January 2010

fire breathing dragon cat binder

"Dominus Inferni" binder from TaraFly's Zazzle shop

I created this binder on Zazzle the other night, using my infamous fire-breathing dragon cat… he turned out so awesome, I’ve got one sitting in my shopping cart right now. Which is unusual, because I rarely purchase my own work. It’s nothing against Zazzle; I love their quality! I did initially purchase a coffee mug with Monsieur Inferni on it, a couple T-shirts with my logo, and some gorgeous greeting cards…but I typically buy products that serve a function, and there are only so many binders, magnets, key chains, sheets of stationary, and shoes that a person absolutely needs.
Rather counter-productive thinking for someone in the selling industry, huh? 😉

People purchase artwork mainly because a certain piece strikes a chord with them, and unless they are collecting the works of a particular artist, most people don’t hoard hundreds of prints. A few special pieces will hang on their walls, and perhaps they’ll pick up a coffee mug or T-shirt featuring their favorite work. At least, that is my approach to art.
I admire the work of hundreds of talented artists, but it has to speak to me personally before I’ll buy it, and make room for it in my home. Not surprisingly, two major themes are found in my collection: cats (in all genres) and regency-inspired pieces. An odd pairing, to be sure, and perhaps subconsciously my regency cat paintings were an attempt to establish order.

“Creating order from chaos” is actually the theme of my year, and the motivation behind writing this particular blog… which I know is shockingly pre-mature, as I usually limit myself to one blog each week. 😉 *giggle*

My unknowing mentor, Jessica Doyle, wrote a blog explaining why she closed her Etsy shop, and although I have no intention of doing the same, her post struck a nerve with me.
I’ve been feeling the stress of being spread too thin… being in too many places at once… in my attempt to be noticed in the vastness of net space. I have a website of my own, which currently serves as a hub: providing followers and potential customers with a list of my selling venues and social haunts. I promote my dotcom, and once they arrive, they are re-directed elsewhere… “follow me on Twitter”, “read my blog on WordPress”, “buy my art here, here, and HERE”. Tossed to the wind, in a matter of speaking.
I watch my web-stats like a hawk, using StatCounter.com, and the turn-over is incredible and disheartening. I’ve tried to place myself in my visitors’ shoes, and found my site lacking consistency and direction, but I was unsure what steps to take.

Watching Jessica struggle with making important hosting and e-commerce decisions for her business, it dawned in my sluggish brain what I needed to do. The light just switched on yesterday, burning dimly at first, and then flared feverishly last night… keeping me tossing and turning well past 2:00AM.

Instead of maintaining this feeble pit-stop website of mine, I need to create a “Go To” Place for shopping, sharing, and socializing with my customers and friends. Instead of pointing customers in different directions, I need to re-direct all my online efforts BACK into my website.
Sites like Zazzle and WordPress have excellent options available for integration. WordPress’ advanced features allow mapping to any domain of my choice, allowing me to bring my blog back home.
Zazzle offers an awesome tool, called Store Builder, that allows me to host my Zazzle shop directly on my own website, and customize it’s CSS layout to blend in seamlessly. 🙂
So why am I not taking advantage of these great features right now?? Good question.

As my business has grown, so has my dissatisfaction with my current host – although to Trevor’s credit, many of the limitations were known to me from the beginning. For a mere $40 per year, it provided a fledgling artist like myself a nice Flash gallery to display my work, and space enough for an artist bio, and a couple additional text-based pages. Initially, I wasn’t looking for a host large enough to handle PHP script files or a fully functional e-commerce program; I was unsure what direction my work would take and my expectations were low. My current host provided me with a cheap, attractive web presence. Although I did experience some frustrating server down-time during the holiday season…

Now that my requirements have outgrown the nest, and my current hosting expires in March, I’m looking into options that will allow me to use e-commerce tools, like Zen-Cart, to sell my prints, originals, and miscellaneous merchandise directly from www.taraflyphotos.com, as well as host my Zazzle products, my blog, and perhaps a small discussion forum for announcements and social interaction. 🙂
Zen-Cart is especially intriguing, as it offers the ability to track inventory, take coupons, create special accounts for repeat customers and/or fans, accept multiple forms of payment, and much more.

I will, however, leave my Etsy shop up and running. Aside from the friendships I’ve made there, I realize that Etsy’s traffic can’t be overlooked, and some new customers might feel safer purchasing my products from a “reputable” site with feedback and an administrative system.
I’ll also make originals available occasionally on eBay, as I’ve done previously. I simply won’t flush money down Etsy’s drain anymore, trying to keep my listings on top of internal searches, or get involved in forum politics. If I’m going to spend a large chunk of my time and money promoting my work, I want to reap the rewards on my own site.

In the end, though, I’m hoping that this transition… which will happen slowly over the next few months… will transform my small corner of the web-world into thriving little community, composed of friends and fans who can sit and chat about personal stuff, buy a print or three, and read about my latest projects. It will be the virtual home I’ve always envisioned owning. I might even build myself an eat-in kitchen, with a confectioner’s oven and a refrigerator stocked with cheddar and provolone cheese… and of course, every fridge needs to be plastered with magnets!

Romantic Mr. Darcy Cat art

Mr. Darcy Romances Lizzy with a Rose

Valentine’s Day is an excuse to wear red clothes that don’t flatter your complexion, indulge in chocolate candy and $40 bouquets of dying flowers, and decorate your hearth and home with construction-paper hearts symbolizing the everlasting Love you have for your spouse and family… although paper by nature is not everlasting, so perhaps we should signify our love for each other by building pyramids with limestone blocks. 

I don’t buy “themed” merchandise usually. My mother gave me Rudolph the Reindeer pajamas one Christmas, and I wear them throughout the year… because they’re comfortable and I can’t stand the idea of a decent pair of unworn PJs taking up valuable space in my lingerie drawer. (Though I’d have more room if I gave away all the unworn jewelry hiding underneath the PJs)
I’m perhaps the world’s biggest advocate of buying a generic red shirt that can earn its place in my closet. Seasonally appropriate in December, February, and July, it works equally well any time of year. 

Unfortunately, retailers are especially notorious for grabbing anything red or heart-related off the back shelves to display prominently in the aisles, and slapping huge Valentine’s Day signage all over it. Okay, I think we’re smart enough to know that red toasters and coat-hangers aren’t traditional gifts… although some hopelessly romantic soul could put a creative spin on just about any lame attempt to commercialize:
“I want to spent the rest of my life with you, waking up each morning to the aroma of your strawberry Pop-Tarts, and hanging my coat and hat in our shared closet each night.” 

And here’s a red toothbrush, because it’s sexy to watch you brush your teeth each morning…
What about this bottle of Heart-Health vitamin supplements? Because I want to share forever with you! 

My friend Lily, a.k.a TwoStrayCats on Etsy, and I were discussing her adorable stuffed gnomes the other night. If you haven’t visited her shop yet, you should take a peek at her pillows. Here is one of my favorites, featuring a silhouette of Emily Bronte:

Emily Bronte pillow cover

Emily Bronte pillow cover by TwoStrayCats

Lily gave me a link to another seller’s shop to check out their stuffed dolls, but alas, I was immediately distracted by the shop’s first listing… for a Valentine’s Day burp cloth. Because milk should be vomited onto a fashionable holiday rag.
Somehow, I can’t see myself digging for the special red floral felt at 3:00am, when Jake wakes hungrily, just to put me in the spirit of love. I’ll probably grab an old shirt from the laundry pile, a washcloth from the bathroom shelf, or just take my chances that he might spit-up on Rudolph. 

Apparently three pages worth of Etsians believe we need a special cloth for the occasion… and it made me curious to see what other necessary items I’m lacking. So I did a “Valentine’s Day” search on Etsy, and with over 2,200 page results (in the handmade category alone), there were quite a few surprises. 

The Puff-Ball dress… which can be paired with “a leather jacket, cardigan, or keep it simple with black tights.” …(I want more pictures, please! Can we see it on a real model?)

Dress created from felted pom-pom balls

Puff-Ball Dress by somedaynewyorker

This purple cowl… that reminded me of a crocheted alien centipede. OMG! It just devoured that poor woman’s head!

purple crocheted cowl by innovationdesign

crocheted purple cowl by innovationdesign

A Cell Phone Bag, photographed on the couch. Because couches and wine breed romance!

cell-phone bag by annjauquetdesigns

cell-phone bag by annjauquetdesigns

I’m so excited! Thanks to folks eager to capitalize on my apparel impaired-ness, I’ve found the perfect sexy outfit for a night out on the town! Check off: Puff dress, cowl, and bag… now I just need the right shoes to complete The Look. 

Excellent! These will coordinate beautifully!

pompom shoes by KirstyMcKenzie on Etsy

Pompom Pollini Heels by KirstyMcKenzie on Etsy

I also came across some inspiring gift ideas… this OOAK flower vase is quite a bargain at $5, reduced from $7!

decoupage vase from Karmascrafts

decoupaged vase from Karmascrafts

And this guy… is selling something “torched” for Valentine’s… can you guess which hand it’s in?

torched ring by LFJewelryDesigns

"Torched" by LFJewelryDesigns

Now these would make awesome tongue-in-cheek VD party announcements – that’s VD for Valentine’s Day, y’all – with a tag included that reads: “You’ve been invited… to Bite my A$$.”

G-string sugar cookies by Baked

G-string sugar cookies by Baked

And my personal favorite is this heart-chomping dinosaur card, because great minds think alike:

Dinosaur valentine by ObeseCatFactory

Dinosaur valentine by ObeseCatFactory

After your chocolates have been consumed, and the dead flowers and crumpled hearts have been tossed in the garbage, you might find yourself sitting at your desk with an empty feeling. I encourage you to browse the vast bowels of Etsy… uncover the oddities therein… thousands of handcrafted treasures to make next years’ Valentine’s – The Day to Remember

(psst, if you dress yourself Etsy-style, I wanna see pictures!)

Valentine's cat portrait of Darcy and Lizzy

Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennett - Walk in the Garden

Once again, I felt the heaviness of Valentine’s Day fast approaching, as I sought to create at least one piece of appropriate artwork. This year, February marks the beginning of cold and flu season in our house, and so I juggled two cranky, coughing babies in my lap while I drew and colored this portrait of Lizzy and Darcy one-handed in Photoshop. With a mouse. Months ago, my Wacom stylus disappeared courtesy of Mia… and all her usual hiding places have turned up empty. Joe looked at purchasing a replacement pen, and apparently they are expensive; so expensive that he’d rather purchase an entire tablet w/ stylus on eBay this time. The only way to keep Mia’s paws off in the future, would be to fasten a 50 lb. weight to it.

Anyway… so when most retailers (and savvy crafters) have their Valentine selection ready before Christmas, I’m squeaking under the wire again,
which is not an auspicious way to begin my New Year. Ironically, after listing my newest piece on Etsy, twittering and frittering about it, and finally uploading photos on my Facebook fanpage – I headed over to my personal profile, whilst performing imaginary self-flagellation, and came across a simple yet profound statement from Jessica Doyle, a fellow artist.
She wrote: “There is no need to *keep up* …just do your own thing. Seriously.” She is amazing, by the way, not only with colored pens and inks
but also with her insight. Everyone should follow her advice, and her blog!

It caused me to stop and question what the heck I was doing, beating myself senseless over an imaginary deadline… so Valentine’s Day is the 14th, and people jump online in the weeks preceeding to search for love/crush/affection/obsession-related merchandise that “speaks” to them, or speaks for them.
Oddly enough, I DO celebrate Valentine’s Day… one of the few holidays that I will mark with a card for whomever is Significant at the time. LOL
But if I were to be honest with myself, aside from themed greeting cards, I’d rather create artwork that people will collect and display all year… that they won’t be in such a rush to pack away at the end of the month. I don’t want my paintings to cause off-season embarrassment, like the Easter grass in the carpet that refuses to GO AWAY after vacuuming over it 150 times.

Lydia once asked why the Easter bunny didn’t visit our house, after discovering Mom’s stash of candy for last-minute basket stuffing… I informed her that Peter
Cottontail was afraid of our cats, who always attempted to eat him whenever he appeared. He quit coming to our house awhile ago, but I didn’t want to disappoint her on Easter morning, so I created my own baskets in hopes that she wouldn’t notice his absence. 😛

I don’t have the urge to dress my house in themes, or the patience to undress it afterwards… like baby jumpers that only last for 2-3 months, you might as well leave the kid in diapers and forego clothes altogether until he stops growing! Well, at least until yearly hem and seam alterations will suffice. If only there were a holiday that incorporated all the major iconic elements: trees, turkeys, hearts, flags, crosses, candles, pumpkins, eggs, what am I missing?? Celebrated on the fourth of each month, it’s called Fourth of ChristvaleastHanuween-giving… and you can leave the decorations up all year!!

There is a clinical diagnosis for practically every phobia ailing mankind – from Allodoxaphobia (a fear of opinions) and Arachibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth) to Aulophobia (a fear of flutes) or Cathisophobia (the fear of sitting). People can be afraid to hear good news (Euphobia), or suffer from a hatred of poetry (Mertophobia)… and many even have the rational fear of lawsuits (Liticaphobia), hehe – however, I can’t find a reference to a general holiday phobia; I must be the only one who suffers from it!

Strangely enough, I once worked (briefly, lol) as a greeting card merchandiser. People celebrate everything! They actually buy cards for Groundhog’s Day. No feasting, though, that I can recall. With so many holidays on the calendar, I could drive myself insane and hide under the bed. I could simply work at my own pace, and quote my infamous motto with each missed deadline – “At least it’s ready for next year!” Or I could wisely take Jessica’s advice to heart: Don’t try to keep up. “Just do your own thing!”

This year, when you’re buying gifts online… try to think outside the holiday! Do you want to give a special present that receives an obligatory presentation
for two weeks and then gets wrapped in tinsel and stuffed into the attic? I think everyone would like to see their gifts being treasured and admired throughout
the year.
Happy 4th of ChristvaleastHanuweek-giving, everyone! Oh well, it was worth a shot. 😛

my status summary for 2009

My Life According to FaceBook

Here were the highlights of my life in 2009, according to Facebook.
Not surprising that cats and kids were the predominant theme. But now we’re officially living in 2010, and I’ve already celebrated what some people would consider to be a milestone – my 30th birthday!

We didn’t make a huge deal out of it though. I even forgot to request the day off from work; January 2nd fell on a Saturday this year. I continue to work Thursdays and Saturdays to bring home our bacon money – actually, I recently saw bacon priced at $4.98 for a pound, so I might need a raise soon.
Anyway, I baked myself a cake (and cupcakes for the kids) before heading to work. When I returned, Joe made tacos for me, and I managed to snag ONE taco before the beasties dug their faces and hands into the serving dishes and scattered shredded cheese and diced tomatoes all over the carpet. Mia also likes to take ONE bite from each taco shell, like a signature mark. LOL

Which reminds me; I promised to divulge this awesome homemade tortilla recipe I found, but rather than copying it out here, I’ll link to Lisa’s blog post –
The Homesick Texan as her recipes and stories deserve to be shared!

I feel no differently than I did 3 weeks ago, or 6 months ago… I was hoping to find at least one grey hair, or noticable wrinkles, to substantiate all the stress these creatures put me through. No such luck. Honestly, when working as a retail manager, I couldn’t wait to “look old” so that customers would take me seriously.
Nevermind the fact that I don’t take myself seriously; quite the opposite, I revel in being eccentric and goofy. However, there was always this awkward moment when a customer would ask,
“Could I speak to the person in charge?” …. to which I was forced to take a breath and reply,
“I AM the person in charge. And I’m able to help you (…believe it or not).”
Countless, immeasurable times I’ve been dismissed without a glance… as a customer in need of answers makes a beeline for the nearest middle-aged adult sporting salt and pepper.
Ironically, one such incident left the woman embarrassed, as she singled out a 50-ish employee who had just recently been hired.
“I’m sorry, but I’m still new here. You really should ask my boss over there… she could answer all your questions.”
And she pointed over the lady’s shoulder, at me! The customer turned back, blinked twice, and seemed visibly shaken. Yes, the 26-year-old girl (who looked 16, hehe) holding the pricing gun in her hand, was in charge. Oh boy.

How about when they ask,
“You probably can’t answer this, but years ago they sold a product called Junket that people used to make ice-cream…”
“Yes, of course, we carry it [here] with the ice-cream toppings and cones.”
Does being in your 20’s mean that you can’t comprehend the art of homemade frozen treats, outside the commercial realm of Dairy Queen and Ben and Jerry’s?
If adding a few grey hairs would make me appear more knowledgable and worthy of leadership, then hand over that bottle of Ben Nye! Right?

Ironically, as a teenager my goal was to become an actress. Most actresses take pride in their youthful appearance, and the obvious blessings of my slim figure and greyless hair would keep me marketable for another 5 years at least. hehe

However, I’ve chosen an entirely different path, one that doesn’t require youth and beauty, or age and experience. Rather, I am called upon to re-create my crazy view of our world, seen through a furry filter. I’ve come full circle from my childhood, and embraced this feline obsession as something that makes me unique in a good way. I’m proud of who I am, but how does each passing year affect me?

Currently, I feel slightly displaced and behind the curve. Many of my peers have long since decided upon their careers, and have dedicated years to advancing their skills… I feel left behind, and the effort it will take to close that gap seems overwhelming.

Facebook’s ability to reconnect us with former classmates is akin to watching an episode of VH1’s “Where Are They Now?”, except in reverse. Watching rising stars. like Libby Picken, whom I knew from junior high in Bowie, MD. She was determined, even at 14, that she would become a singer – “Driven” some might say – and worked very hard to market herself and develop her voice.
It has certainly paid off for her, as her latest endeavor LazerBitch is a successful Baltimore electro punk band – her music plays in all the hottest clubs – and they’ve started to expand with performances in major U.S. cities, such as NYC and Austin.

LazerBitch’s first major music video:

A fellow artist whom I’ve been following religiously on Facebook is Jasmine Becket Griffith. She is also 30 years old, and while we were both anticipating our high school graduations, she was beginning her career painting her now-famous gothic fairies and selling her first works on eBay.
I, on the other hand, was poorly acting in school plays, deciding whether to move to Minnesota, attend a performing-arts school, or get a job and my own apartment. I chose the job – to gain independence, entered into the world of retail, and have struggled to find my soul again for the last 10 years.

Jasmine worked briefly at Dairy Queen, but quickly decided she would rather become a successful artist… and now with over 6,000 sales on eBay alone – she not only supports herself and her husband with her art career, but also hired her brother-in-law to work for her full-time. Her work is licensed by Target, Hot Topic, The Hamilton Collection, and the Bradford Exchange… just to name a few.

….Which brings to mind just one burning question; I wonder if Jasmine, the former Blizzard Queen, has ever heard of Junket? 😉

Vampire Cat painting - close up

Close-up look at my finished Vampire Cat.

I gambled with my luck (again) this year by foregoing the sauerkraut obsession. None of my acquaintances can seem to vouch for its effectiveness in bringing good fortune… and yet, judging by the way average people turn into rapid, snarling monsters at the mere mention of a sauerkraut shortage, you would think their adjustable mortgage rates, pay raises, and Obama’s chances of passing the health-care bill were directly linked to their total ounce consumption over the last two weeks.

By now, I don’t need to remind my three faithful followers of my opinion regarding popular holiday traditions; they make an excellent substitute for cat litter. 😉

Last night, I ate a bowl of elbow noodles with cream-cheese alfredo sauce, and some vanilla yogurt for dessert. Luck ratio: 6/40 for the noodles. 1/30 for the yogurt.

Over the years, I have written countless lists outlining specific goals… never once in January. It pains me deeply to join the millions already posting their 2010 Resolutions, and even worse – we’ve run out of extra strength ibuprofen… yet today, for the sake of my fledgling business, I will bravely battle the personal torment in order to regain control of my career. It’s a coincidence really. The government tax year ends on the 31st, so it makes sense to implement changes and start fresh today – hopefully making this year more profitable and more importantly, consistent and well-organized.

I’m probably the fourth least organized person on the planet… no wait, I DO have folders in Photoshop that separate my files with 80% accuracy. lol I have a supply closet with cellophane bags, cardboard backing, and mailers. My prints are carefully and neatly, if somewhat randomly, stored… so what if I need to shuffle through them to find the exact one you ordered, right? Hah, that means I might only be the fifth least organized person.

When I began selling my artwork online, my only goal was to sell something. I did have the foresight to legalize my business – albeit with a narrow-minded name that doesn’t reflect the direction I’ve taken – but my pricing practices were sketchy (just double the cost, right?) and I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time and attention to detail it takes to keep each website operating smoothly.
I opened an account on one selling venue, and forgot about it completely… until six months later, when I was notified via e-mail (thankfully!) of a customer’s
purchase. My initial joy turned to horror when I realized that I hadn’t removed the “free shipping” special that had ended months earlier, as well as discovering my product descriptions and policies were very outdated. Naturally, I honored the stated information… but she certainly got a deal on that piece! LOL
It prompted me to scramble through my e-mail folders, to locate any and ALL sites that I registered with… and completely overhaul each account.

I’ve grown accustomed to delegating assignments, and relying upon others to carry out various tasks… and it’s been a slow and surprising realization that I am completely dependent upon my own efforts now. I can’t afford to hire employees (yet!) to help carry the burden. Some aspects, like web design, are enjoyable despite the stress of having to constantly keep things fresh and relevant. I wouldn’t use one of those all-inclusive web hosting sites, where you hand over the reins to a developer and periodically e-mail them with requested changes.
I like the freedom that comes with having full access to my CSS files, and being able to tweak them at will and FTP any pages I’ve edited… at 2:00AM if I’m having a restless night.
Other aspects of the job, like keeping records and balancing the budget, I would gladly dump into the lap of a more highly qualified person. It’s amazing to me that some people enjoy doing taxes! My cousin Brigit is earning yet another degree, for accounting this time. I’m jealous of her enthusiasm and natural ability to grasp financial concepts, and yet the very thought of pursuing such an education brings vomit into my mouth. Money is yucky. Needed desperately, LOL, yet something I feel an aversion towards.
On the subject of wealth, I wish to be debt-free and comfortable, with our needs met and a few pleasures within reach, but I would never ever strive to be rich. Excessive money should benefit others… I only need one house, one car, and two pairs of shoes. Maybe three. A lounging pair, a practical pair, and a dressy pair.

Ironically, I sell artwork that is purely decorative. Nobody NEEDS a painting to hang on their walls. Which brings me back to the main point of this blog; my Goals for this year. One goal involves adding functional artwork to the mix. Clocks perhaps.

I drafted this yesterday as a starting point, although I will most likely expand on these plans:

… To make a living wage selling my artwork; averaging 2 sales per day.

… To create a new piece each week – 4-5 new pieces each month, available for sale. *This does not include personal commissions which I am unable to sell commercially.

… To write a blog entry at least once per week.

… To expand on gift themes, like ornaments and collectibles, and functional artwork (i.e. clocks, jewelry boxes, planters).

… To thoroughly organize my art studio and storage closet.

… To organize my finances with Quickbooks.

… To keep my websites current.

… To participate in a local arts-and-crafts fair.

… To introduce my artwork to local gift shops for consignment or wholesale.

… To adapt and illustrate Pride & Prejudice (my way, hehe).

I don’t have any personal goals to add to this list, such as dieting or learning to cook cheesecake. (Yes, laugh at the irony of that statement!)
With a cat named Merlin relaxing in my lap, who “lives backwards” according to T.H.White, I’d rather leave my future in hands more capable than my own.
And not under the influence of sauerkraut. 😉