i heart blogshop

Do you want to start using Photoshop? Do you use Photoshop, but wish you knew more about it? Do you totally know Photoshop and use it every day, but need some motivation to actually put effort into making your websites look great?

I would answer yes to the third question. I was trained as a graphic designer and I have been using Photoshop nearly everyday of my life for the past 15 years. I’ve been blogging since 2003 and working on Swap-bot since 2005. But my websites are still lacking design-wise. I never set aside the time to really work on the style and photos and graphics… because it is hard work! So, I signed up for Blogshop to hopefully give myself a design and style kick in the pants.

Blogshop is a traveling Photoshop class for bloggers taught by Bri Emery and Angela Kohler. I love Bri’s design blog and had seen so many great things (beautiful Instagram photos!) about Blogshop online that I was curious about the class. When I saw it was being hosted in NY this summer, I thought I should try it out. Supposedly, I bought the second-to-last slot!

The class is not cheap. At all. It is $772 for two-days of instruction and lunch. Plus, you MUST own a Mac laptop, a Wacom drawing tablet and the newest version of Photoshop. That is a steep monetary barrier for the class, but it is obviously not a major deterrent because nearly every session is sold out.

I own Photoshop CS5, so I signed up for the free trail of the new Photoshop Creative Cloud for the class. I want to stay up-to-date with Photoshop, so I am glad that I forced myself to try it. It felt very comfortable, but I am still suspicious of the new Creative Cloud subscription model. The only major differences in PS CC that we explored in class were the new Tilt-Shift and Iris Blur filters. Otherwise, I felt like I could use CS5 for everything we learned.

So what did we learn? A good amount! Mood boards, animated Gifs, photo retouching, keyboard shortcuts, and more. (The photos in this blog post are some of the things we worked on in class.) I will admit that Blogshop probably wasn’t geared toward me. I use Photoshop a lot and can accomplish a lot of what they taught already… but Photoshop is such a complicated and intricate program, that there is always something new to learn! I learned a few new shortcuts (why have I not been using COMMAND + J to duplicate layers this whole time??) and really enjoyed the photo retouching segment taught by Angela. I feel way more comfortable using the Liquify filter to adjust my photos now.

Other major positives:

  • Goodie bags! One of the major perks of Blogshop are the cute goodie bags. We received beautiful bkr glass water bottles and Baggu bags filled with fun and lovely items, like earrings from Upper Metal Class, Tattly tattoos, dish towels from Artsy Modern, little Wind & Willow bowls, and more!
  • The other attendees were completely gorgeous and totally stylish. I felt out of their league. No joke, I was sitting next to a professional model (in Isabel Marant sneakers, no less) the first day of class. She was totally awesome, btw. There were women (and one man) of all ages, but many/most were younger than me. It was sort of surprising? exciting? cool? to hear women ten years younger than me talk about lifestyle blogging as a legit career option without any irony or embarrassment. They have grown up reading popular, big-name blogs and have clear examples of success to follow. It will be interesting to see how the industry changes and grows.
  • Bri is an awesome designer with impeccable taste and Angela is an amazingly talented and professional photographer. She took portraits of all of us to use on our websites (see mine below). That is hugely generous!

blogshop portrait of rachel johnson by Angela Kohler

My main criticism: We were not allowed internet access! Gah! I run an online business that I must monitor every single day. Since I am fairly familiar with Photoshop, I was hoping I could still put in a bit of work on Swap-bot while attending the all-day class. Nope. Plus, it would have been helpful to be able to access my Flickr photos to use for some of our in-class exercises. I understand that they want us focused, but if I had known in advance that there would not be internet access it would have been a deal-breaker for me. Dramatic, but true. Especially since the instructors DID have internet access and were updating their Pinterest accounts while teaching. Grrr.

Conclusions? Blogshop is a good class. Especially for beginner Photoshop users who want to improve their lifestyle or design blogs. I’m glad I attended because it has motivated me to really try to re-design this blog and work harder on the Swap-bot blog. BUT I am not sure if I will ever totally be a part of the whole “lifestyle blog” world. It is a ton of work and it is all about creating that perfectly polished outward expression of design and style. I am just too messy and lazy to be a pro design maven. BUT BUT! I DO have major, marketable, valuable skills that I have been honing for over a decade. I shouldn’t forget that. Design knowledge and Photoshop, social media, and blogging skills are not something to dismiss. I plan (hope!) to continue to improve my skills and improve my websites… we’ll see where it takes me!

You can follow Blogshop on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about upcoming classes.

links to love // march 2013

On Fridays I often share fun, crafty links on the Swap-bot blog. I compile them all week during my Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and blog browsing. They usually follow the craft and snail mail theme, but I always include some tasty recipes, too.

But what to do with links that don’t fit into those categories? Why not share them here?! Maybe once a month, I’ll gather up some of my favorite recent links… like these!

march 2013 links to love:

Usually I recommend ignoring the Westboro Baptist Church completely, but the Planting Peace Equality House really touched my heart. The non-profit bought a house across the street from the Topeka church and painted it in rainbow colors. They will be supporting anti-bullying and equality initiatives. More info here. You can donate here and here.

Read this interview about time travel and other cool topics with a very wise man (who also happens to be one of my favorite authors).

If you like design, you must check out Stitch Design Co. Their work is too good.

My health kick continues and I have been cooking dinner at home most nights. If you need a unique and healthy dinner option, try these Healthy Delicious Chicken & Spinach Flautas. I made them last week and they take a bit of prep, but are really tasty!

Speaking of recipes, I made these Oatmeal S’more Cookies over the weekend. They are quite sweet (and don’t really fit into my low-sugar health plan) but the oatmeal cookie is very good and soft. I think they would be even better with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows mixed in and no topping.

Vampire Weekend has two new singles out. You can listen to them here. I really like Step: “Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth. Age is an honor – it’s still not the truth.” Their new cd comes out on May 6th.

I’ve been accepted into Marathon Maniacs!! Check out my profile page.

What links have you been visiting and sharing this month?

shout outs

This may come as a shock, but I still feel like I have more to share from Alt Summit. With so much travel planned this year, I have sort of been hopping from one thing to the next without totally processing each experience… but my intention is to be more mindful about recording my thoughts and discoveries.

This beautiful photo of business cards collected at Alt was taken by Ez of Creature Comforts. Creature Comforts is one of my all-time favorite blogs — filled with beautiful design and DIY projects — and it was a thrill to meet Ez at the Wednesday night dinner at Alt. It was even more of a thrill to see my business card pack in her round-up. Mine is the pink envelope with RACHEL on it. I put together my business cards for this blog, Swap-bot, and Ace Dept in the envelope instead of trying to create one complicated card that covered all three sites. I hope I didn’t confuse people too much…

The tiny square card at the very top is actually a temporary tattoo from SF Girl by Bay. How cool is that?!

I’ve already shared quite a few links from the conference, but I have more! I recommend checking out these inspiring websites:

There are so many talented people in the world, it can be intimidating. But don’t fret, there is room for all of us!

tangerine tango

So, Pantone (the authority on color standards) announced that the color of 2012 is tangerine tango. Tangerine tango is a reddish orange and it is basically my least favorite color. BUT, in an effort to be more adventurous and open-minded, I thought I’d entertain the possibility of maybe growing to like the vibrant hue.

I searched around for a few acceptable uses of tangerine tango in fashion:

Kate Spade wedges | Tory Burch clutch | J. Crew necklace

I don’t know… I’m still not sure I can pull off a deep, bright orange… even in accessories. How about you?

Will you incorporate tangerine tango into your wardrobe?

thoughts on Alt Summit…

Alt Summit goodie box

Hello. I am back from the wild world of Alt Summit! It was an inspiring, informative, exciting experience… but if I am being 100% honest, it was also exhausting, intimidating, and overwhelming. A lot to absorb in a short amount of time. I am so glad to have gone, but also quite glad to be back home.

Welcome to Alt SUmmitAlt Summit is about inspiration, design, and online business advice. I attended quite a few informative sessions, on topics like “The Business of Blogging,” “Growing Your Audience,” and “Blogging Ethics and Etiquette.” Since I’ve attended similar conferences in the past, some of the content felt repetitive to me, but it was a thrill to hear the big names (like Heather from Dooce, Maggie from Mighty Girl, Ben from Pinterest, and Kal from [i]LoveLife) speak about their experiences of growing their sites and businesses.

I LOVED the keynote talk from Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen is the author of The Happiness Project, which I now feel even more compelled to read. Her talk reminded me that to be happy, you have to be honest with yourself about your true interests and passions, and it can be painful to let go of the person that you wish you were.

A few of my favorite quotes from Gretchen Rubin:

  • “You can only build a happy life on YOUR interests, YOUR nature, and YOUR values.”
  • “Technology is a good servant, but a bad master.”
  • “Preserve open space to think. (And don’t feel guilty about it!)”
  • “The days are long, but the years are short.”

To put it simply, she gave me permission to do the things that I need to do for my own happiness without feeling guilty, because being happier will make me a more productive and helpful person in the world.

photos from Alt Summit 2012

As a design conference, Alt offered lots of new ideas. The business cards that many of the attendees bring to exchange are like little works of art.

Some business card trends I observed: foil embossing, deep letterpress printing on very thick stock, DIY embellishments, like washi tape, and square formats.

My favorite business cards of the ones I collected:

Michelle Edgemont | You + Me Design | Making it lovely (one of my all-time fave blogs) | Ginny Branch | Deb Averett (an internet friend) | Fleurish Events | Elizabeth Giorgi | A Girl Who Makes (Laura is a high school friend who I ran into at Alt!) | The Salty Pineapple | Turquoise Ink | The Jealous Curator | Little Bird Soda Co. | Link with Love | I Still Love You (another of my fave blogs) | Armelle (with a QR code on a tiny pack of gum) | The Cuisinerd

Business card from Alt Summit

Since Alt is a conference for people (mostly women) interested in the online worlds of style, photography, design, and fashion, you can probably imagine how fashionable the attendees are. The outfits at Alt really were impressive.

Some fashion trends I observed: nerdy glasses, big necklaces, long, straight bangs, top knot buns, color!, stripes, red jeans, red tights, leopard print shoes, neon belts, pattern on pattern, floor-length skirts, sequins, and scarves. For men: bowties.

I did not feel quite up to par fashion-wise, but I tried. Here are a few of my outfits:

Yes, I went with the silver dress for the all-white-attire Winter Wonderland party. Thank you all for voting in my poll! (The big, blue bag was a gift from one of the Alt Summit sponsors, Epiphanie Bags. I actually love it!)

My favorite parts of the conference were the mini parties on Friday night. Different sponsors took over suites in the Grand America hotel and put on parties based around fun themes. There was delicious food and drink, party favors, and lots of confetti. I even forced myself to be brave and tried out one of the many photo booths solo.

Although the Alt Summit was a good experience, my favorite part of the entire trip was just getting to explore Salt Lake City. Seeing the mountains and the snow and staying in the lovely Grand America hotel was all very refreshing. I ordered room service, had a bubble bath, read good fiction late into the evening, and basically enjoyed spending some time alone.

I am not going to recap it all in full now, but I loved traveling to Park City to check out the Sundance Film Festival scene. I even got to see one of the films, West of Memphis, which was an excellent, heartbreaking documentary that I highly recommend. Completely unknowingly, I ran into a crazy-cool Banksy mural and I stumbled upon one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, signing books and I picked up The Blind Assassin. On Saturday night, I struck out on my own, in the snow, to go see the Mormon Temple Square. It was impressive and spooky and wonderful. I had a grand adventure in Utah!

For more links from the conference, check out my “link love” round-up on the Swap-bot blog.

For more inspiration, view the Alt Summit 2012 Flickr Stream or search #altsummit on Twitter.

Decorate book signing

Last night, I attended the book signing event for Decorate, the new book by blogger, Holly Becker. Holly runs decor8, a home decor and design blog. I’ve been following decor8 for years and was excited to get my hands on a copy of the new book.

The book signing was held at the Anthropologie store in Soho, and I’d estimate that as many as 100 people showed up for the event. I purchased my book and then waited in line to get it signed. I had fun talking to BKLYN Contessa (Hi Nicole!) and her husband, David, while we waited. Cookies, wine, and sparkling water were passed around while we all chatted and exchanged business cards.

Holly was lovely and friendly when we made it to her. She has been on a grueling book signing tour across the country and this was her last stop. I am impressed she was still so upbeat and sweet.

I am also very impressed with the book. In the past, I’ve been disappointed by blog-to-book attempts, but Decorate is beautiful, professional, detailed, and huge — 288 pages of design ideas! I can’t wait to read every page!

West Elm Handmade Art event

I went with my friend, Jess, to a We Heart Handmade Art event last night . The event was hosted by Etsy and Remodelista, and was held at the West Elm store near Columbus Circle.

I had been reluctant about making the long trip uptown for the event, especially since the weather was rainy and bleak yesterday, but it paid off! I had a surprisingly excellent time. It was a party atmosphere with free drinks and really amazing sweet treats (like these adorable mini cones filled with mocha mousse!) from FIKA espresso bar. I had quite a few…

The event was packed, but the West Elm store was very large. The handmade vendors were dispersed and integrated throughout the store. It was sometimes hard to tell if you were looking at a West Elm product or one of the handmade art displays. There were jewelers, printers, illustrators, food vendors, and more. We met some talented artists.

My favorite handmade goodies: candy from Kettle Cronfections (I bought some!), Deep End Mugs from Clam Lab, thank you cards from Pawling Print Studio, and the “Everything’s Alright Forever” print from Enormous Champion.

Jess and I went to do some shopping — I’m always up for checking out handmade wares, plus I am in the market for a new rug — but also to do some networking. We are working on a super-secret (i.e. still in beta) project together called Ace Department. Check it out if you are a female entrepreneur looking for a supportive online community. We think it’s going to be grand.

I forced Jess to do the Smilebooth with me:

I’d never make it in Starfleet…

So…. I read this article today. It is sort of about “mommy blogging,” but more specifically about a subset of female bloggers that happen to be Mormon and sort of happen to be perfect in every way. Perfect in every way on their blogs, any way.

I don’t really care for the predictable arguing that results from this type of article and plays out in its comments (“religious people are simple-minded” “nuh uh. liberals and feminists are jerks” …that sort of thing), but I can relate to a lot of the feelings expressed in the article, like how some more mainstream parenting blogs “make parenthood seem like a vale of judgment and anxiety,” and if the more perfect bloggers can “help women like me envision a life in which marriage and motherhood could potentially be something other than a miserable, soul-destroying trap, I say, ‘Right on.'” But that is not what I wanted to post about… I wanted to post about my low self esteem.

Do you think some people are fundamentally just better than others? I know that a blog is a curated view of a person’s life and that no one’s life is perfect, but some of these blogging women are just too much to handle. (And not just cheery mormons — the perfect woman comes in all types! Like her, and her, and her, and her, and her, and so many more I must stop myself before I go crazy.) Their perfection makes me depressed. How can they have a beautiful house, perfect clothes (some of which they make themselves and others that they carefully collected from adorable vintage boutiques), beautiful children and/or a fab career, home baked cakes, cute crafts, peppy parties, hipster husbands, and cute thick-rimmed eyeglasses, etc etc etc… plus, the lovely design sense, writing skill, and photography prowess to make it all look fantastic on the internet? I mean, I try. I’ve been blogging for over seven years, but I can’t make my life look that good.

It’s like on Star Trek — everything in life relates back to Star Trek, obvs — only the best got into Starfleet Academy. And everyone in Starfleet Academy was uniquely perfect in their own way. Of course, they were all physically and mentally superior to their peers, but they also had unique and intellectual hobbies, like horticulture or playing concertos on the violin, and they read Shakesphere or did Tai Chi in their spare time. I know, I know. Star Trek is just a tv show. But that is how I feel about these perfect lady bloggers. They are in Starfleet and I am just some lame colonist trying to scrape out an existence on some distant desert planet. ugh. I’m nearly 30. Shouldn’t I have grown beyond all of this self doubt and jealousy?

Speaking of turning 30, what else do I need for my party? These are the things I have planned so far:

Sounds like a party to me! (whew. That cheered me up a bit.)

September Blogging Special

In an attempt to improve my personal blog and try to increase my blogging enthusiasm, I signed up for IndieBizChicks.com’s September Blogging Special. It is a month-long “eClass” that includes daily emails with blogging tips and prompts. I may not be able to do all of the blogging prompts, but I am going to try to do many of them – starting today!

Today’s Challenge: Get out of your blog reading rut! Crissy challenged us to visit our three favorite blogs and then visit three totally new-to-us blogs that are outside of our comfort zone.

three of my favorite blogs

First, 3 of my favorite blogs:

ljcfyi – a daily blog with lots of photos

[i]LoveLife– an artist’s blog on creativity

Oh joy! – a premier design blog

three new blogs

Now, 3 new (and cool) blogs:

100 Layer Cake – This is a very popular blog about weddings. I got married seven years ago, so I don’t really read wedding blogs, but this one is so beautiful! Lots of design and party inspiration.

This Girl is Losing It – A weight loss and running blog (found via). The author has had a lot of success (lost 38 lbs!) and is training to run a 5k, which is very interesting to me right now as I train for a marathon!

Conversion Rater – So this is actually my friend, Pat’s, blog, but it is a bit outside my comfort zone. It is a tech blog with a focus on online advertising and internet startups and Pat really knows his stuff!


So, I didn’t move outside of my comfort zone too far, but I have added these three new blogs to my reader and hope to gain a fresh perspective by expanding my blog circle. What are a few other new-to-me blogs I should check out?

My favorite links from BlogHer

I know, I know… you are most likely sick of hearing about the lady blogging conference. I apologize for being so single-minded lately, but I feel like I need to write down all of the good info I picked up at BlogHer before it slips out of my mind and is lost forever! Wow. That sounds dramatic! I better get to it.

Today, I have a list of all my favorite new websites that I learned about over the weekend. Hopefully, you will like some of them as well…

Crafty Blogs & Sites:

  • Handmade Detroit – If you are in Michigan, this site is for you. And even if you’re not, the blog has lots of great crafty content.
  • Tonya Staab – This and That – Tonya was on the Etsy blogging panel with me and she is fantastic. Her blog covers just about everything – including cupcakes!
  • DIY Buiness Association – A new blog and organization from Amy Schroeder, Founder of Venus Zine and venuszine.com.
  • Teen Angster – The personal blog of Allison, one of the authors of the amazing Etsy blog.
  • The Creative Empire – You already know about Tara Gentile from ScoutieGirl and Megan Auman from Crafting an MBA because I link to their great sites all of the time. The Creative Empire is their new project – a community built to help web entrepreneurs.
  • The Honey Pie Tree – A hand-crafted toy designer’s blog.
  • The Studio Creations – A very pretty art blog by Thais, a Brazilian living in NY.
  • Louise Gale – An artist who hosts the The Creative Color Challenge.
  • Kipiboo – A blog of art and inspiration from a Brooklyn artist.
  • Design Mom – Gabrielle is one of the founders of Kirtsy, a designer, and a mom of six.

Other Blogs:

Other Cool Websites:

  • Indie Biz Chicks – I’ve already linked to this site a couple times, but Crissy’s website is an excellent resource for small business owners.
  • Reware Vintage – a vintage clothing shop and blog.
  • Food on the Table – A meal planning tool. Amanda, the rep, was super-sweet!
  • Cake Lab – The most beautiful and delicious mini cupcakes. I had them at Etsy.
  • Girlfriend Circles – A community that matches up online friends for real world get togethers.
  • Graph Jam – A funny graph builder.

Whew! That is a long list of websites… and the thing is, I am sure I left off some good ones. Please add more of your favorite links from the conference (or just in general) in the comments…