Basic Digital Single Lens Reflex Photography Class

by mary May 30, 2014

What a difference a good camera, lighting, & knowing a little bit about how to use your camera can make!  I recently took a 4-week class on beginning DSLR photography that was both a lot of fun & even more importantly, it helped me to finally understand the "exposure triangle" (aperture/F-stop, shutter speed, & ISO) & to really appreciate "white balance"!  For the first time since starting to make jewelry, I feel like I am on my way to taking decent photos that will actually show off the jewelry I make!

But, let's start at the beginning . . .

Initially, the only reason I took photos of my work was so I could remember what I had made after it sold -- as a result, the quality of the photo wasn't all that important.  It wasn't too long, though, before I thought about entering juried art shows & setting up a website, which meant that photo quality was going to be very important.

For equipment, all I had when I started was a basic "point & shoot" digital camera.  No matter how hard I tried to set up good lighting inside the house, the pictures always turned out "off-color".  Here are 2 photos of a pair of earrings I took using our point & shoot camera -- the first is without the flash, the 2nd is with the flash.  While the 2nd photo is a bit better in terms of color, you can clearly see the camera flash reflected in the glass -- not so good!

One thing I often did that helped a lot was to take pictures outside in natural light -- but that brought its own set of complications -- for example, I had to find shade or take photos on an overcast (but not raining) day to get the best light, & if there was any wind it was hard to keep things in focus.  It also meant I had to haul out whatever I wanted to use as a back-drop or props every time I wanted to take photos.  And, of course, being in Iowa, it was too cold to do this comfortably for a good portion of the year!  Here's a picture of the same pair of earrings taken outside in the shade -- better more accurate color, but again with a fair amount of reflection & a less "controlled" background.

So, we decided it was time to make an investment into better equipment.  We started out by getting Adobe Photoshop Elements 11, so I could do at least some basic editing of my photos.  Next, we invested in a DSLR camera - the Canon EOS Rebel T3i; & pretty shortly after that, we picked up a basic lightbox (to help soften the light) & set up a permanent area for me to take photos.  However, with my limited background in photography, for the first several months, I was taking pictures strictly on the "automatic" setting -- in other words, treating my new more expensive camera as if it were still a basic "point & shoot" rather than a DSLR!  Here's a picture of the same pair of earrings using the Canon EOS Rebel T3i on automatic & taken in the light box.  In this case, there's a lot less reflection (thanks to the light box) which is a good thing, but the color is way off.

And, then a month ago, I saw in the Des Moines Community Education catalog that they were offering a 4-week course on basic DSLR photography -- and I thought, here is my chance to actually learn more about what I should be doing!

And, while it was a bit overwhelming at first, the instructor Gil Lea did a great job of explaining about the importance of light; the elements of the exposure triangle; & the effects of adding light through wider aperture openings, lowering shutter speed, or increasing the ISO number.  He also provided guidelines for composition & creative lighting that I hope to incorporate.  And, we did some fun activities to actually experience what we were learning -- including taking "ghost" pictures, painting with light, & night photography.  Here are a few of the photos I took down on Court Avenue the night we experimented with night photography!

And, finally, here's a picture of that same pair of earrings that I took in my lightbox using manual ISO, F-stop & shutter speed, as well as with a custom white balance setting!

All in all, while I still need to practice in order to increase my comfort & skill using the manual settings (especially the manual focus), & I want to experiment more with composition, I'm feeling much better about my photos -- thanks both to better equipment & to Gil Lea's class on beginning DSLR photography!


Filed Under: Classes & Favorite Books

Meet Dinner for Two!

by mary May 26, 2014

Meet another of my favorite models -- Dinner for Two, one of the molded plastic Campus Cuties series introduced by the Marx Toy Company in 1964.  I picked Dinner for Two up at one of the monthly flea markets held at Iowa's State Fairgrounds.

Here she is modeling a pair of silver spiral & blue crystal earrings -- available on the website at

I love the fact that she's vintage & think she makes a great model for earrings in particular!

As always, thanks for reading & supporting small businesses!


Filed Under: Meet My Models

Another Treasure Hunt -- May 3rd Fairgrounds Flea Market

by mary May 23, 2014

As I said in a previous blog post, one of the things I love about making jewelry out of damaged vintage jewelry & other found objects is the "thrill of the hunt".  May 2014 was an especially good month for treasure hunting at flea markets -- just one day after the What Cheer flea market, the hunt took us to the flea market at the 4-H building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds flea market is held once a month on a Saturday-Sunday year-round (except for July when the fairgounds hosts the Good Guys Car Show & in August when it hosts the Iowa State Fair).  Dealers come from across the state & bring anything from Fuller Brush products to vintage toys to reference books to past-sale-date canned goods to jewelry & buttons, etc.  As with most flea markets, you never know what you're going to find there!

One of the things we especially like about the fairgrounds flea market is that it's held inside so you don't have to worry about weather (other than getting there).  Another is that there is a mix of dealers that come regularly (so you get to know who is most likely to bring "good" stuff) & those that come only once (which can result in some fun surprises!)  We try to get there early on Saturday morning & usually make 2 rounds, checking things out & visiting with the dealers we've come to know.

So . . . as we do most every day, we started our day by taking Belle (our beagle) to Friedrich's Coffee Shop to get coffee (for us) & a biscuit (for her), then dropped her off at home & set off for the Fairgrounds.

As I said, we usually try to make 2 rounds -- the first pretty quickly to scope out what people have & anything that really catches our eye & is a "must have".  Then a 2nd round to look at things more closely & check out any dealers that weren't fully set up when we went around the first time.

What we find varies from month to month -- sometimes it's just a few little things, occasionally we go home empty-handed, & sometimes we really luck out & find something really special!  This month, Steve found a couple of small cars he thought he could do something with, & I picked up some fairly good finds . . .

As I mentioned in another post, I've been keeping my eyes out for old frames to use to display my jewelry & found some nice ones at 2 different dealers. I especially like the different sizes & textures!

Another dealer had a box of old chips like you might use in a game of royal rummy -- I'm not sure yet just what I will do with them, but I'm sure I'll think of something.  Maybe some earrings or on a charm bracelet with other game pieces.

One of the dealers that regularly brings jewelry odds & ends (& often chain) came through for me again & I was able to pick up a huge bag of tangled vintage chain!  She mentioned, though, that is was getting harder & harder for them to find, so it's hard to say if I'll be able to get more at future flea markets.

My last find was a Scrabble game from the 1950s.  I love to use the old Scrabble times in charm bracelets & earrings, so I was thrilled with this.  I've picked up 3 sets now from different flea markets & garage sales, but for some letters there are only 1 or 2 tiles per set -- for example, I seem to use a lot of "C's" & "M's", & there are only 2 of each per set -- so you can't really have too many sets.

So, all in all, another successful day at the Fairgrounds Flea Market -- a good time visiting with friends & hunting for treasures & several fun finds!  Now to start sorting that chain & getting to work making jewelry!

As always, thanks for reading & for supporting small businesses!


Filed Under: Treasure Hunting/Favorite Finds

Treasure Hunting at What Cheer Flea Market

by mary May 18, 2014

One of the things I love about making jewelry out of broken vintage jewelry & found objects is the "thrill of the hunt" -- especially when it takes me to flea markets like the one at What Cheer, Iowa.  The What Cheer flea market is held at the county fairgrounds & draws vendors from across the midwest who bring a wide range of interesting things -- from fairly high end jewelry to furniture to boxes & boxes of "everything's a dollar" junk -- so you never know what you're going to find there!  It's held 3 times a year -- May, July & October -- & because it's mainly outside, you also never know what the weather will hold -- from snow to rain to steamy hot to dust!

Last year, we ended up only going to the July one, since there was still snow on the ground in May & in October it rained every day.  We try to get there fairly early in the morning on the first day & generally make a day of it, arriving home late in the afternoon.  We love to just walk around & poke through the boxes of odds & ends to see if there is some treasure just waiting for us to find it!

The first What Cheer flea market this year was May 2 - 4, so we dropped Belle (our beagle) off for a day of play-care & headed down around 7 a.m.  The day was fairly promising -- temps in the upper 50s/low 60s & a partly sunny/partly cloudy sky.

So . . . here's what we found . . .

One of the things I had my eyes out for were old frames -- I want to get a whole bunch of different frames & replace the pictures with material & then hang them on a metal framework to display necklaces on.  So, I was excited to find 4 frames at different dealers at good prices.  Once I have enough frames & get the framework figured out, I'll do another blog showing the final product!

Another dealer had a box of old watches.  Although I didn't really want the watches themselves, I could see a bunch of watch parts at the bottom of the box, so I asked him what he wanted for just the odds & ends -- here's what I ended up with -- can't wait to use them in one of my next resin projects!

Another dealer had a huge tray of old dice at a pretty good price -- I picked out these because they were so different from what I had at home.  After I got home, I wished I'd picked out more so I could make both a bracelet (or 2) & several pairs of earrings with different combinations!

At still another dealer, I found this key ring -- I thought it was really funky & could make a fun pendant.

I thought this space needle might be fun to display with my space-themed charm bracelets & earrings.

These last 2 finds are just for me.  The Knickerbocker bunny will join my vintage Easter decorations (while I already have 2 like him, he's a different color) -- he's a bit worse for wear -- missing his glasses (although Steve can make new ones for him) & has a slightly damaged foot (that hardly shows), but he was only $1 so I couldn't pass him up!  I'm not sure what I'll do with the fiberglass lamp shade -- but like the bunny, he was only $1 & who can pass up fiberglass!

So, that's what we found at the first What Cheer of 2014 -- overall, a great day, nice weather & several fun finds -- not bad for our first outdoor flea market for this year!

And remember, to see my jewelry, check out my website at 

As always, thanks for reading & for supporting small businesses!


Filed Under: Treasure Hunting/Favorite Finds

Happy Mother's Day to My Mom

by mary May 11, 2014

Being that today is Mother's Day, I've been thinking a lot about my mom, & thought I'd share a few more pictures & memories of her.

I'll start with a few pictures from when she was younger before she married my dad & before I was born.

Here she is as a little girl with her mother (she's the one sitting on the bench on the left).  I never knew my maternal grandparents, as they both died before I was born.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, mom was the youngest of 11 children.  I remember going out to the cemetary with my parents to mow the lawn, & to plant & water geraniums around the graves of her parents & 2 brothers that had died before I was born (one during WWI).

And here she is in 1928 -- she would have been 18 years old at the time.  She sure was pretty!  This would have been not too long before the crash of 29' & the depression.  One of the things mom learned in the depression was to save & reuse just about everything.  I remember we never threw away aluminum foil after just one use or a plastic bag (she would cut those open & use them to cover dishes instead of buying plastic wrap). 

Here she is in the back yard of the house I grew up in until we moved to a new ranch-style house when I was in 4th grade.

I loved that old house & our big back yard.  I had a tree swing on a big oak -- sometimes I would swing so high I could touch the gutters on the house with my feet!  We had a cistern in the basement under the kitchen, & I can remember my mother washing my hair in the kitchen sink with water from the cistern when I was little.  I also remember playing in the wicker clothes hamper in the laundry room while my mom did the laundry.  In this next picture, she's standing by the side of the house; I think that would have been the living room that she's next to.

My mother was always game for dressing up & acting silly -- here she is with my Aunt Dorothy & Aunt Ola when we were vacationing in northern Wisconsin.  Pretty much every summer, my parents & aunts & uncles would rent a cabin for the week.  I always got to take a friend along & we'd go swimming every day & have a great time.  My uncles would fish in the lake & we'd have fresh fish several nights for dinner.  As I remember, in this next picture, my friend Rene & I had staged some entertainment for the adults, & my mom & aunts decided they would dress up too.

This next picture is from 1966, the day I graduated from 8th grade -- I would have been 13 at the time.  I remember my parents had a party for me downstairs in our basement.  For my graduation, they got me my first record player.  It was one of those portable ones where the turntable flipped down to the front & the speakers were attached to the sides of the turntable & could either be swung open or detached & set a few feet away.  I was so thrilled to have a record player that could play 45s & albums!  I think my first album was Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking"!

This last picture is from 1972 - my mom is the 3rd from the right & the rest are her remaining brothers & sisters (except one sister).  It was taken at our house for one of my family's birthdays -- my mom's family always got together to celebrate each other's birthdays.  I remember there would be dinner, then they'd play cards (sometimes I got to play too as I got older) & then before everyone went home, there would be a snack -- usually summer sausage (or raw beef) & rye bread, coffee cake & coffee. 

It was fun going hrough the old pictures this weekend & picking out a few to share -- someday I need to organize them, but for now they're in a big box in my closet & in a dresser drawer & box upstairs.  I remember my mom kept all her photos in boxes too -- I used to love it when she would get them out & we'd go through them & she'd tell me the stories behind them. 

As I said in an earlier blog, my mom was a great source of love & support to me -- she made me who I am & inspires me still.  Happy Mother's Day, Mom!


Filed Under: Memories

Marketing & Publicizing Your Business Online

by mary May 8, 2014

I thought I would share some of my "take-aways" from a class I took last month through Des Moines Community Education on "How to Market & Publicize Your Business Online".

Probably the most important thing I learned is that using online networks can be a great way to build a community & develop relationships with readers/followers/customers/potential customers.  That really resonated with me, as one of the things I've always liked about doing shows is that I get to visit with & learn more about the people that stop by to look at my jewelry.  It's one of the things that always seemed like it would be missing about putting my jewelry on my own website or on another site like Etsy.  I just hadn't thought before about how the website, blogging, Facebook & other social media could fill a similar role & actually provide a forum for developing relationships that extend beyond the local area where I do most of my shows. 

The one thing I wish the class had focused a little more on was to actually expose us to the various social media & how to use them beyond blogging & Facebook, which I'd already started using a bit & am starting to feel more comfortable with.  I've never really used Pinterest or Instagram or done much with LinkedIn, though, so feel a bit overwhelmed about approaching them.  Morgan (the instructor) would tell me that was my "lizard brain" trying to get me to go slow & avoid risk, & that I just need to quiet & ignore it, & just jump in & start using them & see where it takes me.  I'm committed to doing that over the next several months & will let you know how well I do quieting my lizard brain!

Another take-away was the importance of knowing what your "key message" is & being sure that you use it on your website & in your mailings, blogs, etc.  That got me thinking about what is my key message?  I believe it's that my jewelry is hand-crafted out of vintage materials & found objects, that each piece has a history & a story of its own, & that each piece is unique & one-of-a-kind.  Something I will be working on is integrating that more actively into my website, etc.

Beyond those 2 important take-aways, Morgan focused on specific aspects of on-line marketing -- especially having a website, blogging, mailing lists, & Facebook. 

Website - In terms of having a website, one of the key things I learned was that there are some real advantages to having a blog-based website vs. having your website & blog separate (which is what I have) -- primarily because it makes it easier for you to build a community around your website & to interact with & develop relationships with your customers & potential customers.  It also makes it easier for people who visit your webiste to move back & forth between your website & your blog.  And, as a side benefit, when your blog is part of your website, entries on your blog "count" as activity on your website, which can help move your website up in Google searches.

Another take-away was to not focus too much on SEO (search enging optimization) strategies.  Instead, focus on building community & having an up-to-date, active website that is easy to navigate, & includes accurate descriptions of your product. 

Blogging - In terms of blogging, Morgan suggested the ideal is to blog daily, & if not that, at least 2 times a week.  I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to post something daily, but I've been doing 2 a week ever since the first week of class (after a hiatis of 8 months) & feel pretty good about that!

At first, we all wondered what in the world we would blog about, but we brainstormed ideas & in-between classes I looked at other jewelry blogs, & that helped.  Morgan noted that it takes time to build a community, so don't feel bad if you don't have many people reading your blog to begin with -- just keep on blogging. 

Mailing lists - Morgan also talked about the importance of building a mailing list & strategies to add to your list -- including signing people up at shows or when they purchase something, or holding a drawing for everyone that signs up.

I thnk that pretty much sums up what I took away from the class -- most importantly, be clear on what your key messages are & use on-line tools to build relationships & community.  My goal is to keep those 2 ideas front & foremost as I work to also incorporate some of the specific strategies that she shared.




Filed Under: Classes & Favorite Books

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

by mary May 3, 2014

More ideas for Mother's Day gifts -- this time from Vintage 35, one of my favorite shops in Valley Junction, that aims to "rescue, repurpose, & relove" everything vintage!  Vintage 35 is located at 221 5th St., Valley Junction, West Des Moines.

Here are some things that caught my eye the other day when I was visiting the shop . . .

First were these hand drawn prints from Burlap Bungalow -- I especially like the colorful garden print -- perfect for this time of year!

Or what about these fun totes & messenger bags by Purple Pin Cushion -- made from vintage & scrap material.  Either would be perfect for taking to the Farmers Market or rummaging!

Or what about a fragrant body lotion or scrub made from natural ingredients by Adagio for mom to pamper herself with!

Something else that caught my eye were these prints by Red Door Press -- I was especially intriqued by the fact that they do these by hand using letterpress printing, a technique that generally hasn't been used in mainstream printing since early in the 20th century.  (These would also make great great graduation gifts!)

Tricia Hall, one of the shop's owners, also makes a line of fun & funky jewelry herself, recycling vintage treasures that she finds rummaging -- the shop has a great selection of her necklaces that should please just about any mother!

And then there are these fun stars made out of barn wood & recycled metal by Whirlythings -- one of these would look great inside the house or out in the garden!

And, finally, you might want to check out one of my hand-crafted charm bracelets made out of gemstones & recycled vintage jewelry, charms & found objects!

To learn more about what's going on at Vintage 35, go to or  To see more of my jewelry, go to

Thanks for reading & for supporting small business!



Filed Under: Gift Ideas

About the author

Pauline's Jewelry Box was founded by Mary Nelson in 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa.  I chose the name Pauline's Jewelry Box because my mother's name was Pauline & I have many fond memories of looking through jewelry box & playing with her jewelry

Month List