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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Spring Nail Art

Spring has well and truly sprung in the South of the UK and I cannot deny that my thoughts have already turned to Summer.  I am currently serving a long term work placement as a receptionist and as I am not nursing I can have my nails painted :)

I do love a bit of nail art, but there is nothing more depressing than spending hours on a design and then having to remove it the next day for work :(  The last few weeks have allowed me to enjoy some cutsie, easy ideas that are definitely inspired by Spring (and the colour pink!).

Polka Dot Pink

I am a big fan of polka dots and this isn't the first time I have done this design, it is a firm favourite.  But this is the first time I have used pink and white together (inspired by my Harajuku doll).

  • Start with the base coat in your preferred colour and apply two thin coats
  • Make sure to wait until your polish is completely dry before moving on
  • Use the end of a paintbrush dipped in white acrylic paint (really makes the white pop) to create dots on your nails
  • Once fully dry seal with a clear coat of varnish 

Contrasting French Tip 

I dream of beautiful white tipped nails, but the reality is my nails are in too poor a condition to achieve this look.  I have to say though that this contrasting version could be my new favourite - I chose pink and purple as I love the combination and think it is reminiscent of spring blooms!

  • Start with the base coat in your preferred colour and apply one medium coat
  • Make sure to wait until your polish is completely dry before moving on
  • Using tweezers carefully apply french tip strips across your nails
  • Gently press down to make sure the edge is fully closed
  • Apply a medium coat in your chosen contrasting shade across the tip, being careful not to go over the strip
  • After 90 seconds, carefully peel away the strip
  • Touch up any areas that may be needed
  • Once fully dry (may take quite some time) seal with a clear polish

Nail Stickers

Sometimes I just don't have enough time to do an intricate nail art design, but I still want something a bit more special than plain polish - this is when I use nail stickers.   Just over a year ago I became a little obsessed with nail stickers, you can literally pick up a set of 30 for under 10p on ebay.

  • Start with the base coat in your preferred colour and apply two thin coats
  • Make sure to wait until your polish is completely dry before moving on
  • Using tweezers remove your sticker from the sheet and carefully position on your nail
  • Press down firmly
  • Seal with a clear polish
If you're a fan of the cute Harajuku dolls in the pictures, they are the original set from Gwen Stefani Harajuku Lovers perfume range.  The scent is quite florally and sweet, perfect for me ;)  Even if I wasn't a fan of the perfume, these dolls are so cute I would just buy the bottles to display =D

Monday, 15 April 2013

Ultimate Vegan Brownies - Gluten Free Version Too :)

The hardest thing for me cutting out dairy has been losing my beloved cakes and chocolate.  A few weeks ago I was about to give in, when I thought I would have a bash at making Vegan Brownies - not wanting a disappointing bake, I researched lots of recipes and then decided to tweak them to my liking.  The result is the best brownies I have ever tasted - this is not an exaggeration!  I am an absolute snob when it comes to cakes, bakes and chocolate - if it doesn't taste divine, I am not wasting the calories on it ;)

I have a lovely friend who went vegan at the same time as I went dairy free, he is also Coeliac, so will provide instructions to make these not only vegan, but gluten free too - just for you Sam! x

These are oozing with chocolate and have the depth of flavor that you can only get from plain chocolate - the secret ingredient adds a subtle chewy texture that most egg free bakes lack - who would have thought the exotic fig could be used in such a way!


250g Plain Flour - Doves Farm make the best gluten free mix
350g Caster Sugar
75g Cocoa Powder - Green and Blacks or Bournville is fine
1 tsp baking powder - Doves Farm do an awesome gluten free version
1 tsp salt
200ml almond milk - or whichever dairy free alternative you prefer
50ml water
50ml oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g dairy free baking fat - Stork Perfect for Pastry is my preferred choice
100g - 200g Plain chocolate - depending on preference
2 large dried figs


Pre-heat oven to 180c, 170c fan, gas mark 4 - Grease and line a large square baking tin.  I am never exact with my tin measurements, it depends on how thick you want the finished brownies to be.  For those that are sticklers for following instructions, a 9" x 9" / 22.5cms x 22.5cms will be fine.

Cut the baking fat into small cubes and place in a bowl with the caster sugar.  Starting on a low speed, cream together the sugar and fat with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Sieve together the flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder - set aside

In a measuring jug pour the oil, almond milk, water and vanilla essence - whisk with a fork until combined.  Slowly add this into the creamed fat and sugar, whisking with the electric beaters between each addition.  If you add too much of the liquid and the mixture looks like it is about to split/curdle, whisk in a large tablespoon of the flour mix.

Once the liquid is fully incorporated fold in the dry ingredients.

Take your chocolate bars and break into large chunks - or like me, beat with a hammer before opening

Finely (must be fine) chop your figs

Fold in the chunky chocolate and figs into the mix making sure they are well distributed

Spread evenly in the tin and place in the pre-heated oven.

Bake for at least 30 minutes - if you like a firmer texture then you may want to leave for 45 - make sure you check them regularly after 30 minutes, if the edges are starting to go too dark, cover with foil.

Once removed from the oven, leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then carefully remove onto a wire rack to finish cooling - cut into chunks and enjoy!

If you prefer them squidgy and chewy like me, they are best eaten once cooled :)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Item photography Set Up for beginners - £1.00 cost

Time and time again in the Etsy forums, there are people completely over-whelmed with the whole photography process.  I was there once, and although still a million miles away from an expert, I have learnt a thing or two along the way.

Imagine you are planning an online purchase, one of the joint most important swaying factors will be a products image - the other is usually the cost.  There are plenty of examples of bad shop photography on Etsy - heck, just check this one that I took back in November 2011 - It was sadly one of the 'better' images that actually made it into the shop.

Besides the actual bracelet, lets discuss what is wrong with this picture;


Unless the item being photographed is extremely bright, dark coloured or busy backgrounds are a no-no.  You should aim for a clean, uncluttered background that is devoid of anything that may detract from the item you are photographing.  Your item should be the main focus, get rid of anything that draws the eye away from it.


This is one of the most difficult aspects of photography - it is still the main thing that I struggle with now.  Shockingly I used to take photographs from inside the tub!  My theory was that the white bath tub would magnify any light in the bathroom and help to illuminate my items.  Sadly we have no window in our bathroom, no natural light and inadequate artificial sources, equal terrible photographs.
Can you see how part of the image is slightly blurred or 'noisey'?  This is all due to incorrect ISO settings - If you take a photograph with an automatic camera in low level lighting, it will generally crank up the ISO setting - this creates a 'noisy' image.  You should aim for a low ISO setting (on manual mode you should be able to adjust this) photographed in good lighting.


Part of this is to do with the lighting and ISO setting - but part is due to me not using the macro setting on my camera.  When photographing something close up, you should always aim to use the macro mode - this helps the camera define a nice sharp focus on your item.

Generally the above 3 are the main contenders for poor image shots - I was initially advised to use a light tent to photograph my jewellery, but I found it quite impractical and was not happy with the results.  I thought I would share my current set up.  Aside from the cost of the camera, the only thing I have had to pay for is the 'background' and that only cost £1.00 from wilkinsons :)

What you will need

  • Surface to work on - in full natural light, ideally near a window
  • Roll of white poster paper - purchased from Wilkinsons - £1.00 a roll
  • Blue tack - we generally have some hiding around the house
  • Gimp image editing software - downloaded for free from here

Place your roll of paper on the surface you wish to work on and blue tack the top two corners

Unroll the paper and attach to the wall

 adjust the paper so that it covers the back wall and the surface you are working on - this will prevent distinction between the background and surface that could draw the eye away from the item

Position your items ready to be photographed - make sure you take into account any reflections or shadowing that may show up on your photographs

Camera Settings

Because of the way in which light is always changing, you should make sure to adjust these settings for each new session.  I am sure that there is much more in-depth information for camera settings, but as said at the beginning of this guide - this is basic level and simply what I do.

  • Make sure your camera is on manual settings rather than automatic
  • Adjust your ISO settings to the lowest possible - I use 100
  • If possible adjust your exposure compensation - look through the lens and adjust the compensation until what you see onscreen is similar to what you can actually see
  • Adjust white balance - focus the camera on the white background, adjust the white balance until what you see onscreen is a true white.  There are cameras that allow you to take a photograph of the white background and will automatically adjust the settings to achieve a 'true' white - sadly mine has to be done the old fashioned way.
  • Turn on macro settings - usually this is a silhouette of a flower
  • Turn off the flash

Point and Shoot

When photographing your items, you need a variety of angles and close ups to show potential customers as much detail as possible.  Imagine you are picking up an item, what would you be focusing on, what would you lean in to see more clearly.  Try to get your images to mimic this.

If possible you should try to take your photographs with a tripod - I don't own one so cannot guide you through the process, but it is something that I am considering investing in.

Never take one shot of each angle - generally I will take at least 40 images of each product, all but 5 of these are discarded.  You should be picking the best from a wide selection, this will give you a better chance of achieving a great shot.

My camera has a two step process when shooting in macro mode - when I press the shutter button initially it will focus, I will then get the green light to press again to capture - make sure you understand how your camera works.  Camera shake will result in a 'noisy' unsharp image - this is why a tripod (or stable surface) is recommended.

Post Editing

I edit every single one of my selected images before listing an item - it is vital for cropping and cleaning them up.  The most important basics (that I consider) are obviously cropping and the colour levels.  Gimp offers a wide variety of editing tools, but these two are used the most in my shop.

Right click your image and select 'edit in gimp'
Once opened, click on the 'colours' tab, and then press 'levels'
A box labelled 'adjust color levels' will open
Firstly try pressing the 'auto' button - if this is shockingly off, press the 'reset' button
If you still need to tweak your colour levels, select the white eye dropper tool and then click on an area of your picture that is supposed to be white (like the background) you can keep clicking different areas of white until you are happy with your image
Press the rectangle select tool and highlight the area of the image that you would like to crop to - if you need to make minor adjustments, you can hover close to the edges until a T shape appears, you can then drag out
Once happy with the selected area, click on the top 'image' tab and then press crop to selection

Here is a before and after shot using just 'color levels' and crop - a big difference, I am sure you will agree!



I have also added text to the after shot using gimp

I hope this helps you achieve a better understanding of entry level product photography, fingers crossed I can add more 'advanced' techniques as I learn them :)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Pinterst Challenge #1 - Hand Painted Mug

So after getting re-addicted to pinterest a few weeks ago, I decided to set myself a challenge; find a DIY tutorial that was completely new to me, and try it out!

I came across a pin about painting ceramics and pottery, I was hooked!

I still had a glass/pottery pen left over from my wedding Mr and Mrs Glasses that I did last year;

I knew that I wanted to start with something simple that wouldn't take too long to make, I turned back to pinterest for further inspiration!

When I first saw this, I couldn't stop laughing!  My poor husband has had to put up with me singing it to him for the last few weeks - his patience is wearing thin.  I knew that if I were to make the actual cup, I may find myself drowned in the sweet nectar after my singing finally pushed poor Chris over the edge.

I wanted a witty, but simple cup.  After a bit of brain storming (and some rather un-ladylike inspiration swearing) I came up with "Mean Mug-a Cuppa".  I know I shouldn't, but I get a thrill from secretly saying the naughty version of 'Mother Fudger' when I am working at home alone, so this slogan seemed perfect for me!

Here is my finished project - I love it, and I am hoping to provide a DIY tutorial for anyone wanting to re-create their own :)

The Curse of a Butterfly Crafter

I have a confession, I am a butterfly crafter. I flit from one project to the next, usually before I have actually completed anything. I like shiny new crafts and am often tempted away from current tasks by the siren song of a Pinterest trend.

On a personal level this can be thought of as quirky, on a business level it is downright irksome! Off the top of my head, I currently have at least six crafts in progress. Most are new items for the shops that have either been finished but not photographed for listing, or are just incomplete!

In November last year I decided to do a papercut just for me. It may end up in the store, but it would be designed exactly how I wanted. It was to be inspired by Alice in Wonderland (still one of my favourite films). I spent hours tweaking the concept and then got distracted.

It has sat unfinished for months until I finally decided I selfishly wanted it finished for me, me, me! After all I get so many lovely comments from over-joyed recipients of my work, I wanted a piece of that pie! It has taken hours, the original design was all but gutted. I fired off a rough cut on Saturday (see below) and after a few tweaks the final cut is finally in progress.

I WILL be back with the finished photos, and hopefully it will be in store by the end of today :)

I'm back and delighted to share that I have actually managed to not only complete, but photograph and list my finished papercut on my etsy store :)

I decided upon white and pastel blue as to me this is reminiscent of Alice's dress.  I am really pleased with how this has turned out and can't wait to get it hung in my work room :)

Photographing for the shop is always a nightmare as I have to remove the glass from the frame, this means that the cut is slightly loose in the frame and shadowing is visible.  One day I hope to figure out how to get round this issue, but for now I don't think they look too bad!