Jun 25

In my last article, Just Say No to Spec Work, Dave asked:

Ever heard of spec in regards to techies? How about when someone you’ve known all your life asks you to “help” them with a little CSS or HTML? Is this spec?

First of all, let me just clarify that the reason for my last article wasn’t to scare you away from doing free work. There are lots of times when it’s a great idea to work for free. You should weigh each request for free work and try to determine what the reason behind the request is, and also whether or not you are willing to do the work for free. A lot of times, even legit requests for free work aren’t something you should agree to. It just depends on the situation.

to do mug

photo by jessica wilson, her blog

For example, I love to write. I do it for free for others all the time. However, if you are an auto mechanic and you ask me to write a blog for your site for free, I probably wouldn’t do it because I don’t know anything about that topic, and gaining exposure on that blog wouldn’t benefit me or the business I am trying to build. Or maybe you are starting up a craft blog (which is related to what I do) and you want me to guest post. I might refuse your request because I don’t know you, or your blog has no entries yet, and I have no idea what I am affiliating myself with, or I don’t have time right now.

The magazine that wanted me to submit a craft article for “possible inclusion” in their magazine wasn’t offering me anything. I didn’t even have a guarantee that my project would appear in their magazine or on their website. They just wanted people to do hours of work and hand it over so they could pick their favorite articles and get killer content with no work or money extended on their part. This is a core principle of the content contest model, by the way (logo design contests, etc.) — to get people to do a ton of work in vain hope that their work will be singled out and they’ll win a “prize.” (In this magazine’s case, the “prize” was that a few people would have their project featured in the magazine with credit to them, plus possibly appear on the magazine’s website.)

I just think it’s kind of shameful when a big corporation who I have no personal relationship with expects me to work for them for free. Even when they tempt me with “free exposure,” generally THEY are the ones getting the best end of the deal. Sometimes “free exposure” is the only currency someone has to barter with, but in the case of a magazine with a budget for each issue, this is not the case. They are just trying to get something for nothing.

subvert the system mug

photo by lee meredith, her blog

Dave, someone very important in my life is the family tech support (for everyone in his entire family, including parents & siblings), and while it can be inconvenient, tiring, or annoying, he pretty much always does it. And he wouldn’t accept any payment in return. I think any time you want to help ANYONE for free, it’s totally fine. Obviously, you are more likely to help family and friends for free.

I am even fine with you doing free work for other for-profit ventures (like if you helped with CSS or HTML for someone you know, even if you only “know” them via the internet). Helping others when it’s within your power to do so is beneficial in many ways. Putting good stuff out into the universe is never a bad idea. Maybe I’ll write about that next time!

So back to your question specifically. If someone you know asks you to help them with a little CSS or HTML, check yourself (“search your feelings, Dave.”) Do you feel resentful that they asked you to work for free? Are you going to help them for free, but feel begrudging about it? If they offered to pay you, would you feel better? If you are happy to do it for no pay, then go for it. If you aren’t happy to do it for free, then tell them that you can’t afford to do two hours of work for free, but you’ll do it for <insert the price that will make you feel good about it here>. Or if they have something you want (like, an advertising spot on their website or a mention that you helped them with a tech problem on their blog, and your contact info), then maybe you can barter for your services. Lots of times you can come to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial, even if no actual money is exchanged.

Now if that fictional auto mechanic who wanted me to write a free blog for her* offers to trade her mechanic services or a discount in exchange for my blogging, I would probably take her up on that.

reclaimed mustache mug
photo by amanda siska, her blog, reclaimed mugs

*see what I did there, I flipped your expectations.

Jun 2

Make quick felt doily coasters:

I used pre-cut felt doilies and craft foam to make these bright and funky coasters!

You need:

  • felt doily (found at dollar store in packs of 6)
  • craft foam
  • craft glue
  • scissors

Do this:

  1. Glue the felt doily to a sheet of craft foam with craft glue.
  2. Carefully trim away craft foam.
  3. Pour yourself a nice, hot beverage and enjoy!

And here are some links to great projects I have found in the past week! Quick, go check them out before it’s too late!

Mar 21

We’re doing a Lightbox-Along in March, and this month, I’m also providing some photo tips. Previously on CROQ (read in the “LOST” narrator voice!):

(photo by Amy at the Red Chair Blog)

And now, let’s talk about what happens when you don’t have a good photo of your own to use in your blog. This can happen if you are just writing an article with no particular project associated with it, or maybe if you forgot to take photos when you were doing your project. There are some common courtesies you should follow when using other people’s photos.

On Dollar Store Crafts, I often link to other people’s craft projects. I usually post one of their photos along with a short synopsis of the project and a prominent link to the original project. Here are some rules I abide by when using other people’s photos.

(photo by Alexa Westerfield, Swell Designer)

1. Don’t hotlink

Hotlinking is when you point to another site as the source for your image. It’s not nice to leech other people’s resources for your blog. Download the photo from the host site and then upload it to your site to include it in your post, but before you do:

2. Check for photo rules

Blog owners often have rules regarding using their photos somewhere on their blog (usually on the front page). Some will say things like “feel free to use a photo if you use a link back to the original post” or maybe “please don’t use my photos without permission.” You need to follow any rules set out by the photo’s owner.

Check to see if the photo is available for general use. At flickr, you will see photo rules in the column on the lower right side of the photo. If you see “Some rights reserved” you can probably use the photo on your blog without contacting the owner before you post it. You should still let them know you are using it and leave a link to the post where you’re using it, but I’ll talk about that in a minute. If you want to use it on materials that you’ll be selling, you definitely need to get firm permission before using the photo.

(photo by Nikki at Salty Pineapple)

3. Ask for permission

When in doubt, ask for permission before you use a photo. Photographers will almost never refuse your kind request to use their photo on your blog!

4. Leave a comment

Even if the photographer doesn’t require you to contact them before you use their photo, you should leave a comment. It’s probably the only payment they’ll receive, so leaving a nice comment is the least you can do! Information you should include in your comment: where you used it (with a permalink to the post where it’s used), and a nice compliment is optional, but friendly!

(photo from Cover a Composition Book Tutorial by Sister Diane at Craftypod)

5. Give credit and a link

Give credit to the original photographer (by name, if possible) with a link to the original place where you found the photo. Bonus points for also linking to the photographer’s blog (if you found it on flickr, for instance). Link love is always appreciated. You can put your credit below the photo (even in a smaller font is fine), or at the end of the post.

6. Don’t post ALL their photos

If you use another person’s images, restrain yourself. Choose one (or two) to illustrate your point, and refer the reader to the photographer’s site if you want them to see more. If you want to stretch the images into more, crop your favorite details from the same photo and use the detail photos in multiple places in your post. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t just copy someone else’s work for your blog. That’s boring and lazy.

(Still Life: Vintage Enamelware Kettle by Wendy at Momsational)

Additional Resources:


  • Flickr is a community photo-sharing site. My favorite trick is to do an advanced search of my contacts’ photos for the photo subject I need. That way, I spread the love to people I already know, if possible.
  • Stock.xchng is a free stock photo site where you can download photos for use in print or on the web. If you use one of these photos, it’s nice to leave a comment with a link to your blog, since these photographers are providing their images for free. (I have even sent print samples to photographers when I used their photos in graphic design projects, just because it’s so fun to see your work in print.)
  • DeviantART: you can often find good illustrations or photos to accompany your posts here. Remember to check for permissions to make sure it’s okay to use an image before you use it.
  • Find free vector illustrations at Vecteezy.
Mar 16

You’ve learned my photography rules to live by, but here are some technical things you should know when using photography in blogging. Today I’m focusing on things to do when using your own photos on your blog. Check back for my next post, 6 Ways to Use Other People’s Photos.

1. Resize your photo before you upload it to your blog

Ginormous photos increase loading time for your blog, and aren’t usually necessary. Sure, your blog automatically displays a photo at the right size, but it still has to load a huge photo onto the person’s computer to show it to them. This is death for dial-uppers, and even impacts the performance of your blog for the rest of your readers.

  • If you don’t have any photo-editing software, see my additional resources at the end of this post for alternatives.
  • You can analyze the loading speed of your site for free at the Web Page Analyzer
  • If you want to provide large photos so your readers can enjoy your amazing photography, consider linking to the large version of your photo (stored on flickr, maybe?)
  • Photo size varies according to your blog, but you usually don’t want your photo to be larger than 600 pixels wide or tall. I usually go 400.
  • Pixel size is the absolute measurement… don’t worry about dpi (300dpi or 72dpi, etc). Just look at the pixel size.

2. Lead with your best photo

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a LOT of good blogs out there. You only have a short amount of time to capture your readers’ attention, so lead with a strong image. Before you even type a word, post the best photo associated with your project.

3. Crop in on your object

Part of a strong photo is cropping. You don’t necessarily have to show the whole item, but you definitely need to get the reader intrigued. Eliminate the background as much as possible and get close to your subject. But not too close!

4. If you do get close, use your macro setting

The macro setting on your camera is used for taking very close-up photos. If you aren’t familiar with the macro setting, t’s usually denoted on cameras by a little flower symbol. It can be useful for getting very close detail shots, but be sure your item is in focus in the viewfinder when using the macro setting.

5. Choose the good photos, and leave the rest behind

Some blogs are known for using ten-hundred photos of the same item from a slightly different angle, over and over and over (by the way, I totally don’t have anyone in mind. I have just visited these blogs periodically!). It might fool people into thinking you are a better photographer if you have sixteen photos of your brooch from above, but probably not. You’re better off choosing the best photo (or two) of the item and eliminating the rest. Of course,

6. Tutorial process photos are good

If your post is a tutorial, a few photos that help illuminate the process are helpful. If the photo just confuses things, though, don’t use it. I often stage a process photo to help show what’s going on (for instance, inserting an open pair of scissors near the place where I’m cutting to help the photo say “cut here, like this.”) Again, don’t use an excessive number of process photos if they aren’t necessary.

7. Even a bad photo is better than no photo

Even if you don’t get any great photos of the project, or the process, anything is (almost always) better than nothing. Photos help people see what you’re talking about. If you don’t include a photo, the reader will be stuck interpreting what you mean by “blue elephant pillow” and that can be nearly anything. Blogging is about making a connection, and a photo helps connect the reader to you and your project.

8. If you don’t have a photo, find another photo

Use your phone to take a picture (in good light), or look somewhere else for a good photo. I’ll give you my tips for using other people’s photos next time!

Additional Resources:

FREE PHOTO EDITING: Can’t afford Photoshop?

  • I use XnView for viewing, sorting, and basic cropping and editing of my photos. It’s free and you can download it here. It’s good enough for most jobs!
  • SumoPaint is an online photo editor with similarities to Photoshop (but you can just use it on the internet w/out downloading anything). It takes a minute to load.
  • Hornil StylePix is a free downloadable photo editor similar to an older version of Photoshop.
  • A lot of people swear by GIMP, which is also similar to Photoshop, but I have never been able to connect with it on a personal level!


Mar 13

We are halfway into our March Lightbox-along, and I wanted to provide you with some photography tips, just for fun.

I know you don’t come here for my amazing photography skills (and I am often more interested in sharing good ideas than great photos), but I do know a couple helpful things about blog photography. You don’t have to have an expensive camera, especially if you pay attention to some of the details.

Here are the photography rules I live by:

  • Avoid the flash. The hard shadows that a flash creates are usually never flattering.
  • Instead, use natural light. Indirect sunlight from a window is usually great for craft photos. (But once you get a lightbox, you won’t have to worry about good light!)
  • Add light if necessary. If you’re shooting a quick photo at night, increase your chances of a decent photo by adding light. Bring your object to a lamp, or bring the lamp to the object. You can also add light (which will help your camera take a clearer photo) by adding light-colored surfaces like placing your object on a white sheet or near a white wall.
  • Make sure you focus the camera on your subject. It seems like a given, but a lot of blogs feature blurry photos. (I know sometimes it’s hard to get a clear photo if you don’t have natural light, or if you are just shooting quick process photos while you craft, or if you use an inferior camera like the one on your phone, but you can always take time to focus the camera.)
  • Use an unobstructed background. Avoid background clutter. A lot of times, I put things on a clean table or floor and shoot them from above.
  • Get close. You usually don’t need to show the background, so step closer and fill your camera window with your object.
  • Staging helps a photo. If you can show your object in use (preferably with attractive props), it can make for a more compelling photo.
  • Shoot a few different angles. Take at least three different photos from three different places, including “odd” angles. You never know what might make your object look its best.
  • Take more than one photo. In this age of mostly-digital images, there isn’t a reason to skimp on exposures. Take a safety photo or twelve just in case. Your camera’s viewfinder usually doesn’t tell the whole story. What might look crisp on a one-inch screen can easily look blurry at a regular blog size.

I have a lot of other tips for using photography in your blog that I’ll post next week.

Additional resources:

  • Photography tips and more photography tips by great craft blogger and photographer Sonja at Craft-Werk
  • A few photo tips by Disney at Ruffles and Stuff, who takes excellent craft and fashion photos for her amazing craft tutorials
  • How to Photograph Your Baby, a book by Nick Kelsh. Don’t let the “baby” part of the title scare you. This book has a lot of great basic info for beginning photographers, and will drastically increase the quality of your photos. Also, it’s a nice spiral-bound book with lots of big pictures and easy to read text. Definitely more friendly than scarily technical. (Sidenote: there’s also a book called How to Photograph Your Life which might have more info on object photography, but I haven’t read it, so I’m not sure. I do like Kelsh’s books, though, and it has five stars on Amazon.)
  • 133 Photos Lit By a Single Candle on Gizmodo. Just for fun, see the amazing results some photographers were able to get by lighting with one single candle.
  • Photojojo has a lot of fun photo tips and activities
  • Inspirational photo craft blog: Leethal
  • Inspirational photo crafter: Jek-a-go-go
  • Inspirational crafty photo mom: Katherine Marie Photography (she also has a great article on 10 tips for photographing newborns)

Other posts in this series (coming soon):

*all these photos are by me :)
Jan 20
Thanks jojoebi for thinking of me for this! :) If you haven’t checked out the A Bit of This and A Bit of That blog, it is an amazing resource of Crafty Mama-ness and lots of great Montessori ideas.
Here is my all-time favorite idea from jojoebi: Make an art portfolio book from your child’s art. Amazing! I am currently collecting and scanning my two kiddos’ art for this very purpose.

For the Kreativ Blogger Award:

Here’s what I’ve gotta do:
The rules are:
– List six things that inspire my creativity
– Pass the award on to 6 more kreativ bloggers
– Link back to the person who gave you the award
– Link to the people you are passing it on to and leave them a comment to let them know.

Six things that inspire my creativity:

1. Browsing Flickr. I didn’t get it for a long time (what’s so great about uploading my photos to some random website?) but then when I started discovering all the amazing Flickr groups, and their photo pools, I got hooked. There are so many amazing things to look at on Flickr. Here are some of my recent favorite groups:

2. Looking Through My Stash. I have so many supplies already. Using stuff from my stash (instead of buying new stuff) makes me feel so great. I especially love it when I think I need to go out and get some supply to make something work, but then I use my creativity to use what I have instead.

3. Hanging Out With My Mom or Sister. One of the ways we relate to each other is to make stuff together. We are always scheming and planning (and going to the craft store) when we’re together.

4. Swapping With Other Crafty People. I love the creative direction you get from the parameters of a themed swap.

5. My Blog. I love to get feedback about stuff I make, and having a blog to post on encourages me to be creative (and document the process).

6. My Two Little Boys. It’s so wonderful to have people who you can force your creativity upon. Ha ha!

Six People I Am Giving the Award To:
  1. Vone at How To Do Something
  2. Kellie at For the Love and Little Nummies
  3. Andi at Udandi
  4. ChicaSchmica
  5. Elizabeth at Things Bright
  6. Allie at No Time for Flashcards

Thanks Jo for the award, and congrats to the six new nominees! :)