Looking Good



Those boxes you see up there? They don’t just happen.

When I decided a couple months back to resurrect my Etsy store, I knew it would be a lot more work, because this time around I wanted to have a better idea of what I was doing. And while I probably won’t be making any profit back for a long long time (ever?), investing the time and creating this brand is something I truly enjoy — to the point that I sometimes forget to eat.

This is becoming a very (temporally) expensive hobby, but the situation is only temporary. And I am so close to debuting!

A good chunk of my time has been spent reading about potential pitfalls and absorbing advice from masters of the art. In addition to Etsy articles and other online resources, I even purchased a (short) book on how to sell one’s handmade jewelry from a secondhand bookstore that is relatively dated (copyrighted in 2006 and doesn’t even mention Etsy) but still extremely applicable. A lot of the advice out there is common sense, but it always helps to see them over again — that means they are addressing problems that EVERYONE has.

One common piece of advice is to carefully track one’s time for everything from the amount of time it takes to make each product to time invested in business details, including advertising, description writeups, and whatnot (this is particularly important for helping calculate item prices). I’m just going to ignore this step for now ūüėõ and (quite validly) assume that setup takes forever and I will become much more efficient as things progress.

Another common piece of advice to develop a consistent look reflective of one’s style. This was something that I had trouble with earlier because I wasn’t sure what my style was and was trying too hard to be too many things. Now I just don’t care! Well, no, I do, but I try to be more strategic about it.

Consider the following:


There was a time when this plot used to decrease very gradually for increasing amounts of effort. Not so much anymore; arguably, these days, the downward slope is quite steep. If you like integrals, you can think of the area under the curve as the expected (not actual) reward for a given amount of effort, and I would like to think the current curve is converging on the solution for the actual reward in return for effort.

Trying Too Hard to Look Good

One of the challenges I have faced in design is focus; I tend to introduce more complicated and/or numerous elements than would be needed, and while sometimes this can turn out cool, other times it is, on many levels, just way too much.

For example, in one recent research manuscript, I used magenta and cyan to plot out my data, which I believe my advisor referred to as “the Easter Bunny effect”. He promptly suggested that I stick with a classic blue and red scheme, which definitely worked out more nicely. Another time, when I was plotting two data lines for multiple samples, I chose different colors for each sample and different shapes for each line:

  • Sample 1: line 1 (red squares), line 2 (red circles)
  • Sample 2: line 1 (blue apex-up triangles), line 2 (blue apex-down triangles)
  • Sample 3: line 1 (green diamonds), line 2 (green stars)

And really, the information was more easily interpreted when I just used the same scheme for each sample:

  • All samples: line 1 (red apex-up triangles), line 2 (blue apex-down triangles)

Good thing, because Matlab would have run out of shapes for me otherwise.

Outside the lab, I encountered another situation, thanks go Girls’ Generation.

I Got A Boy

This past Chinese New Year, another instructor and I were charged with choreographing and organizing the token not-traditional-Chinese dance for our dance group. Aside from cracking the whip at practice, we also had to figure out the best outfit color scheme.

The dance is (clearly, if you recognize the above picture) Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy”, and I was pretty smitten with the camo-style getups shown. We still had to make some adjustments, since the predominantly dark colors would not show up so great on our stage, so we decided on a palette with a balance of light and dark elements (dark green, blue (to allow for denim), gray, black, white, brown, silver and gold), which hopefully most of the members would be able to gather mostly from their own wardrobe with only a few additional add-ons.

Nope. Too many things. You think it could go right, but there are so many more ways it could go wrong. We looked more like a random jumble of students (which we technically were) than like a dance troupe.

What I had thought would have been a minimal-effort scheme turned into a burden, so we had to re-think the colors to maximize contrast while minimizing the micromanaging required to coordinate outfits. During subsequent deliberations, my co-instructor suggested we go with a super-limited color scheme — red and white, which was done last year — but most of the members voted that down, because half of us would have to wear red pants and WHERE THE HECK DO YOU FIND RED PANTS?! After another few suggestions, we compromised and tweaked what we had, and in addition to a few yes’s, there were a lot of no’s:

  • YES: black, white, gold, silver (i.e., aim for high contrast, and give me my metals!)
  • NO: any other color, except for the hat and shoes

As a result, at the next rehearsal, not only did we look coordinated, we looked AWESOME ūüėé !!! I would like to think that was also in part due to the dancing, but yeah, we shined on stage (in some cases literally, such as the one of us who managed to pull off shiny silver leggings and a crop top)!

I went in with the preconceived notion that black-and-white was plain and boring, but there is a reason why they get paired and used together so often. Now in deciding my trademark colors, instead of coming up with logos and signages combining bright colors, rainbow pastels and 50 shades of plum, I was at peace in keeping to a simple color palette of black+white+gold. And maybe just one shade of gray.

It wasn’t until I started writing this blog post that I realized that the signature colors I picked are almost the exact same as those I wore for our token k-pop dance act.

Have I Learned Nothing?

Now, depending on how much you were paying attention, you may be thinking right now: “Hey, wait a minute, you have red in your featured post image! You totally broke your own rules!”

Ok, yes, I was sort of a hypocrite when it came to the actual product pictures, but hey, it didn’t take a lot of effort. (Plus, it’s not like my products adhered to these color rules either.) This time around, rather than thrashing around and trying every which thing I could grab hold off, I am much more consistent and deliberate in my look and have stuck to the following settings:

  • White background – for showing off the physical details of each item.
  • Bowl of coins – to give a sense of scale, in lieu of adding scale bars, which would have been a real pain.
  • Striped scarf – to provide a contrasting background. The scarf actually produced nicer image contrast (using an iPhone) than the white background did. I barely had to edit these images, if at all.
  • Blue-green scarf background while wearing items – the first scarf I pulled out, and much more exciting than any neutral background I could find.

Altogether, my product images tend to look something like these:


FYI, the wooden bowl (for the coins and gravel) was created at a wood shop by my beloved.


Arguably, I could have used the striped scarf for the background here, but this was the first scarf I pulled out of my closet and it was already too late. Plus, red+green+blue=white, so really, I’m not really breaking any rules, right?

As long as I stick with the same settings for the rest of the items, I am set!

Look Good, But Still Like You Don’t Care

I used to agonize over the pictures I used to take; I had to edit each one and was still not satisfied. I used to blame my lack of photography skills and equipment; in reality, however, I just needed a few extra tools and not a whole lot of money:

  • Natural lighting: Arguably a free resource, but it kind of depends on where you live. I used to live in an apartment with rather poor lighting, plus most of my daytime hours were spent at work. Now I have many large windows and an outdoor terrace, and I work from home! And for better or worse, most days are partly cloudy, so the lighting isn’t too harsh.
  • White table top: My old black table top got dusty very easily and made everything look way too austere. Now everything looks open and approachable, and for only about $30 (including shipping) from IKEA.
  • Canva: I came across this on this list of 300+ Awesome Free Internet Resources You Should Know and it has changed my life. Most of my graphical images were produced using this tool. There are already so many available filters, templates, and graphics that most of the work is already done for me as soon as I start a new file.

Creating a comprehensive product description through photos is still a time-consuming process, but it is definitely much smoother than before. I’ll always keep an eye out for new and better strategies (if you know of any, feel free to leave a comment ūüôā ), but for now I’m pretty happy with the results.


Use the (Magnetic) Force: Upcycling Button Pins


Remember those “I Am Loved” pins that were all the rage back in…the late 90s? (Is my age showing?) Or how about the craft accomplishment pins from the recently deceased Whimseybox?

Ever thought about doing something with them?

Well, yes, surely. PIN THEM! No, not like on Pinterest, but in the real physical world, through soft, possibly perforated materials like your favorite trivia night t-shirt or the canvas bags you keep forgetting to bring on your shopping trips.

If you’re not into that, there are other options. This is just one of them, and while I don’t know if I can claim it to be the easiest DIY in the world, it’s definitely up there.

Here’s what you need:

button pin magnets

  • Small button pins — ones that have open access to the “pin” part
  • Magnets – these are 3/4″ in diameter and came in a box of 100 for relatively cheap on Amazon
  • E6000 or your favorite industrial adhesive
  • Pliers

(1+2) Use the pliers to remove the pins. In most cases, you just have to push some part that is flush with the rim towards the center.
(3) Apply your favorite adhesives. A nice dollop would be good for concave surfaces, such as for this button.
(4) Stick the magnet in the back. BUT BEFORE YOU DO, if you’re picky about orientation (e.g., you want your future magnets to be stackable or stick back-to-back), then check before you start sticking things down. Also, the magnet might put up a fight and try to stick to other parts of the button as you bring it close. SHOW IT WHO’S BOSS!

If you have oriented the magnets correctly, you can get a series of them stacked, as shown in the upper right-hand corner.

In my experience, I have found that it is actually possible to pull apart objects stuck together with E6000 (and personally I think it has a strange texture when dried — more on this possibly in the future), so if you mess up, it may not be all lost. Unless you used a really strong magnet, like the Grade 5 ones I have (2800 G or 0.28 T).

The remaining question is, what to do about all these pins?


Maybe stick them to actual buttons to cut down on sewing?

Maybe later.

Now, go stick these magnets everywhere.

Save the paper!


I am really bad at throwing things away. This came in handy in the lab, when we realize 3 years down the line that the useless images or data we got from when we didn’t know what we were doing actually have worth.

This trait is not so handy when you are living in an apartment, but I know that one day everything can be repurposed!

I can’t count how many times I’ve felt time pressure and received odd looks when opening gifts. To this, I¬†adapt an affirmation most recently uttered by Miley Cyrus: it’s my present and I can do what I want.

I have also had to part with many beautiful issues of Vogue in the past.  Now I have a very elegant solution/excuse to get around that, too.

    I am unstoppable.


This is an assortment of some of the magic that can happen when you hoard paper. A good assortment of washi tape helps as well. Here are some close-ups.

(Also, check out the nice chessboard: a product of My Beloved’s woodworking skills.)

The last project was perhaps the most involved, as it required extra alignment and coverage considerations.

For example, flap coverage and curved edges:


And since I was doing this while the box was flattened, I forgot to account for the extra coverage needed to accommodate folds. In some cases, when the paper was pulled too much, this awful thing happened:


While the tear is not overly visible, it breaks my heart to know it’s there.

To avoid more heartache this time around, I’m doing¬†things the right way. The supplies I need are the following:


  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Manual paper cutting blade (I’m sure there is a more technical name for this…)
  • Cutting mat
  • Modge Podge (MP)
  • Sponge brush
  • Paper or papers of interest – in this case, the pink thing sitting up there
  • Washi tape – for all the mistakes that are bound to be made
  • A¬†sacrifice


Here we go:

1. Planning the attack. I had just a¬†proper amount of scrap wrapping paper at hand to cover the entire box. I usually leave alone the flaps and faces that face or often get tucked inside¬†(marked ‘[Blank]’) and just wreak havoc everywhere else. (Note that this side is the interior of the box, and any havoc or non-havoc assignments apply to the¬†exterior.)


2. Going slow. I split the job into a top and bottom half instead of covering the entire thing in one go, even though I could have, given the shape of the paper. I cut the paper in two, conveniently along one of its original folds (you know, from back when it was actual wrapping paper), and lined up its straight edges with those of the box so I would have one less edge to trim to shape.


3. The missing detail.¬†This was what I failed to do the first time: go one panel at a time. This time, I covered just a single panel with MP to stick the paper to…


Before I bent part of the box up to pre-fold the next piece (i.e., before applying more MP, just to make sure it would fall in place once I was ready).


4. Close shave. Once I was done adhering on the top half, I laid the box flat again to start trimming the excess paper. See how on one side the paper and edge are aligned?¬†That was so that I wouldn’t have to trim that side, but I’m going to have to anyway because¬†the paper overshot and it bugs me.



5. Finishing touches. I repeated this on the other half and now have a new box! Well, almost. This is where washi tape comes in.


My principle: Anywhere the paper can peel off or gets tucked in and out frequently¬†during use, APPLY WASHI TAPE. When in doubt, APPLY WASHI TAPE. In fact, don’t think, just APPLY WASHI TAPE.

(Well, I did exercise some moderation and applied tape only to straight edges.)


Just a few more strips for decoration purposes (and because there was a scratch on the front), and ta da!


Given its humble beginnings and relatively simple makeover, I’d say it looks pretty sweet. Too bad I’m not keeping it. I’m going to give it to my BFFFFF, and maybe she’ll put her own collection of washi tape in it. Although, knowing her, she doesn’t need a box; she needs a trunk.



Etsy or bust – the journey begins


Once upon a time I did have an Etsy store, but it didn’t take off. I am kind of glad it didn’t.

It was around my second year in grad school and I was trying to galvanize on my jewelry-making skills. I was happy to a have a few techniques at hand and some bouts of inspiration. I made a few creations that I thought were neat and sort of quirky and could have selling potential. But after a couple months with a small inventory on Etsy, frustration with photography, and very little response, I decided I really couldn’t justify the monthly listing fee, no matter how small. I also had much bigger things on my plate, i.e., my thesis.

Looking back, I realized one of the big problems was that while I started developing a signature style, I wasn’t really designing for anyone, much less myself. In fact, not for myself at all. Would I wear these things? Probably not. In the last few weeks, I took out some of the pieces I created all those years ago and just thought “I could do better than that!”

In any case, even if an order ever did get placed, I would have been ill prepared, because I didn’t have an idea on how to package any of these things! And figuring out the shipping? Ugh, the shipping…

So now we are starting anew.

I sometimes tell my friends that the reason why we get a PhD is because we do become Doctors of Philosophy. Aside from our love of wisdom, we spend a lot of time asking ourselves a lot of soul-searching questions:

Why am I here, in front of the electron microscope at 1 AM? Who the heck thought of this nearly impossible experiment? Why don’t I have a real job like a normal human being?

This, like many of our other skills, can be applied easily to other areas outside our specialized fields:

When would anyone wear something that looks like this? How much packaging do I need to make sure things don’t break? Why don’t I have a real job like a normal human being?

One of the major hurdles I had to overcome was being able to take pride in my own designs. I was proud of being self-taught and creating very original, self-thought-up designs, but after some time I didn’t care for what I made and wanted better ideas. I heard a quote once along the lines of “People are people through other people”, which I have taken to heart, because my own style solidified not by remaining a hermit but rather by opening up and seeing what everyone else was up to. Boy, was I dumb, but I managed to beat my pride down and open up.

At the beginning, I was wondering how creative of a DIY-er I was if I was just copying stuff that others presented in their tutorials and whatnot. In the end, just like with my research, by doing the things that people before me had done, I slowly built up to the new things I could all my own (you may know this as “fake it till you make it”).

So, with that out of the way, here are some of my new creations!


They’re still works-in-progress, mainly because I was running low on chains and findings to complete everything, but here’s a close-up of some of the pieces.

First and foremost, Blumen! (German for “Flowers”, pronounced like it’s spelled.) A pain in the bum to make, but a very pretty pain in the bum, indeed.

Remember my recent obsession with using nail polish for pretty shiny things? It’s taking over!!!

I think Blumen will be a signature piece, meaning I’ll have plenty of opportunities to figure out how to make them more efficiently O_o

Additionally, I was able to give a home to leftover supplies.

Delta. Leftover sequin tubes have their revenge!

Delta. Leftover sequin tubes have their revenge!

Tiger Eye.

Tiger Eye.

It. Is. Happening.

Ancient artifacts


Some time after I recovered from being sick, I went back home to the heart of it all and occupied myself with a couple new things: this was the first time I discovered the other things I could do with nail polish; this was also shortly after getting my first glue gun and wondering how I survived without it.

This is the post where I strut my re-invention finesse.

This is also the post where I learn that the before pictures in a before-and-after set are valuable.

You? You can go on my wall.

You? You can go on my wall.

Imagine if you will, a purple picture board with nothing but satin pink ribbons and accompanying rosettes dotting the junctions (not a single one to be found here). ¬†It was a gift from a friend in high school and something that had not seen the light of day for more than minutes at a time, because even back then it was not my style. ¬†I contemplated a couple other solutions, including more drastic one such as creating a large wall of parallel ribbons in the background or just taking all the pink things off altogether. ¬†Fortunately, I cut my grief and even utilized some of crafting leftovers to create this much lovelier thing. ¬†Thin ribbons from dresses and shirts have found a new existence! ¬†Broken bling pieces and a NYC transit token can be proudly displayed! Finally, a place for all those things I did not know where else to put…and pictures.

The second item in question has been sitting around out in the open and tarnished as a result. ¬†I regret not going at it earlier with a brush laden with baking soda to remind it of what a shiny thing it¬†used to be, but it’s okay: one day, it will be completely submerged in adorable flowers. ¬†In the meantime, this was how far I got before running out of wire:

This might actually be upgrading its princess status.

On a pedestal, like the princess it is.

Those flowers? Wire and nail polish. I first stumbled across¬†this technique via a pin to this video. ¬†It has changed my life. ¬†Basically, for each of the loops (petals or leaves), you place your nail polish-laden brush flat against it and pull across like you’re making a bubble. ¬†Just as well, you could also just dump the polish out and dip the loop in that way (more wasteful though).

A few tips on this technique:

  1. You know how when you’re painting your nails, you want little excess on the brush so that you don’t end up making a very thick coating that will take forever to dry? ¬†Don’t do that here. ¬†Short of dripping everywhere, bring the liquid on! ¬†You’ll save yourself a lot of grief because the bubble will repeated burst unless there’s enough polish to sustain the entire journey across the gap.
  2. Make sure the metal rim stays visible on the front, make sure you decide which sides are the front and back before you start painting so you paint only on the back side.
  3. After every petal, spin the whole structure around slowly to make sure gravity doesn’t push all your colors down to one side.
  4. For a lot of nail polishes, the finished product may still be translucent when you hold it up against a direct light. ¬†This can be a nice effect, but if it’s not your thing or just ended up looking sad, just apply another coat.

This won’t be the last you see of these flowers! ¬†More solvent-induced madness to come!