Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Movie Review : Wonder Woman

Spoiler Alert!
Like always, I try not to give away the ending of the movie,
but you may not want to read my review until you have seen it.

Wonder Woman (2017) tells the origin story of Wonder Woman, AKA Diana (Gal Gadot), formed from clay by her Amazon mother and given supernatural powers by the Greek gods. She grows up on the island paradise of Themyscira, protected by a barrier which keeps the corruption of the world out. The Amazons still train for a war that may never come, and Diana begs her mother to be allowed to learn to fight as well. The Amazons soon discover that she has powers beyond any of them.

One day, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashlands his plane just off the island and Diana rescues him. He reveals that war is raging in the world outside, and Diana believes it is her destiny to find the god of war Ares and kill him, therefore ending all war. She leaves the island, taking the weapons given to the Amazons by the gods: a sword capable of killing Ares, a lasso which compels truth from anyone bound in it, and a pair of armbands which can repel bullets.

Captain Trevor agrees to take Diana into the war zone, first having travelled to London to deliver a notebook which contains formulas for a deadly gas that the Germans have been developing. Diana's naivety is on show as she angrily tries to convince the British high command to end the war immediately. Failing at this, she renews her mission to go to the front, find Ares and kill him. Captain Trevor, wishing to go to Germany to stop the gas from being released, recruits a small band of misfits to accompany them.

I don't normally like superhero movies, but I enjoyed this one very much. Seeing strong women fighting and winning against men is such a rare thing in movies that it was very exciting to watch. Diana is portrayed as a complex character -- strong and angry, yet also naive and gentle. Her efforts to stop war with love and compassion are portrayed in a way that is heroic, not cheesy. It was refreshingly different from so many other movies where the aim is to fight out the war until the 'good guys' win. I found that I liked her superhero outfit much more than I thought I would: it was less stereotypical and more reminiscent of Ancient Greek battle gear. Chris Pine as Captain Trevor provides some nice man-candy to look at, and it was interesting that the gender roles weren't simplistically reversed. His character was more than just a one-dimensional love interest and was more balanced -- he followed Diana and helped her, but also performed his own heroic deeds.

The minor characters were all quirky, and funny and tragic by turns. Captain Trevor's secretary Etta Candy is a larger-bodied woman with a sarcastic wit. The three companions who accompany the pair into the war zone are Charlie, a fighter who can no longer shoot straight due to alcoholism and PTSD, Chief, a Native American who fled from persecution in his native land, and Sameer, a failed actor turned conman. I found all of their stories interesting and compelling.

The villains were more one-dimensional, but I guess that's to be expected from a superhero movie. General Ludendorff was a power-hungry megalomaniac, looking to gain approval from his superiors by using the gas created by Dr. Isabel Maru (also known as "Doctor Poison"), a mysterious and obsessive figure whose face is partially obscured by a mask. I found Dr. Maru an intriguing figure and wished I could have found out more about her.

The main action is set against the backdrop of World War I, and the movie is not afraid to show the tragedies and struggles of war. This helped to accentuate Diana's feelings of anguish and desire to help humankind. The scenes set in the French village of Veld, with elderly people dancing and Charlie playing the piano, were very poignant. While some reviewers complained that there was not enough action in the movie, I found it pleasing that there were slower parts which enabled me to appreciate other aspects, like the relationships between the characters and the pathos of war. And this list of things that happened in just one kindergarten after the children had watched the movie brought tears to my eyes.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Wonder Woman as a refreshingly different take on the superhero genre. Much more importantly though, the movie provides a strong, compassionate and likeable female role model for children to look up to.

Would I watch it again? YES!!!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Temperature Scarf : Update #3

I'm just checking in quickly today to show my Temperature Scarf at the 3-month mark. The colours that the cooler temperatures correspond to are:
20-23: grass green
17-19: light blue
14-16: medium blue
13 and under: grey

I don't imagine it will get much cooler, but Winter has only just started and it's been very cold already, so it's possible I might need to create a new category. I have to admit that would be a little exciting!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Etsy vs Shopify vs Big Cartel vs Storenvy vs Tictail

In my last post, I discussed some changes that are happening at Etsy, arguably the world's biggest host for small handmade business owners. In this post, I take a look at some alternatives for those looking to start an online handmade business. All fees are in U.S. dollars. Please note that all fees listed do not include fees charged by money handling services such as PayPal.

$0.20 to list for 4 months
3.5% fee on sale
additional 3%-4% fee if buyer uses Etsy Payments

Vibe: Etsy hosts all sorts of shops from grannies making blankets in their spare time, to ultra-cool hipster zine distros. Many have commented that the vintage section of the site has expanded so much, the handmade items get lost in a sea of vintage. And don't forget the commercial supplies businesses posing as small sellers. Overall though, its image is broad enough to cater to just about anyone.
Pros: No limit on number of listings. Large, well-established platorm is unlikely to fold. Some of the work of marketing is already done for you. Community and forums to provide advice. Buyers can search the entire site for specific items and find your shop 'accidentally' (this can be a con too, see below!). It's a well-known name and buyers feel safer purchasing from shops hosted on a central site. Rating system ensures that sellers are legitimate (however it can be a con if you don't have any sales yet: buyers may be wary).
Cons: Shop appearance is not customisable at all (aside from banner). Types of items that can be sold are restricted to handmade, vintage and supplies. Because all sellers are on one site, buyers may be distracted away from your shop and purchase from another one. Doesn't allow links to blog, social media, or anything else at all, really. Fee structure is complicated. And now there's the extra fees which may or may not be charged with the Etsy Payments thing.

Fees: starting from $29.00 per month
no listing fee
between 1.75% and 2.9% + $0.30 fee on sale (percentage fee depends on which package the seller is using)

Vibe: Shopify caters to medium and larger online businesses. It has more of a commercial feel to it. Being fully customisable, the seller can create any kind of vibe they want.
Pros: Shop appearance can be completely customised. Allows links to social media, or whatever you like. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Good for large numbers of listings with bulk handling. Allows a wide range of payment options.
Cons: Is too expensive for most small handmade sellers. Fee structure is even more complicated than Etsy. Onus for marketing is completely on seller. No rating system.

Fees: $9 per month
no listing fee

Pros: It's cheap!
Cons: It's not a standalone shop -- you need to already have a page set up to host the platform on, such as a Facebook page, Squarespace, or a blog. There may be more fees for maintaining this host site. There wasn't much information about it on the Shopify website.
Other Cons are similar to the main Shopify package.

Fees: free for up to 5 items; $9.99 for up to 25 items; $19.99 for up to 100 items, $29.90 for up to 300 items (per month)
no listing fees or fees on sales

Vibe: Definitely the cool kid on the scene, Big Cartel is the platform of choice for artists and zinesters.
Pros: Shop appearance can be completely customised. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Allows links to social media, etc. Can connect to a Facebook page to allow sales directly from it. Fee structure is simple and there is no unpredictability around how much fees will be as it's a flat monthly fee (however this can be a con, too!).
Cons: Number of items that can be listed is very limited. If sales are slow or nonexistent, there is still a monthly cost to the seller to keep the shop open. Onus for marketing is completely on seller. No rating system.

free to list. no fee on sale. completely free
up to 500 listings
fees for optional extras and apps, e.g. $5 per month for custom domain name

Vibe: Much like Shopify and Big Cartel, sellers can completely customise their shop and create their own vibe. From my own experience though, I've seen mainly craft and fashion shops on Storenvy.
Pros: Being completely free, Storenvy and its cousin Tictail allow a seller to set up a shop without any financial outlay whatsoever. No fees mean you can charge your customer a little less. Shop appearance can be completely customised. Allows links to social media, etc. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Number of listings allowed is very generous compared to Big Cartel.
Cons: Being completely free, many have asked, but how do they make money? Storenvy offers various add-ons and apps to enhance your shop, for a monthly fee. When I tried to find out what some of these were, I could only find a very short sample list. It all seemed a bit mysterious. It also makes me concerned that if this model isn't financially viable in the long run, they may start charging up-front fees. That's what happened with ArtFire a few years ago (remember them?) and they closed down not long after.
Other cons are similar to above.

It's completely free, except it's not. Okay, it's kind of complicated. It's completely free, except if a buyer purchases your item through the Tictail Marketplace -- sometimes. All items that you offer for sale in your shop also automatically appear in the Tictail Marketplace. (It reminds me a bit of Etsy, but cooler.) If a buyer chooses to purchase from the Marketplace site, there is a 10% commission charged on the sale -- sometimes -- it depends on the circumstances. There's a lot more I could write about that, but this post is long enough already! The page explaining this is here.
fees for optional extras and apps, e.g. $5 per month for custom domain name

Vibe: Tictail runs on basically the same model as Storenvy (except for the Marketplace thing), however, it is run out of Sweden rather than the U.S. It's newer and not as well known, but seems to be expanding rapidly. It has a cool, Euro-Scandi vibe.
Pros: Basically the same as Storenvy. Additionally, buyers may accidentally come across your items in the Tictail Marketplace, meaning you are not 100% on your own marketing-wise.
Cons: Cons are similar to above. Additionally, the Marketplace commission thing is quite confusing. With each sale, you don't know if you're going to be charged a commission fee or not, and 10% is quite high.

To be honest, I'd never even heard of either of these before I started doing this research -- and that's not a good thing. I didn't bother looking into them much further. Once glance showed me that the type of work I do wouldn't fit in at all on either of these platforms. (Plus, this post is long enough already!)

Of course, hosting your shop on any of these platforms has its dangers. The people running the site have the ultimate control over your shop, not you. Your shop can be taken down for any number of reasons with very little or no notice. The only way to ensure this doesn't happen is to purchase your own domain, which, while returning control to you, is much more costly and time-consuming to maintain.

With all of that research done, how do I choose the best platform for me? I calculated what the fees would be for each of the different platforms. Say I want to offer 25 items, about half of them fairly cheap (zines @ $5) and half a bit more expensive (art/craft @ $40-$50). I worked out what the fees would be for 4 months, as it was the easiest way to calculate around Etsy's 4-month cycle. And I assumed that I would sell everything in that four-month period (as if! But it was easier to calculate that way). Here are my results:

ETSY: between $24.25 and $46.25 (less if not all items sell; though that would be balanced out with re-listing fees. Difference is no Etsy Payments sales vs. all Etsy Payments sales)
SHOPIFY: $139.45 (less if not all items sell)
SHOPIFY LITE: $36.00 (plus possible cost of hosting site)
BIG CARTEL: $39.96
STORENVY: nothing (unless you want a domain name, shipping add-on, etc)
TICTAIL: anywhere between nothing and $55.00 (all items sold through shop vs. all items sold through Tictail Marketplace. However, I think it would be closer to nothing as my work is unlikely to have a featuring spot in the Marketplace.)

If finance was the only consideration, then the choice would be clear -- Storenvy because it is free. There are other things to think about though. It doesn't provide the automatic exposure boost of Etsy, or the cool reputation of Big Cartel and Tictail. Neither does it have the solid e-commerce foundations of Shopify, or the peace of mind provided by Etsy's rating system.

Even after all of this research, I still have no idea which platform I would pick. Some, like Maryanne Gobble Photography maintain a shop on more than one platform, depending on their needs. Once I've decided (which might take a while as I'm working 5.5 days a week again this year), I'll let you know the reasoning.

If you've read all the way to the end of this post, thank you! I'd really like to hear others' thoughts on this topic -- if you have a shop, why you chose the platform you did, and your thoughts on recent changes.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

If not Etsy, then what?

Recently there's been an upheaval in the world of online hand-made retailing. Etsy, by far the biggest host for sellers of handmade and vintage goods, is making some big changes. I used to have a shop on Etsy a long time ago (by that I mean 2008-2010) and I'd been planning to re-open it this year. I would have already if other life-related things hadn't gotten in the way. Perhaps that turned out to be a good thing, in the end.

Etsy has a new CEO, and a new business model, it seems. Last time I logged on, I noticed that they've opened a mirror site dedicated solely to craft supplies. I thought this was a great thing at first -- until I realised that most sellers would probably need to list their supplies on both sites in order to keep reaching the same number of buyers as they did before. Does that mean they are paying twice the fees now?

It's the latest change though, that has caused the most upheaval. In a few days' time, all sellers will be forced to offer the full range of payment methods, whereas before they could choose. Most notably they will be forced to offer Etsy Payments (which I believe is similar to Direct Checkout on ebay), or their shop will be suspended. There are some advantages to this, but many disadvantages as well, not the least of which is that Etsy will charge an extra 3-4% in fees. (For more information, the Etsy page explaining the changes is here.) Many sellers are objecting to, not only the extra fees, but they fact that they will have no choice. I know of several smaller sellers who are closing down their shops and looking for alternatives, and I wonder how many others are doing the same.

In preparation for opening up my shop, I did an analysis of the different options; now seems like a very good time to post it. In that analysis, Etsy came out on top (but only marginally), but if that's a less attractive option now, perhaps something else will be preferable? In my next post, I will show the results of my analysis and my thought process behind making the decision for my shop. I'd love to know what other people think of the changes.

Friday, 12 May 2017

My PoPo Pocket Printer

Some of the photos in this post came out very yellow, and I'm not
very good at colour-correcting photos yet, apologies!

For my birthday I asked for and received a PoPo Pocket Printer. I decided I wanted one after I saw a review on Violet Le Beaux's Youtube channel. The PoPo connects to your smart phone via Bluetooth, and you can use the app to select and edit photos, then print them out.

I'd been wanting something like this for years, but never quite found what I was looking for. I did have a printer which printed straight from my camera onto good old-fashioned photo paper, but it was very fiddly and there was no way to edit the photos. For a while I coveted an Instax or other Polaroid-style camera, but I balked at the price of the paper. I even resorted to printing photos out on my computer's printer onto plain paper. The PoPo seemed to have none of these issues, plus the paper was much more affordable.

Husband ordered the PoPo from an ebay seller in Korea, and it came with the instructions in Korean. However, it was quite clear that we should scan the QR code on the side of the box. This downloaded the app and the instruction manual in various languages. (Handy note: the instruction manual can only be accessed when the printer is switched on.) The app connects directly to my photo album, allowing me to choose any photo I've taken on my phone to print. (Including any that I've posted to a certain social media site!) It includes some simple editing features (zoom, brightness and contrast adjustment, etc) but of course you could use a preferred editing app to make changes to photos beforehand.

The resulting photos aren't amazingly high quality, but they're a lot of fun. The printer can edge-print rectangular format photos or square format with a white border at top and bottom. Best of all, the paper is glossy, real photo paper. My main use for the photos so far is for my Hobonichi art diary. It's been so fun to be able to document an event or something interesting I saw with photos.

One of the biggest advantages of the PoPo over an Instax is that you can select the photos you want to print and edit them before printing, so you know exactly what you're going to get. You can also print more than one copy to share. It's much quicker and easier than firing up your computer's printer and much more portable: it's only slightly bigger than my phone. I'm looking forward to taking it with me next time I go away on holidays.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

My April

I've had a busy month. I started my new job towards the end of March, and spent the month learning everything and settling in. The typical dangers of working in an office also cropped up -- I developed a cold just before my birthday which continued for a couple of weeks. The weather also turned very cold quite suddenly. All of that meant I wasn't really in the mood to create much. Things improved a bit towards the end of the month, though.

What I've been working on ...
This month I joined the Creative Dream Circle. I had been thinking about it for at least a year, but lately I've increasingly felt I needed help in being motivated and inspired to create. Since the exhibition back in January, I haven't spent any time creating art at all, and very little doing crafts. I knew there was something holding me back, and it was starting to weigh on me more heavily. Since joining about 3 weeks ago, while I haven't created anything major, I can feel something changing. I'm becoming more open to possibilities. I've only just scratched the surface of what's on offer in the Circle, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future.

I actually made a mistake when writing in the festival dates:
the Marimo Festival begins on the 8th of October!

What I've been drawing ...
Once I settled in at work, I started to spend my lunchtimes doing more creative things: going for walks in the park and taking photos, and drawing in my sketchbook either in the park on sunny days, or at my desk on rainy days.

What I've been reading ...
Having bought myself a Harry Potter boxed set for Christmas, I started reading the series this month. It felt wrong to start reading it in Summer, so I waited until the weather was cooler. It's just so more enjoyable with a blanket and a cup of tea! So far I've just finished Prisoner of Azkaban. I considered writing a series of blog posts with my thoughts and observations on my second reading of the books, but I realised that my first reading was so long ago that I don't really remember enough to compare. I found myself comparing to the movies, which I re-watched in Winter (August-September) last year. One thing I do remember, was that the movies started to diverge from the books a lot more starting from Prisoner of Azkaban (or at least had more simplified plots). I'm looking forward to revisiting the 'full' version of the story as the books unfold.

Selections from Instagram
I spent a lot of time in the park this month!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Op Shop Haul No. 1

Yesterday I went op-shopping (or thrifting, as it's known in many places) for the first time in a long time! The place where I work now has a large op shop right next door to the train station, so I decided to take up the hobby again (or habit, as Husband might say?).

I purchased two books: a fantasy novel about a unicorn and the enormous Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (It was only $5!) My arm was sore from carrying it before long! I couldn't resist this pretty lavender floral tin, and I needed a drinking glass for work, so I chose this large tapered one.

In the manchester section I found these cute vintage coathangers. The set of 4 tapestry table mats were a bit of a splurge purchase. I'm sure I'll be able to find somewhere in the house for them; they might also make good backgrounds for photos. The floral pillowcases I thought might be good for a patchwork skirt. I was also looking out for something with lace on it to make into a skirt -- this huge tablecloth was a little more expensive than I would have liked, but it more than fits the bill. I think I might even be able to make two skirts from it!

Finally I got these fun dinosaur figurines. (Actually, I think some might be dragons!) I was looking out for figurines for painting on. I didn't find quite the type I was looking for, but the dinosaurs were 6 for the price of 1 (!!), so I figured they'd be good for practicing on.

The op shop that I went to is one that's familiar to me -- I used to volunteer there many years ago, before it changed locations, and visited quite a bit even after that. Unfortunately op-shopping in Melbourne isn't what it used to be. You're lucky to come across anything really good quality, and the amazing items that would sometimes come through just never appear anymore. There's a franchise of shops called Savers, who sell second hand goods, but are a profit company. They pay charities to let them take the best items to sell in their chain of stores -- and they don't pay very much. More people go there to shop because they have the best stock, even though most of the money is going into the shareholders' pockets. It's a sad situation. I do still want to believe that op-shopping can be fun and productive, and I did find some lovely things on my trip, so I'll keep going to the charity shops on pay day.