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In Conversation with Rhea Bailey of Halona Studio

I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon Rhea Bailey’s Instagram feed (maybe from another ceramist??), but I do remember scrolling through her feed and thinking about how beautiful her ceramic pieces and photography was!

We hopped on a Zoom call a few weeks ago and chatted about her journey into photography, ceramics, and the story of how she began to sell her work online. She’s an amazing woman and I had so much fun chatting with her.

Enjoy the interview!

Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into ceramics and what type of items do you make?

My name is Rhea. My studio is called Halona Studio and I make functional ceramic pieces like plates, bowls, and things like that. The way that I found pottery was really by happenstance. I’m a public health practitioner, and I left a long career in that field in May of 2018. A colleague of mine at the time was an artist and I always admired the fact that she had a creative practice in addition to her work as a social worker.  And so, at my going away party when I left, she gifted me a set of acrylic paints.

So I signed up for an acrylic painting class. On the first day of class, the instructor was a no-show, so I was told that I could either come back next week, or I could sit-in on the ceramics class that was also starting that night. Long story short, I fell in love with ceramics that evening and never left.

What made you decide to sell your pieces online? How did that manifest?

It really came about rather serendipitously. The interest in my work manifested as a result of the recent uprising and quest for the liberation of Black people.  In June, immediately following the murder of George Floyd’s there was a sudden uptick in attention to Black lives, and subsequently a newfound interest in Black-owned businesses.  Somehow my work was found on social media and it began to be shared quite a bit. At that time, I gained a number of new “followers” and inquiries about how to purchase my work.  But there was one problem, I wasn’t selling my work.

To be honest, I had thought about selling my work, but I felt like that was down the line well into the future. I felt like I wasn’t ready yet and that perhaps my work wasn’t good enough. But with so much interest and inquiry, I decided to give it a shot. I guess the attention I was receiving served as a source of validation – a shot of confidence. So I decided to seize the moment and see it as an opportunity to further my dream of becoming an independent artist. I made a website and officially launched my first shop which by my standards was a great success! I’m working towards launching my second shop in the Fall.

That’s really moving to hear that’s how your business came about. It’s very different from the “I had a friend/family member tell me I should sell my art and so I opened up an Etsy shop” story you often hear.

I appreciate that. But it is not lost on me that in order for me to move closer to my dream, a man had to die – actually countless Black people had to die. As I sit here in my home, I am not on the frontlines as many of my brothers and sisters are. But I do feel very connected to our collective quest for liberation. And for me, that means having the space to be fully actualized, and the freedom to be fully self-expressed. I think this moment helped do that in a way I didn’t necessarily think was possible.

How did you learn to take photos of your pieces? I know you do street photography and also photograph families, but how did you translate that to photographing your work?

Again, It’s another one of those “right place, right time, serendipitous” stories. In 2013, I had two small children and I wanted to learn how to photograph them better using a “real” camera as opposed to my phone.  So, I ordered a book on Amazon that would teach me how to take photos in manual mode on my husband’s old DSLR camera. 

I devoured that book and I became obsessed with photography. I love the medium of photography because it freezes time. Photos tell the stories of our lives. Anyway, my entire photography career had been spent taking pictures of people, families, and my community. So when I started doing ceramics and I had to take pictures of my products, I applied what I knew about light and composition and translated it the best I could to product photography. The truth is I learned through practice, experimentation, and making lots of mistakes. And I’m still learning!

What’s your process for photographing your pieces? Do you have a certain spot where you take all your photos?

I particularly love window light, especially when it’s from one direction, so I usually set-up near a window and place two pieces of foam core on a chair in an L shape. I then use another darker piece of foam core to block some of the ambient light so that window light is the strongest. That was the set-up for most of my project photos in the beginning. 

Recently, I’ve been really attracted to a different type of aesthetic, which incorporates more hot light and produces long shadows. Think of sunlight at high noon. I like to photograph outside on my deck around 1 or 2 pm. My set-up is still pretty simple and involves a couple of pieces of foam core (foam core is my best friend). It creates these wonderful shadows and shines a spotlight on the piece. I used that method for my product shots on my website. As I said, I’m constantly learning. It’s really all an experiment and mostly involves what looks and feels good to be at the time.

What’s one thing you wish you had learned in the beginning about photographing your products?

One of the things I wish I had learned, and still want to learn, is artificial light – flash photography and studio lighting. I do have some lights and strobes, but I don’t really use them very much. I use them for self-portraits when I’m inspired, which is not very much these days.

What advice would you share with somebody who’s learning how to photograph their products?

Find a window and turn off all the overhead ambient light. Place your piece on a chair or a table and use a sheet, a piece of foam core, or whatever you have as a neutral background. Shoot your piece from various angles. Play around with it.

In what ways has photography been important for your business and your art?

It’s really everything. I’ve never done craft fairs or in-person sales. The way I get my art out into the world is through social media. People generally find my website through social media and I think the higher the quality and the more attractive my images are, the greater the opportunity I have to sell my work. People are introduced to my work through photos, and my hope is that they are both intriguing and tell a story. 

What’s happened since getting yourself out more in the maker/artist world? Have you dealt with any challenges?

As a maker and a ceramicist, I feel like I’m still playing in the shallow end of the pool. I feel like I’m still quite new to this maker/crafter/artist space in a way. 

I do feel like I’m part of a really loving and supportive community. I’ve found fellow artists and makers to be so helpful and encouraging. One local artist saw on Instagram that I had lost access to a kiln due to the pandemic and connected me with a local maker who was renting space in his kiln. I have to give her a shout out. Her name is Niki Shelley of Manu because she’s just a beautiful person. She’s been an incredible support. 

In terms of challenges, I’m still not super comfortable with putting myself out there in terms of social media marketing, and marketing in general. I’m a bit shy and private so tooting my own horn it’s a strong suit. I’m learning how to show more of myself and not be so self-conscious. But I know it’s something I need to do to be successful. 

What do you love most about what you create?

I love the process. I appreciate the slowness of the practice – the many, many, MANY stages and steps that must occur in order to make one ceramic piece.  This art form is a daily lesson in patience, staying present, and in nonattachment. It has healed my soul in many ways.  The process that it takes for clay to manifest from its raw form to a bowl or mug is pretty extraordinary. 

What’s one thing most people might not know about you?

I think most people that know me as a ceramic artist would not know that I am also a trauma-informed, public health practitioner, and social worker by training. I have a consulting business called Radical Joy Consulting. I’m still very much focused on public health. From the healing of communities and populations to helping shift power from those who historically had it to those who have been shut out of it for generations.

I don’t share much about that side of me on social media so I imagine folks don’t necessarily know that about me. I’m an entrepreneur 3x right now with consulting, ceramics, and photography.

Who or what are your biggest influencers? 

The first person that comes to mind is Justina Blakeney. She is a designer, artist, mother, and woman of color. I really love her work, but I mostly love what she stands for. She is grounded in her identity as an artist and an overall free spirit. I view myself in a similar light, but I don’t always know how to communicate that to the masses in a way that feels authentic. She models that for me.  I admire the way she tells her story, her vulnerability, and how she celebrates herself in a beautiful way. 

There’s also another ceramicist Golden Ratio Clay Works that I love – both her work and her as a person.  She’s someone who (back in the day without knowing me) got on a zoom call so I could pick her brain about how to run a business as a ceramicist. This was a long time ago when I first left my career and well before I had sold a single piece. She didn’t have to do that and I will always be so appreciative of her generosity. I’m enjoying seeing her trajectory and how she’s come into her own as a businesswoman in this field. She’s a huge source of inspiration for me. And fun fact: She’s also a fellow photographer turned ceramicist. 

What’s your favorite thing about having your business?

The first thing that comes to mind is freedom and flexibility. As a mother, that’s very important to me. I feel really lucky that I now have the freedom to set my own schedule and have more control over the pace of my work in a way that I haven’t had to this point. 

I’m also working in a field in which I feel extremely passionate. As the old cliche goes, my work doesn’t feel like work.  I understand what people mean by that now. When you are doing something that lights you up and you get paid for it, there’s nothing better. It’s really a dream come true. And even though my ceramics business is still very new, it’s been amazing to pour myself into something that feels so right. 

You can find Rhea online at her website and on Instagram for her ceramics and her photography.

Why You Should Be White Balancing Your Camera Before You Take Your Next Product Photo

If you’ve ever purchased something online, you know how important photos are when it comes to purchasing. You want the photos to look like they accurately represent what you’ll receive in person and if they don’t, you might not be happy.

One of the things I’ve heard from makers is how they have trouble with getting the colors right on their products in a photo.

One way to get the colors right in your photo is through white balancing.

Have you ever taken a photo and wondered why it looked a little yellow? Or reddish? Or even blue or green? This can be really apparent if you’re photographing a product against a white background. Sometimes the colors look a little off which isn’t great for selling a product online.

It turns out light gives off different color casting whether it’s from the sun or a light bulb.

So how do you fix color casting that shows up in your photos?

Adjust the white balance BEFORE you take a photo.

What’s white balance?

It’s a way to correct color casting you get from different types of light sources so your photo looks more or less natural. 

Now all digital cameras nowadays usually have an option to adjust the white balance. You’ll have to check your camera manual to see where you can adjust the white balance if you can’t easily locate it.

For my digital point and shoot camera, these are the icons and what each means:

If you use your phone to take photos, check your camera app to see if you have the option to adjust the white balance.

My phone’s built-in camera app didn’t have the option to change the white balance, so I downloaded the camera app Camera FV-5 for Android. This app gives me a lot more control over the camera in my phone like being able to adjust the shutter speed, ISO and so on I couldn’t get with the built-in camera app.

Here are the options for white balance in the Camera FV-5 app:

You might be asking, “Why do I need to be able to change the white balance when there’s an auto option? Isn’t that good enough?”

It can be good, however, your camera can get it wrong. Especially if you’re mixing light sources or if the light conditions are too bright or dark. Your camera can’t always read the lighting correctly so having the option to manually adjust it is ideal so you can decide which looks best for the environment you’re taking photos.

If you’re taking photos on a clear, sunny day, use the sunny option. If it’s an overcast day, try the cloudy/shade option and so on.

Here’s an example of how different each of the settings might look. I took these photos on a partly sunny day in a north-facing window.

Different color casting with natural light

Something to remember when using natural light is the color contrast will vary depending on the weather and the time of day so keep this in mind! When the sun rises and sets, the light may look a bit bluer or red or if the clouds keep rolling by the sun, you may need to keep changing the white balance.

Mixing light sources

Now before you white balance, do your best to make sure you’re only using 1 type of light source. In other words, don’t mix light sources if possible.

If you’re using natural window light, make sure you don’t have any overhead lights or lamps indoors on. Turn them off and then check your white balance. Adjust it to what looks correct for your light conditions. 

If you’re using artificial light during the day, close any blinds or curtains to keep natural light out. It’s also good to keep your light bulbs all the same. Mixing a warm fluorescent bulb with a cool fluorescent bulb may throw off your colors.

And if you’re using a lamp to take photos and it has a lampshade, make sure it’s white because if it’s any other color, it will create a different color cast in your photos.

Be sure to still editing your photos!

After you take your photos, you’re not out of the woods yet! 

When you edit your photos, make additional white balance adjustments if needed. Many editing apps and software have a white balance feature. Don’t stick to the auto white balance because as I mentioned above, it isn’t always correct. I highly recommend adjusting the white balance manually so you can adjust the colors in your photo to look as accurate as possible. I also recommend you adjust the brightness, contrast, etc., accordingly to make your photo look the best it can.

By adjusting your white balance before you take photos, it can make editing easier and less time-consuming and help your product photos look as close as possible the real thing in person.

Do you change your white balance before taking photos? Let me know in the comments.

Why Connecting With Your Email List Can Be A Game-Changer For Your Handmade Business

So back in the day (pre-pandemic) when you used to do craft shows, did you ever have a sheet of paper on your booth table inviting show attendees to sign up for your newsletter?

If you did, when’s the last time you emailed them?

If you’ve been regularly emailing them, you’re ahead of the game and doing awesome!!

But if you haven’t emailed them in a while or EVER, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.

So why is having a mailing list important? 

If social media disappeared tomorrow (and remember we’re still in a pandemic!), would your business survive without it?

Social media is great for brand awareness, but not always the best way to turn your followers into buyers. Social media is passive. Followers can choose to stop and read your content or keep scrolling which a lot of us do. Plus, we don’t see content from everyone we follow because the algorithm changes all the time and prioritizes certain posts and accounts more than others.

But with a mailing list, you’re in charge of it. You don’t need to depend on algorithms whatsoever. So when someone gives you their email address to sign up for your mailing list, they’re basically saying, “I want to hear from you, please email me.” 

Those email addresses are worth way more than any follower on social media.

So if you’re sitting on a list of email addresses you haven’t reached out to in forever, it’s time to draft up an email!

But now you might be saying to me, “Okay, but I don’t know what to say??” Especially if you’ve neglected to reach out to them in months.

First off, if you haven’t emailed them in ages or ever, you can start off by being honest about what happened. 

“Sorry I’ve totally dropped the ball about emailing you when you signed up for my newsletter. I’ve been (insert reason like had a baby, busy with family, lost my job, had a lot going on personally, etc.) but I’m back and I want to share with you what’s going on with me and my work!”

So what do you once you get the “Hey, remember me??” email out of the way? 

Now you can start engaging and connecting with them.

If you want to sign up for my newsletter, click here and you’ll receive a free PDF on how to get perfectly lit product photos using natural light. 

But what should you share?

First off, don’t only email your list when you’re selling something. People don’t like getting “come buy my stuff please” type emails all the time. Sure it can work for e-commerce companies, but you’re an artist. You’re creative. You have so much you can offer and share with your people! 

Here are some suggestions on what to share:

  • Give a behind the scenes peek into what you’re working on
  • Share your workspace or studio
  • What’s been your journey into what you do/make?
  • What has been your biggest lessons so far in your business?
  • What inspires you?
  • Special/exclusive events/products coming up (give them 1st dibs on these things!)
  • What’s going on personally for you (home, family, life, etc.)?
  • FAQs

Speaking of special events…

A maker I know was working on launching their first-ever website and online shop. They encouraged people to sign up for their newsletter because they wanted to give subscribers first dibs on their products when their site went live. I kid you not, they updated their social media a day later and said when they sent out their first newsletter with links to their website and shop, they sold out of all their products within 2 hours. How awesome is that?? That my friend is the power of having an emailing list for your handmade business.

Going above and beyond 

If you’re someone who wants to go a step further and give value back to your subscribers because, really, why wouldn’t you?? This is where knowing and understanding who your audience is really valuable! 

Let’s say you make jewelry. Like many of us, your subscribers might be spending more time in their loungewear and PJs than dressing up in their “I’m going outside in public” clothes. So, why not share WFH outfit inspiration that would go great with different jewelry pieces you create? It can help inspire your subscribers to still feel good in what they’re wearing, even if it’s just at home.

If you make ceramic mugs, why not share some of your favorite coffee or coffee brands your subscribers can check out? Or find some tea recipes they can brew at home and sip from your beautiful mug. 

If you make onesies for babies, why not share a list of baby books recommendations for soon-to-be parents? Or how to get common stains out of the clothing so they’re able to make your onesies last and still look great.

If you’re working to raise your awareness around the Black Lives Matter movement, why not highlight Black makers in your niche?

There are so many ways you add value to your subscribers that go beyond notifying them when you’ve restocked your shop. 

So how often should you email them?

I’d encourage you to email them regularly. I email my list once a week. That may seem like a lot, but it helps me to stay on schedule and stay connected with my list. If you don’t email your list very often or are inconsistent with your emails, then they might not remember you. If they don’t remember you, they’ll be less likely to open your emails and possibly unsubscribe from you.

I could tell you who I get weekly emails from off the top of my head. But beyond that, it’s a lot harder for me to remember who I’m subscribed to because I don’t see their emails as often or they’re more inconsistent (once or twice a month, etc.).

When you forget about your mailing list

People don’t generally give out their emails easily because who the heck wants more email? But when we do, we do it because we want something in exchange for it. So when we sign up for something because we are told we are going to receive something and we don’t, it’s disappointing. 

Someone I follow on Instagram sent me a message in April saying they were starting a newsletter. I was so excited because I like their content and I don’t always see everything they post on social media (another good reason to have an email list!).

So I signed up instantly. But that’s all that happened. Still to this day, I’ve never received an email from them. It’s already the end of July. What’s even more frustrating is they’ve been promoting online events and other great things on social media, but dropped the ball on letting their subscribers know any of this. So unless I check their social media regularly, I wouldn’t know about anything.

Keeping up on social media is exhausting so the idea of getting an email once a week and getting priority to register for events and so on would be ideal.

Just a few things for you to think about.

Take care of your list

Whether you have 5 subscribers or 50,000 subscribers, they want to hear from you. They took the time to give you their precious email address so it’s your turn to provide them value. They want to learn more about you and your work. And if you’re selling something, they’re more likely to want to buy from you because they’ve gotten to know you and you’ve stayed connected to them.

Plus, it’s pretty awesome to have a list of people who are basically your VIPs. Make your VIPs feel special. The more you take care of them, they’ll in turn want to support you.

So, what’s something fun you’re looking forward to sharing with your email list? Let me know the comments!

If you want to sign up for my newsletter, click here and you’ll receive a free PDF on how to get perfectly lit product photos using natural light. 

 

 

The 1 Thing That Will Make Your Online Shop Look Professional And Cohesive

Back in the old Etsy days, photographing your product on a white background was the thing to do. Part of it was because listings that were photographed on crisp, white backgrounds were more likely to be featured in the now-retired Treasuries feature. Treasuries were member curated galleries that showcased different sellers to help boost awareness of the many makers who were selling on Etsy. 

Now I’m not 100% sure how Treasuries were selected to be featured on the coveted Etsy front page for all to see. But more often than not, Treasuries that ended up on the main page rarely had listings that were photographed on non-white backgrounds.

Forest Bags

While Treasuries are no longer a thing on Etsy, photographing products with a white background is still a great option because it makes almost any product look great. It’s also a requirement for many e-commerce websites, especially if you’re looking to sell on Amazon Handmade.

Whatever background you end up photographing your products on, I strongly encourage you to photograph ALL your products on the same type of background.

Why?

  • Your listings will look more cohesive 
  • Your shop/website will look more professional

Here are a few examples of some shops I found on Etsy that have photographed their products with the same background. I also love some of the creative backgrounds some have chosen!

My Bali Closet

I love the earthiness of this background for this shop. It allows the dresses to really stand out because it’s simple and also it adds texture to the photos.

 

Will Work

Jewelry can be tricky to photograph, but this shop has excellent photos! While the background is darker and has some color, it doesn’t take away from the product whatsoever. The surface the rings are photographed on is dark enough not to compete with the rings while still adding some texture.

 

BBBsuppliesCRAFTSHOP

While this shop chose to go towards using a white (or off-white) background, it makes the different color washi tapes pop! You can easily glance at their listings and view quickly what options you have to select from. Plus, I love how they displayed some of the tapes by rolling it out on the surface with the roll standing up.

 

In The Weeds Apothecary

I love this wood textured background! While some of the props I find a little distracting, all their packaging is clean and simple which makes them stand out against the wood. It gives a feeling of getting back to nature which makes sense since they sell handcrafted herbal products.

 

Handmade by Wijntje

This seller decided to keep their background neutral but added a darker surface that still allows their crocheted dolls to stand out as the main star in their photos.

 

Avila General Store

This shop went the route of photographing on a white background to keep it simple. Their pieces look beautiful against the white background even though their pieces are almost white too.

 

Felt Art By Mariana

While this shop has some bokeh vibes going on with the background, it works because it’s not competing with the products. It also gives a more whimsical, dreamy feel which compliments the products.

 

Silver Dollar Candle Co.

What I love about this last shop is you can see they’ve been going through the process of reshooting their products. The bottom are their older listings which you can see didn’t always have the same background. Their recent listings all have been photographed on a simple white background giving the shop a more cohesive feel.

There’s a lot of options when it comes to picking out what background you want to photograph your product against so don’t be afraid to do something different. Just be sure it makes sense of you and your brand.

Which shop’s background is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!