Boost Etsy Sales with Good Descriptions

For the last several weeks, I’ve been browsing Etsy for a purse. (Etsy.com is a website for artists and functional crafters who want to sell their handmade work.) I’m looking for a comfortably large purse, in leather, with interior pockets so the contents doesn’t drop to the bottom and disappear.

Ideally the purse will have an outside pocket. Because the sun is so fierce here in the summer, I’m looking for a brown or neutral, rather than black, which heats up too much.  It will shut with a zipper. Right, no magnets. You’ve read the other post in which I discover that magnets erase hotel room keys, metro cards and mess with your iPhone.

Two-spouted teapot

For some reason the same generation that spends the entire day on the phone or texting, grows strangely reluctant when it comes to describing a purse. There are lots of adjectives (“awesome”,” big”, “useful”) and much space spent on color descriptions, when a photograph could do the job of color description much better.  “A really awesome mustard-like yellow, not like Grey Poupon, more like oaker, but not dark,” reads one description. “Oaker,” I am assuming, is what passes for “ocher” if you are thinking in wood tones.

Conspicuously missing are what a customer finds important before purchasing: dimensions, the color of the lining, if the strap is adjustable,  the strap length, the exact material of the purse, the number of inside pockets, and how it closes.

The purses are often shown hanging in a featureless room, from a nail. There is no way to tell how big this thing really is. The same is true if the purse is being worn by a woman who is standing against a white wall. We can make certain guesses, but if the woman is short, the purse looks larger than it is.

Some simple tips for photographing your functional product:
1. No art shots.Product shots show the product to advantage. Please do. Light it evenly so the entire product can be seen well. This is not time for dramatic shadows. The photo on the right could be a pat of butter or a fold of paper, but it’s a square egg.

Square egg

2. Fill the screen with the product, not the model holding the product. Show the whole product, even if it means cutting off part of the model. Your customer is looking at the purse, even if you did not.
3. Show the product in use. A purse hanging in a tree, from a fence, or lying on a table doesn’t give the additional information that someone holding it would demonstrate.
4. Show the inside of the bag, too. I hate black linings, because my stuff disappears into the bottom of the bag. So I want to see the lining and the pockets.
5. If you claim you made the bag, and I can read a popular brand name on the label in the picture, I won’t believe much else you say about the bag.
6. Show the bag closed in one shot, open in another. That helps me decide if the bag is functional.

Write descriptions that help a reader make a decision about buying:
1. Include dimensions and which way they are given. Across, down and deep is a good order. If the purse tapers, say that. Purses that are much wider at the bottom than at the top make it hard to take things out.
2. Don’t use words that those of us who aren’t functional crafters don’t know. “Popper,” “drop,” “slip pocket” are familiar terms to you, but not necessarily to your clients.
3. Tell us the material. If there are many materials, tell us what is where. “Made of leather, pleather, naugahyde, cordura and brass” isn’t nearly as useful as “Leather on the outside, lined with canvas and brass rings on the straps.”
4. Keep the description short and use lots of verbs.
5. Link the characteristics of the piece (features) with how the client can use it (benefits). Saying, “the straps are really long” is not as effective as “You can hang the purse over your shoulder or wear it across your chest to keep your hands free.” That helps browsers visualize themselves carrying the purse.

Using clear photographs with simple descriptions will help you sell more of your work quickly.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach.

 

How Sweet It’s Not: High Fructose Corn Syrup

OK, the commercials are beating your eardrums bloody. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is “liquid sugar.” You’ve seen that the sweetness is the same, so those commercials are starting to make sense. Except this is not a chemistry class. It’s an economics class.

We are all now Children of the Corn. Image from blackherbals.com/

No one disputes that corn syrup is just as sweet as sugar. It’s the message behind the sugar that has my attention. If you’ve seen this  commercial about high fructose corn syrup, you know the point of the commercial is that corn syrup is very much like sugar, and fine in moderation. I began to wonder why this commercial is being run. Are we having a crisis in understanding sweetness? I didn’t think so. Here are some things to think about:

1. Who is paying for the commercial? As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.” The person who is paying for this must have a reason for running it.

2. Why is the message ‘high fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation” important to the person paying for it? What is the payoff? Perhaps it is time for a little chemistry after all.  HFCS contains reactive carbonyls, responsible for the damage diabetes causes. Sugar does not contain carbonyls. Because of the prevalence of HFCS in our food, we don’t know how many carbonyls we’re swallowing.

3. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is a sweetener, but I started checking labels and it is also in bread, ketchup, cereals, instant stuffing, Shake n Bake glaze, tonic water, Starbucks Frapuccino, Eggo pancakes, Heinz 57 sauce, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Robitussin cough syrup. And more food and medicine items than I can list. Why is it in items that don’t need sweetening or that could use sugar instead?

3. What does the company paying for the commercial want the result to be?

4. What is the complaint against high fructose corn syrup?

5. How is corn altered to create high fructose corn syrup? (I noticed that the word “natural” isn’t in the commercial. “Natural” is such a keyword there must be a reason it’s missing.

6. Who stands to gain financially from the sale of lots of corn?

Each answer will bring more questions. And eventually your discover facts you didn’t know before. That there is a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Texan shore. It’s the size of New Jersey and nothing can live there, there is no oxygen left in that part of the ocean. What happened to it? Well, all the organisms were killed off by the runoff from giant corn fields. The fertilizer is one culprit and the herbicide atrazine is another. All crops require some help, but corn is particularly energy-INefficient. Corn is grown in the same plot of land year after year, so it needs more fertilizer and herbicides than other crops.

Taxes on imported sugar keeps the price of corn used for sugar fairly low, making it easy to use and over time, gave us a taste for the sweet taste of it in food. Now the corn fields are being turned to fuel for our cars, and people are starting to eat less processed (and that means HFCS) food. So to keep up the use, we start to see commercials praising it as a yummy food used “in moderation.” Because we are not using it in moderation. In fact, we can hardly get away from it.

You can read more about HFCS in this Washington Post article. Meanwhile, those few questions turned up a whole interesting string of facts that are all tied together and make for some interesting diet decisions–about corn.

A spoonful of sugar might make the medicine go down, but don’t swallow everything you hear without asking some questions.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who asks a lot of questions and lives happily in ambiguity. See her work at QuinnCreative.com.

Technique Class: Metal, Paper, Cloth

Yesterday, Rosaland Hannibal taught a technique class to a group of quilters. Except two of us don’t quilt. And one was really a mixed media artist. There was a psychotherapist in the group. And I don’t sew at all. Now, before you start to feel sorry for poor Rosaland having to manage this motley crew, Rosaland was ready for us. She was teaching a technique class–we worked with dying cloth and paper, stitching metal to cloth, using tiny screws and nuts to attach cloth pieces, and using fusible webbing for surface decoration. Rosaland is a fearless creator who loves exploring, and welcomed us to do some creative stretching with her.

We started early and by 3 p.m. the whole class had created a pile of samples. Rosaland passed out binders and folders. By writing on the samples, taking notes on what we had done, each of us got to leave with a binder full of ideas, samples of what works and what didn’t, and notes to improve and grow.

Here are some of the pieces I learned from:

Wet-dyed cloth ironed on interfacing. You can see the edge on bottom, right.

I wet and wrinkled some cotton, sprayed it with dye, let the colors merge without control, allowed the cloth to dry, ironed it to heat set the color, then ironed the cloth onto stiff fusible interfacing. This put gave the piece a firm background.

Brass mixes well with cloth and paper. A close up of the project's fasteners.

Next, I used a piece of 30-gauge brass, punched holes in it, and fasted a piece of paper to it using brads and mica washers. I also added one brad just for decoration, and a large piece of mica which also held the paper. Decorations served both as decoration and fasteners. It worked really well.

Black, painted Misty Fuse on top. Below: a paper towel dyed with a orizomegami, a fold-and- dye technique technique.

Using black Misty Fuse, a fusible webbing that sticks on both side, I painted it, then added feathers, silver foil flakes, mica flakes and thread before fusing it onto a piece of black paper.

Cloth, dry-dyed, then embellished with leaf, foil flakes and painted Misty Fuse.

Using more black Misty Fuse, I attached a Bodhi leave onto a piece of dyed cloth, then put another layer over the leaf. I was surprised at how this very wispy fabric provides good coverage.

Here is a close-up of the leaf, to show the covering ability of Misty Fuse:

Close up of the same piece as above, showing details of leaf and Misty Fuse.

The class made me realize how much more useful technique classes are than project classes. True, in a technique class, you don’t go home with a completed project. In fact, you may not go home with anything to show at all. Here’s why I think technique classes rock:

1. You get to see a lot of different approaches to the same instructions. And a psychotherapist  interprets differently than a quilter.

2. Everyone learns. With so many different interpretations, you pick up more than one technique.

3. There is no competition. Everyone is processing information for her own art, not making sidelong glances at the next table to compare perfection.

4. Brainstorming is a natural by product of classes without competition. Everyone talks about ideas, sharing how they plan to use a technique.

5. You can ask questions about technique and get a variety of answers, giving your own ideas a twist or a kick start.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw art journaler.

Journal Page Frame

Framing a page in an art journal is a good way to highlight a poem or quote. You can also use a smaller frame for a pull quote (sure you can use them on your handwritten page), or an illustration.

This didn’t start out as a frame, it started out with my usual, “Huh, I wonder if. . . ” Having trimmed the edges off an ancient pile of tractor-feed paper (an old printer hooked to a computer), I was looking at the interesting slots in the paper. Where there are slots, there is a way to fill them.

Paper stitching on left, thread on top and right make a great journal border.

I cut a thin strip of paper and weaved it through the holes. This was slow going, as cutting an even, thin strip wasn’t that enticing. So I picked up a tapestry needle and thread, and sewed through two more pieces. It looked very stark, so I re-threaded the needle with gray threat and stitched back the other way. Of course, you can also draw this and make it look like a frame, but I like the thread/paper effect.

I finished it by cutting one edge with a wavy-cut, using a small box cutter, then gluing the two different pieces onto a journal page. Now to put something on the page. . .

Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a raw-art journal.

Making Peace With a Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi—Appreciation of the Imperfect and Impermanent
You are looking watching the big harvest moon rise in the September sky. You remember seeing this special moon–as big as your head–when you were a child and asking if this moon was the bigger brother of the regular moon. You smile at the recognition of the wonder of this moment.

That fragile moment of recognition is part of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi– the beauty of things impermanent or incomplete. It contains a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. As an aesthetic, it honors things imperfect and impermanent.

Bonsai and shadow © Quinn McDonald, 2007
Bonsai and shadow
© Quinn McDonald, 2007

A Different Approach to Success and Abundance
Wabi-sabi is the release of control. It avoids beating up the creative soul for not achieving perfection. Recognizing and embracing our imperfections allows room for growth. The only result of demanding perfection is certain failure. Perfection is impossible, and while we live in a culture that loves people who are “passionate” and “give 110%,” we seldom feel passion for our daily lives, and it is impossible to give more than all. Perfection is a cruel boss. It leads to giving up, depression and anger rather than eagerness for growth and improvement.

Living a wabi-sabi life means letting go of the stress of competition, relentless achievement, and replacing them with a willingness to let life find its own pace. It allows for space to trust that opportunities will appear, and a willingness to let the world unfurl without having full control over every activity. It is a life stripped down to what is valuable, rather than randomly acquired. It is not living without, but rather within.

In a wabi-sabi life, you recognize all things are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Once you open the door to imperfection, a creative force rushes into your life, making it possible to risk, to try different solutions, to explore your creativity fully. Which leads to living a creative life–work and business combine to create a full, rich and abundant life.

How to Live a Wabi-Sabi Life
One of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. We are always planning—what to have for dinner, what time to pick up the kids, what to do if that promotion doesn’t come through.

Bittersweet © Quinn McDonald, 2007
Bittersweet
© Quinn McDonald, 2007

We live our lives in the past, reviewing our mistakes, and in the future, planning on contingencies and how to handle what will happen next. The current moment is empty as we rush to control—ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children. We try to control our creativity, what we make, even our intuition.

Certainly planning helps organize our time and leads to action. But when we begin to plan for every possibility, guess at every motive, fill every second of the day with planned activities, meetings and obligations, we exhaust ourselves and our families.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Often we can’t influence the future. What we think of as failure is simply a lack of knowing. You don’t always have to know. And you don’t always have to be in control. Take off that heavy obligation of knowing and controlling and take three deep, slow breaths. Then decide right now. In this moment. To live and grow. And leave perfection behind. And let creativity take root in your life.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She teaches journal-writing classes, including Wabi-Sabi Journaling and raw-art journaling (c) 2007-10 All rights reserved

Fear and the Freelancer

Freelancers make a basic decision before they ever open the door:  What the core principles and values will be that holds up the company.  You use the same principles you use for your personal life. When you own the business, it takes on your fingerprints.

Some of the values were easy for me to choose when I began: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you

Fear is never a silent partner, accept it and will own your business.

spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: no fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not being perfect, fear of being talked about behind my back, fear of people disliking me, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided–no fear. I decided to stand and deliver my best or turn down the business. Sounds easier than it is.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, getting underbid, outperformed and over cautious. But fear was the big “Aha!” in my business life.

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table, you get a different picture.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid on purpose and then get the job for $8,000, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose
to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but there are a million great reasons to make decisions and always one lousy one–I did it because I was scared.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. (c) 2009-2010 Image: © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. No additional use without express permission of the artist.

Art-Science, Solstice, and Journaling

My first serious after-college job as as a biology teacher. I was a geeky kid, and I still love science. A little science makes for a lot of understanding. It makes me sad when I hear people trashing science knowledge as being impractical. It was knowledge of science that made me aware last January, that the downpour we were having would

1. cause the pool to overflow if it continued for half an hour.

2. I could not bail water out of the pool fast enough to prevent it from overflowing.

3 The backflush hose we had needed to be a larger diameter if I were going to use the backflush to get water out of the pool.

Sun position (top) from June to September, 2010

Perfectly understandable then, that science becomes a part of my raw art journal. Seed pods,  fruit ripening, hummingbird nests all become sketches in the journal. Along with the dates. One of my journals shows what happens in the nature area of my city-set house each month, creating a seasonal calendar.

It’s September, and we are nearing the solstice. Common knowledge says the sun rises in the East. Mostly true, but the sun swings North and South, hitting exactly East only on Spring and Fall solstice. Why do you care? You might not. I do, because my bedroom windows face East, and there is a time of year I need to pull the blinds if I don’t want the sun in my eyes at dawn, and a time of year I don’t touch the blind because the sun doesn’t come near the window. And even if it’s not a practical application, I love knowing that the sunrise is in a slightly different place every day. And it explains the I-95 freeway exit in Northern Maryland called “Northeast Rising Sun” They must have settled that town in summer.

The further north you live, the bigger the swing. People on the Equator don’t get any swing at all–which is how come the weather doesn’t change a lot at the Equator.

And that explains the page spread in my journal. I stand at the same spot on my patio, and mark where the sun is several times a season. It’s moving South faster now, and will continue till the end of December. But for right now, I know that when the sun rises behind a certain palm tree, we won’t have any more 110 degree days.

-Quinn McDonald is curious about the natural world and believes there are a lot of answers if we want to learn them.

Raw Art Photography

Maybe you could call them altered photos, but they aren’t really altered. They aren’t as much altered as they are found, like found poetry. When I see something more in an ordinary photo, it’s found art photography. I take the photo, and then print it out. Using colored pencils, markers, pastels, I bring out what I see. Sure, I could do this with Photoshop or some other digital program, but there is something profoundly interesting in using my hands and colored pencils or markers to bring out what I see in a photograph.

Art photographers show the world what they see through their viewfinders. I take photographs to document something I don’t see. . .yet. And then I allow it to appear. Camera as art tool.

Here is the photograph of the crack in the pavement–note the small vertical line on the middle and the slanting dark line on the right.

It looks like an ordinary crack in the pavement, until you take a closer look. . .

Here’s what I saw when I took the original photograph. I just coaxed it out with pencils and markers:

. . . and see the lightning storm and the washed out road.

What’s hiding in your photographs that needs to be seen and let out?

Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach.

In the heart of the city

There is a busy intersection three blocks from my house. A gas station, strip mall, big box store, car wash, and two restaurants fight for visibility. In the early morning, when I walk, I can hear the white noise of traffic as thousands of cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses take turns crossing the intersection.

Less than half a mile from this traffic-frantic spot is a bridle trail. Unpaved and seldom used, it’s a two-mile long enclave of country in the city. I don’t often walk it early in the morning, because the crunching gravel sets off the many dogs that live along the trail, and I don’t want to disturb the people who forgot to train their dogs. After the first house, the dogs bark at each other, not me, but it’s still a lot of noise. The wonderful part of this walk is that between sections of path, you cross busy city streets. Then it’s back to the country.

But the walk is amazing for its solitude and country appeal.

Bridle path half a mile from a busy city intersection

There is a tree house whose tree has worked its way through and around the house:

Treehouse with windows cut in for the branches

Fresh dates hang over a stucco wall, tempting passersby. But just once. Fresh dates don’t taste anything like the ones you buy.

Fresh dates, ready to pick. Don't eat 'em before drying.

Close up of the date bunch.

Dates grow in bunches

Finishing the Book

Dawn in September.

On January 11 of this year,  I began writing my book. The book contract has been approved, the schedule set. Today I finished the book. The last two days were the worst. Not because I was sad, but because it was the finishing-up part. Charts to make to verify other people’s Gallery entries. Charts for my own images in the book. How-to books are complicated. Counting to make sure I had all the steps in the right order. Making sure the image name in the text matched the image in the photography folder. The ugly part of writing a book.

But then it was done. I sat there, staring at the thumb drive that held two gigs of words and images. For about an hour, I didn’t know what to do next. I felt cut loose and drifting. Nine months ago, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art had been a concept. Now it’s a group of files. Next June it will be a book with an ISBN in the amazon.com warehouse. It does not feel like giving birth. It does feel like a lot of work.

There is a lot to do yet. There will be galleys to proof and changes to make, but for right now, my part is done.

For all of my life, I’ve been a night person. Over the last nine months, I’ve slowly become a morning person. I’m still fighting going to bed, but I don’t want to miss dawn. I love the dawns coming up behind the palm trees. I love watching the sun slide from Southeast to Northeast and then back again. I love walking in the early morning, before a lot of people make the streets busy. That very quiet time in the morning let me meditate, walk, think, and write. I would hate to lose it under a pillow.

What’s next? Right now, that’s not important. I just want to sit here and hold still, listen to the clock tick. Because the book is really finished.

Quinn McDonald writes for Somerset Studio magazine, and is a certified creativity coach.  Quinn  has just completed her second book. She knows there will be a third one.

For