2 steps, 5 minutes to make, 30 second hacks. It’s not that I don’t think there’s a place and a need for quick and easy projects, but I think that’s often all you can find: the quick and easy solution to a problem that might not be so quick and easy.

I’ve spent the last week or so putting together some new classes. I know how to do that planning part, but I needed to set up a new way to take registration payments and to link them together with the event and to post them as a draft event on Facebook. None of those are “hard” things to do, but they were all things that I needed to learn something about. Square recently updated the way they do their web shop. So I needed to learn the new system. It was super confusing, but I finally have the basics figured out. My event calendar needed an update and I spent a few minutes figuring out how to add a link for the class cancellation policy to every page so I didn’t have to copy and paste it in every time. I got the events posted and then spent many minutes tapping around on my phone trying to figure out how to accept the invitation to co-host the event with my FB page, because although I found the “accept” button in the browser version on my laptop, the button didn’t work. But I digress…

The thing is, it feels good to learn something like this. It’s a sense of accomplishing something. I spent the time and I figured it out. I grumbled, I muttered some words under my breath, I was frustrated a little, but I got there. And now I know. And I can do it again.

This is the problem with the “quick and easy” solutions. There really isn’t a sense of accomplishment. You are done before you ever had to dig in and mutter curse words and figure out the solution. When I was thinking about writing and designing these new classes I am teaching, this was something I kept thinking about.

Often, I am invited to do the lecture or the intro class for a group or organization but I almost never get to teach the thing that digs deeper. I love teaching those, don’t get me wrong; but I am always asked to do the “quick and easy version”, which has a low cost and a low time commitment, but can accommodate the most students. I haven’t been teaching much lately because the only opportunities I had were teaching these same “quick and easy” classes over and over. Which is great, but I felt like I was starting to sound like a broken record. At least in my head. I know that I was only getting people to a tiny taste and not actually getting them to the feeling of having learned something.

However, sometimes cool things just fall in to place and I got an opportunity to try something a little different. A dear friend of mine wanted to try opening up her new studio to guest instructors and basically said “tell me what you want to do.”

Taking a class is a leap of faith. You go in with an expectation and anticipation, and you trust that you will get that thing or idea or concept to take away at the end. Teaching is also a leap of faith; trusting the students to come along with you for the ride. And for these classes that I just wrote and redesigned, I am taking a leap of faith with my students too. I tried to think outside of the box on these a little bit and think more about what would make them great classes and less about what would make them “quick and easy”.

So I upped the expectations on a few of them. I’m requiring students to do a little work ahead of time like uploading a file to me, so we can have a cooler experience during class working with actual printed fabric. I created two hybrid classes that have both an in-person and an online component. One session focuses on the hands-on “technology” parts that students want help with and the second online session they can do on their own time in their own sewing space to finish the project. I realized that a majority of the students who take classes from me come to class with a beginner skill level when it comes to digital design, but they are not beginners when it comes to sewing. So I made classes that matched that. Hands-on in-person work with the digital/technology stuff paired with independent lessons in the stuff you don’t need the detailed help with. This hybrid format also makes it easy to commit, I hope. You only have to fit one class session into your busy schedule, but you get a whole other half of the class to do on your own. It’s kind of like a two-for-one deal.

Will these work? I don’t know yet. I hope so. I talked to a bunch of other friends of mine who are teachers and they had varying degrees of optimistic skepticism. But just like any new product or idea, you have to prototype. You have to try it and see what happens.

Check out the new classes here

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