Julie Gibbons: A life of craft and design, where does blogging fit in?

Posted on August 23, 2013 by in Craft, Designers, Inspiration

If you visit the Shed with the Chandelier Facebook group you will see many names pop up from around the world, sharing personal takes on the world of creativity.  Julie Gibbons is often seen there too, sharing her thoughts and insights from her home in Australia.

Julie, who trained in silversmithing and jewelery to Phd level, but like many; life has taken her on a creative adventure, describes herself as “a contemporary craft and surface design junkie” and writes about these things and more on her own blog, tractorgirl.com.au. She is also “a maker of many things”. With her immense blogging experience, I asked Julie to share how blogging has benefited her as  a designer/crafts person living in Australia today.

“What has blogging done for my biz?
In 2009, at the urging of a friend, I took the plunge and started my tractorgirl shop on Etsy. Of course, like so many other folk who start out selling on Etsy, my photos were terrible and I had no idea how to really promote it – apart from spamming friends and family on Facebook. Visitors were sporadic, and it wasn’t until 4 months later that I actually sold my first cushion cover (and yes, I totally cried!).
I persisted with it, principally because I was a SAHM with three small children (4yo and twins 2yo), living out in the country on a farm and I needed something to do to stop me going crazy.
tractorgirl - elizabethan velvet - tote - smallPhoto credit: Tractorgirl – elizabethan velvet tote
Fast forward a couple of years. Sales had been trickling in, but I decided that with the extra self-time that I would get with the children at school, I would commit more to tractorgirl. Not flush with funds, I looked for ways apart from advertising to get my name out there. Lots of folk, big and small, suggested a blog. The focus of the blog was a bit of a no-brainer for me – I have a PhD in Fine Arts, and I love contemporary craft, surface design and photography. And there are endless amounts of wonderful stuff and inspiring people out there!
I started tractorgirl.com.au in November 2011 with the intention of getting extra exposure for my work. However, it has since evolved and coalesced into its own entity; I LOVE writing about the beautiful and fabulous things I find, and their makers. I want my audience to understand that VERY MUCH there is a real person behind the work who is not so very different to them; hence the interviews with each artist. I encourage my interviewees to talk about their childhood creative experiences, as I think this has a fundamental impact on who we are and what we make.
tractorgirl - elizabethan velvet tote, smallPhoto credit: Tractorgirl – elizabethan velvet tote
So, how has the blog impacted on my life as a designer/maker?
 Most certainly, I have had increased traffic through my shop (which is now set up as an e-commerce site through the blog). To start with, sales were slow and steady. However in recent times, I have become much busier with the blog and I haven’t really added any new work for a while; sales have similarly slowed to virtually nothing. I am going to rectify that!
There are other ways it has helped me though. Here’s the thing – even though I had considered myself to have a fair grip on design with my background in art, it is through searching for artists to feature now that I am continually refining what I do and don’t like. This of course feeds into my own design and making processes, like any focused research in any field. So, yes, it has sharpened my skills as a designer, by exposing me to an explosion of new ideas and reminding me of other wonderful things I’d forgotten about.
tractorgirl - courreges - cushion pair - smallPhoto credit: Tractorgirl – courreges cushions, pair
The blog has also changed the focus of my business – the vast majority of my time now is taken up with doing things for the blog – researching, contacting prospective artists, interviewing, writing posts, writing guest posts. Tweaking the blog so that it looks better and better. Sorting out ad-space with sponsors (a small but steady source of income on the blog). For me, the blog has become my main business, it takes up the majority of my free time, and leaves me not so much time for making things.
Somewhere in there, there is a balance that needs re-finding. I fully intend to get the blog to the point where it’s more self-sufficient (you are all welcome to contribute a guest post!), to continue to increase traffic so that sponsorship increases too; to become a better writer, so that I spend less time agonising over the words and just get it out there.
I have considered dropping the blog, but I won’t. Blogging has some great advantages! Blogs can be anything you want them to be – a very simple document of your processes and behind-the-scenes stuff, or much more complex with a focus that is entirely separate to your work. You can spend as much time on it as you want, or as little. Many artists/makers use them to document their work, and I think that’s a great supplement if you’re selling your work online; people love to see in-progress work. However, if you choose another focus for your blog, I would sincerely recommend you sit down and think carefully about your blog’s purpose, and how much time you wish to devote to it. If you do it, you will learn heaps, and connect with new audiences – and that’s worth having.”

If you would like to hear more about how people are living creative lives around the world, please come and visit The Shed with the Chandelier Facebook group or listen to the many Shed with the Chandelier conversations here on the website. 

How have blogs and blogging impacted your creative life? Please add your comments below, you are more than welcome to join the conversation:

13 Responses so far.

  1. Ah yes the time challenge between making and blogging. Mostly it’s not an issue as I’ll be blogging at times when it’s not practical to be working on making.
    In my case the thing that usually suffers is the photography of the things that get made, that is something I really need to rectify.
    I do really enjoy the writing and researching aspect so that part of my blog is not going away soon.

  2. tracy says:

    Andy, another great perspective ,thank you and the issue of time management, always not far away is it? I really value good photography and that’s why I have recognised I can’t always do it my self and that a good photographer is worth her/his weight in gold. In doing so it forced me set aside time to record my activities at mutually convenient times…which focuses your mind on its importance all the more. It has now become part of my routine to record my work or have other do it if that is possible…and also leaving perfectionism aside and just taking snaps regularily,you never know when that record of your work may be useful. I like the idea, Andy of seeing the blogging time as time when you can’t be working on other projects. Managing time for blogging so that it doesn’t become something that overwhelms, I wonder what others think?

  3. Because one of my creative outlets is writing blogging works for me in lots of ways. It gives me writing practice and helps me network and connect with other writers. Doing the AtoZ blogging challenge in April I added my own sketches (I didn’t want copyright worries of any picture I put on) which got their own following of a sorts. Now, I’m more confident when sketching because of the feedback I got.

    • tracy says:

      Lynne, what a great example of putting stuff out there and seeing what happens. I love that your confidence in your sketching has grown because of that, plus I am sure the writing grows too with the AtoZ challenge? Have you built up your blog following because of this too, new blogging friends perhaps as well?

  4. Hi Tracy,

    So good to see Julie here. We are big fans of her and her blog on IAMTHELAB.com. Blogging is one part of what I like to call a Handmade Trifecta: A great shop, active social media and a well-kept blog. Julie understands this and it’s been great to watch her carve our a niche of her own.

    • tracy says:

      Hi Brett, great to meet you here 🙂 Whats your top tip with regards a ‘well-kept’ blog? That phrase makes me smile 🙂

      • Two tips from me
        Answer comments,
        Space out your posts, don’t have 5 one week followed by a gap of a fortnight.

      • Regularity is important and content is king.

        • tracy says:

          Brett, what is important in content for you?

        • “Content is King” is one of my favourite buzzwords too. But what does it really mean? For me it’s several factors: length, quality and variety.
          I hate posts that are a just paragraph and link to someone else’s article. It can be difficult on a “News” site to avoid those but on a specialist topic site such as crafting it should be avoidable.
          Quality: Is it all one rambling paragraph? Does it make sense? Are the topics in the right order? Are there spelling or grammar errors?
          Variety: Are all the posts identical, an image followed by 5 paragraphs? Are they all on the same formula? Also within a post, are there images, tables, videos to break the flow of the page or is it just a lot of words?

          • tracy says:

            Andy thanks again for your great experience. I think content length is something that we can all learn about, I know I do for one 🙂 I think it is also very individual, Seth Godin is definately the master of short blog posts. Originality is definately the key for me, making sure the voice of the blog post is definately your own and throwing away perfectionism, is it not better to get that blog out there than for it to sit for 6 months perfecting every little apparent imperfection? I ask from experience 🙂 I most definately like imagery in posts but is purely personal as I am a visual person. I would rather see a blog get born than the concern of content block it ever happening. Isn’t that what is wonderful about blogs, you can develop and grow the blog as your confidence in doing it does too?

  5. tracy says:

    Thanks for your tips Andy. Why do you think it’s important to space out blogs? I am trying 🙂