This lovely month of May

The wonder of buds opening and fresh new leaves shooting out is still an absolute wonder each year. Always, ALWAYS, it seems like it’s eventually happening just too fast and I end up feeling like I’ve somehow missed something. For days and weeks the spring hangs in the air and and the buds seem to be swelling just a little with a speed agonizingly slow. And then, the next minute you know it’s fresh new greenery everywhere and the leaves seem to be getting bigger by the minute and lawn mowers are out and only moments later you realise that the thing that just hit your nostrils, tugging on some pleasant memories and creating odd sensations, was the smell of freshly cut grass – first time this spring.

The spring, is also about (splitting) and piling firewood to dry over the summer for the next winter:

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And occasionally it may happen that your friends have really great ideas for birthday celebration. I absolutely love sunday birthday parties that begin early, take place somewhere in the wilderness and include pancakes baked on a tiny portable gas stove, fresh coffee brewed in a proper coffee press and a real bonfire – among other things. Here’s one with my teacup waiting on the bench.

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The forest was littered with millions of flowers – hepatica nobilis or liverleaf:

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and beautiful Pulsatilla Patens or Eastern pasqueflower to name a few:

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The views were glorious as was our hike as we had packed with the plan of camping straight next to the car. In reality, as it appeared, the camping/fire building sites were some 3 kilometres from the parking lot. So we went, carrying pots and kettles, a full litre of milk to lighten some coffees, selection of 3-4 different kinds of jams in case people had different preferences for their pancakes, a small portable grill, etc. Reminded me of the time when in the TV series “The Persuaders!”, where Lord Sinclaire’s idea of camping included a pavilion, proper china, table and chairs, etc. while Danny had nothing but a sleeping bag. Of course, there is also an entire tradition of clamping, with a special new word coined for it and all. Not sure if we really qualified for that, though – after all, we had forgotten to bring the honey, 3 litre bottle of apple juice and there were no blankets and pillows available…

-Maarja

Reviews and Feedback

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First of all – we are so, so grateful for each and every review. It really makes one’s day to know that the person who received an item was happy with it. But, I’m also as grateful to anyone who has made a purchase and has not left a review. Because reviews are a bonus – both, fur us and for the person writing it. I absolutely don’t expect everyone to bother. If it makes you feel good to leave a review – it totally makes us jump up and down from glee, but if it feels like a tedious task, then simply enjoying your item as much as you can is the best thing – even if we won’t know it! 🙂

There was tiny review related discussion at one of the teams Facebook page we are part of. I’ve always thought that as a customer I personally would not like to have an extra reminder about leaving reviews after I’ve made the purchase. But as it turns out – some people actually do like if they are contacted later on and asked about how they liked their product, because that makes them feel important and gives them a feeling that their opinion is important and matters.

This one is obviously a very good point! Plus – any suggestions and feedback on what people liked, what they didn’t and why and what would they improve, sounds more valuable than gold.

Still, the problem for me is, how to obtain it without bothering people too much? Maybe it’d be a good idea for Etsy to work out some sort of separate, private suggestions and feedback system? Because eventually – receiving critique can be extremely valuable, but it does not always necessarily go well with the review/stars system. You can receive a perfect item – exactly what you saw on pictures, and be totally happy with it and still have some suggestions for improvement or critique. It would be good to have a tiny fill in box for private feedback, for further thoughts and suggestions.

I think I’ll try to make it a standard line in a shipping notification to point out how welcome and appreciated any suggestions and critique would be. Although, I suspect it would be definitely a bad idea if it came out like “please try and find flaws with the thing you just bought and look for reasons why you hate it”. This kind of message would no t do good for anyone. I know, that I am prone to post-purchase regrets as a customer myself. So, after a purchase I am more in the need of hearing and focusing on why the thing I just paid money for is actually a good one, not being encouraged to think of more reasons why it might have been a grave mistake instead.

Oh, and and at some point just recently we had a moment when we could congratulate each other for the 100th sale of our shop. Congratulations, ISE Paper And Craft for the first 100 sales!

– Maarja

PS: If you are about to throw into recycling the small paper box your acorn earrings or necklace came in you might also want to take a peek at the bottom and rescue the tiny pebble used as weight first! (Natural habitat above)

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Sending out mail, candy and Thank you cards,

I really love shipping out things.
I love putting things into their tiny pretty boxes. I love hand-decorating said boxes. I love adding tiny extras like dried flowers or leaves or candy. And then I like to add some extra drawing on the outer box as well. Sometimes I’ve made a quick drawing of a squirrel, when it’s acorn related stuff. Sometimes I just add some whimsical flowers. Once I drew a tiny (disproportionate) map of New Zealand.

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I also love to make and write thank you cards. Every thank you card design I use I’ve whipped up real quickly right before shipping something out. I’ve been packaging an item and then when it’s time to add a card I realize that I don’t really have one at hand that would feel appropriate. So, I begin drafting a new card to fit the theme. It’s fun to make a new card for a specific occasion and person.

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The unfortunate downside is the time-cost, obviously.
Couldn’t really do it that way exactly, if I was an actual business sending out tens of packages each day. But then, of course, I could put to use that packaging station tip and save time by having everything at hand all the time. And I would probably design appropriate thank you cards in advance, whenever a new type of product gets listed. And I would have an actual stock of candy for the sole purpose of trying to put at least a tiny bit of extra smile on the person’s face who’s opening the package. Right now I usually have to go out and buy a new pack each time, because an open pack of candy tends to diminish and disappear (only candy wraps remain) by the time I have a need to send out next shipment. Of course, with candy, there’s also the possibility of the receiver having allergies, avoiding sugar, not even liking sweet things. But I hope it’s still better to receive one than not to receive one. I mean, you can always give it to someone who can it it? Right? Although, if I were sending out tens of shipments daily, I would probably find one brand to stick to and print additional ingredient labels, if this brand would not have these listed on every individual piece (sometimes they have ingredients only on the outer package).

Here’s a collage shot of some thank you cards I had at hand one moment and a shot of some candy:

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I try to be reasonably eco-friendly too, with all the packaging. I recycle newspapers, whenever possible. And if I have any leftover (gift) wrap at home, it gets used. Sometimes I opt for using new clean paper too, because sometimes newspaper seems just a little too much. And I don’t always have them at hand anyway as I usually read them electronically.

-Maarja

Plum blossom card, Some more on product photography, #TheDress

I know it was just last post, where I kind of shared my attitude towards product photography according to which I’ve learned to not worry about it too much or spend too much time on it. But there’s this cherry/plum blossom card, which is just gorgeous in real life, but which didn’t photograph well at all despite me trying several times. It came out like that:

This picture is not exactly wrong. I took it in conditions which are normally pretty good – full sunlight. But somehow the essence of the card just doesn’t come across. I put the card up with these pictures, as despite trying several times I couldn’t get better results.

Today I was messing around with my old iPhone as I tried to get some voice memos off of it and into my computer. (I can’t help but to mark how frustrating the process was. I mean … what is it with Apple, why can’t one access the data on their own device directly? All I can do with it when I connect it to my computer with a cable, is to download picture and video files. And I can only download those – no chance of transferring anything to my phone. Anything else, any notes or voice memos or any other content I might have there I have to EMAIL. Ugh. Anyway, sorry about that.) I also had some photos accumulated in the phone which I saved on my PC, and among those I found couple of first snaps I had done of the cherry/plum blossom card so I could quickly show it off if I wanted to. And I have to admit – despite being somewhat blurry, this time the tiny iPhone cam and nonexistent lighting turned out to be way better at capturing this card than full sunlight and actual camera.

Usually the sunlight routine works out just fine, but with trickier objects everything just gets more complicated. It’s like that whole #TheDress thing. My first reaction upon seeing that dress question on Facebook was something along the lines that I’d really like to see it in better light and from a different angle, it’s really a horrible shot to judge colours by. Of course the news that some people actually see it as dark blue and black was very surprising to me, and it was more surprising to find out that it actually IS dark blue and black. Seriously. Now I’m all uneasy about how some people might perceive any of my poorer Etsy shots.

I also think that that dress thing illustrates nicely what must be going on in with all sorts of things, not just colors. People just perceive things differently, assign different meanings to different things and most of the time you just don’t think that someone else might see the same thing in a light entirely different (btw, sounds like really conveniently fitting metaphor here!).

As for product photography – for now, I have both of these photos above up at Etsy with the product description. And I’ve begun really looking forward to getting myself a decent camera.

A Background Story for a drawing

As I was finishing up another drawing of the “Magic Tea Party” series, I figured it might not hurt to have a background story. So, I made up one for this particular picture. So, here it is – Ashtagnan and Sterdior. (you can expect either A4 prints or cards or both to be available in the near future, I think)

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You know there is a land high up in the mountains, but with a coastline, although it is so steep that getting down to salty waters is a several days hike down narrow passages, stairways and even caves. This land is called Agnashia, and it’s located in a fantasy world you have never read about, yet.

These people, Agnashians try to see and preserve what they perceive as goodness in everything. Don’t mistake them for a bunch of defenceless sissies, though. They’ll fight evil, they have stern laws and there is not turning the other cheek. But they hate mindless destruction and they do not glorify revenge and holding grudges. It’s the deed (or intent, or state of mind) that is bad, not necessarily the whole person.

Some centuries ago this land was really suffering a pair of seriously deviant (by local standards) mages – a man called Ashtagnan and a woman named Sterdior. There was something very wrong with those two – the seemed to have no care for anyone else, but themselves and empathy must have been a strange and empty word for them with a meaning really hard to grasp. But somehow a miracle happened, and the two of them met and somewhere in the process of nearly killing each other both of them suddenly realized that they really really would like to keep seeing this entity of another person around even if it meant a risk as great as trusting someone they barely knew not to betray or kill them. In short – they fell in love. This was not yet a blessing, though. At least not to anyone but the two of them. They continued to be as cruel and indifferent to suffering and paired up as a team they were even more clever and even more dangerous and dark ripples of pain and suffering broke the smooth surface of peace and happiness of Agnashian society. There was more mistrust, deceit, selfishness and fear in this beautiful mountain kingdom than there had been for a millennia. Eventually the wisest of the sages tracked the pair down. They were identified and things fell into the place. Books were written, leaflets were sent out and the source of so many troubles and grievances were found. Thousands of mindless and cruel deaths were upon those two, and it was quite certain there would be no avoiding the final sentence – which had not been used in a thousand years – the death sentence. Because these two were too powerful and wise (although that wisdom lacked any benevolence or empathy as we know it). There would be no way to safely contain them or it would be even less possible to ‘help them learn better’ as there could be no-one that much advanced in knowledge, wisdom and the understanding of human soul and mind, as to take the role of a teacher. And more importantly, neither of these two had even a slightest sliver of regret over anything they had ever done.

As I already said, Agnashians did not believe in revenge and holding grudges. They believed in finding out all the facts and making informed decisions, though. So these two were carefully and impartially studied, before they had to reach the unfortunate conclusion that there just was not enough material of “goodness” (at least the kind of goodness needed to function in a human society) to work with in either one of them, and therefore their continued existence would be too great a threat. In this process, however they found a one preciously good thing held in high regard in the society – the most dedicated, kind, selfless and overwhelming love between these two, and there was not one person in the country who didn’t feel that this was a thing of goodness worth preserving.

The sages did find a way to do just that. Mages and those of higher spiritual learning had a special place for meeting up, communicating, meditating and dreaming – let’s say that it was a sort of spiritual plain you could consciously enter and move about only when you reached a certain level of training or awareness. Among other things, one of the characteristics of this plane was a certain level of detachment of things that usually motivate or concern people. And sages made it so that even though Ashtagnan and Sterdior were completely destroyed in their physical form their mental projections (or at least partially) were set loose to wander about the mental plain. It made sure that they never again have the ability to influence anything other but themselves, and so they wondered about the spiritual plain meeting up for a cup of tea to tell each other everything that they had seen that day each evening. That is what they have done for hundreds of years. Quite often Agnashians who have just acquired the ability to reach the plain join in one of the guided tours to find their meeting place for the evening and observe the tea party. Ashtagnan and Sterdior always have eyes only for each other, though and they can listen endlessly to each others stories of everything and anything as long it is the other one telling that. Sometimes Agnashian lovers go in pairs and look them up to bask in the brightness of their dedication. At other times a scholar goes and spends even months observing them every night as they are writing an article or a dissertation on the nature of love or about the coexistence of good and evil in human beings, just so they can have a fist hand observation of the (in)famous example.

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I would really like to visit Agnashia now – that climbing down to the ocean thing and the whole society sounds like a really great tourist experience. Too bad I only just made it up …

In the drawing they are obviously just conjuring up a tea-party. It appears that they manifest as wisps of steam rising from the cups – how curious. I wonder if everyone visiting that plain must lug a cup and a saucer with them everywhere they go or is that tea-party thing just a peculiarity of these two …

-Maarja

PS: Pointing out just in case that please do not use the story and/or drawing anywhere without my permission. You know, there’s this thing called copyright and all.

Catnips, Satisfaction and Product Photography

DSCN9654xI finally got around to trying out an idea that I had been thinking of for a while. I had been looking for a method of applying white on coloured paper and I think I  found something that seemed to work, sort of. I started out only testing the idea, but I thought it worked well enough to make an actual card out of it. Since I had used paper with a failed drawing on the back side I had to cut it off and glue on a new back to the card, if I wanted to actually use my test project. But as it turns out – olive green made me love this card even more, and now it’s up at the shop too, with a hand-drawn envelope and all.

It’s not that you could really call this a great accomplishment on objective levels, I have several issues going on in my life I really need to work on, and compared to that making one little art card seems kind of like a waste of time. But it was totally worth every minute of it, I tell you. These colours and the contrasting white and how delicate and fluffy and warm looking it all came out just made my heart jump from joy, because I just had made something very pleasing to my eyes all by myself. Making things is great. I guess I should mention, though, that I choose to ignore here all these times I get really really frustrated when I fail to get anywhere in my attempts to create something.

catnipsMeanwhile, though, my sister has been out to collect real willow catnips (or pussy willows, if you will) and made some gorgeous Spring / Easter themed dried bouquets with them. Willow catnips start budding already in the Fall and even in the harshest winters you can find some that are already or still open in February. But with the weather we have been having in the past years there is really no lack of pussy willows even if the real Spring is still months away.

Whenever I look at my sister’s gorgeous product photographs I’m always reminded of my own rather shabby looking pictures I keep posting. To put her obviously good eye for taking lovely pictures aside, the fact is that I still keep making do with my almost 10 years old Nikon Coolpix 7900, which has managed to dry out after a dive into the salty waters of Baltic sea, among other things. And it’s not rare for me to even post photos off my couple of generations old iPhone, which I inherited from a relative some years back. When I started out this used to really frustrate me and I felt really bad about my photos, but worry way less these days. Sure, good quality product photography is important, but what’s most important is actually getting things done. The first thing a product photo needs to accomplish is to exist. And then, of course, let everyone looking at it get a reasonably good idea what the item might actually look like. I intend to improve and I will be very exited once the time comes I can buy an new decent camera. But in the mean while I’ll make do with what I have, because it definitely is better than nothing. I’ve begun slowly to learn that not having things perfect for the vast majority of time is more like a general rule in life, and it is way past time to get that famous “lemonade” metaphor. I’ve even become so wise as to realise that it is also not very prudent to spend much time editing my product photographs because at this stage it is just not worth it. The best kind of product photography for me right now, is the kind which is done in about five minutes and then uploaded straight from the memory card. I will make beautiful catalogue quality photos once I I can achieve that goal as quick and easy as that or when I’m selling thousands of the same product with one set of photos.

-Maarja

Faeries and Elves

Sorry about the long silence. I know I’ve had several things in mind I’ve wanted to post about, but there never has been enough right moments for this. But today I stumbled upon some awesome photography on Etsy, and I kind of forgot about everything else and wanted to share that with someone:

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The picture is from the shoes listing in this shop: MarienWool.Etsy.com
Photography is made by (and I think also the rights owned by); Terje Talts
And the fabulous clothing by: Svetlana Voronskaja

-Maarja