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.

march malaise

The first day of spring is tomorrow… but you’d never know that in Brooklyn. It snowed yesterday! It is rainy, cold, and overcast today. The cloudy coldness is bringing me down, but I really can’t place all of the blame on the weather. I need to make some changes, to my life and to my attitude.

My spring cleaning goals:

  • running – Running is discouraging. It is not fun, not energizing, not empowering. It is only discouraging. I know that it is my fault for over-doing it — three marathons in two months, plus the NYC Half on Sunday, was NOT smart — but my bad attitude is deeper than merely being burnt out. I have this unrelenting feeling that running is completely unfair and no one understands how difficult it is for me. Boohoo. I shouldn’t have such angry feelings about a freakin hobby. I am scaling back. I plan to only run two days a week (with Team in Training) and cross train a few days a week. I usually enjoy exercising, but I need to find a new activity that makes me feel fit and powerful, not sluggish and discouraged.
  • food – I have already been on a bit of a health kick. (Flax seed oatmeal with raisins and bananas for breakfast this morning!) But I want to stay committed. I have not quite decided how I feel about Mayor Bloomberg’s “soda ban”, but I know that for myself, I will always limit my refined sugar intake. I’ll never say that I am cutting out any type of food completely because I want to be a flexible and adventurous eater, but I certainly don’t need sugary beverages or processed junk food. I plan to cook at home more. Healthy dinners and lots of fruits and veggies!
  • swap-bot – Swap-bot is my constant companion and an unrelenting source of never-ending work. I don’t mind. I’ll keep working on it forever if users keep swapping… but I need to reframe my focus. I want to work harder on improving the site for ALL users, not just tread water trying to put out all the many tiny daily fires. I have said this before and I still believe it: art + community = a better world. I want to work more purposefully toward the goal of fostering creativity and friendship around the world via Swap-bot. And I want to make the site look and function better. There is a lot of work to do.
  • self – I plan to focus more on my own feelings and desires. I want to stay home more. Work on projects that improve my quality of life. Watch some tv. Make a quilt. Take it easy. I love socializing (probably too much) and I know it sounds crazy for someone who works alone everyday at home to want more time to myself, but I do. I love going out with friends, but I love hanging out with my husband more. I need to rest and recharge and remind myself that my priorities and ambitions may be different than others, and that is totally ok.

Once the sun comes out, I am sure I will be feeling more upbeat. Until then, I am going to take it easy on myself and do my best to foster my own happiness. What changes do you have planned for spring?

currently // february 2013

I love my birthday month, but this February seems to be dragging on. So cold and rainy and grey. I have lost my enthusiasm for a lot of things… except this stuff:

watching… X-Files! Oh, how I love Mulder & Scully! I am working my way through the series. I just finished season three (Queequeg just got eaten by an alligator) and started season four (my favorite). Such a thoughtful, mysterious show! Definitely one of my all-time favorites.

enjoying… spring pastels. Like this handbag, this rug, and this scarf.

eating… grapefruit and pistachios. My two current healthy favorites. I believe that I eat pretty healthy in general — fruits & veggies, whole grain, low-fat dairy, etc — but I am on a renewed health kick since I read this article about junk food engineering.

wishing that… my new iMac would arrive. It is back-ordered until March. My current desktop is broken — it crashes every 10 minutes — and it is difficult to do serious work on my tiny travel laptop.

hosting… the Sweet Spring Time Matchbox Swap on Swap-bot. I am really looking forward to spring and thought I’d host one of my signature craft swaps to hurry it along. Join us!


what are you up to?

so… about BlogHer…

I’ve been to quite a few female-focused blogging conferences in the last few years — BlogHer in 2010, The Creative Connection/BlogHer Handmade in 2011, and AltSummit earlier this year — and I think I hit my saturation point with BlogHer12 last weekend.

I am proud to consider myself a feminist and I am happy that women are being empowered and celebrated in the world of tech… but apparently I’ve been immersed in the online world of women for too long.

BlogHer felt like it was all Stephanie Meyer novels, menopause advice, gluten-free cookies, lactation rooms, vibrators, dietary supplements, and maxi pads. All of which is valid and important, but none of which interests me at this point in my life. Well, except maybe the vibrators…

The single thing that I will remember most about BogHer? All of the men’s restrooms in the hotel were changed to women’s restrooms. And the urinals were HIDDEN BEHIND CURTAINS! Curtains that were brought in just for that purpose. Despite what the conference organizers may think, women CAN handle the sight of urinals. What I personally can’t handle is being completely enclosed in an all-women environment where every trace of men is erased from sight. It just isn’t for me.

Sadly, I was also disappointed with the two sessions I attended: “Ten Things You Can Do Now to Maximize Your Social Media Expertise” and “Streamline Your Technical Toolkit: How to Do More with Less.” The two pieces of advice I took from these two sessions? Proofread your posts and use Google Docs. Thanks.

I did manage to gather a few interesting links to share:

  • My favorite part of the conference: Martha Stewart was one of the keynote speakers. She was as arrogant confident as ever, but she was also really funny. She is definitely a hard worker and I think she might be a genius. Anyhoo, she has a new show, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, starting in October on PBS. It looks very lovely.
  • Maybe a helpful tool: RescueTime. Track how you spend your time online and be more productive.
  • Girl Around Town – A women’s lifestyle site (similar to Daily Candy) covering NYC, Houston, and LA.
  • And, if you don’t mind some strong language, my friend Jen’s blog is hilarious: People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She was nominated as one of the BlogHer Voices of the Year.

I had a great time at BlogHer the first time I went, so maybe I am just jaded now and being too harsh. What do you think? Were you at BlogHer this year? Did you love it?

Gardening with GMC

On Thursday night I attended BlogHer, but before that, I took part in a special event hosted by GMC. A group of bloggers (including me) were invited on a day trip to test out the new GMC Terrain SUVs while also helping to donate gardening supplies to a Harlem community garden.

I was happy to be a part of the event, but unfortunately, I am not in the market for a new car. We sold our car more than two years ago and I am not sure when or if we will get another. I was a little too afraid to actually drive the SUVs in the city… BUT I did have a great afternoon!

First we drove to Scarsdale to the family-owned Sprainbrook Nursery and picked up the $2,000 worth of plants purchased by GMC and a few extras donated by the nursery. Then, we headed to Harlem.

Convent Garden is a tiny triangle of green space at 151st St. It is managed, cared for, and loved by Miss Miami (seen here). It is a lovely community gathering spot and many of the neighbors came out to say hello and host a picnic for us. (I had many pieces of fried chicken.) We didn’t end up doing any of the actual gardening, but it was awesome to see the neighborhood in action and meet new people. I need to spend more time exploring Harlem!

I’ll have more details about BlogHer shortly…

currently – April 2012

playing… Draw Something – it is like Pictionary, but over your phone. Very cute and fun. Draw with me!

eating… out at too many great restaurants! My new favorite place in the Slope is Fort Reno, a tiny barbecue joint located just around the corner from our house. I finally tried the ribs last week and they were amazing! I have been craving them ever since. Then, over the weekend, Travis took me to Littleneck where I had scallops and pea shoot salad. (Very good, but I still want ribs!) And yesterday, Dizzy’s opened their new 5th Ave location. Travis and I HAD to stop in for opening night dinner.

prepping for… the IndieBizChicks Virtual Conference on April 25th. I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Building An Online Community” and sharing my experience creating and managing Swap-bot. The conference is $25 for a full day of business presentations (which will also be recorded so that you can listen to them anytime).

reminiscing about… running the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon in 2000. Only a month and a half until I revisit the event on June 3rd! I have no idea what to expect this time around… except fun. Lots of fun.

What have you been up to?

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!

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.

getting ready for Alt…

This will be my first year attending the Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City… and I leave tomorrow morning! I am a little nervous, but basically just trying to get all packed and ready.

The conference is focused on lifestyle and design blogs, so there has been a LOT of talk about what everyone is wearing. A LOT of talk. There are many cute blog posts on the topic, like this one and this one. One woman says she is bringing SIX pairs of shoes. For a three-day conference!! I am a little intimidated. So I need your help….

There is a party on Thursday night themed “Winter Wonderland” and everyone is supposed to wear white. I was planning to just wear a white top and call it good, but I found a casual silver dress on Sunday at a Theory sample sale and now I am torn. What look should I wear to the party?

Either way I’ll be pretty boring and unremarkable, but what do you think…

Which look should I wear to the Alt Summit “Winter Wonderland” party?
 silver dress
 white silk blouse
pollcode.com free polls 

I reserve the right to alter either look… but I will post a report on what I end up wearing on Thursday…

past & present

I can’t help sharing the old photos I scanned over the holidays. They make me happy. This photo was taken 30 years ago. Isn’t my mom pretty?!

I’ve been a bit scatterbrained lately. I’ve still been trying to catch up on holiday work while simultaneously getting prepped to attend the Alt Design Summit in Utah next week. I am looking forward to the trip. I think it will be a fun conference.

What else have I been up to?

Well… I’ve been doing a lot of writing over at Ace Dept:

I am also hosting two Valentine swaps over on the ‘bot:

Come join us and receive some fun February mail!

Oooo!! I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Saturday (the new American one) and I actually liked it better than the book. They omitted many of the aspects of the book that I thought were silly/unbelievable/inconsistent. Plus, Daniel Craig’s attractive confidence made it more believable that every woman in the story wanted to sleep with him. I want to watch the Swedish version of the movie asap.

Ok, now I’m off to do our weekly run by the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and over to the Brooklyn Shake Shack… yum… shakes….