Creative Kickstart with The Forest Mermaid

creative kickstart by The Forest Mermaid

Every month I am featuring an image representing what has been inspiring me. Then later in the month I pick an image from the hashtag #creativekickstart (use it on Facebook Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr) which you guys have been joining in with, posting your own images of what motifs, materials and experiences have been inspiring you. Thank you to everybody who took part this month! Any posts made after today will be potentially up for inclusion in next months blog post which I will pick mid July. If you haven’t joined in yet, please do! I am finding it really interesting tracking how my inspirations are changing month by month, and reflecting on these inspirations every month seem to really feed into my creative process.

This months featured image on #creativekickstart is by one of my favourite bloggers, Polly, The Forest Mermaid. I love her unique style which is influenced by woodland themes, the mori girl look and underwater, mermaidy motifs. She is an avid crafter of outfits and jewelry which she uses to style herself in fantastical and magical ways.

This month she made this beautiful image, which features a miniature tea set, leaves and acorns (to represent inspiration from nature), watercolours, crystals and deer/deer antlers.

Creative Kickstart image by The Forest Mermaid, copyright Polly Noble
Creative Kickstart image by The Forest Mermaid, copyright Polly Noble

My favourite thing in the image is the miniature tea seat which reminds me of a book I read when I was little, and which I read to Etta now called ‘Sally’s Secret’ which is about a little girl who finds a secret garden under a bush and has a tea party there with her best friend. To me they are very evocative of the magic of childhood and of the magical worlds which children create. I feel that The Forest Mermaid is about bringing a glimpse of the fantastical worlds of our imagination into everyday life, through craft and fashion, so I guess this part of the image seems to epitomise Polly to me.

She says about her image “I went for a lot of walks in the woods in May so my photo reflects themes of nature. I saw deer tracks which brought deer back to the forefront of my mind as a motif, and I bought some plastic antlers to use in craft projects. I also started thinking about more fantasy-like themes, with miniature objects which could be used by fairies, and beautiful crystals.” . She has written a more in depth blog post exploring her inspirations and reflecting on the in more detail here.

Bloggers, if you are thinking of joining in with #creativekickstart writing a blog post about your image is a great way to do it, just remember to share the link to the blog post on Twitter with the #creativekickstart hashtag so I can find it. I am loving having the full story behind the image this month!

You can find The Forest Mermaid elsewhere on the web here:

The Forest Mermaid Blog

The Forest Mermaid on Twitter

The Forest Mermaid on Facebook

The Forest Mermaid on Tumblr

Check out the #creativekickstart hashtag on Instagram to see what others have been posting, and come and join in!

Top Five Tips for setting up an Etsy shop

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I’ve had loads of questions recently about tips on setting up your own Etsy shop. I thought because of this I’d make a little resource with some of my advice. I want to make them super simple because I think it’s really easy to get bogged down and overloaded with information when you are just setting up a shop. Here are my five top tips for setting up and Etsy shop!

1. Plan for coherency

This is something I did not do when starting out, and I wish I had done. I think this is worth doing before you do anything else as it will prevent you getting in a huge muddle. I am still trying to get to grips with coherency now, as I have so many listings in my shop it is hard to manage. Get coherency before you get huge numbers of listings.

This means think about what kind of products your shop is going to stock and things like what your shop sections are going to be called. Have a coherent brand thought out, even if only very simply. You will need to have a banner and a profile image, so if you’ve had a little think about what your products, shop and brand are going to be about, this will help you get a look for these and for the photos you take for your shop.

Have a look at some successful shops selling similar products to you. What draws you to their shop?

Plan some simple lines, so that if people like one of your designs they know they will be able to get that design in e.g. a print, a t shirt, a card and a coffee mug.

Plan to launch your shop with (e.g) around 12 items in and then launch everything else line by line. You can do this using the new Etsy Listings manager which now allows you to save drafts of listings rather than upload as you go. This means that when people first find your shop there is already some choice available (which makes people more likely to make a purchase)

2. Take AMAZING photos!

This seems obvious but I see a lot of dingy, blurry, busy photos out there on new shops.

Find a plain, preferably white back ground to photograph on. Hey, just paint up a bit of board if you can’t find some space – the advantage of this is it’s portable and you can move it to places of good lighting.

Shoot your photos in good lighting – Use a room with lots of windows, or shoot outside if you don’t have a well lit indoor space. I like to take my product photos on a bright but clouded over day. It means everything is evenly lit and there are no strong shadows.

Use a decent camera. This might just be your phone, if you have a good one (I don’t). My preference is for a digital SLR, but I happened to have one when I was setting up. I think it is worth borrowing one if you don’t have a decent point and shoot digital or camera phone.

Your photos should be bright, in focus, well framed and show the product from a couple of different angles and close up.

If you want to get advanced, you could style your photos with objects that tell a customer what your brand is about.

Here are a couple of photos. One is what to do and one is what NOT to do, can you guess which is which?

3. Learn about the importance of tags, titles and descriptions in getting found

Tags, titles and descriptions are the way that people using searches find your shop. Think about the words or phrases that people might actually use when looking for the kinds of things that you sell.

Use single words as well as phrases, but make sure they are really relevant to your item. ‘necklace’, ‘flower necklace’ and ‘pink necklace’ are all relevant terms for this item but although ‘cotton necklace’ describes it but is probably not something anyone is searching for.

Try to think of relevant tags for your product that link to styles or trends.

Repeat your tag phrases in the title and description for your product.

Imagine that nobody can see the photos of your product when you write the descriptions – this will help you include all the useful info that your customers will need, like measurements etc.

If you are good at this writing lark, try and think of fun ways to write your descriptions to keep them interesting and readable.

Also, fill in your shop policies – it is boring but you need to use these to establish trust with your customers. If I’m buying from an un-established shop with no feedback yet, I want to have some reassurance that I will be dealt with politely and offered a refund if the product is faulty.

4. Get connected

Do you already use any social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc? Can you put these to work in ways that showcase your products, connect you with other makers AND people who love what you make? Do you write a blog? Would you like to?

I don’t think that you have to be on every single social media platform (though I am an addict and sign up to everything), especially when you start out. It is possible to spread yourself too thinly, so only use platforms that you enjoy using and feel comfortable with. Use them to connect with people and have fun, rather than hard selling or constantly posting hundreds of links to your products. I think it is fine to link to your products, but when I go to a Twitter feed that is purely made up of automated tweets of product links, I don’t follow because I’d just be subscribing to an advertising stream.

Connect with people you are interested in and use those connections as a spark for creativity rather than as a way to push products.

Connect with people you are interested

5. Just DO it!

I know my first tip was to plan, but I think there is also a lot to be said for just jumping right in there and learning as you go. If you think you are getting held up on the planning, or perhaps you’re using planning as a procrastination tactic because you are scared about launching your shop – STOP! Just go for it! Launch with less stuff in than you planned, get feedback on your semi-ok banner once it’s up using the Etsy Forums.

A really great place to get help advice and feedback is your local Etsy Team – mine is the awesome Brighton Etsy Team. If you are thinking of setting up an Etsy shop, or have just set up a shop then pop along to a meeting, it’s a really good place to connect with other Etsy sellers and get some first hand advice about what works. There are usually fun exercises or discussions going on at the meet ups that will help you plan (or jump in with!) your new venture.

I really hope these were useful tips for you! Have you recently opened an Etsy shop? What have you struggled to get to grips with?

I’m thinking about adding some instant download Etsy tutorials to my own Etsy shop, expanding on some of the stuff I’ve talked about here. I also want to add some listings offering SEO help where I tackle a certain number of listing for people and offer suggested tags, titles and descriptions for their products. Do you think this is a useful service and would you use it?

Creative Kickstart – Looking back over May

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So, #creativekickstart is my monthly challenge (to myself and you guys!) to post an image of all the things that have been keeping you creative, sparking your engine and fueling your inspiration this month.

This month I was surprised by how few things were in my image- and lets be honest the (majorly) competitive part of me felt a little bit bad! I am trying to convince the crazy part of my brain that ‘less is more-and that’s okay!’ right now.

So…in the photo are: bubbles, mics, pinwheels, floral collages, colouring pens.

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Creative Kickstart May – Pinwheels, bubbles, pens, singing and flowers

Floral collages: If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you have probably seen I have become extremely into  posting pictures of wildflowers. I am super into the idea of celebrating your extremely specific local flora and fauna – I feel that’s something that I’ve come to appreciate after getting into kimono dressing, which is all about choosing your outfit to chime with or celebrate the local flowers currently in bloom (or about to bloom). I am constantly surprised by the beauty and variety of the little wildflowers that I find growing on the verges near me, and also (the probably slightly less wild environment of) my back garden.  I am thinking of doing some more collagey type things with colourful paper, and also maybe trying to incorporate some handlettered inspirational words into my floral photos. Oh and I keep thinking it would be cool to turn the flower pictures into repeating patterns, maybe for some Spoonflower fabric, but I’ve got to get my head round doing that in Photoshop first!

Singing: I don’t actually usually use a mic when I do this, these are my karaoke mics and the mics are just meant to help represent singing in the image! This month I sang in the St Ann’s Wells Garden Festival with my choir, Howl. I am SO loving being a part of my choir, it is my favourite part of the week. I recently decided to move from the ‘middles’ to the ‘highs’ and I’m enjoying the extra challenge. One of my lifetime ambitions is to be able work out how to sing harmonies, and I feel like doing the high parts is really tuning my ear to being able to listen for what a harmony should sound like. I’ve also been singing to Etta as I put her to bed (or rather, wait for her to fall asleep), and not just children’s songs (though I am very partial to ‘Feed the Birds’ from Mary Poppins), but the songs that I love to sing. Some are probably not very suitable for children. I do wonder at what point she’ll stop thinking Henry Lee is a lovely soothing lullaby and whether I’ll have to stop singing it at that point. I’ve also been recording myself singing on Soundcloud and even persuaded Rob to record with me, over on his Soundcloud account. Partly so I can hear what I sound like and get used to the idea of making a recording or performance that I am happy with. Partly in the spirit of putting myself out there and trying not to let my beliefs about me not being a musical person stop me from doing and sharing something that I love. I still find that i am not really able to share the individual uploads of songs on Twitter or Facebook in the way that I would do with something visual that I had created. Maybe that is something to work on! :)

Pinwheels: Etta has a collection of about 4 or 5 different pinwheels. To me they represent pure fun. They have real no purpose, but there is something so joyful about watching the breeze spin them. After obsessing over a particular pinwheel of Etta’s for a while, and having some glitter fabric that I had to abandon some plans for, I had a sudden spark of inspiration and glittery pinwheels were born! I’m really pleased with the idea as I want Cuttlefishlove to be about joyfulness and enjoyment of small pleasures, and these somehow encapsulate that, AND have a sort of origami/Japanese link with the folding. These are going to become brooches, lapel pins, necklaces and earrings.

Holographic rainbow pinwheel of joy!
Holographic rainbow pinwheel of joy!

Bubbles: It’s perfect bubble blowing weather, and I was just sitting watching Squidlet play outside trying to catch bubbles, trying to be mindful and just enjoy the moment, and not stress about the other things I could or should be doing.  It got me thinking – she was loving it until she became obsessed with trying to catch one, and I think that is something that can be applied to life. I have a tendency to set myself a lot of incredibly ambitious goals. I really need something to aim towards, to feel a sense that I am getting somewhere. I think for me a sense of happiness comes from enjoying chasing down those goals, but not getting too hung up on whether I catch them or not. The goals are the bubbles in this slightly stretched metaphor, in case I went down a rather crazy and incomprehensible ramble there.

Colouring pens: I got these because I saw an ASMR video of someone drawing with them and I thought they looked really lovely to use! I’ve been having loads of fun drawing faces and silly sketches with them. I’ve also used them to help redesign my logo. I’d been struggling to do it in Photoshop, because my skills are so minimal its hard for me to achieve what I want. so I went back to basics and did some rough drafts by hand. I went a little overboard and filled seven pages of my sketchbook with designs! I was having fun!

rough logo sketch
rough logo sketch

I excited about my logo redesign, and have now got some roughs done in Photoshop too, based on my sketch. I’m not quite there yet but I can’t wait to finish it and share it with you guys. I have SO appreciated everyone’s feedback on Facebook and Instagram on which of my designs was best!

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Which do you prefer?

I cannot wait to finish off these designs because I will feel super professional when I can get nice branded boxes and stickers and things like that! I find I need a tonne of time to really get into doing Photoshop stuff, so this month it will be a question of whether I can manage to find that time and get my logo completed.

What has been inspiring you this month? Snap a photo and share it using the hashtag #creativekickstart! I In a couple of weeks I will be searching the hashtag for people to feature and write a blog post about. Thank you to everyone else who has already joined in, I have loved seeing your images- they are all so different!

Brighton Etsy Tools and Work Habits

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For those who don’t know already, I am part of the Brighton Etsy Team, which is a really active and involved team.  I highly recommend joining and coming along to their monthly meetings if you are based in Brighton (or nearby) and are thinking about opening or have just opened and Etsy shop.  One of the recent threads on our forum has been about doing another bloghop or monthly challenge where we all follow a theme to blog about. I had so much fun doing the recent ‘Introduce Yourself’ Bloghop that I am definitely joining in with this one – which is Brighton Etsy Tools and Work habits!

Show us a picture of your work station.

OH HAI! This is actually my workstation looking moderately tidy. Fear the truly messy days!
OH HAI! This is actually my workstation looking moderately tidy. Fear the truly messy days!

What are your favourite tools, and how do you use them?

Although I use lots of different tools to make my work, the thing I use most is just my hands. My hands are what fold the silk, arrange the petals into place and position the tiny pieces of origami (Okay, sometimes I use tweezers!). They connect me to the materials that I work with in a physical way. I also think I have an exceptionally cute pair of hands.

I’m not sure if choosing my hands is slightly cheating…if I wasn’t allowed to choose my hands I’d have to go for scissors because I love that satisfying  SNIP as you cut cleanly through silk.

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Tools laying around neatly on a nice neat surface. I just found them like this, honest.

What time of day or night do you do your best creative work?

I actually do most of my work in the mornings whilst my mum looks after Etta, but I think my most creative time of day is around 11pm-1am. I don’t usually stay up that late anymore though  because with a two year old, you just grab all the sleep you can, when you can.

Do you prefer working in silence, with music or with something else as secondary entertainment?

I usually work in silence – I am easily distracted and often get overwhelmed by stimuli if I have music playing as well. But sometimes I sing while I work and Rob plays his guitar. I like those evenings.

Describe how you structure your work

I have two mornings a week where I have childcare, and I try and fit the majority of my work into that time. I collect flowers for Instagram photos and make my flower collages with Squidlet as she quite likes joining in, though sometimes this can be a bit stressful as she likes to have her hands on the background board at all times, including when I want to take a photo! Me and her also walk to the Post Office together to deliver orders, this is where we collect our wildflowers, though again sometimes this ends in all the flowers being squashed or thrown away by her! If she has a nap then I get a bonus hour or two to do work in, but that is not guaranteed at the moment. I get quite invested in her having naps because it adds like potentially an extra 10 hours a week for me to work in, but it is happening less and less recently. I am not sure how I will cope when she drops her nap completely! A bit of time to myself during the day is quite needed! I tend to do blogging, social media, making the main part of any flower-related orders and packing orders during the day and any finishing off of orders in the evening, sometimes accompanied by Rob and his guitar.

Other Brighton Etsy Team members who have joined this challenge are:

Victoria Sol

Let me know if you’ve joined in the challenge and I’ll add you to the list!

Cosleeping

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This month I’ve been contemplating how much longer I want to continue cosleeping with Squidlet, who is now two.

Cosleeping is something we’ve been doing since she was a newborn, in many varying forms. When she was tiny she slept in a cosleeper sidecar cot, or more often, on my chest. We (me and my husband Rob) were a bit nervous about the much talked about risks of cosleeping. We read a lot around the subject and decided that planned cosleeping was a decidedly safer option than being so tired we accidentally fell asleep on the sofa together.

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Cosleeping using a cosleeper cot when she was super super tiny

As she got bigger, we tried to get her to sleep in a full size, free standing cot. It didn’t work. AT ALL. I felt like a massive failure for not being able to get Squidlet to sleep in a cot. I thought it was just a given part of parenting. But because of my history of back pain, leaning slowly over to put her sleeping into a cot was very stressful for me. In fact she was such an light sleeper that I only once successfully managed to feed her to sleep and then put her down in the cot still asleep. Every other time I did it she would wake, then take nearly an hour to go back to sleep, and then I’d have to try again. By the second or third try I was usually so frazzled I had to give up. We gave up trying to get her to sleep in the cot when we realised it was making us all miserable, and attached the cot to the bed like a cosleeper.

I found I was torn between people who thought we were mad for cosleeping when we could just do some sleep training and get some much needed sleep and people who thought that cosleeping was awesome and relatively unproblematic. We really really didn’t want to do sleep training, and I do not think it would have worked with Etta, who just screamed if I tried leaving her to settle alone. However I don’t think we really loved many things about cosleeping. For us it was absolutely born out of necessity. I am really glad that we knew about it, as it doubtless saved my sanity. Had I thought that cot sleeping was the only way forward, I do not know how I would have coped! But it was not a panacea. The lack of personal space and feeling of being ‘touched out’ as soon as I got up in the morning was really hard to deal with. I wept with guilt at not being able to enjoy being awake with my beloved child whilst reading twee Facebook poems about how my baby would soon be grown up and I would regret not loving every minute of her kicking me in the face for an hour in the middle of the night. Actually the twee poem did not mention being kicked in the face. Apparently I would be gazing down at my child snuggled calmly in my arms.

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opening some presents on her first birthday - you can see our upgraded cosleeping set up!

Then, around her first birthday we gradually realised that we really wanted our bedroom back. Because I still fed her to sleep at that stage, we decided that the only workable option was putting her in her own room on a floor bed (or rather less glamorous sounding ‘mattress on the floor’!). This would mean I could be comfortable lying next to her to feed her to sleep, but it did have the draw back that she could get out of bed very easily. I was not sure how this would pan out, especially at bedtimes! Luckily, it worked out well and after a short settling in period she was sleeping in there happily.

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Etta pretending to have a nap. I am slightly proud of her bedroom walls!
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More gratuitous bedroom decor...

I was still going in to her many times in the night, or more frequently just spending the whole night from her first wake up in there with her. We finally fully weaned her around her second birthday, which was a huge revelation for me in terms of much needed personal space! Surprisingly it didn’t change much in terms of how often I was going into her room to resettle her. She seems to have been teething with eye teeth or molars pretty much since Christmas and I wonder if this has been a factor in my struggle to get her to settle. Many nights, as soon as I moved my body away from her, she would immediately wake. This was starting to be a problem for me – I realised I have probably not had more than four hours straight sleep since she was born, and at this point in was lucky if I got 2 hours in a row. I’d also developed a nearly permanent eye twitch in both eyes from the lack of sleep!

Then she got chicken pox, and I felt it was not the right time to start making changes to sleep. We had two or three very difficult weeks, where she was really not well, and we were both very tired and grumpy. But now she is finally over the pox and in the last few weeks we have been making some changes AND even more excitingly seeing some results! We started talking to her about trying to go back to sleep by herself. If she wakes in the night, I try saying ‘back to sleep, you’re okay!’, rather than going straight in to her. She has never had a great appetite, especially at dinner time, but we are trying to offer her something we know she will eat plenty of at dinner time. And we are trying to make sure she is active and gets worn out during the day. Well, I hardly dare say this for fear that it will never happen again, but she has been sleeping through the night, not every single night, but roughly 2 or 3 times a week! My crazy eye twitching has finally disappeared!

Getting a decent amount of sleep and reducing Squidlet’s nightly wake ups to a much more manageable level has actually really changed my feelings about the cosleeping. I now love our snuggly mornings because they are a treat rather than the norm. I feel happier now that I am able to appreciate this time in the way that I always thought I was ‘supposed’ to. But now I recognise that if you haven’t had more than two hours sleep in a row for several months, its pretty unrealistic to expect to enjoy being kicked awake at 4am for an in depth chat about belly buttons, no matter how many Facebook memes exhort you to enjoy such treasured times.

*Postscript: In the interim period between finishing writing this post and actually getting round to posting it, Squidlet has started teething her molars and sleep is dire again! Never post online that your child is sleeping well as it will come back and bite you on the ass.

What’s my purpose?

What's my purpose-

I recently posted about feeling a bit lacking in direction and a sense of what I should be doing with my life. I got hyped up about mermaiding and freediving but maybe maybe jumped the gun a bit by trying to set these things into some kind of definite ‘thing’ I was going to do, before I’d really had a chance to try them out. So for now I am just seeing where these things take me. I am going to March of The Mermaids in Brighton in July though, which I am really excited about!

This month I’ve had the good fortune to talk with and listen to some really interesting people that have been pushing me to really get to the bottom of what’s been bugging me about my business (and my life!) as it stands. I’ve been loving hearing from you guys too, and your comments always seem to push my thinking on what I’ve been posting about. It’s great to hear such supportive things about my blog and what I’m writing, and seeing people join in with my #creativekickstart challenge. I am really appreciating being part of a wider community of bloggers.

One of the people I’ve been chatting to is Ebonie Allard, The Entrepeneur Enabler, who met me for coffee last week  a few weeks ago. Aside from being a beautiful person inside and out, she really has this ability to cut to the heart of a situation. She asked me some questions that really made me reassess how I measure my own success. I like having goals, and I have tended to set myself earning goals to push myself to achieve more. After talking to Ebonie I wondered if maybe viewing my business in those terms was causing me to pin my happiness and self-value (Is that even a thing?) on how much I earn, rather than the creativity and freedom that running my own business gives me. This has been a huge mindset shift for me, and one that is really changing how I approach work and family time. She has also sent me her free ‘7 steps from Argh to Aah’ eBook which I’m excited about working through over the next month or so.

I also went to a great Brighton Etsy Team talk from the guys at The Happy Start Up Company. The key thing that I took away from the talk was that happiness in what you do professionally is linked to a sense of purpose. As soon as they mentioned it, I realised that this is what has been lacking from my business.

What's my purpose-

Based on this realisation I googled ‘ how to find my purpose’. I can’t decide if it is sad or amazing that I did that and that this is something lots of people google, and that there are people out there writing about this exact conundrum. Anyway. I found an exercise where you just keep writing what you think your purpose is until you write an answer that makes you cry. I’m not quite sure if I totally got there as I was trying to fit this in around Etta napping, and despite my resolve to remain focused on my task, life kind of got in the way. It was definitely an interesting exercise. One of the surprises for me was to realise that I don’t just have one mega-purpose but many mini-purposes. This seems to fit in with a phrase that I’ve been trying to keep in mind lately: ‘I am multitudes’. I think Amanda Palmer said it. Keeping that idea at the back of my mind in all the things that I do reminds me that I don’t have to put myself in a box, or only do one kind of thing both work-wise and more generally.

The other surprise was that the answers that really resonated with me were not ‘things’ that I could achieve but ‘ways’ I am meant to live my life. I definitely expected that some big ‘thing’ that I was meant to do would come out during this exercise. I suppose this makes sense – if my purpose was to e.g. climb Mount Everest and then I climbed it, the whole point of my life would pretty much be over. But if my purpose was to approach life with a sense of adventure then that sense of purpose could permeate my life so that it influenced not just where I booked my holidays, but my outlook on a day-to-day walk to the shops. I am slightly (ok, very) embarrassed about typing out the paragraph that caused the biggest surge of emotion in me during the exercise, because I think it might seem a bit (a lot) corny. In fact this post has been sitting unfinished in my drafts because I was debating whether to even include this part at all. But seeing as lots of the other things I was typing during the exercise seemed to be about letting myself be vulnerable, so that others would feel able to do the same, here goes.

This is what I wrote:  “Chart your course through waters unknown. Dive deep into the depths of life, feel the joy of movement and the water supporting your body. Look with love at life’s mysteries. Listen with love to the stories around you. Allow those experiences to change you and let you grow. Let the beauty and mystery and magic of the world live through you. Don’t be afraid to share your beauty, your story, your love with the world, and let the world be changed by you.”

Chart your course through waters unknown

So both my understanding of how I measure success and my understanding of purpose have been totally flipped over the last few weeks. I’m trying to use my new-found sense of multiple purposes to drive what I want to create, for fun, for my Etsy shop, and here on the blog in terms of writing. There is definitely a sense of wanting to celebrate the beauty of nature, which I think was originally a very deep motivating factor in making my kanzashi flowers, but it got a little lost along the way when I tried to condense everything into easy to understand ‘product lines’ for customers. I really want to bring this back again by taking time out to be in the garden, or go on walks, or collect flowers and to just enjoy nature without it needing to feed creatively into something definite.

Something unexpected that came out from doing this exercise was this sense of wanting to listen to other people’s stories. I only fairly recently came across Human’s Of New York (HONY) and I think that maybe reading some of these stories of everyday people has affected me more than I realised. Also through the course of my work with Deaf adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems, I felt I came across many extremely interesting people whose life stories would very rarely be heard by anyone – because of complex language needs, because of  being tucked away in institutions, or because nobody thought to ask. I realised that when I went through back pain and anxiety that i could have been someone who just dropped off the map, into a place where the rest of the world was not really interested in understanding my experience, but this didn’t mean that I had nothing of value to share with the world.

There are so many ‘hidden stories’ out there, I am thinking about starting an interview series in my blog, but I haven’t quite fixed on who I will interview or what about.  I don’t quite know whether this thread of interest will go somewhere, or where it will go, but I would love to hear your ideas about this. If you think you have a story to tell,  I would also love to hear from you.

Tarot reading with Emma from Harper and Finch

Recently I was reminded how much I love doing Tarot card readings. I started toying with the idea of doing a regular tarot reading feature on my blog, as a way to get more in practice. Very serendipitously (that IS a word, okay) I saw Emma from Harper and Finch post on her blog that she would like a reading, so I decided this was the universe giving me an opportunity! I messaged her to see if she would like one and she was up for it! I was really thrilled as I am a big fan of her blog and got the feeling from reading it that she was a like-minded individual.

We sneaked in a little tarot card reading at the end of the Brighton Etsy meet up, which I was attending to give advice to newer Etsy sellers. It was quite hard thinking of advice to give Emma for her Etsy shop , as it is so gorgeous looking already, but hopefully I gave her some useful advice on tags, titles and descriptions. I am thinking about doing a post explaining the nitty gritty of how to get found on Etsy using your tags titles and descriptions well, and maybe even putting some listings in my shop where I help people rework a certain listing, or selection of listings to improve their tags, titles and descriptions. Do you think this is a good idea?

So, onto the tarot card reading! I use Osho Zen tarot cards, which are non-standard tarot cards but ones which whenever I’ve been given readings in the past have pretty much always been the ones used and I feel I’ve always had good readings with them that seem to get to the heart of the matter. Not sure if I’m really into Osho as it seems a bit culty, but I like the cards!

My feeling about my readings is that they are less about telling you what is going to happen in the future and more about drawing out your feelings and thoughts about particular things in your life at the moment and using the cards to clarify where you are at now and where you could go in the future.

I’ve been doing readings for family and friends since about 2010, and before that since about 2001 I also used to do i-ching readings – again just for family and friends, I’ve never charged for readings. I still use the book a bit to guide me as I don’t do readings very frequently – one reason why I don’t yet try to do it professionally.

I originally wrote the reading out in the third person, but in the end I changed it to be in the second person, so directed at ‘you’. This is because it felt more natural to be addressing someone directly while writing it, and I hope that maybe some of what comes out in the reading is relevant to to you too.

Together we chose a Celtic Cross layout, and this was what the layout looked like, when all the cards had been turned.

Celtic cross layout
Celtic cross layout

The question put to the cards was:  ‘Am I doing the right thing by pursuing my Etsy shop and blog right now’.

In position 1 (The issue), is the card ‘We are the World’, which is the 10 of Rainbows ( or Pentacles in a traditional deck).  The suit of Rainbows represents the magical in the mundane and earthly, and in a traditional deck would be related to earning money. It is a card of community, communication, connection and collaboration.  It is also about sharing your inner riches with the world. This card is really relevant to the question and suggests that the heart of the issue is how to find this sense of community and connection through your work and blog. We talked about how one of the reasons you decided to start your own Etsy shop was this sense of wanting to share something of yourself, particularly the sense of how embroidery connects you  with other creative women in your family.  Perhaps in this context this card is reminding you that this sense of purpose can inform where you take your work. In sharing your family’s creative legacy, you can find common ground with your readers and really feel a sense that you are sharing your inner treasures with the world.

In position 2 (Obscuring or clarifying the issue) is the card ‘Thunderbolt’. This is a Major Arcana card, relating to The Tower in a traditional deck. Thunderbolt represents a total breakdown of everything familiar, or of ones home or place of safety being swept away. Although this sounds quite negative, in many ways Thunderbolt is  a positive card in a reading because it implies that you have the chance to rebuild your life from scratch, on your own terms. You felt this card might relate to when you were made redundant from a job in a bridal shop. This meant that you were able to start up your Etsy shop and blog, and work in a bar to supplement your income. This seems to obscure the issue in some ways, by making you wonder if you should be taking a more traditional employment route, and in other ways clarify the issue because it has opened the way for a more creatively fulfilling career.

In position 3 (The unconscious influences) is the card ‘Maturity’. This is the Ace of Rainbows. The card represents someone who has come into themselves, and is in a state of ‘spiritual spring’ –  able to remain unaffected by negative influences around them. The imagery of flowers seems to really relate to your desire to celebrate nature and let it inspire you. It suggests that you are totally ready to be at your most creative, and have built a solid foundation with your blog. In this position, it seems to say that perhaps you haven’t yet acknowledged your own achievements in building such a solid foundation and that although your internal readiness to shine and be ‘springlike’ is seeping through in everything that you do, you haven’t consciously recognised it yet.

In position 4 (The conscious influences) is ‘Past Lives’. This is a major Arcana Card and relates to The Moon in a traditional deck. This card represents visions of the ways our life could have gone if we’d made different choices. It tells us that by identifying patterns that we repeat throughout our life, rather than getting distracted by watching these past lives and wondering what might have been, we can move on to better things. In it’s traditional incarnation as The Moon, it tells us that we are having difficulty seeing the right path and trusting our inner compass, often because past experiences causing us fear and anxiety about the present. This ties in with your question which almost carries within it a tone of uncertainty about what you are doing. What is interesting is that in every other way you are clearly so totally into what you are doing right now, but there is this slight element of not being able to quite work out what your inner voice is saying when it comes to this matter. The message from this card is to tune into your inner voice, and free yourself from repeating mistakes again and again. When I saw this card come up, I hoped that some of the other cards would start to bring out what was behind this uncertainty.

In position 5 (The old way, old ways of being) is ‘The Outsider’. This is the 5 of Rainbows (Rainbows were becoming a bit of a theme in this reading!) and relates to that feeling of being on the outside, looking in, feeling unable to experience the magic that the in-group are feeling. The key to this card lies in the imagery. If you look closely at the child looking through the locked gate, you can see that the gate is not actually locked at all. In this position it describes a time in the past, perhaps when you were in your old job, feeling like you would like to do something more creative and more ‘you’ but not knowing how to step into that world. Because of it’s position, it shows that you have gone through the process of realising that the only barriers to choosing a creative career are in your head, and have stepped through the gate, no longer an ‘outsider’ to that world.

In position 6 (The new way, moving into the new) is ‘Experiencing’. This is the 3 of Fire (Wands in a traditional deck), which is all about masculine energy, work and action. This is one of my favourite cards in the whole deck! This really confirms that your future path involves using your love of nature to inform whatever you do in terms of work. This is the strongest possible ‘YES!’ to the question posed at the beginning of the reading

If you’ve seen Emma’s work you’ll know she is all about experiencing and celebrating the natural world.

In position 7 (The self) is ‘Guilt’. This is the 8 of Clouds (Swords in a traditional deck). The suit of Clouds is all about the unhelpful whirrings of the mind and this specific card tells us that right now guilt is stopping us from seeing the good stuff around us. I thought this was an interesting card to see in this position, as you don’t seem particularly guilt-ridden, but it was this card that drew out more of your feelings on wondering if you should have stuck to a full time job. It emerged that you do have a sense of guilt related to your career choices. There was a sense that freelancing was something you felt self indulgent about. Despite your parents’ incredible support for your alternative career path, there were feelings of guilt about not choosing something more stable, because you want to do your best for them. Both your feeling about this, and the message from the cards is that this is a perception of your busy mind, rather than a reality. Whilst I don’t think this is an overriding feeling for you, it does help to explain why you framed this question for the tarot.

In position 8 (What you are attracting from the outside) is ‘Possibilities’, the 2 of Fire. This card is telling you that this is an exciting time – you are not weighed down by huge responsibilities and the freedom that your current working life gives you means that you can be open to the possibilities that come your way. It is saying that this is the quality to appreciate right now, and that it is a direct result of the choices you have made.

In position 9 (Your desires and denials) is ‘Abundance’, The King of Rainbows. This card represents a poet or artist who is abundant because he remains in the present, lives life to the fullest, enjoying life’s pleasures, appreciates nature and loves the arts. As a Rainbow, he finds magic in the ordinary. This was an interesting card! The royal suits can sometimes relate top specific people in your life, and as soon as it was drawn I wondered if it was your partner, because you had previously mentioned that he is a musician and very supportive of your choice to take casual work to support your dream to make blogging and an Etsy shop your priority. (Almost as soon as I drew the card and mentioned that it might represent someone, Emma was like ‘It’s my man! It looks exactly like him!’ She even showed me a photo and the resemblance was uncanny!) In this position I feel like it is saying that this person is your touchstone, a kindred spirit (seeing as where you’re at is very ‘Rainbow’ at the moment, given all the cards from that suit in the reading.) who helps remind you that the reasons you have chosen this path are experiential, not financial.

In position 10 (The outcome or key) is ‘Receptivity’, The Queen of Water (cups in a traditional deck). Water is the suit of the emotions and feminine energy. This card depicts someone free of cares, who receives and gives easily, with compassion and gratitude. This is a lovely card to end the reading on, as it suggests that you can reach your full potential and ‘find your flow’ by remaining receptive. You can achieve this state of realised potential by remembering that you are ready, even if you don’t always quite feel like you are (Maturity, card 3), by gently accepting and letting go of feelings of being the outsider, of what might have been had you taken a different path, and of guilt related to other people’s expectations of you. You can use the support of your partner to help you stay in touch with your love of nature, your desire to experience the world in the present moment and your ability to find magic in the mundane. Stay open to the possibilities that are offered by your unique work-life balance and remember that the reasons you want this kind of life are to find community and connection with others, to have time to experience and appreciate the world around you and let that feed into your work. Let your ability to do those things, to experience an abundance of the soul, as opposed wealth or traditional notions of success, be your guide as to whether you are on the right path.  Exciting possibilities are coming your way, and it sounds like you are in the right frame of mind to be receive them!

I hope you enjoyed this slightly different type of post. I am wondering whether to do more tarot readings as a bit of a regular feature. Let me know if you would like a reading, especially if you are local to Brighton as I love doing them in-person!

Salt-pickled Sakura Ice Cream with Matcha Meringues

Washing the flowers

This post sees me returning to another love of mine, cookery. Way back in 2012 I made some salt-pickled cherry blossoms (or sakura) using this recipe from Wagashi Chronicles. I totally fell in love with the flavour. I’m going to share with you several cherry blossom recipes, starting with salt preserved cherry blossoms, then sakura syrup, which is an ingredient in the next recipe, sakura ice cream. I’m also including a matcha meringue recipe which uses up the egg whites from the meringue making process and is a good earthy and bitter accompaniment to the sweet and salty cherry blossoms.

Making salt preserved sakura takes several days, so start well in advance of when you want to serve your ice cream.

Salt Preserved Cherry Blossoms:

200g cherry blossom buds

100g salt

4 tablespoons plum vinegar or saltwater with a dash of rice wine vinegar

First, rinse the blossoms and pick the stalks off, then toss them in half the salt, cover with clingfilm and weight (I used a full mustard jar) overnight.

The next day, squeeze out the water and sprinkle with plum vinegar. Cover with clingfilm, weight and leave for 3 days.

Spread the flowers out to dry on a cloth, near a radiator or sunlight for another 3 days.

Toss with the rest of the salt and keep in a lidded jar at room temperature.

If you don’t want to make your own pickled cherry blossoms, then you can buy your own from Obubu Tea or Nihon Ichiban.

I’m taking the use of these pickled cherry blossoms a step further today by turning them into ice cream.  I combined 2 recipes, one from The Guardian ‘How to make the perfect ice cream’, and an uncooked one from Cookpad Japan  to make my own heated custard cherry blossom ice cream. It is VERY rich and very delicious. I made matcha meringues at the same time, and they provided a nice bitter foil to the sweet and salty sakura. I really wish that you could taste the sakura ice cream for yourselves because it is such a unique flavour. It is like a very floral, perfume-y marzipan. One thing I didn’t do was to add food colourings. I think the end results don’t look especially beautiful and I think that they would have conveyed more of the flavour in the photos had I added pink food colouring to the ice cream and green food colouring to the meringues.

You need to make Sakura Syrup in order to make the ice cream, so I’ll include the syrup recipe first. The recipe is from Obubu Tea and adjusted slightly.

Sakura Syrup recipe:

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water steeped with salted cherry blossoms

1.Steep approximately 15 salt-pickled sakura in some hot water for 1 minute and discard this water (This is to draw some of the salt out. You can keep it and add a little to the next steeping if the flavour is not strong enough.)

2. Add the sugar and heat in a pan until the sugar has dissolved and it boils. Turn off the heat once it has come to the boil

3. Allow to cool and pour into a screw top jar.

Sakura Ice Cream Recipe:

600ml double cream

5 egg yolks

1 vanilla pod

1/3 of a jar of salted cherry blossoms /a small handful. You can soak them in water briefly first to draw out some of the salt, but I didn’t do that!

3 Tablespoons of pickling liquid from pickled cherry blossoms recipe (omit if you do not have this or purchase Sakura Essence)

1 cup of sakura syrup/ to taste

100g caster sugar

1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.

2. Scrape the contents of the vanilla pod into the cream and bring it to the boil.

3. Add the salted cherry blossoms to the cream and turn it down to a simmer for 5 mins.

4. Turn the heat off and let it infuse for 20 minutes. Add the sakura syrup.

5. Bring the cream back to a simmer and add the eggs, beating as you go. Let the mixture thicken until a line drawn in the mixture on the back of a spoon holds it’s shape.

6. Pour the custard into a cold bowl (I put my bowl into a wok filled with ice and icepacks) until it is cool enough to go in the fridge.

7. Add the pickling liquid (and food colouring if you decide to use it)

8. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

9. Stir well with a fork and put into the freezer for half an hour, then beat well with a fork. Do this 3 times.

10. Leave for at least an hour. (I left it overnight).

For my matcha meringues I followed a classic meringue recipe by Delia Smith. Because we’re making the meringues partly to use up the egg whites, my recipe is for 5 egg whites.

5 egg whites

250g caster sugar

1-2 tablespoons of matcha tea

Set oven to gas mark 2/150 degrees C

1. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks

2. Mix the matcha and sugar together

3. Gradually add the matcha and sugar, whisking as you go.

4. Add the food colouring now if you are using it.

5. Spoon onto baking sheets

6. Turn the oven down to Gas mark 1 /140 degrees C and bake for 40 minutes

7. Turn the oven off and leave it to go cold with the meringues still in the oven.

Here is the extremely delicious outcome: It does look a little disappointing colour-wise because I didn’t use food colouring, but I promise you it is more than made up for by the taste! The meringues are crunchy, and the ice cream is rich and creamy, with the almost marzipan flavour of sakura. It is quite an involved process but it was SO worth it. The taste of sakura is really something quite special.

Have you collected any cherry blossoms this year? Do you think you will try the recipe? I would love to know if you have ever made anything with cherry blossoms, and I’d love to see how your sakura ice cream turns out if you make some!

Creative Kickstarts from Designosaur and Laura Danby

designosaur's #creativeckickstart

This month I really really couldn’t decide between a couple of my favourite #creativekickstart images. I’ve decided to include them both:

The first is Laura Danby’s fox inspired photocollage. Laura says “For me last month was all about foxes… I created a new fox jewellery piece, loved spying on the neighbourhood foxes, was colouring them in and just generally a bit obsessed!” There are loads of very bold foxes round our way too, and I love seeing them especially at night!

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The other image that I just HAD to include was Designosaur’s flatlay objects collage – It’s bold, bright and zingy, just like Karli, and gives a really great alternative way to photograph your creative kickstart image. It inspired me to do my last image a little bit differently and I realised that the reason I hadn’t suggested doing a styled shot in the first place was because I was a bit scared of doing them myself! This image speaks for itself, everything about it is totally visual. As Karli says, it’s about ‘Colours, Lomo, texture and pattern!’. I can’t wait to see the designs Karli and Jacques create with that textured perspex!

designosaur's #creativeckickstart

Thanks to everyone who joined in with the challenge and created images for #creativekickstart this month. Join in again this month and document the things that have been inspiring you creatively in a single image. I’ll be picking images to share around the middle of next month. If you want to nominate someone to join in then why not tag them and ask them to get involved?