Sep 212009

Many of us like to blog, and most of us enjoy accessorizing our blogs in much the same way we do our homes. Just as we do with our wall decor or furnishings, we modify blog elements, add new ones or subtract old ones. “Elements,” in blog-speak, refers to buttons, blinkies, grab boxes, link lists, slide shows, repeating images (such as dividers for posts or side bars), and many other changes to the blog template. If you have no coding background (as I do not), you may be a little fearful of making HTML (hyper text mark-up language) changes to your blog. Fortunately, this is not an issue if you have basic Web navigation skills, and you can copy and paste.

While I happen to use the Blogger platform for my blogs, much of what I describe in this post applies to other forums such as TypePad, WordPress or even the blog page of your Web site. Better yet, it’s relatively easy to make changes to your blog’s basic appearance. Although incorporating all of the changes described below will result in a cluttered appearance, as well as a page that takes longer to load, you’ll want to check out the following 15 easy options for accessorizing your blog.

1. Using the “Share Slide Show” feature of Flickr, Rose of Big Island Rose Designs shares the pages she produced while participating in the Visual Journals Workshop. This slide show appears on her blog, The Rose Journal. To use this feature, click on a set you have created. Then, select the Slideshow icon. At any time while the slide show is playing, you can click on the Share link, then copy the “Grab the embed HTML code” and paste it into your blog. In Blogger, you can add this code to your post while you write it; just select the Edit HTML tab. If you’re adding it to a side bar, go to your template’s Layout, and add an HTML widget where you can paste the code.

2. Kimberly from the Etsy shop, The Wild Hare, uses the Lijit Search feature on her blog, The Wild Hare. What is unique about this widget is that it searches not only through Kimberly’s blog content, but also through her social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and through related content in her blog links. A world map shows where her readers live, as well as the locations of recent visitors.

3. Carol of Yankeegirl’s Watercolors uses a custom blinkie purchased from The Cutest Blog on the Block on her blog, Yankeegirl’s Watercolors and Photography. The blinkie installs as a widget, and costs $15. The Cutest Blog on the Block is one of my personal favorite sites for free blog accessories and easy-to-follow instructions on how to personalize your Web site, but the custom options are wonderful as well.

4. An important bit of HTML code to add to any blog where you have copyright concerns is the Creative Commons License. Melanie of The Creators Palette has added this license to her blog of the same name. There are several different versions to choose, so read through the options that fit your situation, and answer the questions that the Web site asks. Your answers determine the license that is automatically generated for you.

5. A fun feature to add to your blog is the Playlist that Beth of Beth Peardon Productions has added to her blog. When you sign up for an account, a playlist is already waiting for you, but you can create new or different playlists of your own very easily, or transfer songs from one playlist to another. Although you cannot actually upload music to this site, you can provide Web links to songs from a site that hosts them. Note that if the artist (or legal agent for the artist) has not authorized the music to be made freely available on the Internet, then your Web link will not be accepted. The Playlist feature works by generating embedded HTML code for your blog.

6. Liv of The Filigree Garden uses a Flickr Badge on her blog to show photos of her creations. If you have multiple Etsy (or non-Etsy) shops, this is a good way to consolidate photos for them. You have two options for badges; you can create a Flash version or an HTML version. Both versions update automatically as you add photos to your Flickr site, but the Flash version rotates highlighted photos in a collage, while the HTML version is static and provides a vertical strip of photos.

7. Instead of the Flickr Slideshow sharing option described in #1 above, Myfanwy of Sassa Lynne at Etsy uses Slide on her blog, Dye-a-Lot. If you visit Slide to sign up for an account, you will be able to upload photos from various social networking sites (such as MySpace or Facebook), photo sharing sites (such as Flickr or Photobucket), or from a Web site or your computer. Then, you can change the order of the photos, add in a slide transition style, select a theme and background, and add music or a video. This tool is very flexible. Click on the photo below to see how it works.

8. Because of the free Feedjit widget, Joon of joonbeam always knows from what parts of the world her blog visitors hail. The tracking tool is a live traffic feed that shows in real time the origin of visitors. Both the city and “sending” Web address are revealed. There is also a professional version available, for which you pay a monthly fee.

9. Kym of kimbuktu includes a Sellit widget on her Web site that is a combination show-and-buy tool. Sellit, which is free of charge, connects consumers directly to the seller. The tool uses a flip photo feature that the buyer controls. When the potential buyer clicks on “Info” or “Buy now,” he or she is taken directly to that item in your Etsy shop. It doesn’t get easier than that! This tool can also be used on social networking sites.

10. In her blog, Mystic Mooma Makes Things, Rose of Rosegardenfae shares with us her love of reading through the goodreads widget. You add books that you have read, that you’re currently reading, and books that you’d like to read. These show up in the widget window. Fellow members can view each other’s ratings, reviews and book lists. According to the site, you can “join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing.”

11. You will always know what time it is in the blog of Joan of Sixsisters. The ClockLink widget she employs lets you know what time it is in Joan’s neck of the woods. To make things fun, you can choose a clock from a fairly large Clock Gallery. Click on the photo below to visit the gallery.

12. If you’re hoping to draw foreign visitors to your blog, you’ll need the Mini Site Translator used by Pat of On a Whimsey’s Art in the Wax. Just visit her blog, Pat’s Encaustics – Art in the Wax, click on a flag from a different nation, and you’ll see how it works. Since I have relatives in Germany, I know this is a tool they’ll find handy.

13. Kary of The Knotty Sheep features a cute Twitter My Site widget on her blog that really caught my eye. The widget is available in a variety of colors and styles, and broadcasts a friendly tone. To follow Kary on Twitter, just click on the image below:

14. Most of us use PayPal for payment in our Etsy shops, but did you know that you can embed HTML code on your blog or Web site to accept payment in the same manner? Marion of artmixter not only sells her books and CDs in her Etsy shop, but also on her blog, Artmixter’s Emporium. To learn how this works, just click on the Buy Now image below. (It will take you to a PayPal information window, not the checkout process.)

15. If you’re in the habit of saving Web posts that you read, an easy way to create a PDF document that accomodates that goal is to download the Print Friendly bookmarklet, as I have done for my non-Etsy related blog, cre8iowa Instant Challenge Library. Take a look at the bottom of each post, and you’ll see the Print Friendly icon (printer/PDF images). When you click on the icon, the tool “cleans” up the Web post so that it’s ready for printing, or you can save it as a PDF document on your computer. The software is not perfect, I have learned, since images aren’t always in the right place. However, if you use PDF editing software, this is easy to fix; I use PDF Converter (by Nuance). If you use Blogger, go to your Edit HTML window and click on Expand Widgets. Then, search for <div class=’post-footer>, and paste the Print Friendly HTML code into place on the next line. Preview it to make sure everything is all right, save your changes, and you’re good to go! Watch the video below to understand how Print Friendly works.

Thanks to all of the above BBEST sellers on Etsy whose blogs provided me with a wealth of widgets and tools to discuss.

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at

Feb 252009

Famous writers, musicians and visual artists are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” A writer might eavesdrop on real conversations and use them as a springboard to a story. Musicians might listen to other artists, such as when the Beatles learned how to play rock ‘n’ roll by playing American records. Van Gogh copied other artists to learn their techniques, and to build upon them. In a word, artists react, reflect and build upon what they see, hear and experience. This process—reacting, reflecting and building—is the result of the artist interacting with his or her “design environment.” Sometimes that design environment is deliberate and external, and other times it is internal and subconscious. Either way, individuals dig deeply into their design environment to pull out inspiration and run with it.

Gunnel of gunnelsvensson, who designs art quilts utilizing fabric collage, embroidery, and mixed media, has created a design environment that is a blend of her reactions to her physical environment and her love of the outdoors. In her studio, she surrounds herself with old buttons, old envelopes and old photos, as well as flea market finds. But on a subsconcious level, she is inspired by nature and by the sea. All of these elements combine to create a romantic, nostalgic feel to her creations.

Fabric Collage Mini Art Quilt, by gunnelsvensson

Eddy of girleddycreations, who focuses on handmade jewelry and folk art creations, points out that her creativity comes from inside her. “The physical environment isn’t that important to me,” she says, “as far as creativity goes. It can have a big effect on how easy things go. How convenient things are to use helps a lot in starting and/or finishing something.” Still, she admits that sound—listening to music or the television—is part of her design environment. Without music and nature, Eddy says her “creativity would dry up.” When all is well with her world, she recognizes that this allows her to be receptive to the creative spark inside her.

“My creativity comes from inside,” she emphasizes. “If I’m a happy camper without a lot of worries at the time, well, then I just can’t help but be creative. It just flows, for lack of a better word. I’ll see something, maybe at a thrift shop or unearthed from a forgotten box in a closet, and an idea for it just comes to me. I get a lot of my creativity from the items at hand. I don’t usually start a piece of jewelry with a plan. I’ll start with a certain bead and build on it . . . whatever ‘goes’ with it, complements it or makes it whole. I never know when it’s going to be finished until it just looks done.”

For Kym of kimbuktu, whose textile shop features beautiful quilted bags and accessories, the design environment that contributes best to her creativity depends on whether she is sewing or paper crafting. “Though I have a craft room all set up with tables, bookcases, storage bins, etc., for sewing I drag my machine out to the dining room so I can be with my husband, or whoever else is there.”

In contrast, when Kym paper crafts for her PaperParaphernalia shop, working alone is essential. “For scrapbooking,” she says, “my supplies and quiet are enough. Noise is not necessary. In fact, unless something I am interested in is on TV, I won’t have it on. And I mute it during commercials.”

Twenty Recycled Origami Page Corners,

Quiet, neutral colors, bright light, comfort—and a blend of indoor and outdoor spaces—define the design environment of artmixter artist Marion, who explores mixed media pieces, art quilts and mini artworks in her artmixter shop.

“My creative environment is my home,” she says, “as I have studio space in the garden, as well as in the house itself. I live in a tiny village in the countryside, where it is very quiet; people only come here if they have business here, or live here. I have created my environment so that it is calm, tranquil space, bright and welcoming. There are white or cream walls, comfortable seating and,” she adds, “lots of ‘eye candy’—things that are interesting because of their colour, texture, shape or design. And there’s always a friendly cat around to be stroked if I’m having a less than creative day. All of that feeds my creativity.”

Eileen of Chauncey, who specializes in fused glass design, knows that in order for her to be creative, she has to surround herself with sights and sounds that gladden her spirit. “I try to keep many things in my space that make me smile or make me happy,” she says. “I feel that I am only even remotely creative when I am cheery.” Eileen describes a print drawing on her wall that makes her chuckle. “One is the ‘The Catnip Café,’ a bunch of cats at a diner . . . I have photos that I have taken and framed.” When it’s time to ponder, she has a chair that used to belong to her mother that is her “think chair.” Eileen adds, “While music isn’t a design element, I find if I’m starting to lose the creative steam, some music improves my space.”

When you take a pinch of nature, mix it in with Native American history and swirl it around with generational regalia, you get the design environment for Joni of jstinson. “As a Native American,” Joni says, “most of my creative design is inspired by nature. I use the environmental elements of nature . . . silver, copper, a vast array of gem stones, quilts, feathers, and bone. My designs are meant to honor the traditional work of our people but with a more contemporary flair.”

Joni mentions that as she travels from Pow Wow to Pow Wow, her design environment is colorful, to say the least. She is inspired by the regalia handed down from generation to generation, and by the new pieces that will become treasured by future generations.

“My ‘design environment’ comes when an inner voice speaks to me,” Joni adds, “and tells me how to capture a small piece of nature, use it in a traditional way, and give it a contemporary attitude. Without Mother Earth and Father Sky, I would have no creative environment.”

For Liv of thefiligreegarden, who designs unique, romantic jewelry and accessories, design environment is a state of mind that flows in and between the physical spaces in which she works. “My creativity waxes and wanes, depending more on mood and my mental environment than on the specifications of a physical space. In fact, I tend to flow out of a confined design space with spinning wheel and knitting in the family room, beads and sewing equipment upstairs in a spare bedroom, and the loom and some books in our master bedroom.”

Part of Liv’s design environment, however, does involve the physical layout of her sewing space. She likes to be able to access materials easily in her sewing space, and she appreciates having lots of work space and light.

“I also like a dedicated space where I can leave things out when projects are in process. I would be frustrated if I had to put things away neatly at the end of every day,” Liv points out.

In a perfect world, Liv would love for her design space to be more visually inspiring (“pretty”). She says the fact that it is more pragmatic and functional than decorative is probably because the space contains furnishings that have no other place. “So, the room has an odds and ends look rather than a coordinated designed appearance,” she says. Liv does have two “inspiration boards” on which she thumb tacks pictures of things she likes, projects she would like to do, or colors that appeal to her.

A number of BBEST members mention color as an aspect of their design environment. It is interesting to note that recently two researchers from the University of British Columbia explored the effect of color on cognitive task performance. Their study suggests that the color red enhances attention to detail, while the color blue is more conducive to creative tasks. Whether artists define their design environment in terms of color, light, mood, physical design space, music, cultural influences or anything else, one thing is certain. Being self-aware of the design environment that contributes to our inspiration can only enhance the possibility that a creative work of art will ultimately be produced. React, reflect, build. Perhaps American author Jack London, who wrote White Fang and The Call of the Wild, says it best when he reminds us, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.
Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at