Saturday, September 20, 2014

OK wow... many things! Changes and ideas and dreams and whatnot. It may surprise none of you to know that my plans have changed yet again. I do this a lot, but in my defense it's because I am poor and creative and I must go where the opportunistic roses grow.I like to think if I had the money to do the things I want to do when I want to do them...ah who am I kidding I'd still change heading every 3 days.


Anyway. So.

It started with a conversation, which lead to a dead end, then another conversation about that conversation, then another one...and then suddenly I had an antique shop! Yeah, a real bricks and mortar. Technically it isn't mine, I'm the manager of a shop for a family friend. But I have a fair amount of creative freedom and it's a great little shop where I can sell my things alongside other people's. And I can have an antique shop! So there was that.

So then I took all my stuff down from Etsy and put Sparrow Salvage back to photography and paper collage, and it can just meditate there and I'll add new stuff to it now and again. I still have Fagin's of course, and judging by the 3-suitcases-and-a-trunk pile next to the desk I'll be doing that for a while longer. Which I don't mind really, because it's fun.


Then I figured since I'm pretty much just going to do the bricks and mortar thing for about 2 years and then start living in the UK part-time (details to be magically engineered at a later date) I might as well just keep this blog and abandon all my plans for a fancy website and such-forth, because I can't get it to look right the antique shop I work at has it's own website (coming soon!) and I have Instagram, and this blog is perfectly good for all the online things I wanna do, like Fagin and all my tutorials and business kits I'm writing.

And that's enough for one girl, for now.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Old and New

So much tinkering! You guys I have been slack here I know, but that's only because I've been so busy developing behind the scenes stuff. I'm working hard on the new website and blog, detailing out everything that needs to be done for that. A whole new start, new ballgame, new industry- everything!


 I've put the last of my jewelry up in the Sparrow Salvage shop, there's a 20% sale on both the handmade and the vintage jewelry; I need to get rid of it in order to clean out and reload new inventory. A while back I pulled everything out like this and started selling vintage homewares, then it got hot, my depression flared up and I went back to jewelry. I needed the money and I didn't have the space to store the boxes upon boxes I need for homewares. I still don't! But it's my dream. Jewelry and I have done as much together as we ever will.


Full honesty- I know I do this a lot, I go back and forward on things. I come here and say 'I quit jewelry' and then a week later I'm back to it. Mostly I go back to it because I've enjoyed it in the past and I think 'if I can just see it as a job it won't be so bad'. But I can't. I have only a small portion of energy to get me through the day and I don't want to waste it on something that doesn't fulfill me. I am extremely lucky to have the circumstances which allow me to pick and choose what I do with my time, and I'm taking full advantage of that. I'll still be on Etsy after the weekend sale, just as a different kind of seller. Fagin's Daughter is still alive and kicking and will continue to be so until I run out of destash the end of the year. 

So - the sale lasts as long as the weekend does, then jewelry is gone forever. The handmade stuff will come here in a giveaway post that will both celebrate the good times I've had and introduce my new project. The new blog will be rather different to what's been here and I totally understand if someone of you don't want to follow me over there. Of course I'd be thrilled if you did! But I know a lot of you are here for jewelry, and are slightly less interested in retro cottage home decor. And that's okay, but for me, it's time to follow that dream. A seed of larger things to come.

Friday, June 6, 2014

This Week's Best Instagrams

I don't want to start another blog post about how I leave too much time between blog posts... oh except I just have. Oh well. Hopefully that's remedied now, as this week I finally finished my blog plan - which I'll tell you about later because it's super awesome and interesting and you learn stuff.

Anyway, part of that blog plan is regular posts, and themes can really help with that too. So this post is (officially at least) the first in a series of weekly posts where I share my favourite shots from my Instagram. I use IG for behind the scenes type shots - stuff I'm working on, shops I'm in, scenery I'm driving/walking past. It's a great little art journal to have with you everywhere you go. Though the posts will be 'weekly highlights' this first one is just my latest faves, so it includes May as well. On with the pretties!

I love doing paper collage but I hate the commitment of sticking the stuff together, so I'm doing a series of collages that are photographed instead of glued. I can then offer them as prints and everyone gets a chance to own the same piece.

Beautiful fabric from a thrifted pillow cover - almost exactly the same as the wallpaper we had in the hallway of my childhood home.

Inventory for the antique shop, which has to be packed away neatly all the time on account of I currently live in a slightly larger shoebox than the one in the picture and clutter drives me crazy!

pretty bits from the antique paper stash.

Edwardian lithographed postcards from Germany - wondering if I should sell these as 
prints as well as ephemera in Fagin's...

Vintage wallpaper score from eBay - the whole lot in one auction! I was the only bidder too, the listing was poorly explained and after 3 emails I still couldn't understand exactly what I was bidding on, so I took a chance and was well rewarded! Again on the theme of childhood wallpaper, that one in the front with the tiny green leaves and pale blue roses was in my bedroom.

Brass bells I scored last weekend on a day trip to a near-by antique center. They're brass which has been painted black and then carved back, so they look like Spanish damascene. I've never seen any like it! They will go in the shop eventually but for now they enjoy life on my desk shelf.

A few more scores - Australian cotton box and a pair of 1930s prints, from the same day I scored the bells; the tablecloths and the coat hangers were yesterday's thrift finds.

Sleeping beetle out the back of the local car mechanics - hopefully it's there for repair and not plunder. There really should be more bugs on the road, they're one of my favourite cars.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Weekend Wandering

 My brother joined us for the weekend down here in the country; the second weekend of every month is a double market weekend here, with the Coal Creek market and Loch market both occuring, one on each day. So we decided to make a trilogy of it and visit the weekly Kongwak flea market as well. (Except Dad was the only one that made it to the Coal Creek market, it was too early for me!)

 old house in Loch

I've been wanting to flex my photography muscles again and this time of year is perfect for it. Intense blue skies, big fluffy clouds and bonfire bright autumn trees all create an explosion of colours and depth. And of course the countryside with it's old houses and rolling velvet hills doesn't exactly hinder!

tissue pom poms, pressed tin, carved wood and an intensely pink blind in the beautiful old Loch church hall
 Loch's main street, alive with heritage and green - enticing glimpses of antique shops can be seen in the distance.

 The main interestion in town, complete with heritage Post Office and the rolling green hills that are seen from almost every angle in these local tiny towns, snuggled into the dales.

 Standing in the middle of the road is pretty safe in tiny country towns, plus you get great shots of the wide old streets and heritage shop fronts.

 picture perfect - usually I wait for people to move before I take my shots, but not this one...

 I wanted to explore this back lane - but I wanted to shop for antiques more! I meant to go back but shopping swept it from my mind. Next time perhaps.

A modest little house dressed in aqua blue and dusted with autumn leave.

I bought a few things  - plenty of locally grown veg and home made cakes, a 1970s tooled leather handbag (I've been searching for the perfect one for ages- finally scored!) and a splendid baby pink 1950s cake box. We were worn out by lunchtime and came home to a roast pork dinner with all the trimmings; every bit of it was local produce!

 Photography, country drives, home grown food and family company... I decree we should do Market Weekend every month. That's if I can master the art of getting up before midday...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Big Post of Feels and Projects

UGH- a month! It's been a month since I blogged! That is no way to run a railroad. I have been doing stuff though! Well mostly thinking, a little shop re-arranging, some dream making happening...

Okay let's run through what I've been doing. The catalyst was my 40th birthday at the start of April and surprisingly, that bought out a lot more stuff than I thought it would. Really, serious life questions. I didn't think turning 40 would be a big deal cause I usually don't go for all that society stuff. I don't think turning 40 was bad, just... a benchmark, I guess. Anyway most of it was down to the antique centre my dad and brother took me to, and how they had a ton of super awesome stuff I wanted to buy, but couldn't, because I don't have a real house to put it in and probably won't any time soon cause I was saving my life and money to go to England.

awesome things at local antique center - reminds me of my first 'proper' house back in the mid 90s

Some hard thinking later, I am no longer going to England. Shortest version of that story; I want a house, I want to get on with developing my career and I don't have the $14k required to go to England. That's fourteen thousand dollars. You can do a lot with that kind of money, and while happiness is important, I would rather go to England as an established person who has her life sorted out, not as someone who is hoping 3 months in England will sort the life out for her. So England is now about 4-5 years away.

Making this decision changed everything. Everything. My whole outlook has changed. I really had no idea how depressing day to day life had become, to not be able to buy household goods and furnishings, and to have to save every dollar I could spare (and that ain't a lot). I didn't actually realise being able to buy household goods was that important to me (though I know I'm a huge fan), but if I can go to an antique centre and be close to tears because 'I want that cupboard', that's got to mean something. And it does; the homes we live in must be comfortable and beautiful and reflect our own passions and aesthetics. The home is the spiritual center of a modern person, it is our comfort and our refuge. The home has always been important to me, and I haven't had a proper one for almost 3 years now.

In choosing to stay in Australia a while longer I've suddenly been able to start planning my life instead of feeling like I'm on hold. Now I have the goal that by the end of the year, I will be in a house I can call mine, with all my stuff around me and plenty of space to do what I want to do. And be able to have the family over to admire my white tinsel Christmas tree and my vintage candy shop themed kitchen and my entire room just for packing and shipping. Which I shall call the Post Office.

Etsy-wise things have changed. Fagins is back to selling just supplies and I have a mountain of stuff to add to it, since I've finally given up jewelry for the last time ever (properly!) and bagged up the last of my supplies. Once I get rid of my destash, Fagin will close. In saying that, it will no doubt last another year, since not only do I have a mountain of beads n stuff, I also have suitcases full of paper ephemera, fabrics, hand dyed textiles and yadda yadda. I also have a lot of supplies I bought to make scratch-built supplies, so I'll probably be doing that as my creative output and offering those.

Sparrow Salvage has been emptied of the last of my jewelry and I'll be having a giveaway sometime next week in order to pass along the last few things left from that stage of my life. I don't want to keep anything; I have a folder full of pictures that I can reminisce over, that's all I need. But sparrow salvage does not die, it transforms! Like a classy butterfly, it is now my vintage flagship store. It's where jewelry, fashion, homewares and whatever else takes me fancy will be listed.

 vintage bells - listed and sold

I want to be a vintage dealer for a profession, I've known that for years. I want to have a bricks n mortar for this eventually, and I hope to be exploring options for that this time next year. And I always knew that when that time came, it would be called Sparrow Salvage. My bricks and mortar will be more than just a vintage shop, but that comes down the track. For now I concentrate on my internet presence. Which includes pumping up my blog activities. I'll be moving my blog to my new website, more for a fresh start than anything else. When that happens I'll be putting up a last post here with the new blog linked so that anyone who wants to follow can do so.

I've also just opened a new shop for my photography. I was really creative with the name - Penelope Neil. I didn't go with a cute name because I don't want it to be one of those photography shops that just sells home decor prints. I mean that's what they are, but they're more than that. It's a hobby shop right now, but I want to develop a side-career as a freelance photographer for home and lifestyle magazines so it's operating as a motivator as well.

On top of all that I've just become the leader of the Australian Vintage team on Etsy! A position I volunteered for as the Aussie vintage sellers on Etsy really need a strong supportive base both for exposure and camaraderie. It's very quiet there right now- it went into hibernation when the captain's life overtook all his time. I'm hoping to get it pumped back up again because I want it to be huge, and i have a million ideas for how to expand it.

So that's the ridiculous amount of thinking and doing I chewed up the entire month of April with. But hey- I've always been the kind of girl who likes to overburden herself. Also I'm 40 now.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


It really doesn't feel good to me how long I go between posts. I gotta fix that. I should just post about any old crap like I used to on Livejournal. There's many facets to the Sparrow, you don't see half of them here! Note to self. Anyway- that's for later; what have I been up to? Well...

 Couple months ago Dad decided he wanted a high quality printer (he makes magic lantern slides for a hobby) and I chipped in so I would finally be able to print my own photos at home instead of sending them to the lab. It's fantastic to be able to set up a shot, process the image and print it out all in under an hour! This means I can start offering my prints again in Sparrow Salvage, something I'd been meaning to get back to but was hobbled by Etsy's new hurdle that you have to apply for 'permission' to sell prints that are printed by a third party. Yes, this is a new rule, just another strand in their tangled web of what is and isn't 'handmade'. I didn't especially feel like asking Etsy's permission, so I put it on the back burner. Til now! And I prefer it this way, I have direct control over my prints; full control over the colour tones and paper quality. What's more I can print them when they're ordered rather than buying a bunch of pre-printed and worrying they won't sell.

I've been making stuff, sorta. I took photos for a tutorial I was writing on my bangle earrings, then I started wondering if I wanted to do a tutorial on it, then I figured I might as well since I have it all written out, then I wondered does anyone even need a tutorial for these? Its pretty easy to figure out on your own isn't it? I don't know- I have an ability to look at something and within a few minutes I can figure out how it's done, so I don't know what people do or don't need instructions for.

Of course I've been busy with Fagin's - where most of my time goes. The whole process of buying stock, photographing it, researching it, watching the evening sun wash over it when it sits on my desk... I love it. Lately though it's been a case of listing it on Etsy and then deactivating it when it sells on eBay, where 90% of my sales come from lately. I know it's because my international shipping is driving everyone away; $25 is an extreme rate but I need to charge it in order to track the valuable items. I charge the same rate on eBay but there's a much wider Australian audience there, so there's more likelihood it'll sell. I don't like the idea of giving up on Fagin's though, so I'm keeping the jewelry for eBay and returning to supplies!

Especially as I've built up a serious collection of vintage necklaces that either break while I'm cleaning them (and I'm gentle!) or have been re-strung in the past and were poorly done, or ones that come in a bulk lot but aren't worth listing on their own for whatever reason. I had meant to either make new things with them or restore them, but I've tried several times and just don't have the interest. I'd rather sell the supplies to all you chaps, because I know you will make things you care about.

Here's a pair of earrings from one of those 'tries'. I mean they're nice n all, with those gorgeous faceted crystals from the 1930s and the miniature art forms of Kim's headpin and Petra's pottery stick... I tried telling myself it's just a day job and it helps raise money for England, but there's just no passion or challenge in making jewelry any more. I need to make a big sign to go over the desk 'do it for England!'
so homesick... 
Ahhh...that's better.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Death to the Sun King


 Rejoice! For supplies are once again trickling into fagin's daughter. I pulled them all during the summer heat and only sold jewelry for a while, most because I didn't want to have to go to the PO in all that 39 degree heat just to post $5 worth of beads. I love every order don't get me wrong...but if you've ever known heat that hits you like an oven door the moment you leave the house, you'll understand. Ugh- I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it... 

Thankfully that time of the year has now passed, and we're in that odd realm between summer and autumn, where the weather is a rollercoaster of lovely grey skies and cool winds, peppered with one or two scorchers. I've only had to use the AC once in the last 2 weeks, something of a miracle for early March. Usually by this point in the year I've burst into tears halfway through making dinner just from the sheer exhaustion of the merciless heat! 

Possibly the whole thing will make a liar out of me and we'll get a whole week above 30, but for now- grey sky bliss. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Much to my darling Wildthorne's delight, I am now on Instagram! Go find me, my hipster minions.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Photographing your online shop inventory - it's more than just good technique

So I've been writing a bunch of tutorials, and one of them is a photography tutorial, all about what kind of set up to use and various tricks for lighting and etc. But I'm starting to think that it's a bit unnecessary. There's a thousand tutorials out there on set ups and lighting and composition, why do you need me to tell you all about it?

Well I've decided you don't. But where I think I do have experience is in what kind of photo to take. How to represent your item, what to think about, how much trouble to go to etc. While I was thinking about this I was reminded that it's my turn to do a blog post for the Vesties team I'm a member of on Etsy. We're a team of vintage dealers who pride ourselves in having beautiful shops selling authentic vintage, so we share as much info as we can with each other in whatever field we're knowledgeable in. So if I'm sharing it with them I might as well share it with you too! Spreading the love is what I do.

So here's some free wisdom, gained from experience that (hopefully!) will help you create better images for your Etsy shop. Yes the first 3 are technicals and I said I wasn't bothering with that, but I'm only including them because I consider them very important - if you never learn your way around photography any more than these, you'll be OK.

Okay let's go!

Technical #1 - natural sunlight

Sure I know, everyone says it- because it's true! Though there are some truly amazing ways to set up an artificial lighting rig for any budget, fact of the matter is nothing beats Mr.Sunshine for the best results.Wait for overcast days and shoot as much as you can, when you can. Don't just shoot a few things and say 'that'll do' - it's good to have about a week's worth of listings ready to go on your hard drive for the times when weather and schedule are inflexible.

 Above, unedited shots of the same necklace using natural and artificial light. Though there is only a subtle difference, you can see below after editing there is still something 'off' in the artificial shot; the blues and yellows aren't quite right and the whole thing looks a bit too harsh and flat. Even after editing (see below) the lamplight shot is still somehow 'not quite there'. It might not look that different to you, but I'm holding the necklace in my hand right now and I can tell you, it's not the same colour as the lamplight image shows. Natural light is jut a flattering to an inanimate objects as it is to humans, so use it whenever you can.

Technical #2 - Any camera will do

Any camera is fine for shooting images for your shop- really! My first digital camera was purchased 10 years ago and still takes a great picture, even though it's only a 3.6 megapixel dinosaur. So get out your manual (or download it if you no longer know where it is!) and learn your camera's settings. Especially critical to good photos is white balance -a simple setting on your camera which will turn your yellowed or blue-soaked shots into more natural tones.

Above, changing the white balance has changed the light and tones drastically in these (unedited) shots. The center image is correct- on the left it is too blue and on the right too yellow. All 3 photos were taken within seconds of each other; the only thing that's changed is the white balance setting.

Technical #3 - post-process

Post-processing your images after you shoot them can mean the difference between a good photo and a great one. Not just perfectly good photos made better, but you can save low-exposed pics, or wrong white balance setting, or most frustrating of all, when purple doesn't want to come out purple. In the image below, the left half is unedited - straight out of the camera- while the right side has had basic post-processing in terms of light/contrast, colour adjustment and sharpening. You don't need Photoshop for this; Gimp is free and easy to use, and if you want more control you can get PS Element fairly cheaply on eBay. Consider it a good business investment!

That's the technical taken care of, let's move a bit deeper into some Research n Development. These tip will hopefully teach you to achieve pictures which both stand out from the search results and give you an improved social network presence. Practically every category on Etsy is flooded now and it's no longer enough just to have great photos - you gotta know how to flaunt it!

Know what you're shooting for

If you just head on into it randomly snapping images, you're going to have a bad time. Know what you need for the listing, and make sure all 5 images convey the whole piece without repeating themselves. Don't bother uploading similar or out-of-focus images, it's just a waste of time and gives the impression you don't know what you're doing.  Make sure you have an image that shows the object in it's entirety as well as images which show details like clasps on jewelry, lining in bags, labels in clothing etc. An Etsy specific tip- make all your images landscape orientation (wider than they are long) and you will avoid those ugly grey edges.

Take as many pics as you can - the more the better. Above is a cropped screenshot of my listings folder; I average about 20 shots for every item I list; from these I'll narrow it down to the best 5 and discard the rest. Being able to pick the good apples from the bunch is much better than just dealing with the few you've got.

Love your background

There's a lot of people that will tell you the best background to use is the one everyone else uses. I can't see the sense in this- your background is what makes your shop; it showcases your inventory, captures the heart of your target market and helps you accentuate your brand (what they now call 'tell your story'). Used to be that everyone was keen on the pure white background, though lately I'm seeing a rising trend in a dove grey backdrop. Don't fall for it.

Above is a shot of various papers and old book covers I'm currently exploring for backgrounds; I change them up a little now and then to inject a bit of 'fresh air' into my shop. If you set yourself apart and define your style by having a signature background, soon enough people will recognize it by sight outside of Etsy. This is especially helpful on social networking sites where credit of the original image can be lost. A distinctive visual style will work infinitely better than any watermark. If you want more help on what background is right for you, check out my older blog post on the subject.

Props are your friend

Backgrounds aren't the only thing that can set your style - a consistent prop or display is a great way to create unity in your shop, especially if your stock has a large variety. If you sell a lot of something particular like jewelry, but in many different styles, the same one or two jewelry cases or bracelet prop can bring a cohesion.

Boxes, tins, candlesticks and small china dishes all have their own personality. If you have a tea set or some fine dishes to sell, fill them with delicate pastries or rustic bread rolls. Furniture is especially in need of props- that antique kitchen table will look even better laid with a tablecloth and garnished with a chair or two. If it all seems a bit too much like hard work, just keep the prop shots for listings where the selling price makes it worthwhile.

Follow the leader

Your first image (which I call the leader) is the one that gets you the attention, so make sure it's a sparkler. It doesn't necessarily have to be one that shows the whole object, some shops have a style that relies on showing just tantalizing glimpses of details. Your image isn't just there to illustrate what's for sale- it's also going to work it's butt off networking and advertising you all over the internet. It may seem as simple as standing out from search results, but from there it's noticed on activity feeds and in a user's favourites. Before you know it it's in treasuries and being shared on Pinterest or Tumblr and featured in blogs. When people choose images for these things, it often isn't really about what's for sale, it's about the picture of the thing that's for sale. The more engaging your image is, the more likely it's going to get around.

This little blue dish was in my shop for about 5 months before someone bought it; in that time however it racked up an incredible 636 hearts and 89 treasuries! This padlock gained 253 hearts and 44 treasuries.They weren't particularly expensive objects, but the images were so admired that they paid for themselves time and time again in advertising for me and were seen by thousands of people. And I didn't have to lift a finger!

Change is good

Once you have something listed, it could run it's whole 4 month listing time without being purchased. When it comes time to renew expired listings, take a look over it and make sure there's nothing that might be a problem in it's being sold. Are the images showing the right scale, the texture on materials, that there's no chips in a glass rim or scratches in the leather? Maybe the first image jut isn't appealing; if it has a lot of views but not that many treasuries, maybe it needs a better image. Many's the time I've had a listing that wasn't selling, so I changed the picture and boom- off we go.

On the left is the leader image I originally used on the listing for a tie. It was okay, but the board didn't give an idea of scale and the tie looked too long for it's 1930s origins. In the right image, I used the male torso; it gives a nicer idea of scale and looks more appealing (and I can show the whole tie in another image in the listing). Sure enough, using the vintage mannequin rather than the board gained me much higher views. 

My final tip is - don't overdo it! These things take time and are filled with trial and error- I doubt there's a single 'online merchant' who's 100% confident they're doing everything right. What's most important is that you're happy with it, and it's working for you. Not all your listings have to be perfect treasury fodder, not all your images have to be prize-winners. Aim for about 80% gold and 20% glitter.