Featured: Michelle Rollinson-Berry of Cynical Redhead

Michelle, handstamping jewelry maven behind Cynical Redhead

Fun, smart, edgy, and chic are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about Michelle Rollinson-Berry's line of jewelry and guitar picks.  With a business name like Cynical Redhead, you get the vibe I'm talking about.  That kind that makes you want to grab a coffee (or a beer?) with this girl.  While I didn't get to partake in a bevvy with Michelle for geographical reasons, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her creative business.  Read on for a glimpse into the life and biz of Cynical Redhead.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your creations.

My background and education is actually in psychology.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psych and a Master’s degree in Counseling.  I worked in the mental health field for almost 20 years before deciding to make my jewelry business my full time career.  I’m completely self taught as far as jewelry making and pretty much anything else creative goes.  I love books more than just about anything in the world.  Much of what I make is inspired by my love of books.  

Why did you start your creative business?

I have always loved making things and I always felt that I had the potential to turn it into a business.   I don’t have a problem working with others, but I do generally prefer to work alone.  I had worked in mental health for a long time, and I had reached the point where the low pay, demanding schedule and stress level were making me consistently unhappy.  I had been doing both my Etsy shop and my day job for a little over 3 years before I decided to take the leap into doing it full time.  

Tell me a bit about your creative process.

I generally work in a small extra bedroom that I staked out a corner of for my studio space.      I am not a day person, definitely not a morning person.  The bulk of my work gets done between 9p.m. and 4a.m. (though during busy seasons, it is more like 12p.m. to 4a.m.).   I have always loved being up late at night when everyone else is asleep.  I like the lack of distraction.  I love the quiet.

The items I make vary in the time they take.  I can do a simple bracelet in maybe 10-15 minutes, but some of the more intricate pieces can take a few hours each.  

What do you absolutely need to fuel your creativity?

My main necessities for motivation to actually make things are:  coffee, kitties, travel, and Netflix/DVDs.   I don’t really watch TV as I work, but I love to listen as I work.  Last Christmas season, I listened to my Game of Thrones DVDs over and over again as I filled orders.   This year it’s Sons of Anarchy.  The kitties (I have two) are the best stress relievers I’ve ever encountered.  They show up to interrupt me periodically and let me know it’s time to put down the hammer and spend some time snuggling with them.   Without them, I’d probably end up completely burned out because I am bad about taking breaks.   I have a hard time leaving anything unfinished.  

What is your favourite part of the creative process?  

My very favorite part of the creative process is when an idea strikes.  Sometimes it is after reading a particular sentence in a book or seeing something unexpected when I travel.   A lack of ideas makes me uncomfortable.  I always like to have something new on the agenda that I am excited to make.  A lack of new ideas feels a little like being dead inside.  

What challenges do you face in your creative business and how do you overcome them?

One of the challenges is the juggling of all the different parts of running a one-person business without making any major mistakes.  Everything from ordering jewelry and packaging supplies, designing business cards, staging and photography, promoting and advertising, customer service, shipping, etc. is my job, on top of the actual creative process and making of the items.  Sometimes it feels like there is little time left for creativity.  

It’s sometimes hard to prioritize when every part of what you do is important and necessary.  

Luckily, my jobs in mental health required me to be extremely organized, handle multiple things at once, and to be very deadline oriented, which is a huge help.   

Where would you like to see your creative business in 10 years?  

In 10 years, I would love to have brand recognition on a global scale.  I would love to be featured in a major magazine/website by that point, definitely.  

Who are your creative inspirations?  

I know it sounds odd, but I don’t really have anyone that comes to mind for that.  I have always kind of followed my own instincts when it comes to what I want to make and wear.   I love both art and fashion and can happily spend entire days in museums, but I also don’t want to be too heavily influenced by anyone else’s work.  

Where can we buy your super cool creations?

I sell primarily through Etsy at http://cynicalredhead.etsy.com   My jewelry is also available at Vintage Karma in Tuscola, Illinois.  It is a wonderful little tattoo/vintage shop that sells both vintage and handmade items.   

Thanks SO much to Michelle for letting spend a little time her world.  To follow Michelle and her work, check out the links below.

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All images courtesy of Michelle Rollinson-Berry

Handmade Gift Guide: For Him

Hello creatives!

I hope you all enjoyed your weekend.  I spent some time shopping at Handmade Harvest where I got to speak with numerous wonderful vendors while drooling over their handmade creations.  I started my holiday shopping (which will be completely handmade), and got to thinking.  Shopping handmade for men isn't easy.  There seems to be loads of handmade options for women (jewelry, bags, bath products, beauty products, candles, scarves, etc, etc), but you have to dig a little deeper to find great handmade gifts for the men in your life.  I've done a bit of the hard work for you and found these fabulous handmade gifts for him, all available on Etsy.

For the beer drinker in your life, this personalized bottle opener is the perfect gift.  Have his name engraved on it to make sure it never goes missing and always makes it home.

Does the guy in your life have a passion for the culinary arts?  This handcrafted kitchen knife is perfect for cutting meats and cheeses, and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Another great pick for the guy who's great in the kitchen, this mortar and pestle is perfect for hand crushing fresh spices.  They are made from the dense wood of older olive trees that no longer produce fruit.

For the guitar hero in your life, these hand stamped guitar picks are a great gift idea for your guy.  With different phrases to choose from, you're bound the find the perfect pick.

For handy access to the finest blades in the kitchen, this magnetic knife holder is a great kitchen gadget for an amateur chef or barbeque master.

Another great personalized gift, this time for the golfer in your life.  They are handcrafted from either light oak or dark walnut, and hematite finished metal (derived from a lustrous black stone).  They are the perfect addition to his collection of golf paraphernalia.

Perfect for the man cave, this blueprint of the seating chart at Lambeau Field (home of the NFL's Green Bay Packers) will make any Packers fan very happy on Christmas day.  With prints of other stadiums for sale as well, this seller has you covered.

Every man needs a pocket knife, so why not one with his name on it?  With a durable wooden handle and stainless steel blade, this knife is built to last.

This handcrafted Italian leather flask is engraveable with initials or your guy's name, made from high quality steel and vegetable-tanned Italian leather.  Perfect for the classy liquor enthusiast in your life.

Does your guy love to rock?  This Foo Fighters record clock is man caved approved.

For the science nerd who loves to cook, this periodic time table cutting board is a surefire hit.  I's made-to-order and comes in maple or cherry.

If your guy like gadgets and music, this Altoid amp/speaker is THE gift.  Useable with all of his devices, this speaker can be connected to anything with a headphone jack (and even includes the cable).

I hope I've helped make your handmade gift shopping a little bit easier.  Don't forget to support local and handmade artisans this holiday season!

- Amy  

5 Tools that are awesome for your creative biz

Hello creatives!

Today I'm going to share with you some of the super helpful tools I've discovered that help make running my creative business a bit easier.  I'm sure this will be an ongoing series as I discover new things.  Confession: I'm kind of a junkie for techie things that help me run my business and fuel my creativity.  So expect to see more. But for now, I hope you find these helpful.

BlogStomp is my go-to tool for re-sizing images and collaging them together for both The Creative Wild and my photography blog.  It's a desktop program in which you import whichever photos you want and can either slap them together using the Freestyle option, or resize them as stand-alone images with the Batch tool.  You can even resize and direct post to your blog, Facebook, and Twitter right from the BlogStomp program.  It has a free trial and the singe-user program is only $50.  And worth every penny for the time it's saved me.

2.  Gramblr

Does it drive you crazy that you can't post from your computer to Instagram?  It drives me bonkers.  And while I still hope that will change someday, in the meantime Gramblr has stepped up and filled this gap.  It's a simple desktop program that you log into, upload your image, and add your caption.  You can also share to Twitter, tumblr, etc from the gramblr, but downside is that rather than include your caption, it just posts something to effect of "I just posted a photo on Instagram via Gramblr" and includes the link.  Also a downside is that you have to manually resize your photos to 650px x 650px.  But, at least you can upload a photo from your computer to Instagram.  
C'mon Instagram.  Get on that.

Okay, so this I love.  Google Keep is an app and online program that basically is a note-keeping service that you can add images to, have checkboxes, etc.  It's super user friendly and as long as you use the same google account, it syncs between the app on your smartphone and the on-line version.  I often have ideas for photoshoots, ideas for the blog, a vision of something creative I want to complete, etc, that pop into my head at random times.  Because these ideas often leave as quickly as I think of them, I write them down immediately.  Because I'm pretty much always within arm's reach of either my computer or my smartphone, I use Google Keep.  It's absolutely the best tool.  I love it.

I've talked about Design Seeds here on TCW before, and even used to post a colour palette on a semi-regular basis.  Design Seeds is a website features daily colour palettes, and it's excellent for colour inspiration.  There are endless colour combinations inspired by the environment around us.  It's hugely helpful for creatives in their design process.  

Hootsuite is THE social media tool.  With Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, Instagram, etc, etc, etc, it can be maddening to try to keep on top of it all in our creative businesses.  Hootsuite lets you post across a variety of platforms, schedule posts, and follow along with others.  I mostly use it for it's schedule function.  It allows me to sit down in an afternoon and schedule all of my posts for the week.  Just to be clear, this really only happens when I'm super organized.  Which is only about 6% of the time.  But in theory, I would schedule things all the time and be a social media master, with the help of Hootsuite.

What tech-related tools can you not live without?  Please share!

- Amy  

Why product photos matter

Hello creatives.

Happy Wednesday!  Today's post will be the first in an ongoing series of posts that discuss the importance of have really stellar photos of your products.  Actually, scratch that.  Not just of your product, but of you.  Of your brand.

In this world of creative business, we are as much a part of our business and our success as the things we actually sell.  Take me for example.  I sell photographs.  I could be the best photographer in the whole world, but if I'm kind of a jerk, dress like a hobo, or have as much personality as a doorknob, I'm likely not going to be very popular.  Clients and customers want to connect with something.  If they want to buy a stuffed animal for a child and don't care who's behind it, they're probably going to buy one from Toys R Us.  The reason why people will buy handmade, shop local, and support indie, is because they connect with you.

Which leads me to my next (and main) point.  In this day and age, where technology rules and social media seems more popular than actual human interaction, the majority of your supporters will be encountering you for the first time online.  Through your website, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, your Etsy shop, etc, etc, potential supporters will be making first impressions about you, your business, and your wares.  Let me preface what I'm about to say with this:  what's on the inside counts, don't judge a book by it's cover, and give people second chances.  Now scrap all that, because basically no one online is going to be doing that.  I'm going to use Etsy as an example.  There are somewhere in the vicinity of 900,000 active shops on Etsy, which means that tiny little thumbnail image that represents that product has to stand out amongst all of the other if you're going to be successful.  Also, having good images will get you placed in areas where you'll gain more exposure, like gift guides, curated treasuries, and Etsy finds.  Etsy is just one small example of a larger system, in which the same rules apply.

Take the images above for example.  Which notepad are you more compelled to buy?  Which one more clearly shows potential buyers the quality, size, and colour of the product?

Further to first impressions, your product photos will be how potential buyers get to know your products.  Your photos need to be an exemplary representation of your products.  Not only will having great images increase your sales, it will also reduce returns and unhappy buyers.  If your image is poorly lit, doesn't show the scale/size of your product, and/or has white balance issues that misrepresent the colour of your product, your customer may end up being very unhappy when their purchase arrives in the mail (or they may not end up your customer in the first place).  Oh, if you don't know what white balance is - stay tuned.  There will be more about that in later posts. Additionally, keep in mind that there's something about low quality photos that conveys to potential buyers that the product is low quality too.

To summarize, the reasons why product photos matter are:

1.  Photos tell the story of you, your brand, and your wares.

2.  Your photos are the public's first impression of you.  If they're not good, the public will pass.

3.  Good photos will give you an opportunity for further exposure.

4.  There are a billion other people trying to sell stuff too.  Your images need to stand out amongst the masses.

5.  Good photos will increase sales and reduce returns.

So there you have it folks!  Now you're well informed about why you need get/keep your photos in tip top shape.  Keep an eye on the blog for future posts that will cover equipment needed for great product photos (spoiler: you can take product photos with your smart phone), lighting, how to DIY your own lightbox, how to create dynamic photos, basic editing, and more.

Happy creating!

- Amy

Featured: MiKa Art

Everyone once in a while you stumble across something that just makes you stop, look, and then your heart melts into a puddle of mushy love.  This is exactly what happened when I first saw the work of MiKa Art.  In a cynical world, her art pieces are so completely and unapologetically loving and precious.  It's incredibly refreshing and reminds us all, even if just for a moment, about the really important stuff.

MiKa (which is her name) is a painter/illustrator/graphic designer based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  MiKa was born and raised in Northern Japan where, during the winter months, she would make things.  Her innate curiosity and desire to explore and experience new things fuels her creativity and after arriving in Canada, she began to sell her work via the internet.  MiKa attributes the internet to being the vehicle which made her success possible, and that the internet "opened the door" for her to start her creative business.  She sells her prints, art, small accessories and decorative objects on Etsy, Zazzle, and Society 6, to buyers from all over the world.

MiKa works from her home-based studio and cites her dog as being the number one thing she needs to fuel her creativity.  The simple act of walking her dog around her neighbourhood is enough to refresh her, body and soul.  She describes her dog as "a great companion who teaches and reminds me of the simple happiness of life."

I asked MiKa a few questions about her creative biz and she was kind enough to give us some insight into how MiKa Art runs.

What is your favourite part of your creative process?

The beginning of every project – when I’m sketching out whatever is in my mind. 

What challenges do you face in your creative business and how do you overcome them?

“Business” part. “Creative” and “Good Customer Service” parts are familiar to me. But “Business” part is something I have to keep learning every day.

Where would you like to see your creative business in 10 years?

I would like to say “I'm in the empire business.” 

Who are your creative inspirations?

Beavers. I recommend the documentary “Leave It to Beavers” to anyone. The beavers are super hard working, very skilled at what they do, and family-oriented. 

Thanks for hanging out with us, MiKa!  To see more of MiKa's work and to buy some of these cuties for yourself, check out her Etsy page, website, or Zazzle page.

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All images courtesy of MiKa Art

5 creatives you need to be following on Instagram right now

Hello creatives.

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  If Mondays are tough and just a bit soul-crushing for you, I'm here to help.  Or, if you're like me and Mondays don't mean anything to you because you just work all the time, then I hope this will inject some inspiration into your day and fuel your creativity.

Instagram is an vehicle for people from all walks of life to spread their creativity out into the world, and who better to follow along with than creatives themselves?  Here are five creatives who's Instagram accounts you must start following immediately.

1.  Bookhou

Bookhou is a multi-disciplinary studio based in Toronto and consists of John Booth and Arounna Khounnoraj.  They emphasize natural hand materials and small production pieces - and their work is absolutely gorgeous.  Warning, their Instagram page will have you yearning for their stuff.    

Paper Fashion is a website owned and operated by New York-based watercolour artist, Katie Rodgers.  Katie's incredible talent has led her to be commissioned by some pretty huge names, like Cartier, Kate Spade, Valentino, Coach, and more.  Her Instagram page is drenched in inspiration and lets you follow Kate through her life of uber-success in the art world. 

The Merriweather Council is founded and solely run by stich-wizard Danielle Spurge, based in Norfolk, Virginia.  Danielle creates embroidered hoops and initial necklaces and her work has been featured in numerous national publications.  Her Instagram page is filled with refreshing colour and pattern, and will keep you coming back for more.

Heart Meets Paper is owned and operated by stationary wonder and interior designer, Lisa Anderson.  Her work is simplistic and gorgeous.  She is based out of Ottawa and her Instagram page chronicles not just her work but also her life, which will make you want to be her BFF.

5.  Yuliya

Yuliya is a Norway-based wool artist who creates garments, scarfs, handknit accessories, felted jewelry, and more.  You can find her work in her Etsy shop and it's really very lovely.  Yuliya's Instagram page features snaps from her European surroundings and let me tell you - if you weren't already dying to go to Europe, you will be after this.  

Have a suggestion for an Instagram page we should check out?  Leave it in the comments!

Happy creating!

- Amy  xo