Friday, January 29, 2010

Beautiful Sites

Later this year when I'm no longer at my current job and (maybe) have more time to focus on jewelry things, I'd like to get my blogs redesigned. Preferably I'd like to at least get this blog designed to match my website (and someday get my main website back up to accept orders).

Maybe someday my website will be in the 35 Most Beautiful Websites. :)

Mail Chimp made it! Which doesn't really surprise me as they have an extremely great set up and easy to work with system.

These are some of my favorites.

Not all of them look that beautiful to me. This one kind of creeps me out.

I am not sure if the lady I've been working with for my website does blog design too but if so I'll probably stick with her. Unless someone has a suggestion for a really great blog designer. It has to be something I can work with and don't need to rely on them to update things. And of course it has to work with Blogger because I have no real desire to switch to another site...although I'm not completely opposed to it if it's easy (and easy by MY standards, which means kindergarten).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fashionably Trashy

And no, I'm not insulting anyone. :) Who says that garbage can't be classy?

One of the designers, Allyson Hill, who I have made several purchases from made the front page on Etsy today and it just reminded me how truly cool her product is.

I bought one of her car trash bags a couple of years ago for my own car and she's made it even better with a snap-able strap. I've also bought these as gifts, since they are so reasonably priced, for my husband's truck, my mom's car, and my MIL's car. You can personalize these with all sorts of different fabric choices. I got hubby a camo one!

You can hang it from the back of the front seats (or even the back seats if the headrest works with it) or from the stick shift, which is how I have mine.

Now she has something called an Auto Sneeze that is SO flippin' clever. She's so imaginative. It's a cozy for tissues that attaches to your visor. How cool is that?!?!
I go through so many Kleenexes though that this isn't nearly big enough for me...I keep full size boxes in my car. ha!

I'm very proud to say that "I knew her when" ... back when she had a lot fewer sales. She's almost to 7,000 sales on Etsy!!! You go girl!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Huge Contest Ending Soon

Okay, I have to thank Sense to Save for alerting me to this ginormous contest (is ginormous really a word? It doesn't turn up with that red squiggly line underneath it LOL) over at Money Crashers.

The value of all the prizes is now over $9,000!!!!!! Holy Giveaway Batman! And there are dozens of ways to earn extra entries...I cannot even imagine how they are keeping track of everything.

So, in the spirit of spreading the love, and getting extra entries, I'm writing a post to let you know about it too. And I'm going to cross post this on my other blog.

Good luck (and if you'll share with me right?) =)

It's Just a Day

Hubby and I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. I really don't remember if we ever did, even when we first started dating.

I'm not anti-Valentine ... I just think it's kind of silly to profess your love for one another on a certain day of the year. We should do it every single day. I know a couple of women (and some guys actually) who believe this holiday is almost as important as Christmas or Thanksgiving and actually get upset if their significant other doesn't acknowledge their love.


I've been seeing a lot of advertising related to this day and it reminds me that I should probably jump on that band wagon. I'm horrible at promoting my jewelry for Valentine's Day and always have been. Since it's not a big deal in our house (it will be when the boy is in school and gets to do V-day cards though...I LOVE doing those!) I tend to forget that other folks are actually shopping for gifts. are my Valentine's Day suggested goodies...if you are so inclined.

From my shop.

Love Knots necklace - a never ending circle - just like your love. :) There are also matching earrings and a smaller version of each with round pearls.

For the Art Lover - this is so gorgeous! "In the Tree II" by Hadley Hutton.

Gorgeous ceramics...designs by Kieffer Ceramics just mesmerize me.

My friend Dana makes the most amazing wire wrapped Gemstone trees.

She even wrote a book so you could make one too! I'm so proud of her! It's even available on!!!

And last but not least today...some really yummy looking lip gloss by Flourish Bath & Body. I haven't actually tried hers, but it looks so beautiful.

And I really like tinted lip gloss. If it is as smooth as the kind I use from Avon it would be a great switch for me and one of these days I'll try it.

If you're still struggling for ideas for your loved one for the big V-Day, head on over to Etsy, 1000 Markets, or ArtFire and see if you can find something fabulously handmade. :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Coolest Creation

I don't always read the newsletters I subscribe to, especially from vendors who sell things.

But thankfully I opened today's Metal Clay Supply newsletter because they have the COOLEST accessories for metal clay and I MUST have some!!! I just need to sell a few more pieces of jewelry so I can justify making another supply purchase. =)

O.M.G.!!! (and G always stands for Gosh on this site).

I love these things. They will create a more finished look in my fancier pendants and earrings. And now I can actually set some of my faceted stones without having to mess with soldering.

They will add a little bit of cost to my work but they will also allow me some more flexibility and save me time. I can't wait to order some and I will (try to) report how they work. :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Project A Week?

I'm not sure if I can actually do it, but I'd really like to make a goal for the year of designing one new thing each week. It might not be literally one a week ... maybe one week I'll make four items and then have a dry spell.

But I want them to be actual new designs, not just remaking current designs for filling orders.

For example, this necklace was in my head all last week and I FINALLY was able to finish it up Sunday night. I actually started working on it Wednesday or Thursday but could only work in a few minute incriments.

The earrings match but I'm going to sell those separately in case someone just wants one or the other but not both (my mom is like this...she doesn't like sets sold together).

So, although I'm a little late, this is my semi-New Year's resolution. We'll see how long I can keep it with all the changes and unknowns this year.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Profit is Not a Dirty Word

The latest Jewelry Artist magazine had a fantastic article about pricing jewelry. All too often we jewelry designers (and other Artsy folks) price our work much too low. I'm guilty of it for sure, and I see it on Etsy all the time.

Though I've been selling my jewelry semi-seriously for the last five years, this article brought to my attention some things that I truly never considered about pricing. And while it's fairly specific to jewelry, I think the concepts apply equally to other artistic endeavors.

The article outlines four parts for pricing:
  1. Supplies - the easiest portion of cost to calculate since supplies are a fixed cost that can be added up for each piece. Although I do find it difficult to calculate the cost of PMC and wire.

  2. Labor - to me, the most difficult piece to calculate. What am I worth? What is my time worth? Should I make minimum wage? I sure don't think so ... maybe when I first started but I think I've worked my way up beyond that now. But something I never considered about labor - all the costs that I would incure if I paid someone else:

    ~ Health Insurance
    ~ Vacation
    ~ Sick Leave & Disability
    ~ Retirement

    And, when you work for yourself you're supposed to pay self employment taxes (although I think for artisans/crafts people this is a little different, I'm not entirely sure how it works).

    "Keep track of all the time you spend making a piece, but don't base your labor cost on that first piece ... After you've made about 10 of the same or similar pieces, start the clock. Multiply that time by your hourly wage for your labor cost. If it seems high, don't start cutting your hourly wage unless you know it's more than it should be. Instead, look at your time. How can you simplify the design or streamline your process?"

  3. Overhead - I've written about this particular piece of the pricing dilema before because I think it's almost as overlooked as labor. There are many intangibles that artisans overlook in pricing.

    "...paper towels, shipping boxes, and packing materials. Overhead also includes expendable items that you use for all your work and that much be replaced: investment, gas for your torch, buffs, compounds, solder, saw blades, flux, beading needles. Figure out how long tools should last you ... divide the tool cost by the expected lifetime and add that percentage to your annual overhead. Total your overhead for the year and divide by the number of hours you put into your business in a year. Then when you have this hourly a mount, multiply it by the number of hours it takes you to make a piece..."

    It's a little overwhelming, but as the article states, if you are losing money and aren't sure why, it might have to do with your overhead.

  4. Profit - the last piece of the puzzle. So many people, especially in the artisan world, think that profit is a dirty word. It is NOT! We all deserve to make some money and if we can do so doing something we love then all the better.

    "You do want a vacation, right? Or retirement? If you forget to figure this in - whether it is 3% or 150% of your costs - you may as well work for someone else."
I highly recommend taking a look at this month's issue of Jewelry Artist (February 2010) and read this article. If your goal is to make money and a living from your jewelry (or for that matter any sort of craft) it is important to value your work. If you don't, no one else will.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writing Newsletters - Just Do It

I really need to send out a new e-mail newsletter to my distribution's been months and months - August to be precise. It's about time I started back up again.

Someone recently signed up for my newsletter (Thank you!) and it reminded me that I really should get back into the habit of sending those. Of course, I don't want to nag people, but sending e-mails is an important part of marketing...even if it's just a reminder "Hello...I'm still here." type of a message. I get several different newsletters from artisans and, while I don't always read them, getting them reminds me that they are there and available if I need (or want) something. Without those e-mails I might just forget (especially with my post-pregnancy brain full of holes!).

My goal is to actually start a brand new list and clean up the distribution list so that I'm not "wasting" e-mails. Only 6.9% of my total list opened the last e-mail I sent, which isn't so great. It's still 120 people who opened the e-mail (and it wasn't exactly jewelry related entirely - it was a notice about the Saving Shelter Pets fundraiser I was part of), which to me is a lot. But it could be better.

So one of my goals for this year (Dana - you inspired me!) is to ask people to re-sign up for the mailing list so that I can clean it up. Then hopefully only people who WANT to hear from me will get my newsletter. I'm not quite sure how to do this technically speaking but eventually I will sit down and figure it out.

I think that MailChimp is fairly easy to use, compared to other systems I've tried (including Constant Contact). It's also much easier on the wallet - Constant Contact required a monthly fee even if I never sent out a newsletter in the month. It didn't matter how many subscribers I had, up to a point, and after that point I got charged extra.

MailChimp only charges based on the total e-mails that get sent out. So if I send out a newsletter to 500 subscribers, I get charged for 500 credits. Plus, if someone signs up through my link I can bonus credits (and the person who signs up also gets a bonus!). You can click the monkey link below to sign up.

And I'm not recommending MailChimp just to get bonus credits. I really do love their service. It's fairly priced and convenient to use. Plus they (as an entity) have really great senses of humor. Who names a business MailChimp??!! =) I wouldn't recommend it if I wasn't using it and happy with it - I've been using them for a couple of years now.

Do you send out newsletters? What service do you use and why?

We'll chat about what to include in newsletters in a few days.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Fake Diamond?

Cubic Zirconia gets a bad rap in our society. It's considered a "fake" stone, when in reality it's only "fake" when some unscrupulous seller tries to pass it off as a diamond.

Do those really look like diamonds? Or are they simply beautiful earrings that deserve appreciation on their own?

Fake is one of those slightly subjective terms..."she's so fake." But how can something be fake if it is just representing itself? Cubic Zirconia isn't "fake"'s Cubic Zirconia. Yes, it is a simulated, man made, material ... but that does not classify it as fake in my book. To me, just because a 'stone' is grown in a lab does not automatically make it "fake" (my mom disagrees with me, but I take my view from my grandmother who was a wonderful rock hound).

I have some gorgeous CZs and think they make lovely earrings and pendants.

The great thing with CZ is that it costs a fraction of what natural gemstones would cost in the same shapes and sizes. Those Amethyst CZ briolettes above would cost me a fortune, but with CZ I'm able to create a gorgeous look at a much more reasonable price. Since my goal with these earrings is fun and flirty I don't need the natural stones. Sometimes I do want to go with the "real" (again, a subjective term to me) thing, but not always.

Now, trying to pass CZ off as a diamond is wrong and fraudulent. If you are unsure as to whether a stone is CZ or diamond (like in a ring or earrings or something) there are just a few ways you can tell without using a microscope or chemicals.

  • CZ weighs a lot more than diamond. 1.7 times more according to Wikipedia.
  • Also, if the 'stone' you're looking at is absolutely colorless but is selling for a low price, it's probably a CZ. Only the very best, and rarest, diamonds are truly colorless. Most have some sort of inclusions or color to them. A "cheap" colorless diamond doesn't exist.
  • If the 'stone' is set into sterling silver or a less expensive plated metal it is highly unlikely to be a diamond...while I might combine sterling or fine silver with diamond, most people don't bother. Diamonds generally go with gold or platinum.
  • And the cut of a stone might tell you whether it's diamond or CZ...although if you're anything like me you can't really tell the difference with the naked eye. CZs are often cut using different facets than are used with diamonds.
There really is nothing wrong with wearing CZs though. I think they're pretty and sparkly ... and if you have moral issues with diamonds they can give you the same look without the guilt. :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

No Spam Allowed

Having to delete comments that are spammy really sucks.

If you have something to share I welcome comments. If you just want to post your link and try to sell your product (whatever it is) you're getting deleted.

My blog. My rules.

I hate spam.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Are Leverbacks?

Before I started making jewelry I rarely gave much thought to what various components of jewelry were called. I knew the term "posts" because those are fairly obvious types of earrings. I didn't know that the hook style ones were technically called "French hooks" ... and why is that by the way? I'll have to look that up because I have no idea.

And I was clueless as to what the 'other' kind of earring backs were called - you know the ones. They go through the ear and then a little 'lever' flips up and closes the earring so they don't fall out.

They're called Leverbacks and I find them to be the best type of earring, simply in terms of safety and security. But many people don't know what they are or are intimidated by wearing them because they take a little extra maneuvering to get on.

With a little bit of practice though they are super easy to wear and I find them easier than French hooks now. You have to tilt the leverback piece at the right angle so that the portion that enters your piercing goes in straight. With a French hook you can just sort of "approach" the ear with the earring up and down - the wire is bent enough to slide into the piercing. But with a leverback you need to tilt the earring so it is horizontal to the ear and slide the wire in level. Then it can be tilted to be upright and the lever closed.

Another big benefit of leverbacks is storage. I can't tell you how many times I've been digging around my jewelry box trying to find matching pairs of earrings to wear...posts or french hooks. But not with my pairs of leverbacks...because I can hook them together so they don't get separated.

There is a slight drawback to leverbacks and that is their cost. They're more complicated and use more metal than posts or french hooks and therefore are more expensive. And it's not a design that I can create myself, whereas posts or French hooks I can make from scratch.

I've seen sterling leverbacks as high as $5 a pair wholesale! I try not to pay that much. And 14k gold leverbacks start in the $30s wholesale. Remember, an artist has to factor in their costs and a lot of folks use a percentage and multiply their that $5 pair might add $15 to the cost of a pair of earrings.

I still think they are worth it though. For security and for keeping earrings in pairs instead of orphans. :) Check out my Etsy shop for earrings with leverbacks, as well as the other styles.

P.S. The photos shown here are a pair of Black Onyx and Swarovski crystal earrings that didn't make it to my shop before my mom bought them. =) And their matching necklace. She has good taste, right?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Thought of Something...

...and now I can't remember what it was. I swear, I have the worst memory ever. I will set my keys on my desk and two minutes later forget where I put them.

I even forget orders sometimes! How sad is that?!?! Luckily, I generally have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind and will double check my Etsy shop (they have a list of "sold" items) and get things on their merry way. But it's kind of unnerving to only be 30 something and be this forgetful.

Hubby now says that he's pulling a "Megan" when he can't find something or forgets something. I wonder if I have early Alzheimers.'s like I have a swiss cheese brain.

I had a great idea for a blog post...something really interesting and then I get to my blog to write and __________________________ nothing. My mind is blank.

Hopefully I'll think of it again...although most of my really good ideas come to me while I'm in the bathroom. I know I can't be the only one who gets their best ideas while taking care of business. :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Not Sure How This Works

I started a Facebook "page" for Casto Creations. I'm not quite sure how it works, but I am sure that I will figure it out. I think I can link the blog to it, but I'm not sure how to do that yet. Will you become a fan? =)

The potential for this to help me keep people up to date is huge...way better than an e-mail distribution list. People can become "fans" of the page and I can post updates, new pieces, tutorials, sales, etc without any cost (like there is with a newsletter). But I can also still do a newsletter.

My goal is to update the page every day with at least something...whether it's a tidbit about a gemstone I find interesting or a link to a new piece in my Etsy shop.

I'm very excited about 2010. I've got exciting new plans that should give me a little more time to make and design jewelry if I'm careful with my time. I'll probably be giving notice to my current employer in the next month or so and will definitely share my future plans once they're a little more firm.