A Seriously Useful and Not Lame "Gifts for Men" Post

I thought shopping for guys was super hard, because everything they want is always really expensive and/or they don't give good specific suggestions. It's always something like "I want a watch." What watch? A $60 watch can look awful or ok depending on what kind of style you're looking for and if you're being ironic. Most women can give a list of stuff we want in any price range when asked, because we're observant like that. Anyway, I spend most of Christmas day trolling for a Christmas gift for a man, and for the first time in my life I found some really yummy places to buy stuff for guys that's in multiple price ranges, well-made, unique, not kitschy or something stupid like a fancy shave brush (men don't use that stuff and if they did they would already have one) or something boring like a spa day. Commence collage:

From right to left:
1) Miansai: Men's jewelry and accessories, made in America and vintage-seaworthy (between $75 and $105)
2) Super affordable, imported leather bracelets (like the ones we saw in Greece) ($3.50)
3)  SILENT By Damir Doma beanie from Oki Ni (£56)
4) Nixon Axe wristwatch from Oki Ni (£150)
5) Undercover Wool bracelet from Oki Ni (£80)
6)Weekend Satchel Carry-On Bag from J W Hulme, another American-made product ($790)
7) Raf Simons hair pin from Oki Ni (I actually really want this for myself) (£95.20)
8) Rough and western-looking leather and metal bracelets for men ($45)

Or, you could make your own here, at Blog Inspiration and Realization.


You Should Make a Painting - I Did

I haven't painted in about six months. It feels good. I have a room in my house that is my studio. I've been absolutely ill for the last three days, and that's always a great time to make gesso. I make my own gesso and my own oil and acrylic paint. I think that alone is well-worth a very expensive art school education. Here's an article from 37 Signals, telling you to paint. 37 Signals is a company that makes amazing web-based applications in Chicago, and they have an interesting blog about all kinds of things.  I agree that you should make a painting but I have some qualifiers.  but I'll let you read the article, and then scroll below for my comments:

1. "Don't use crappy paint" Use decent paint. It's a waste of time and money. Don't get one of those all-purpose packs of different colors, either. Pick out the colors you like one by one. It's more fun to make paintings with colors you are excited about. If you want a list of basics, get: Cadmium red, cadmium yellow, titanium white, burnt sienna, yellow ocre, ultramarine blue, phthalo green, carbon black. That's enough to make a huge range of colors. You should choose some special ones that you like, too.

2. "Get something to paint on. Canvas works. Do you have your own woodshop and like to make things ten times more complicated than they need to be? No, then don’t stretch your own canvas. " Please either stretch your own canvas or get some panels if you don't want the hassle. Store-bought canvas (unless purchased from an art student) is totally unusable, in my opinion. It's so much more fun to have a good-quality surface with good-quality gesso and good-quality canvas or linen. It doesn't matter if you don't think your paintings are very good. You might as well enjoy the process of painting, and an important part of that is using good-quality materials. You should get a bunch of canvas, some heavy-duty stretcher bars (all of this blick or other companies will ship to your house), a staple gun, staples, and watch this youtube video.

3. "Rig up an easel. You can paint on a tabletop or on the floor, but I think it is really important to learn how to paint from a vertical position." Why? Also, it's cheaper just to put some plastic on the wall, and some brown paper, and put a couple of nails in the wall and hang a canvas on that and paint.

4. "Your painting is going to suck. Don’t worry about it." Not necessarily. It might be good. Don't worry about good or bad. It's not really your job to decide what's good and bad anyway, as you are not an art critic. Just make a painting, and if you find yourself stagnating or getting to comfortable, try something that makes you uncomfortable. Or violently ill, even.

5.  "Think about what color you want to make when you are mixing. Mixing paint is way cool, but have a plan in mind." It's good to do this, but also good to not think too hard and go by intuition sometimes, and see what works for you. I do both, and I think it's important to not rule any practices out.

6.  "Don’t squirt random colors next to each other and mush them together. That will only create a bunch of dirty, ugly colors." Some of my favorite colors are dirty colors all mushed together. I absolutely love the complex colors mixing a bunch of stuff together can create.

7. "Adding white often helps." Adding white never helps. Adding white makes things washed out, quite literally. It decreases the pigmentation and makes colors less vibrant. White is great, when it is used as white or a white-synonym. Try making colors based on what is next to them. Yellow, blue, green can all look white when put next to certain colors. There are no rules, though. White can sometimes be a crutch, so look out for that.

 8. "Avoid adding black to colors to make them darker. That’s bush league. " I think he's trying to say that black can be a crutch, too. I often mix black and purple together to make lovely purple-black, or black + phthalo green makes green-black. Also, very purple and very green and very blue and very brown can become black, no need to add anything labeled "black. They will often be more engaging to the eye since they are more vibrant, even though they may look completely black.

9. "Only jerks try to sell art" Just don't try to sell your art to your friends. It's more useful to have them come over to talk about your paintings, and get their feedback. Ask them for emotions or metaphors they think of when they look at your work. Ask them for positives and negatives, and take both with a grain of salt. Having someone tell you that your art sucks, and that your ideas and your very being suck by association, is one of the most awful and freeing things that will ever happen to you. Knowing that you can and do have dumb ideas, and that that is completely irrelevant, will free you to focus on your vision. Follow your vision to the letter, regardless of criticism or praise, even if you can only devote 1 hour a week to it, and you'll have a much better chance of having a fulfilling life.

All in all, I really liked the article, which was written by an artist who went to some art schools in Chicago, like I did! Also, for a bit of a bonus, I've created a list at Blick.com so that you can get started without thinking too hard about details. 


In Austin in November

I arrived in Austin at 4, and before 5:30 we were passing out tote bags and drinking tea on the front porch of this coworking space in Austin (people love porches in Austin). It's a full 20 degrees warmer here than in Chicago this time of year. We passed out about 150 tote bags, with all kinds of Austin-y things inside for travelers coming to the city. It's a great idea to give to house guests. One great way to find local stuff that isn't too expensive to give away, is to go on Etsy and search for something like a magnet, and search by location, sorting by the lowest price. Anyway, I made a collage of all the sight-seeing I did while I was there, for your pleasure!

I saw a beautiful tower of junk, a zombie marching band, lots of food trucks including a donut truck I ate from twice, and of course clear blue skys. 

Pricing Your Services

I've been reading this article about putting pricing on your website after getting annoyed at how many venues don't list pricing on their websites. Seems like it should be a very transparent system and when it's secretive it looks sketchy. Even very large and popular event venues don't list pricing. I won't bother listing them - it's pretty much everyone.

It's a very well-thought out article. It's made me want to try to figure out a way to put pricing on my website. I work on a per-project basis, and I happily try to work within the budgets of clients. I base pricing on how many hours I think it would take me and my team, include any emergency or follow-up services the client may need, and then make sure I give them a few free hours, usually because I like them and want them to succeed. So how do I make this into a transparent pricing system that is easy to understand?

It works something like this:
(My hourly rate which is $75 at this particular time in 2012 x how many hours I think it would take me and my team to complete the project successfully, not including some free time and support that I love to shower my clients with, and that usually goes on infinitely in to the future) + any reimbursables the client wants me to list upfront, such as event help, transportation, supplies = cost.  This is a good time for an infographic.

Defining what success means with a client early-on means that I always have a good guess how much a project is going to cost right away. Everyone's definition of success is based on so many individual factors, which may be hard to lump into categories. Also, I can do many different types of projects. Anyway, this is my attempt at actually sharing important knowledge. But I really feel like sharing my favorite knitting patterns. I've been trolling Ravelry hardcore, despite my discipline with not starting any new projects until I finish 3 old ones I've been working on for months.


Cool Signage Idea

Chalkboard skulls. Great signage to direct people to drinks, food, or the bathrooms. From Iamhome

The $100 Startup

I love this website. It's basically a website to advertise his book, but it is so much more than that.

The language is compelling, and the resources are so great, beautifully designed, inspirational,  and helpful. When you click on "Resources" you'll get a whole list of downloadable pdfs that outline, in one page, how to execute some major principles of starting a business. They are great resources, and I recommend everyone thinking about starting a business (and not quite sure what you don't know but need to) to take a look at them.

A simple idea, executed well. I love when that happens!

Fete Market Favorites

Fete Market was in the Fulton Market district, at Room 1520, another cool Chicago venue. There were so many interesting vendors there, I took some pics of my favorites. From top left: The entrance, Arch Apothecary, Sir and MadameDorus Mhor, Dinner Party, a chandelier.

I had a hot chocolate that was ridiculous, from Hot Chocolate, who had a booth there. Look, it fits in this perfect little hole in the concrete wall.

Visiting Dose Market, a Craft and Maker Fair

I went to Dose Market this Sunday for their holiday version of Dose, called Holidose (ha), which is a Chicago crafter and maker fair in the River East Arts building. The venue was beautiful, and would make a great place for a stunning (and probably high-budget) wedding. It was so much fun! I wish I had grabbed more or better photos. I bought some pastries at a really yummy bakery that had a table there, but there were other beautiful things as well, like beautiful handmade felted cloud coasters, awesome jewelry made from cheap costume jewelry all twisted together, beautiful terrariums with neon sand, gourmet cotton candy that made the whole room smell lovely.


Hiring Your First Assistant Part 2

As promised, here is a form you can use to submit on Craigslist, Task Rabbit, local college forums or job boards, and your personal Facebook, if you feel comfortable with that.

Title: Personal Assistant for [insert your job or goal here] in [location you would be meeting with this person. You want an assistant who lives close to you.]

I am looking for a Personal Assistant for [how many hours per week or month]. [Talk about what times and days typically work for you, and how close you would like your assistant to be to you.]

I'm a [Talk about your age, job, hobbies, and personally traits here. Are you upbeat, do you have a busy schedule or would you like to be busier? It gives the person applying an idea of who you are. ] 

I have [what kind of goals?] goals that I need your help with. I am not very strong in [list your weaknesses]  and I would like someone to provide me with focussed support on an ongoing basis. 

I need help with: 
[bullet point list of all the tasks you see this person working on]

I would like someone with the following experience or qualities: 
[For your first assistant you may not know what you are looking for, just make sure that you are looking for things related to what you need help with, and not more. No one likes being lowballed for the experience they have. In the meantime, here's an example of what I might list.]
  • -simple graphic design skills and a good eye for photography 
  • -good with Excel 
  • -providing accountability and consistency 
  • -methodical and logical 
  • -interested in startups/technology (the company I work with is in this field) 
  • -interested in finance/investing 
  • -interested in personal development 
  • -thrifty 
Pay: [Your rate here. Will you offer a higher rate after a 6-month review?]

The hiring process is as follows:
[This is important! It's important to give people an idea of what they would be participating in, and when they will expect to know if they've gotten the job or not. Here's an example of my process, feel free to copy. ]
  • We talk on the phone for 10 minutes and see if we have a connection.
  • We meet for a working interview for 2 hours, with pay! This would probably take place at my office.
  • We schedule a set day to work together that is ongoing.
Please e-mail me with your intro e-mail and your resume pasted into the body of the e-mail.

[A nice closing and a thank you]

Fielding the massive amounts of applicants you'll get is kind of a part-time job, but I tend to only look at applicants until I have 5 good candidates. I set up the 10 minute interviews with those 5 and choose 2 from those interviews. Then I set up the working interviews and make my final choice in the evening of the final interview, and e-mail both candidates right away with my decision. Actually, to be honest, I e-mail the one I've chosen first to make sure he or she still wants the position, then I e-mal the other applicant.

Anyway, now you know a little bit more about how I operate. I've had an assistant for years, and this has been my system that I've tweaked to what I consider pretty close to perfection.

Hiring Your First Assistant Part 1

"The president is just a person with a large support system." I forget who said it first, but it might have been Hutt Bush, a business coach and consultant who is totally awesome.

If you have at least a little bit of money coming in, you can afford to hire an assistant as long as you budget wisely. I spend a portion of my monthly budget each week on things that give me the support I need to live my life to the fullest, like an assistant. Maybe you are saying that you don't need an assistant. That's ok, you don't have to get one. But I've had an assistant for years, and I think it's a huge part of my support system. An assistant helps me run all aspects of my life more fluidly. With her, I become the person I want to be. Without her, I think I would be more like the person I was in college- disorganized, not as reliable, and stressed out from all of the ups and downs of my energy levels. If you are ready (note: ready means ready to pay, ready to commit), feel free to use the suggestions below to find someone to give you regular support and help you reach your goals:

Assistants are all over the place. You can post an ad on TaskRabbit or Craigslist. More about that later.

How much expertise do you want? paying $10/hr will get you a very different level of expertise than $15/hr. Are you comfortable with training someone on some of the skills you need? If so, $10/hr may work for you. I need more expertise and I'm not willing to train for most things, so I pay a little bit higher.

How much time are you willing to spend each week? If you give a minimum and maximum time approximation each week, it makes people much more comfortable with relying on you for part of their income.

Make a list of tasks you are not very strong in. Make a list of goals you would like to reach in the next 6 months and 1 year. Most assistants will not stay with you longer than that, which is totally fine. Unless you are paying $80,000 per year, you are simply someone's transition from college to full-time work, or a stay-at-home mom's part-time gig until she gets bored (or pregnant again).

If you answered these questions, you have most of the information you need to make an ad on Craigslist or TaskRabbit. My second post will have a form to use that you can fill your own information on. This post is very text heavy - no yummy pictures this time.


My Favorite Colors for Logos and Banners

I use colourlovers a lot to help clients choose palettes for websites, logos, banners, and events. It's also one of those websites that makes time disappear because it's so fun to browse. Some of the color combinations are very yummy indeed, and make me want to paint my house, or start a line of sweaters. These are my favorites right now:

Faded Wallpaper would be a beautiful color scheme for an Etsy shop selling vintage textiles, upcycled grandma stuff. It feels very Anthropologie and reminds me of some sparse and modern houses on Apartment Therapy.

I love Mala Palaxturnun for a startup website with a strong call to action, such as a fitness website, or the iwillteachyoutoberich type, and a brand identity based around movement.

Sex on the Floor is such a magical reddish orangy red. It is a great color for an independent consultant with a strong and fun-loving outlook. OH, wait. It's my title color for my blog.


What do I do?

A lot of people have never heard of the job title Community Manager, and I suppose it's one of those things like "Account Executive" in that one Community Manager with one company could differ very much from another. Even my boyfriend sometimes has a hard time figuring out what I do. I'll explain it, then, in two ways.

What do I do? 

I create and engage communities based around a company's presence and culture.

What does that mean? 

Well, it could mean cultivate an engaged online community with online events such as pop-up chat rooms, twitter events, and a beautiful and interesting virtual space that makes connecting with others fun and easy and meaningful.
It could also mean connecting people and cultivating passion among users in real life through on-brand events aligned with the values and mission statement of the company.
I am the local extension and human face of a company, and my purpose is to connect users to each other first, the company second, and the community third.


Event Planning 101 Infographic

I am trying out Piktochart this week, and I made you all an infographic! Meet my Events 101 Infographic! I designed this infographic to share the most basic planning steps for throwing a party for friends, clients, customers, or potential customers. I know it is not the prettiest infographic in the world. I am still learning! Here it is, click for larger:  


Why can't I just have interesting and beautiful art all around me instead of furniture?
Orange granny, silver figurine, and lilac wall sconces are from the coolest Etsy shop.
The knitted sea urchin and owl are from Ravelry. You can make them yourself!
The green book is from another Etsy shop, the Nib and Quil.
The wolf and dino plaques are from Snew.

I think I can probably make all of these things at home if I set my mind to it, but I guess lately I have been focusing on work and not so much on crafts. I had 11 events this month. Five in Austin and six in Chicago. I don't even have curtains in the house yet, and I think that should be step one. I'm tired, and all I can do is look at toys and art on the internet. 


(Iceland Pics from Flickr)

A plane ticket to Iceland is $800. There are some beautiful Airbnb places there for $300 per week, in nice-looking towns, one on a tiny island with a single tiny town on it. It looks awesome. If I had 3 weeks in iceland, I would paint and hike. Maybe I'd try to paint while hiking.

Sometimes when I'm stressed I want to get away and not be responsible for anything or to anyone. I don't even want to get to know new people, only to experience life as an observer. 



1. Better Homes and Gardens
2. Panettone boxes from Carluchos
3. Red barn from Per Ivar Somby's flickr
4. Inspiration from Alisa Burke's blog
5&6. Pinterest

A great event can come from a simple theme. I love the idea of putting a bowl of halved cranberries in the middle of a big table, and some different colored inks and handmade papers, and letting guests create their own art to take home.

If I had Panettone in the house I would probably make bread pudding with it.

The red barn picture was taken in Norway, and if you click on Per Ivar Somby's flickr link you'll see his photos of the Northern Lights, too. It makes me want to visit Norway!


What to Do the Morning of an Event

This is my pile for taking to the cooking class today. Thank goodness I'm taking a cab. I'm bringing extra pots, pans, measuring cups, bowls, and cutting boards for the chef. I'm also bringing branded pens and notebooks for people to write notes down during the class. The pile in front is small napkins, just in case, a pile of gift cards for the venue owner, who is giving us the use of his space for free (I also bought him this), a blue sharpie, some extra twine, the sign in sheets and a little picture frame with the company logo in it, and the mini-menus for the table (more about those later). Whew. Now for some useful information: The best way to make your morning stress-free when you have an event later that day, even in the evening, is to complete everything the night before and set it out in organized piles by the front door. 
Here are the only things you should be doing the day of the event: 
  1. Re-confirming meeting times with staff, vendors, venues or calling people to tell them you are on your way
  2. Working out
  3. Getting ready (clothes should still be picked out the day before, ideally)
  4. Eating a healthy meal
  5. Calling or scheduling a driver or cab
That's it. Does it require super-human organization? No, just regular-human organization, and a good support system. 


Crafty Time: Gold Makeup brush holder and box for holding stuff

When I don't have much to do on Sunday mornings I decoupage, among other things. Last Sunday I decoupaged the heck out of a Republic of Tea container and a box from the thrift store. 

Now I keep the box on my bedside table with Chapstick and marbles in it. It's a good box to dig around in when you can't sleep due to lack of marbles and Chapstick. My bedside table is very small so I can't really keep anything there but this box, a lamp, and some books. If you want to do an awesome job at decoupage, get some paper that is already pretty crinkly, like this one
And some Nori glue, which is a paper glue from Japan. It can be found at Blick.  Every time I use Nori glue, I am reminded of how lovely it is. 

Cut your pieces of paper to the size of your surface by setting your piece on it and tracing every surface. Some surfaces are not square or easy to cut out accurate pieces for. That is what the crinkly paper is for. It makes all your mistakes look invisible.

It's Friday night, and I'm watching QI and drinking wine, and waiting for my boyfriend to come home. QI is the best show. Informative and funny!


Crafty Time: Printed Recipe Tags on Vintage Christmas Mugs

My assistant printed these little baby tags with a logo on one side and a recipe for the drink on the other side. The drink was a hot toddy, yum! I bought these vintage mugs for between 40 cents and 90 cents at the thrift store and washed them. People could pick out their favorite mug, get it filled up, take it home with them, and make the recipe on the tag at home! It makes events really fun when there's something for someone to experience there, take home, and then make or do again later with friends. 

A piled-up triangle banner with the logo on it, and a second one made from pretty origami papers. They are for a super-cute photo booth idea (photos later). It's super easy with origami paper, and you can use them over the top of another backdrop, like a vintage map, or in front of a fire place or across a whole room:
  1. Mark the center of one side of the paper, and draw a line from the center point to one corner, then the center point to the other corner, making a triangle.
  2. Grab some twine, i-cord, or string, and some clear tape.
  3. Tapey-tapey the triangle to the twine, making the tape go from the top of the triangle all the way around the string to the back of the triangle.
  4. Use pushpins to secure on the walls or ceiling
I bought my mason jars at the thrift for $2 each. They are neat and perfect for Hot Toddies, a whiskey-based drink. I filled them with cinnamon sticks, honey, lemon juice, and whiskey and let it meld together for a few hours. When the party folks started to arrive, we boiled water in a kettle and started pouring hot teas, then adding the whiskey mixture. Yum and super easy. In these pictures you can see my coworking space, The COOP. I'm opening my own coworking space.

Next I want to try making Hot Buttered Rum for a crowd.