I Can-nock believe it…

As the title suggests, The Goblin and I popped up to Cannock Chase yesterday for a bit of fresh air and greenery. Despite not being hot weather types and nearly melting into a puddle of sunscreen and regret, we managed to have a lovely walk, look at some trees, and scoff down a picnic.

 

The beautiful, saturated colours of the sky and trees and flowers gave me all sorts of design inspiration, especially the pink Veronicas, which are the reason I’m seriously thinking about adding some tourmaline to my next collection. I need more bright pink in my life!

It did make me realise quite how many of my pieces are inspired by the shapes and colours of nature, which at first glance seems a bit counterintuitive from a designer based in Birmingham city centre. I’m not saying the city doesn’t inspire me too, because it definitely does, but nature makes designs spring to mind the fastest. What can I say, you can take the girl out of the countryside…

Fawning over florals

You can’t beat a good floral, so when I did my first capsule collection last Mothers’ Day, I came up with this little geranium pendant. I mean, when better to wear florals than March…?

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Available here

A fool for foliage

From pendants to hoops, I love a foliage motif. There’s just something about the way leaves organically curl together to make interesting shapes and textures that looks so beautiful.

 

Barking mad

I absolutely love texture, and the grooves of tree bark are a jeweller’s dream when recreated on shining silver. One of my most popular designs, my tree bark thumb ring, was actually dreamt up after a trip to The Goblin’s homeland of rural mid-Wales, which is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I’ve also designed two other bark-based rings, a slim, simple band, and a wavy, lightning-strike design.

 

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Available here

Rock star

Though not the first thing you’d imagine when you think of nature, I do love a good rock. It’s why I use so many rough gemstones in my work – they’re just more interesting shapes!

 

My hammered disc hoops are also inspired by the patterns on rocks that have been hammered by water, the elements, or foot (/paw!) traffic.

 

’nuff nature? Not yet!

And finally, I can’t resist a themed set, which is how my specifically nature-themed set of small gold hoops, featuring a leaf, a shell and a crystal quartz chip, came about…

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Available here

P.S. No, this post was not ghost-written by Eyal from Love Island…I just love green things too!

All images © Tiding of Magpies.

#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.

Matronalia: Ro-mums

It’s a well-known saying that ‘all roads lead to Rome’, but it actually turned out to be true when I was researching my last Mothers’ Day post. Almost every source on the origins of Mothers’ Day mentions the Roman festival of Matronalia, so I did a bit more exploration.

Matronalia, celebrated on 1st March, was the first day in the Roman festival year. It’s thought to have originated as a celebration of the new temple dedicated to Juno Lucina (Juno the lightbringer, long-suffering wife of Jupiter and ‘mother’ of the women of Rome) on the Esquiline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, in 375BCE.

The festival, a celebration of mothers and of women in general, involved gift-giving by husbands and daughters. Gifts would often include gourmet food, jewellery and perfume. Women also gave their household slaves the day off, and often cooked them a meal, which is interesting, because it’s reminiscent of the Mothering Sunday tradition where girls in domestic service were given the day off to go and visit their mothers, as well as to eat richer food than was generally permitted during Lent.

So, what sort of jewellery might Roman mothers have received at Matronalia? If you answered ‘probably garnet’, you’re bang on. The Romans loved garnets and imported them in their thousands. The garnet was also symbolic of friendship and affection, making it a perfect gift for Matronalia.

Jewellery expressing love and affection between husbands and wives was another popular gift:

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Sardonyx earrings inscribed with ‘Te Kale’, Ancient Greek for ‘To the beautiful one’

Roman jewellers were also fond of wire-wrapping other stones, including pearls, to create some gorgeous earrings:

And if earrings weren’t a Roman woman’s thing, rings were always a popular choice. Interesting fact: the reason Roman rings are so tiny isn’t just because previous generations tended to be smaller than we are now, it’s also because Roman men and women often wore their rings above the first knuckle. Yep, the Romans were ahead of the midi ring trend by more than 2000 years.

If you’re looking for an unusual gift for your mum this Mothering Sunday, look no further than my Etsy shop, where you can find historically-inspired handmade jewellery like this ammonite pendant:

The ammonite above is reminiscent of the Roman pin on the left, but if you’re looking for something more modern or themed around different historical periods, there is a whole range of delicate silver pieces in my store:

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.

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Check it out here

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.

About this blog

My name is Florence, and I’m a jewellery designer and maker working out of Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter.

How did Tiding of Magpies come about? Well, at the risk of sounding like a university personal statement, I’ve always been a passionate maker…no, really. I grew up learning and practising sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, painting, jewellery-making – pretty much anything I could make by hand. A History degree, a shift into marketing, and a move to Brum later, I’m pursuing my love of creating and of all things shiny.

I create eye-catching designs from sterling and fine silver and semi-precious stones, using a mixture of traditional and modern silversmithing techniques. I take inspiration from historical designs, found objects and 21st century minimalism, focusing on the possibilities of shape and texture within delicate jewellery pieces. Each piece I create is a reflection of both past and present; a vintage button could inspire a modern pendant, whilst techniques with precious metal clay might prompt the creation of a replica Tudor coin charm.

This blog is a mixture of my inspirations, historical titbits and a peek at my design process. Get in touch or leave me a comment – I’m always keen to chat to other creatives!