Looking Good

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Progress

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:

IMG_1096

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
  • ABSOLUTELY NO: gray

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:

1

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

2

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?
4

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.

A brief intro to the structure of bling

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Oh, crystals! I do love my crystals.

They’re the foundation material for most of my works, but it was not really until I was an undergrad that I really appreciated them.

This was partly because I had not realized that so many of the materials I dealt with on a regular basis were crystalline.

The thing is, when you have a solid material, the atoms have to sit somewhere, but where do they go?! Well, it’s not always easy to answer this, but if you have a general idea of what the atoms are, what sort of traumatic treatments (extreme heat, natural disasters, etc.) they had to face, what other junk got tossed into the mixture, and what the ambient temperature and atmosphere are, you could make some pretty good guesses. For centuries, this is exactly what people did!

Given enough time, energy, and a certain affinity for one another, with all atoms being more or less equal, they will try to sit in an ordered manner with one another. Many of my favorite materials happen to sit in a nice cubic structure, the simplest case being a simple cubic configuration, where one atom occupies each corner:

SC unit cell
It doesn’t get simpler than this.

But that’s just 8 atoms, and what do you care about 8 atoms? That’s practically nothing (seriously)! Well, if you keep propagating that cubic pattern in all the main directions along the cube’s edges (forward-backward, left-right, up-down), you’re going to get a larger crystal.

Crystal building
Yes, this is exactly how crystal structures propagate.

How large you ask? Well, up until you run into a wall.

wall
Well, I guess we’re camping out here. Indefinitely.

And if your atoms just don’t have enough time, energy, or discipline, they just are a mess.

Here’s how this manifests in some real materials you might actually care about:

  1. Some solids are obviously crystalline: diamond, quartz, sapphire, etc. You can tell because they have nice flat surfaces or facets that naturally occur when you try to cut these things into smaller pieces.
  2. Some solids are not so obviously crystalline: metals are the big one. Most metals we deal with are just collections of very tiny crystallites packed tightly enough that you can’t tell the difference between one or the other unless you have a microscope. So unless you’re dealing with something really REALLY special, that hunk of metal you’re working is polycrystalline.
  3. Some solids are not crystalline at all: glass is not just the name of a material but also a structural term. It just so happens that glass is a glass. How about that?

For (1) and (2), you got more or less long-range order, it’s just that for (1) it’s definitely longer than for (2). (2) happens when you have two armies running up against each other to do battle at their boundaries, and yeah, it’s a mess.

As for (3), this is what is known as “amorphous”. I mean, it kind of does have order, it’s just short-range order (OMG, the name of the blog in a blog post!!). It could be just a mess of cubes or polyhedrons randomly oriented with respect to each other, so order is limited to the nearest atoms only (e.g. as far as the cube corners go).

Short-range order
PARTY!

Or it really could be a complete mess, like freezing in time the chaos that ensues when throwing a bunch of primary schoolers into a classroom and ordering them to sit in their seats while candy rains from the ceiling.

Even shorter-range order
CANDY PARTY!

Clearly, order takes time to restore. Likewise, cooling silicon dioxide (SiO2) too quickly from a liquid to a solid does not give time for the atoms to settle into place (like it would in quartz), so it remains chaos (i.e., glass). But frozen.

Given enough time, the sugar and natural hyperactivity will wear off, and all the atoms will settle into their lowest energy state.

image

The end.

Etsy or bust – the journey begins

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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!

IMG_0619

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

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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!