Saturday, October 1, 2011

School House Craft Conference Part One

Last weekend I spend much of my time at the School House Craft conference (where we were all schooled in the business of craft).

"I want to live inside this daydream" 2011 Blue Algae Creative

In a nutshell it was a three day conference in Seattle (so close to my house that I got a prize for coming the least distance to attend. The prize for the farthest distance went to someone  from Nebraska I think.) focused on the ins and outs of building, maintaining, growing, and/or making a success of a craft/handmade based business. It was quite enlightening, and I've come away with such a stronger sense of where my energies should be focused, how I need to use the skills I have, and what skills I still need to learn. In a word: Focus. Focus is the key here. 

I, in fact, found the information so valuable and motivating that I thought I share some highlights with you all.

The first talk I went to was Blogging 101, a panel consisting of 
Blair Stocker: Wise Craft

I chose this panel because, although I have been blogging for 6 years, I've been really wanting to get inside the heads of very successful bloggers and see if their experiences have been similar to mine or if they see the world of blogging totally different.

In general, I can say, they confirmed most of my instincts which I found to be very reassuring.

**Italisized verbiage is my own input/interpretation, not something said in session.

Why Blog? As a creative entity (person or organization) blogging can be important in that it creates a deeper identity associated with your creative endeavor. People like stories, and particularly along with creative product. I think that often people are somewhat mystified when someone has the skill to create something that they can't, and often I think they want a window into that mystery. Blogging can do that. A website is about the nuts and bolts of who you are, what you do, where you can be found, and how to purchase from or contact you. A blog makes it all personal in terms of knowing more about the person behind the magic and/or how they do that thing they do. 

How to grow our presence &/or following? 
*Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, etc.
*Keywords / Tags
*Feeds - make certain your blog is open to feeds by going to feed services and signing up. (feed burner, google reader, etc.)
*DIYs get attention
*Respond to comments - so that readers don't feel like they are reading in a vacuum. It's a kind of thank you for investing the time to read what I've written.
*Set high standards for your blog content so that readers feel you are a reliable source for what you are offering. Reliability.
*Link to other blog content that is similar to your own.

Blogs that work, according to panelists:
because they are thoughtful, have a clear point of view, are honest and authentic, and they foster connection.

more after the jump

Blair's blog picks:

Anna Maria Horner
Anna Maria is a sewing book author, fabric and pattern designer, and mom of a large family. Her life and her words seem to have as much cheerful, vivid color and pattern as her fabrics do, and I love her sense of humor and design sense. She often talks about the making of her products, how and why they came to be, which is always very interesting to me as an artisan.
Site: Blog:
Design Mom
A lot of the reason I love Design Mom is because Gabrielle Blair has a fabulous life (lives in Normandy, has 6 kids and seems to take it all in stride, stylishly to boot.). I think she has a very calming, approachable voice that is easy to read. You want to know more. She often talks about her family, but also her design background, and seems to effectively curate a
Stephanie and Maria seem to break all the rules of social media. Don't change your websites url, it'll break all the links... tweet and facebook yourself constantly (they don't)... Folks seem to seek them out and come to them. This online journal is a quiet spot for them to explore photographing their everyday life. Beautiful photo diptychs and few words, no comments allowed. Their quiet formula is quite powerful.
Something's hiding in here
Shauna and Steven are the married artisans behind their own line of handmade bowties, Forage, as well as handmade goods made from various other materials like wood, letterpress, etc. Their product line is diverse, but their aesthetic unifies all their products and creates more of a total feel and lifestyle, which makes me feel as if I've "entered their world" when I click on their blog.
Dottie Angel
Dottie Angel is the crafty alter ego of Tif Fussel. She has pretty much set the standard for all things artisan "granny chic" and cool. She blogs about her home, her thrifting adventures, and what inspires her creations.

Megan's blog picks:

Moop Shop
Moop makes handbags, and the blog shares some behind the scenes
details, news on upcoming projects as well as peeks into the personal
lives of the founders. I've been reading the blog and watched Moop
grow from a one-­‐woman operation and develop to add her husband, a move to a new city and the opening up of a storefront/workspace all the way through adding employees to help with bag construction. She shares her favorite things, some details about the remodeling of her house, and

how her daughter inspires new bag designs (bags for summer camp and returning to school have been created just for her). Because of the
blog I went from simply being a shopper to a fan of the business

Shop: Blog:
Jessie is an illustrator who creates paintings, murals and various great things (and she has a book coming out soon!). She uses her blog to point people towards her goods and what is going on in her real life store, but it mainly focuses on her favorite sweets. She looks
into the history of our baked goods, reports on visits to bakeries during her travels, shares some of what she's been baking and excellent recipes from all over. It's like getting a peek into her

Juniper Moon Fiber Farm
Juniper Moon Fiber Farm is a fiber and yarn CSA based in Virginia. The blog talks about everyday life on the farm, follows the sheep, goats
and farm dogs. They report on when lambs are born in the spring (and keep a 24 hour Lamb Cam), request reader help in naming the new members of the flock, show pictures from sheering day. They also share recipes and tips from what they learn living on the farm, including

how they managed to go paper-­‐towel free. Susan, the founder, is very open about the good and the hard times of living on a farm, is delighted to be able to show off the baby animals. After reading this blog you get to know that the farm is more of a family. This is another example of how I went from being a shopper to a fan of the business.
Site: Blog:

This Charming Candy
This Charming Candy is a two-­‐lady lollipop shop and they keep customers updated on what new flavors they are working on, what is currently inspiring them and where they will be selling lollipops in person. I like this as an example of how to keep a company blog simple but keep your customers engaged.
St Kilda Jewelry
St. Kilda makes fine and edgy jewelry in Brooklyn. The blog documents her inspirations from fashion and design, shows upcoming designs, occasionally talks about which jewelry she is wearing that day in a series called Bling of the Day. I love it as a source for things I
wouldn't see anywhere else. This is an example of a blog that is light on the personal essays but keeps me engaged with the business. Shop:

Molly's blog picks:

Saipua is a shop in Brooklyn, NY, that sells handmade soap and candles and does flower arranging and styling. It started out as a soap business, but now they're mostly known for the flowers, which are spectacular -­‐ often asymmetrical and always soft, elegant, a little romantic The business has its own website, but Sarah Ryhanen, one of its owners, also keeps a blog. The blog is mostly photos of flowers they've been working on, but Sarah is a sharp, thoughtful, and often very funny writer, and I love the way her personality comes through on the blog. It sounds cheesy, but I really like her spirit -­‐ enough that I mail-­‐order soaps all the way from Brooklyn just to support what she does!
Blog: Site:
The Blue Hour
This blog is written by Brian W. Ferry, a lawyer by day and photographer in his off hours. Brian has an incredible eye for light and detail, and though I think he started the site for purely personal reasons, his photography has really taken off. He launched a portfolio site, and because of the blog, he's gotten jobs for other websites, magazines, and books. He even shot a huge ad campaign for Starbucks recently. But the site continues to be very him -­‐ a quiet, thoughtful look at his world and what inspires him in it.
Blog: Portfolio site:
Notes from More & Co.
More & Co. is a Portland, Maine-­‐based creative studio that does art direction, book design, branding, styling, and more. Notes from More & Co. is their blog, and it's updated nearly daily by one of the three partners: Maria, Ryan, and Christopher.
The blog is mostly pictures and only a little bit of text (plus the occasional video), but it gives you a great sense for who they are, what drives them, what they're working on, and what their process is like. Makes me want to hire them! (And, full disclosure: they are friends of mine from back before they were More & Co., and I'm working with them on a project this fall.)
Blog: Site:
Canal House Cooks Lunch
Canal House is collaboration between two incredibly accomplished former editors from Saveur magazine and elsewhere: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. They run a small studio in New Jersey where they do food styling and photography, and a couple of years ago, they launched Canal House Cooking, a series of seasonal cookbooks that they publish a few times a year. (I'm a subscriber.) On their blog, Canal House Cooks Lunch, they post a photo (and often a short description) of whatever they've made for themselves for lunch that day. I love it!
The food always looks beautiful, no matter how simple it is, and the concept feels very intimate. And it keeps me eager for more of their work.

Keri Smith
Keri Smith is an artist, writer, and author of several very successful books on creativity: Wreck This Journal, How to Be an Explorer of the World, The Guerrilla Art Kit, and more. On her blog, she shares a variety of things: doodles she made, quotes she read, musings on her latest project, etc. She winds up talking about her books a lot, but it never feels like she's trying to sell you something. She's just sharing her process -­‐ living out loud, you could say. I come back to this site often, especially when I'm feeling stuck in my own process.

And some other information on their handouts that you might find useful:

Blogging 101 Basics

Blogging platforms:
Blogger Free, and owned by Google. Molly uses this one. 

Wordpress (requires your own hosting, or hosted for you at Megan uses this one.

SquareSpace Monthly fee, easy to use for non-­‐ coders.

TypePad Free or paid, easy for non-­‐coders. Blair uses this one. is often used as an image hosting company, but be aware the rules dictate that you cannot use it to sell. Meaning, you cannot put up a picture of your item and a link to where to buy it in the description of that image.

Blogging 101 "Good to Know"
Useful tutorial: This tutorial at Design*Sponge written by Amanda walks you through the process of buying and setting up a domain and then creating a website using Wordpress:­‐ladies-­‐get-­‐a-­‐website-­‐in-­‐a-­‐ weekend.html

If you do buy hosting here are two companies Megan has used in the past:

And here are companies consistently recommended to Megan:

What to put in your sidebar:

A picture of you! Followed by a short bio with a link to your shop. 

A link to your shop, preferably your logo. 

A few images of what you sell in your shop with links, naturally. 

A list of links to other sites you like.

 RSS Feeds - Be sure to "open up" all the available feeds so that your blog can be found and read in a RSS reader or aggregator. (Examples of these are Google Reader, Feedburner, Technorati) . Usually this involves simply creating a profile on these sites with your blog's url, but some blogging platforms will allow you to do it from their site.

Google Analytics - Sign up your blog's url address to see detailed stat information. There are several interesting things you can do with these analytics. Some tips at CraftyPod­‐analytics-­‐tricks-­‐for-­‐crafters-­‐site-­‐ overlay/

I hope this all was beneficial to some of you.  I know it was for me. 

Next time: The Dos and Don'ts of Approaching Shops & Galleries.


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Very interesting, Rachel. I intend to check out all the blogs you mentioned. Mine is suffering from lack of inspiration since moving, but that's no excuse. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us all. You are an incredible artist, by the way!

Idabelle said...

thank you so much for your blog on this session. i too was at the conference and it gave me a whole new perspective on blogging (to which i was fundamentally opposed). i have since begun my very own blog, and have posted twice. i would love to get feedback on it, as i don't know if i am doing it right. i haven't gotten any comments, so i haven't had to think about how to handle those yet. if you have a chance to take a look, that would be great and much appreciated.

Rachel said...

Debi - Hey check it out!! I'm responding to comments!! WEEEEEE! I'm glad you found this post stimulating. I always think it's interesting how someone else's perspective on something you've know for a long time can bring a freshness to it all. Thank you for your support. There have been times when your comments on this blog were the only thing that was bolstering me and keeping me going in blogdom. I cherish you.

Idabelle - I hope you got my email and that the few things I had to said were helpful. Keep going girl. I think you have things to say and that the world needs to hear.

Idabelle said...

thanks rachel for your feedback, i really appreciate it! let's keep in touch and compare notes!

Matthew Porter said...

Hi Rachel, In following the advice from our blogging panel and your own notes I thought I best get in touch - I'd love to post links to these articles on the |School House Craft site - would that be ok and could I use one of your images to highlight the post? Thanks! Andrea
andreaporterart @