Hot or not? Ombre

Do you think that the trend for ombre is on its way out? That’s how it seems to me ~ no longer is my Pinterest feed filled with toned tights and layered cakes like it used to be.


5 plates -

{designlump – 5 plates}


sef - sine wave

{sef – sine wave}


But I must confess that even though I’m not one for dip-dyed hair or cardigans, I still have a secret hankering for all things gradated. From when I was small and I first discovered drawing, I loved seeing how I could change the pressure on my pencil and make light gradually become dark. I loved arranging my big collection of coloured pencils into rainbows, and sorting my dolls by size. I loved being visually sucked down the train lines to where the tracks converge; looking from the horizon to the sky and seeing the soft shift in tone and the halo surrounding the sun.

It was what I found so seductive about the desert. Those sand dunes? Smooth.


nel linsen - necklace

{nel linsen – paper necklace}



hiroshi sugimoto - seascape at cape breton

{hiroshi sugimoto – seascape at cape breton}



Rosa Frei - Sahara desert of Morocco

{Rosa Frei – Sahara desert of Morocco}


Like all design elements, I think gradation will never go out of fashion. It just has to be used well.

So what do you think? Do you have some embarrassing ombre in your wardrobe or home? Think carefully about why you no longer like it – perhaps it’s not the effect itself, maybe it just wasn’t used well in the first place.


Small Biz how-to : Monday Mini Makeovers!

closed for renovations - michael sweeney

closed for renovations – michael sweeney {click image for source}


WELCOME to my brand new segment, Monday Mini Makeovers. Here every fortnight, I will be showcasing a bunch of online creative micro-bizzes just like yours – and giving them a visual makeover!

The idea is that not only do these good folk benefit from having a fresh set of eyes over their online presence, but that YOU my fab reader, also get tips on how you can charge up your own online presence.

I reckon that’s a WIN-WIN.


Just a quick disclaimer – these are simply my initial impressions when I land on people’s sites. It’s not an in-depth analysis, and it’s not intended to be taken as any kind of definitive professional advice.

I’m concentrating on my initial impressions because it’s what your potential customers do. If your site doesn’t look interesting enough, if it’s hard to navigate, or it doesn’t clearly convey who you are and what you offer, another store is  just a click away.

Of course you’d like them to stick around and have a bit of an explore – so, these are my suggestions on how these sites could be improved for easier customer access, for visual cohesion and branding.

I play things as I see them, so you can expect honesty, but I PROMISE I will be kind 🙂  So here goes!


Bec Gullo and Bluebird Candles

Bluebird Candles

Bluebird Candles

Bec sells lush-sounding fragrant soy candles in recycled and recyclable glass, and she asked for some suggestions on her Facebook page.

From having a quick look through her FB photos, I can see she enjoys a bit of retro styling in her images – kind of 60s, but warm and homey, with some tropical lushness thrown in (she’s based in Innisfail, Queensland). This is a lovely aesthetic to work with, and I think she could concentrate on it to help her with her whole branding efforts.

With images and branding, the idea is to pick out what suits your product and the mood you’re trying to convey and then reinterpret that with your own styling. It’s often helpful to stick to a limited palette (say of 5-10 colours) and 2-3 fonts that you use for everything.

With regard to Bec’s FB page, it’s important to note that you are a bit limited on what you can do on Facebook – a lot of the screen is taken up with Facebook’s own colours and layout. Image-wise, you can really only change your ‘Cover Picture’ (i.e. the big one) and your ‘Profile Picture’ (the little square).

Bec’s cover photo does nothing much to convey anything about her business – it just looks like a blue jar in the garden.  I think both cover and profile pics could benefit from some lush styling, something fragrant and pretty (perhaps tropical – e.g Pina Colada? Tangerine anyone?) from one of her best sellers. Or for instance, lit candles in a lush garden would be much more inviting and descriptive as a cover photo. Concentrate on how those scents make you FEEL – conjure up a relaxing scene!

Just underneath the cover photo, there are four frames. You can’t change the ‘Photos’ and the ‘Likes’, but you can add in more frames and use them for apps – that way you can link to your shop, special events, notes, and a whole lot more – just click on the little drop-down arrow on the right.

When you use them to add in specific events, make sure they’re kept up to date. Nobody likes clicking on a link only to find something that finished 2 months ago – yuk! Bec has used them well, adding in a link to a giveaway she is running at the moment, and to a market that she will be doing soon.

Generally, she has very good engagement on Facebook, with frequent posting about new products, events, and other special things that have happened (like the glorious sunset she saw). Engaging with your customers on facebook is also an excellent way to do a bit of customer research if you keep your eyes and ears open – what sorts of things do they respond to the most? The more you engage with them the easier it is to build up a picture of your customer.


Deborah Davey and Domum Vindemia

Domum Vindemia

Domum Vindemia

Deb sells upcycled vintage crockery (turning them into sweet cake stands) and linen, as well as bunting and other decorative items in her Etsy shop, DomumVindemia, and I would describe her style as a sweet and ditsy style of shabby chic, with lots of florals in pale and pretty colours.

Firstly, Deb’s shop header needs a bit of a tweak. The images chosen are fine, but the text looks chunky and pixelated. I probably would chose a softer colour too – the black looks a bit harsh.

Looking through her first page of products, my initial suggestion is that she should try and keep the viewpoints in each of her photos at a more consistent angle (at the moment when I browse her shop, the multiple angles remind me of a ship rocking in the ocean). Composition wise, the cake stands are too large in the picture frame – give them more space to breathe. In Etsy, for each product you have 5 images to use, so use some of them for macro details of the patterns. Take a straight, level, side-on view to show off their stands.

Style your bookmarks with books so that it is obvious what they are and how they look in use. Some of the plainer items look good against the sheet music, but if your items have lots of pattern then beware of making your photos too busy – it can detract from the item. A plain background is easy to make with a large piece of white cardboard – I use a bulldog clip to hold it onto the back of a kitchen chair, or onto a large hardcover book that I have standing up and propped open (Yes, I’ve got a tutorial with some photography tips in the works and it will be published soon, I promise!). Cardboard doesn’t crease like paper or fabric, and it’s easy enough to remove spots in Photoshop or Picmonkey by using the rubber stamp tool.

Lighter items like the bunting can be styled against a darker background. However, keep the backgrounds more consistent – using various spots around the garden would be fine, but perhaps not against the brick wall as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the vintage shabby feel of the product in Domum Vindemia.

Overall, I think it comes down to consistency. In Deb’s shop, there are lots of competing angles, widely varying backgrounds; and some but not all of the photo frames have a soft fadeout edge. At the moment it all looks a bit busy and I feel like I need to walk into the shop and tidy the shelves.

If you have all of your similar items styled in a similar manner, at the same size and orientation, your shop will look and feel neat.


Louise Radge and Radge Design

Radge Design

Radge Design

Louise is a graphic designer and makes wire-wrapped jewellery in her Hand-Made shop, RadgeDesign.

Like many other platforms that allow you to set up your own shop, the vast majority of the screen space is given over their house-styling, leaving you with only your shop banner to grab potential customer’s attention. Louise has got a distinctive logo of a purple flower, which she has developed out of one of her artworks. The logo is interesting, but there is nothing much else so it all looks a bit too white and empty. The grey stripe along the bottom looks a bit flat and thick, because it’s very different to the hand drawn elements. The “R” and the purple flower obviously come from hand drawn elements, so perhaps instead she could try using a hand drawn line like on the flower to do a simple frame (or even a fancy one, if it suits) to define the whole banner and give it more personality.

Arial is a very common font, and I’m sure it doesn’t do justice to Louise’s talents as a graphic designer. To advertise her talents, I think she would be much better off choosing something more stylish. I also would not mix up capitals halfway through the tagline. Easiest way around that is to use all caps or all lower case.

The word “funky” could be used with a shop that specialises in bright, colourful, 60s/70s-inspired kitsch, but really I think it’s a word best left to describing James Brown (WOO!).  Spend some time with a thesaurus, write down a list of words that you might like to use in your tagline and then choose the best, or just leave it out entirely and concentrate on the practical words that describe what you do.

Now to the product lisitngs. The size of the products in each photo is good, however all the photos are a bit dark, and this is especially noticeable against the graphic design items which are very white. Brightening your images is quite easy with Photoshop, Picmonkey or any other photo-editing program. If your images look a bit washed out when you up the brightness, then all you need to do is up the contrast as well, and this should fix it.


 Phew! Got all that? 


Now it’s over to you! Can you think how the suggestions I’ve made today could be applied to your biz? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

Have I still not solved your problem for your biz? If you’ve got a specific question let me know in the comments below!

AND, if you would like a Mini Monday Makeover on your biz, you can join in too – all you have to do is subscribe here, and follow the instructions.

See you then!
Julie X

Opinion + Design how-to : There’s decoration and there’s decoration

There’s decoration and there’s decoration, and seriously, it’s not just a matter of taste. What do I mean? I mean the thoughtless sticking on of stuff, just because “it’s-popular-therefore-it-must-be-good” or even “it needed something, so I stuck a flower/bow/octopus on it”.

Nick Cave  (from the Soundsuit series)


However, I will forgive Nick Cave (the performance artist with the wild costumes [above], not the singer/songwriter, whom I also admire deeply). His work lives because of its excess – overload on overload. It’s a wild conglomeration and dazzling to the eye, but what makes it work is all the elements that correspond. See how much yellow and red he uses throughout, and check those fabulous protuberances – they’re recognisable as a bunch of tin toy spinning tops.

Nick Cave (from the Soundsuit series)

And lots of flowers. And all so fabulously tactile.


Design has to be meaningful and appropriate to be good; therefore a decoration needs to be considered properly and be a necessary part of the thing that it’s decorating. That means if you took the decoration away, the thing would seem poorer for it, or less powerful in some way. I’d reckon that’s certainly true of Nick’s work. What would it be without excess?

However, not everyone is good at excess.



Fair enough; that kind of thing takes guts and vision to pull off.


But many folk aren’t good at restraint either. I see so many instances where the decoration is unhelpful at best, and an appalling abomination at worst. Having a trawl through Etsy brings up some rippers.


monogrammed straw slippers -

monogrammed straw slippers –


I cannot bring myself to publicly share some of the totally dreadful things I’ve found. So I’ve chosen these because they’re more or less well-executed (despite the fact that the slippers above are actually imported from China, and the shopowner is simply handy with a hot glue gun). The design problem here is that there is little in terms of visual elements that relates the fabric and/or button to the slipper. Perhaps the scale of the gingham is kind of close-ish to the scale of the weave, but that’s drawing a pretty weak link, and that’s about it. There is no correspondence of shapes, colour, texture, or anything much else that I can see.

Take away the bow, and you’ve got a beautiful texture, with very lovely natural variations in the colour of the straw. I think that’s interesting enough on its own.


octopus light switch cover -

octopus light switch cover –


How do you fancy fumbling for the light switch in the night and encountering an octopus? This switch cover appears to be cast all from the same material, so it’s the same colour… but how is this in any way enhancing the shape (or even usefulness) of the switch plate? I’m absolutely positive there are an infinite number of other things I could put on my walls to add interest to my room.


sweetheart apron -

sweetheart apron –

A girly chooky apron. OK, I’ll pay the spots, even if they’re not my cup of tea. But ricrac AND broderie anglaise ruffles AND a bow?

Please, please, please, think carefully about adding in stuff just because it’s there. For design to work well, it needs to correspond well with the object it is gracing. It also needs to add something, more than just itself. It needs to add a deeper element of beauty, of interest and/or of meaning.

In the words of the legendary architect Mies Van der Rohe, “Less is more”.


Unless you’re Nick Cave.


What do you think? Do you like the examples I’ve given, or do you disagree with me entirely? I would LOVE you to tell me your thoughts!

Julie X

Opinion : Hot or Not?

Yippee! SO excited about this new segment on tractorgirl. What I’m going to do is pick a current trend in craft and design, review it, and pull it apart to see if it’s worth having as a trend. Whadya reckon?

Be warned, the vagaries of my personal taste are bound to peek through now and again…

OK, so let’s get started.



Do you love them or hate them? You know I live on farm, so I’m probably a bit predisposed to regard them as a blight on the landscape. Originally brought to Australia to provide hunting sport for the gentry, they spread rapidly and are now considered a feral pest throughout the country, with government programs in place in an attempt to eradicate them. They are a cruel destroyer of lambs (in a good season they hunt for fun, not food), which can be hard and expensive for farmers. But even more importantly, they have also devastated some populations of native animals and birds to the point of extinction.

Real ones aside, the pretend ones I am seeing in graphic and surface design and crafts are all a bit cutesy for my taste. Perhaps cute is OK when you’re designing for kids. What I’m REALLY not liking is seeing cute on things made for grownups. (And of course, I’m not fussed on the tendency for everyone under the sun to “whack a fox on it” in an ill-considered attempt to keep it “trendy”.)

Nonetheless, there are foxes and there are foxes. Here, I’ve chosen a few of the more interesting interpretations of this trend.


owlprintpanda - DIY felted fox knitting bag pattern PDF

owlprintpanda – DIY felted fox knitting bag pattern PDF

I quite like how the nose has been utilised as the closure here – it adds a nice three-dimensionality to the face. Not sure I’d like a knitted bag as a knitting bag though – I hope it’s lined so your needles don’t poke through. From  .


gnomewerxPDX - little fox family of four

gnomewerxPDX – little fox family of four

These are sweet and naive, perfect for kids to play with. But if it weren’t for the colour, I’d think they’re not so fox-like as much as Max in his wolf suit. From


rabbit and eye - 3 clever foxes leggings

rabbit and eye – 3 clever foxes leggings

Why have one when you can have three? Perhaps one would have been more eloquent. On the side. From

natitys - too cute fox ( cream)

natitys – too cute fox ( cream)

Hipster foxes! Now that’s a double whammy of appeal. Might be cute on a kid’s bag? Or pyjamas? But please, not on your tote. From


krukrustudio - leather bag sleeping fox

krukrustudio – leather bag sleeping fox

Perfect for an almost-teenage girl, it’s succinct and sturdy. Big enough for lipgloss, camera and a book to read – perhaps the one about the fox and the crow? Because a girl’s got to learn how to be crafty, and get what she wants.


Overall, I don’t mind these examples of foxes on thngs. But if you’d just take two seconds to search through any online crafty-type marketplace, I can guarantee you’ll come up with HUNDREDS of items of not-so-fantastic Mr. Fox. Hahaha, you know you will, don’t deny it!


So what do YOU think? Hot or not? You’re welcome to tell me I’m a snob!

Cheers, Julie X

Opinion : handcraft and community ~ it’s not as good as you think

sewing circle - photographer unknown

sewing circle – photographer unknown


There’s something quite lovely about getting together with a friend and making stuff. Sewing, knitting, cutting, filing. Your hands are busy, and your mind has space to enjoy the peace and conversation. And there is the added bonus of a fresh set of eyes and ears to toss ideas around with. Share tips and tricks. Learn from each other. Offer suggestions for improvement. And there is the opportunity to pass on skills (like mother to daughter, but to a broader group).

There should be more of it.

We used to do this much more often before the middle of the 20th century, before the consumer age really kicked in. Before we became ‘self-sufficient’ and self-focused. Craft groups are having a small revival, but it is still small. With the resurgence in handcrafts around the world, are our lives that busy that we can’t meet up?  It seems to me that we are too easily lulled into a false sense of ‘connectedness’, and instead we are insulated by the internet. Youtubes and e-courses have their place, but there’s nothing quite like the tactile, one-on-one experience.


Because other people’s opinions are valuable, and
because not everything you make is wonderful.


True, some crafts are more suited to this than others; embroidery, knitting and crochet are highly mobile; jewellery and ceramics might be a bit trickier. But there are always aspects of every craft that are mobile. Could you set up a co-op to cater for jewellery, woodworking, or participate in an existing open access workshop? Instead of saying “my craft (sewing/jewellery/woodwork/ceramics/whatever) is not portable enough”, try and figure out ways to make it work. Or just invite a friend over to your workspace.

Watch and do, immediate feedback – what better way to learn a craft is there?


Go on, it’ll be fun.



grrlandog - vaucluse house guerilla knit

grrlandog – vaucluse house guerilla knit

{grrlandog via here}


Small Biz : 7 good reasons to not discount your wares

7 good reasons to not discount your wares.
So much of how our society works is based on money. It’s a useful tool for sure, providing a common medium of exchange between various people and/or businesses. And because it’s at the core of business (otherwise it wouldn’t be “business”, right?), the temptation for small businesses is to try and compete on price, because it’s easy.

But your biz is not just about money, is it. Is it? You can’t make a life out of giving stuff away; you have to sell it. You must be fairly compensated for your labour, your skills, and your vision.


7 good reasons to not discount your wares in small bizImage from © Lime Lane Photography


Don’t get me wrong – discounting can be a useful strategy sometimes. But use it wisely. Leverage it! I had a sale in my shop recently, and I sold enough to buy myself a new computer. Two points: 1.Yes, the discount was substantial. It encouraged some sales for sure, and managed to move some of my older stock (bonus! Don’t hang onto onto old stock; but I’ll write more about that in another post.) 2. It worked well because I RARELY have sales. It’s the rarity of the event that creates genuine interest.

Carrying on from my recent post here, it is my long-held belief that art/craft/design is generally quite undervalued and, depending on your medium, it can be either somewhat undervalued, or like, GREATLY undervalued.


Don’t undervalue yourself.


Our world is driven by the internet these days, and we are bombarded with choice. Of course it’s tempting to compete on price; everybody loves a bargain, and it’s a five minute job to change a price on an item, or offer up a discount code. But in the end, it’s not a sustainable or healthy way to go (for everyone – even your customers, who think they want the ‘bargains’. More on this later).


1. Continually offering discounts via ‘Sales’ doesn’t equate to building up sustainable interest in your biz.

If you continually have ‘Sales’, you build up an expectation that there will be another ‘sale’ shortly, so customers don’t bother buying ‘now’. Spotlight does this all the time, supermarkets do this too. Truth is, I don’t rush out to Spotlight or Woolies every time I hear there’s a sale on (and remember, they’ve already built the ‘discount’ into the price of other things in the store). If I’m there in the shop, I’ll buy the discounted item if it’s something that I want, but generally I won’t make a special trip just to get that item. I know there will always be another time, and I go to those shops for reasons other than ‘sales’. So when you continually discount (have YOU built the discount into the prices of other things in your store?), you wear out your impact, and you shortchange yourself.


2. When you continually undercharge, and/or continually discount, you are sending messages about your value to your potential customers.

How much are you really worth? You are not a discount store, you are a highly skilled producer of creative product.  You are not just a reseller of materials and labour; you also need to consider how long it has taken to build up your particular set of skills – years of practice? What about the time spent researching and sourcing your materials? The time taken to attend a seminar or read a book on business skills? Work THAT into how much you charge for your time. If you charged by the hour at the same rates of other skilled jobs , e.g. plumber or mechanic, the disparity becomes patently obvious.


3. By continually offering your goods and services at low rates, you are devaluing your whole field of endeavour

You devalue everything by building in and confirming customer’s expectations about how much these skilfully made things are worth. Yes, it means your other wonderfully creative friends suffer in the long run too.


4. To compete on price, eventually you are going to have to cut corners somewhere.

Efficiency and time management can only take you so far, so the next thing to suffer is the quality of your finished product.  This is where your customer loses out too. When your quality drops, your customer misses the joy of receiving a beautifully made object. Perhaps they even greet your object with gentle disappointment, perhaps they are more non-committal; perhaps they will not keep it as carefully, nor will they appreciate it for a long time afterward. For ALL of us, poorly made objects lose their resonance quickly – they just don’t mean much and soon simply become more ‘stuff’.


5. You are a professional.

Just because sites like Etsy are loaded with people who have no financial imperative to make a living/profit does not mean you have to try and match their prices. For them it’s a hobby, and often they just want to cover their material costs. But YOU, if you are any kind of professional, will out-compete these hobbyists on presentation and customer service every time. Being prompt, efficient and helpful in all aspects of your business takes time and effort; and I as a customer would much prefer to have that seamless experience than to be left waiting on answers to questions and/or goods to turn up. That professionalism is worth paying for.


6. Wholesalers take around 50% of the retail price.

If there’s ever even a vague possibility that one day you might like to wholesale your goods, remember that wholesalers take a hefty slice of the retail price. That means you still have to be making a reasonable rate for yourself when you are selling to them at half price. Don’t ever be tempted to retail cheaper than them – to undercut them is poor manners (you’re stealing their business!), and they will most likely not deal with you again.


7. You are not a third world worker.

It is impossible to compete on price with other products in your marketplace that are manufactured overseas with poor ethical and environmental standards. Think carefully about how much that person in the third world sweatshop was paid to manufacture that item – not to mention that they were most likely working in unsafe and cramped factory conditions. Don’t try and compete on price.


So, how do you figure out how much to charge?


I’ve come across some excellent articles on how to do it properly. Ink & Spindle, (who produce wonderful hand-screenprinted fabrics, and who I interviewed a while ago here) wrote a great article on how to price your wares properly. They shared a basic formula, and backed it up with great reasons why it (or something like it) should be used. The formula is

Time + Materials = Cost Price.
Cost Price x 2 = Wholesale.
Wholesale x 2 = RETAIL.

You can read about the formula AND the reasoning behind it here.

Another great article was written by my friend Jess from Create & Thrive. She suggested firstly to (a) Price with the head – have a formula and be logical about it. And then AFTER you have got a grip on a logical price, (b) Price with the heart. Think about how branding can change the perception of your product. This does NOT mean lowering your prices back down again! She offers the great example of Apple, who have managed to build a raving fan-base that gobble up ALL the products at PREMIUM prices. Check out the full article here.


Pricing in any business can be tricky, and in any kind creative business it can be trickier still. We are fighting entrenched ways of thinking – in ourselves as well as in others.  Stay strong! Reconsider your pricing and hold off on the discounting.

Charge the right prices. You are a professional. You are highly skilled and have years of practice under your belt.


You are totally worth it.



If you’d like to create a stand-out biz, you can. Join me!  {Click here}.