Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feeling inspired

This week I have launched myself into my new position with Leadership Ballarat and Western Region, it's one of those crazy transition periods that I seem to invite into life so frequently. Although there's an element of scrabbling to keep up with the new skills and information being thrown at me I gotta say I find it pretty darn inspiring! 
It might seem a far cry from the gallery but actually, right now, this job is so much closer to where I am focused and the things I really love in life; community, storytelling, connecting people and helping them find the things that they need to move forward. And, believe it or not, I think I will actually have MORE time to be creative myself! 
So what have I been working on? It must be nesting season for me as I have been repainting our home a little bit at a time, kitchen cupboards, bedroom, living space and creating and hanging artworks to match. I'm in love with a very soft grey called 'half concrete' it's so relaxing and calming without being predictable. Yummy.
In other news planning our wedding is coming along nicely but I think that's a whole post of it's own! 
What have YOU been working on? 


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A big announcement

 I have a story to tell. It's the story of me, where I'm at, where I'm going and a new chapter is unfolding that I can't wait to share with you.
2013 has been a MONSTER of a year so far, one of those years I'm gonna look back on and and think 'that year changed my life!'
Life is full of tough decisions, ones that pull us in many directions and involve our heads and hearts and all the parts in between, I believe you know when you have made the right choice when thinking about the path you have chosen makes you smile. Today I am grinning from ear-to-ear and couldn't be happier at the direction I'm taking and have been itching to tell everyone all about it.
For the past five months I have been working with the very lovely and capable Krystle Evans, a Ballarat based artist. She has been learning the ropes at the gallery, working with artists and being that friendly face in the shop several days a week. In fact, Krystle has been pretty much running the show! Very shortly my time at the gallery will be over, come September this year the gallery that I have poured my heart and soul into will become Krystle's baby, so she can give it the love and affection it deserves and make it even more awesome! 
I'm so excited that Krystle has the passion and drive to keep the gallery thriving and couldn't think of a better person to hand the baton to. Knowing our dream of a friendly and fun artistic space in Ballarat will continue and grow is all I could wish for. I believe in Krystle, and admire her for her dedication and fresh enthusiasm, and know that the gallery space will flourish in her hands. 
I have taught her everything I have learnt and can't wait to see how the gallery grows. 
The gallery will remain in the same space and I got the secret-squirrel lowdown today on the gallery's new name! It's going to be AWESOME! We will keep you up-dated on all the gossip as it unfolds via our Facebook page.

So why am I leaving? For those of you who know me, and those running their own business you will know how much a project like that consumes your life. It's a passion that keeps you awake at night thinking of  amazing ideas, solving problems, and plotting and planning. It's an amazing experience and it's all consuming! I'm so proud of everything that Marcia King and I built, and even prouder of the role it plays in our community now, but I am ready for new challenges and experiences, and want to make space in my life for them to happen. 
So what am I up to next? Running the gallery these past two and half years has been the most incredible experience, it has very quickly allowed me to immerse myself in this awesome town and I have recently been offered an amazing opportunity to have a much wider impact on the community via a role with Leadership Ballarat and Western Region (LBWR). 

I'm so excited, this is a bit of a dream job for me right now and will allow me to build my skills, as well as use everything I have learnt from my time at the gallery to do something awesome.
So what about 'Red Brick'? Well, you will still see me on Facebook and the website and the blog (now I have more time!) as well as with my involvement in the Pop-Up Co. To be honest Red Brick is ME and I couldn't break the two apart if I wanted to! Red Brick will still be the face of my own adventures and I can't wait to take you along on my journey.
If you think you have some questions, or want to hear more about this transition of the gallery you are more than welcome to get in touch. You can contact me at hello@redbrickgallery.com.au or Krystle at exhibtions@redbrickgallery.com.au

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beginners product photography

Oh goodness! Product photography = pain in my curvy ass!
Anyone who has ever had to take snaps of the stuff they have made will know that it's no mean feat to produce clear and pretty pictures that really show your product to it's best advantage.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have ever received (and incidentally ignored) was from an old lecturer. He very wisely told me that the most valuable thing I could ever get out of art school was a friendship with a photographer. He was right, you can spend thousands of dollars on high quality product photography as quickly as blinking and the DIY approach can drive the sanest maker batty!
For several years I have battled along trying to create crisp, evenly lit images to show the things I have made to their best. I have fought poor lighting, windy outdoor conditions, over-blown highlights and crazy constructions to produce white backgrounds.

I FINALLY seem to have found the solution and although the process is still fairly time-consuming I get consistent results every time. WIN! 

I think a successful product photograph can be broken down into 3 key points, 1: Set up (lighting, backdrops etc), 2:Styling (how to make your image relevant and pretty) 3: Technical stuff (camera, editing etc)

I think I had better give a quick disclaimer at this point. I'm only a hobby photographer but I believe everyone can develop some key skills to taking awesome photographs without too much fancy (expensive) gear and studio setups. There are lots of resources out there for taking professional product images, this post is about taking a good quality image without the expense and gear!

SET UP
I like my product shots to have a neutral background like the above image. You can add in pretty bits in your styling, but to make the product shine, and show all the details clearly a clean, clear background is often best. 
I used to fiddle around hanging backdrops of white fabric or paper and always found it to be a nightmare removing creases and shadows. I now use and LOVE my product cube. It's like a pop-up tent with changeable backgrounds designed for product photography. It creates a consistent and instant background instantly. I have never worked out how to twist it back into it's zip-up bag, but aside from that it's pretty awesome and really affordable.
The best, and easiest light is natural lighting. The tricky part is that you don't want it to be  direct (shining straight on your product). The most even light is reflected at your subject and diffused to create an even light.

Again, the photography cube is ace for this, it softens light shining on your product and gently reflects white light back at it.
Despite all of this I struggled to get nice bright images until I discovered the perfect spot in my home... at about 5pm (in the summertime) the sun hits the window at the top of my stairway. It shines onto the white wall and the light is bounced all around the white space and creates the perfect conditions for photography in that spot. The light is in-direct and diffused. Ticks all boxes.

You can create this effect by using a reflector to bounce the light onto your subject if you don't have a handy white wall. Often we focus on creating a whit background forgetting that it's what's behind the camera that directs light onto our subjects.

STYLING
This is the bit I Iove the best but also find the hardest to do well. When you set up your shots you need to think like a shopper. You need two types of images to give you all the information you need to make the decision to purchase or not. The first type of image is a clear shot of the product it's self, no distractions. This is the part that helps the shopper work out the quality of the product, I have often been a bit disappointed as an online shopper when I took a chance on a poorly photographed product. 
As a photographer you need to show details such as surface texture, dimensions, details like fastenings, stitching and accurate colour. The tricky part is capturing all of this information in just a few shots. The below image shows the colour of the leathers, the adjustable buckle, the stitching quality and two-tone strap in one image. Don't be afraid to get up close, my webshop images are quite small even when expanded.
The other kind of image is the lifestyle shot. This image shows the buyer the way you want them to feel about your product. It might show the products uses, include pretty props or show how the buyer can style the product themselves. Props can also give a sense of scale to your images.



It's a process very similar to creating an amazing product description and there's a great interview here that's really useful in helping you work out that process.
I only make and buy products that I love, so style my photos in the same way... how I would use or wear that product. I'm not comfortable modelling things myself (I pull funny faces and accidentally stick my belly out) but a snippet of myself is fine and I stand in that magic spot whilst my fella takes a shot (under strict supervision!) :)

TECHNICAL STUFF
My DSLR was the best purchase I ever made. Even when I just use it for snap-shots it's wonderful to get the photo close to the way I saw it in my head. It took me a long time to get one because quite frankly being an artist my whole life I'm broke and paying the rent has to come first right!?
I eventually saved enough pennies to buy my Nikon D3100. It's an entry level DSLR. That means it's nothing flash but it has enough functions to take a pretty picture if you use it properly. It can also shoot film.
I'm not going to pretend that my cheap camera and lens takes the best image ever, but it's certainly a huge leap forward from my old compact camera. This article nicely explains the differences between the two. If you are using a compact there are a few simple things you can do to take a better photo like setting your white balance, here's a useful but fairly dry article giving you some tips.
I shoot in RAW mode. Essentially this means I capture as much of the visual information that my sensor can pickup. Even if it doesn't look much in the photo at first, I can draw on it when I edit. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos, it allows me to adjust the image easily without loosing any information as well as store and catalogue them. My default edits include warming the image up and deepening the shadows. I also crop my images to a square, to fit the format on my webshop. Below is a before and after.

It goes without saying that the subject of your image should be in focus, and I think it's extra pretty when the background is blurred. Use the focusing tool on your camera and adjust your aperture settings.
Sheesh... this technical stuff can get pretty boring if you get bogged down in it, so let's leave it there huh?!
I'm hoping this post has given you a sweet overview into making your product pictures prettier and less stressful, let me know how you go, emails at hello@redbrickgallery.com.au are always welcome!
All the best 
X Steph

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dreams, goals and aspirations

Did you make new years resolutions this January? I'm not a fan of them myself, I find they are so often focused on the negative parts of our lives... loose weight, spend less time working, be a more patient parent.... they can feel a bit like a list of things we beat ourselves up about.
To me that's not such an inspiring start to the year, so instead this January I made a list of goals instead. This list included personal as well as business aspirations, less a fixed 'to do' list and more a guide to start the year with a clear sense of direction. 
A really great part of keeping this blogazine is the recording of this time in my life, a time-capsule of who I am now as an artist, designer and small business owner. I think it will be really interesting to look back on my aspirations in the future so I'm going to share a few of my goals here for posterity.
It's a long list I have to confess, so I will only share part of it! 

  • Get engaged.
It may not sound like the most romantic way to go about things, but my boyfriend and I have decided it would be really lovely to get married. It's been something we have talked about since shortly after we met, and just a matter of time until we both felt ready. I'm the luckiest girl ever and can't wait to celebrate our relationship! 


  • Work my butt off
I never thought I would say these words but 2013 is the year of work. Generally I think working hard is pretty over-rated but this year I have some business goals I want to achieve and the only way to get there is by hard graft. Every small business owner will tell you it's hard going working for yourself but I'm determined to knuckle down and make this year the most rewarding and fulfilling Red Brick year ever! 
I can only apologise to my darling friends in advance, I love you dearly but I will be thin on the ground this year.

  • Make more things
There's nothing new here really, I'm ALWAYS making things it's true, lots of things. But this year I want to make more artwork, design and make more products and get them into other peoples loving hands. 
Running a creative space can be really amazing, but sometimes I can get so busy enabling artists and designers to create and show their work to the world that I run out of time to do my own making. This year I'm making it a priority!

While we are on the subject I thought I would share some of the things I have been working on this summer. 
These things involve wood, brickies twine, foraged timber and the most wonderful pastel-flouro paint mix I have ever created.... it's ZINGY on the eyes!
Fun wooden goodies aren't the only thing I have been making this summer, I spent most of my Christmas holidays re-building our website and these pretty one-off wooden jewelry designs will be appearing on it soon. I'm really proud of the new site and would love to hear what you think of it too. You can see it here
I know I don't always make it easy to respond to my ramblings and rants but I love to get emails from readers so please feel free to get in touch, My email addy is hello@redbrickgallery.com.au you can also say 'hello' on our Facebook page too!
X Steph

Friday, January 25, 2013

My baby the Ukulele



For my birthday in 2011 I was gifted a very cute, baby pink ukulele and for over 12 months  it sat looking very pretty on my book shelf tormenting me.... because although I'm absolutely passionate about music, I'm thoroughly inept when it comes to playing an instrument.
I just can't get my head around how music works, it's a complex maze of rhythm and melody, layers of carefully structured sound who's theory sends my head into a whirl almost as easily as listening to it makes my body want to.

Pretty in pink and unblinking, my uke stared me down. It's Mahalo brand cheap and cheerful and it's jangly strings silent and neglected.

And then something happened. My lovely man bought himself a saxophone and threw himself into it with gusto... I mean, he even grew a mustache to match, we're talking dedication here!
4 months later and he's busting out bebop jazz solos like there's no tomorrow. 
I'm not entirely sure this is a good thing, but it's certainly made our house a more musical (and louder) place to be and changed something in me.

I had a very quiet Christmas time, burnt out by a hectic November and December I jut sat on my couch and lounged in the heat. I ate, I drank, I watched lots of movies and took a 2 week sabbatical from my crazily busy life. In short, I recuperated from 2012.

One very special but indistinct languid summers day, in the post-xmas haze I picked up my Ukulele. And I played until my fingers were sore, I learnt simple chords and how to strum, I learnt that playing chords on the uke demands no reading of music, I learnt it's hard to sing along but I'm damned if that's gonna stop me.

Our house rang with badly played beginners ukulele tunes, my fingers got tough, and my rhythm less clunky, and now it almost sounds like music, and I'm proud. Proud as baby-pink punch.

I also learnt that the ukulele is the most hipster instrument of all time.Should a girl with pink hair really be taking it that far? But pride will get me nowhere. I'm embracing my social stereotype, I have a tuning ap for my iphone and I'm learning some of my fave indi-folky-poppy tunes (well, the simple ones anyway). 

How can you fail to be happy with music as cheerful as this?!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A return to what I love

So it's been a while. I'm sure you can forgive me, when it comes to the crunch Red Brick is ultimately a retail business so times have been hectic. CRAZY even! Over the past week I have been enjoying a well earned break.... Today I'm still in my P.J's well after 11am but my head is feeling a little more ready to face the world. I have missed you dear blog so get ready for some lovin'!
As well as the usual festive frenzy I have been working on a couple of very special projects and I have some pretty exciting news I have been dying to share. The past month or so has seen me feverishly beavering away working on a brand new range of products!
Don't get me wrong, working hard in the gallery promoting the work of other artists and designers is rewarding, but there's something extra specially satisfying in developing my own designs.
The first range I would like to introduce to you is close to my heart. Developed from my 'Lady Of Ballarat' original papercut, I have titled this giftware line 'Beautiful Ballarat' as it celebrates all that is wonderful about our little city. 
I've been seriously excited about this new giftware range, the design appears on tote bags, tea towels, notebooks, soaps, art prints and cushion covers, all of which have been hand-printed by me here in Ballarat.


 The range officially  launched this month at the Ballarat Popup shop and the response has been fantastic! Thanks to everyone who has already checked it out and for all the positivity I've been receiving. Sometimes, as a maker, it can be hard work believing in yourself and the value of your own artwork, but receiving such an awesome response has been the confidence boost I really needed, so a heart-felt thank you from me.
 I really am pleased as punch and once I have recuperated a little from the silly season I shall be hard at work uploading these items into our new online store which I have been diligently re-vamping... no rest for the wicked!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful, 2012

This week, if I were still living in the US I would have been celebrating Thanksgiving. During the couple of years I did live there I was lucky enough to have Thanksgiving fall on my birthday and really got to see how well North Americans know how to celebrate the good stuff, those long harsh winters become so much more tolerable with all those festivals and events.

 Here in Australia we are on the brink of Summer and tomorrow it's my birthday. Last birthday I lost track and thought I was turning 33... Maths has never been on of my strengths and the years all seemed to blur into one... when my mother reliably informed me (she was there at the event after all) that I was only 32 I felt like I had gained a bonus year! 
And this year really has been a bonus. My best so far. The biggest blessing. 
Usually I get so excited about birthdays, I'm one of 5 kids so as you can imagine my Mother didn't have a whole lot of time for individual attention. Birthdays were the days that we got to shine, got to be celebrated and cherished. This year I'm feeling, for the first time ever, fairly ambivalent, there's no pressure to make it a special day and I know why... this year there's no need to be celebrated on my birthday because for the past 366 days of this year I have been celebrated every day of the year and I have my wonderful Mr Mark to thank for that.

So I think it's only fitting that I make this birthday post about the things I'm thankful for, because there are plenty of them! 
First, and most importantly is my Mr Mark, as I have told you before he's awesome. I couldn't even begin to try to tell you how awesome he is so lets just leave it at that... I know, I'm a mush-head.
I'm thankful for another year. I know now not to take my well-being and health for granted and cherish every extra year I get.
I'm thankful for my amazing friends. I love you, thanks for loving me too.
I'm thankful for my creative talent, it makes me so happy and enriches my life, every day in so many ways.
I'm thankful for living in a country that is not only extraordinarily beautiful but also one which respects my right live a peaceful life, my civil liberties and human rights. 
I'm one very lucky lady and this birthday I'm sending my love and thoughts to those less fortunate. With so much to be thankful for it's the least I should be doing.
Here's wishing you many more years to be thankful for too.
XXX Steph

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Something ace from someone awesome. A handmade Christmas gift idea

This week the world has been in flux, world leaders have been chosen, storms have raged and stocks have rallied. 
Meanwhile in the Red Brick household it's been cross stitch time. Changing the world one stitch at a time. Or not, as the case may be.
I planned to keep this little project a secret as it was meant to become a Christmas gift for my beloved. However my inability to keep anything I'm excited about on the hush-hush has once again prevailed, and the cat is out of the bag. Lucky really. For you. Because now I have chance to share this amazing gift idea with you before Christmas. Yey!
Jacqueline from Wee Little Stitches tells me her web store has been abuzz with Australian traffic lately and it's no surprise really, since good ole Frankie Magazine shared her amazing cross stitch patterns in their weekly newsletter. 
Drawn at first to her amazing pixel characters (Ferris Buellers Day Off, The Labyrinth and The Goonies!) I whooped in delight to discover she can also design you a custom couple/family pixel people portrait. Amazaballs! I quickly lined Marky and I up for a awkward snap and a few days later Jacqueline sent through a design for proof... along with an apology for it's tardiness due to Hurricane Sandy leaving her powerless.. literally... to get to it earlier. What a gal.
Naturally I berated her and told her that was no excuse ;) but I was quickly pacified when I saw what an AWESOME job she did.... doesn't this look heaps like us?! If I were a bunch of pixels, this would be me. :)

Now listen here you crafty types, if, like me, you are looking at this and thinking "hmmm... I could design that" well yes, I'm sure you could, but for $12 Jacqueline designed me a custom pattern complete with a list of the exact DCM embroidery floss colours I would need so I didn't have to spend an hour in the store comparing colours (yes, I'm THAT person) as well as a whole heap of cross stitch tips on her blog. B.A.R.G.A.I.N
Now stop being a cheap-ass and buy something ace, from someone awesome this Christmas. BLAM.

Weekend shenanigans and my Happy Place.

This weekend was a corker. A winner. Do you know what a great weekend means? An image-heavy post, so look out!
I treated myself to an extra long weekend with my lovely man to spend a few days enjoying the amazing spring weather and each others company. I'm still so attuned to the seasons of the Northern hemisphere that I forgot how lovely this time of year can be... oh my gosh... here I go again, banging on about the weather! Hahaha.
I just can't help it though... as an ex-pat you have no idea how exciting it is for me to be able to get into shorts in Spring... well, any time of the year really!
Each year our town celebrates 'Springfest', a community event spread around the shores of the lake with market stalls, yummy food, vintage car show and heaps of stuff for kids. With that big ole sun shining I think the whole of Ballarat turned out for the event this year!
 My fave part by far had to be the awesome Chinese lanterns in the lantern making competition... Ballarat has a strong Chinese heritage from it's Goldrush days so I love seeing that multicultural history celebrated. Plus, how awesomely colourful are these lanterns!?


As if walking around the lake weren't enough for a Sunday, I made the executive decision that we were heading out bush... I can't get enough of camping and, yes, I do know it's not for everybody, but I really think camping in the forest is my Happy Place. Uppercase H uppercase P. It's that good. 
Do you ever find it hard to relax? I do. My brain whizzes around, spinning with so many ideas and inspirations and projects and worries all at once that sometimes I think my brain will implode on itself! I can 'chill' with the best of them, but I'm so rarely actually relaxed inside, just going through the motions of being at rest in the hope that my thoughts will give up the struggle and follow suit. 
 I can recall 1 time, in the past 4 years in which I was so relaxed I thought my brain would turn to mush.Yep. You heard me. One time. In 4 years. Wow, was that a good feeling. My whole bod felt different... like a big, cooked strand of spaghetti, soft and floppy and just hanging out like...urm... a cooked strand of spaghetti! 
Stick with me here because I'm going somewhere with this...  that one miraculous and marvelous occasion was on a week long camping excursion. Sure, I hadn't showered in days  except in river water, and my feet were black as a very black thing, and my hair felt like a grease-fest but I was happy and relaxed and it felt AWESOME. It can be pretty darn tiring being so tense all the time let me tell ya, and how I long to feel like spaghetti again.

Sometimes it's easy to forget about the things on your very doorstep. We are lucky in Ballarat to live close to a few State Forests which offer acres and acres of bush to explore and camp in and this season I'm keen to suss out some local places rather than taking the drive to the coast. I want to find some pretty places close our house for spontaneous getaways, quick refreshing retreats without the fuss and expense of camping on an organised site. And as long as there are trees and water I'm happy, be it ocean or river or creekside. 
Just 15 minutes down the road and we could have been a million miles from our house. Out of the city, down by the creek we threw up our tent and with the campfire lit I was one happy chappy.  Gathering wood and making some amazing coals to cook over just makes a process I already love that little bit better, food is so great delicious cooked over an open fire don't you think? The simplest fare is mouthwatering and I'm dreaming up all sorts of yummy things to cook up next time. Even a cuppa tastes better brewed in a billy and drunk from a tin mug.
In just one night sitting around that campfire, staring into it like it were television, I felt just a small part of me unwind, my clockwork loosened just a little and I got a taste of that illusive cooked spaghetti feeling.
As we sat there into the night, just me and my man, we watched the fire crackle and glow and listened to the noises of the bush at night, we both knew our next trip would be very close indeed and this year is Camping Year at our house.
Happy camping,  
X Steph