Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Eve Bling Earrings Freebie!

Hi, all!  I promised my beady peeps a free tutorial for blingy earrings, didn't I?  You didn't think I'd forgotten, did you?  Fear not!  These earrings are so quick they take less than oh... 20 minutes to make.

I wanted some earrings to accompany my Lagoon bracelet, which appeared in the Dec. 2014 issue of Digital Beading Australia.  I made a rather pretty version of my bracelet in black and gunmetal colors, and I also made some dainty little earrings to match.  Ta~da!

Here's a closer shot of the earrings.  They're simple yet cute, and they swing nicely on Wire Guardian findings.  These aren't just for necklaces anymore!  :D

Here's what happens if you switch crystals for pearls and vise versa.  Here I've used roundels (6x8mm) with 4mm silver beads.

The two together show that you can experiment to your heart's content and have cool earrings in a jiffy.

One last photo:

OK, so, if you like these, the tut is available as a free .pdf download on my website, here!   Here's a quick little screenshot of the tut:

There's still time to make a pair if you're looking for something to wear to any celebrations tomorrow night.  :)  Happy New Year!!!  Love and Hugs,  ~Val

Friday, December 26, 2014

Post-Christmas Freebie!

Hi, all!  Today I have a little something for my metalworking friends.  Well, 2 somethings.

This season I made all my gifts out of copper!  I usually do beads and I thought I'd give my friends and family a little break, since they always get beaded items (though there's nothing wrong with that!).  I made flowers for my beading group and my mom and MIL.  They went over really well!  My ladies loved them and so did my metalworking group on Facebook!

After several requests for a petals template, I published it on my website for free.  I didn't really announce it, so I'm doing so now.  Free petals template!!! Just look on my website in the "Free Downloads" page.   :)  Experienced metalsmiths will know what to do with it.  BTW, I only ended up using the 3 smallest petal shapes for my flowers.  For new metalsmiths and aspiring metalsmiths, I am working on a step-by-step tutorial to make my flowers.  Stay tuned!  I have a magazine project to finish first.  I'll be busy in 2015!  Sneak peak at the template, which only has to be printed and glued to the copper for sawing:

OK, so that's #1!  Now!  Another gift I made was a copper photo frame.  I decided to make a template for it and publish it (also for free) on my website's magical Free Downloads page.  You really should check it out some time.  :)

Here's a sneaky peaky at this template, which I created for two sizes:  the one you see in the photo above and a smaller one, too.  Simply print this as full size or "fit to page" and you're good to go.  I glue them to my copper, saw the shapes out, and use the hole guides to help with placement of my drilled holes.  Texture to your liking (or don't), stamp if you wish, and you'll have a sturdy frame.   Easy, peasy!  Coincidentally, you could use this template with stiff plastics or card stock to make frames, too.

Both of these templates were hand drawn by me using my beloved CorelDraw Graphics Suite X7.  :D

Beady friends:  Fear not!  Stay tuned!  I'm working on another cool freebie just for you, and it will be ready tomorrow or the next day.  You didn't think I'd leave you in the cold, did you?  You will have a fabulous new bit of bling in time for the New Year's Eve parties!

Much love, y'all!  Merry Day-After-Christmas!  <3   ~Val

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Beading Magazine Debut

Hi, all!  The December issue of Digital Beading Australia is out and my project begins on page 124!  I hope you'll enjoy it!

This is my first experience with a beading magazine (I've been in two issues of the Copper Wire Jewelers magazine).  It was a fun and stressful experience at the same time.  I was nervous about submitting to a magazine and seeing peoples' reactions to my project, but all in all it is a good thing.

Here's the piece I submitted:  Lagoon. I hope you'll like it!

You can find the magazine (Issue 13, Dec. 2014) here:  http://www.digitalbeading.com.au/ 

Until next time, ta~


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wubbers University Blog- about me!

Hi, all!  I was recently interviewed by Wubbers University and today, on their blog, they posted all about me!  I'm so honored and touched.  I'm so, so proud to work alongside Wubbers University and all the staff.  They're such an awesome, hard-working group of people, and I'm honored.

My sweet friend Lexi wrote such an awesome introduction to the interview!  I teared up just reading it.  I'm so blessed to know her!

So head on over to their blog and see!  I'm so tickled!!!!

Much love,  ~Val

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November in Retrospect

Hey, all!  Wow!  November is gone already?  Holy cow!  Where does the time go?

November was a good month!  I made a few new things, got a few new tools, had a great Thanksgiving with my family and had some birthdays!  My darling girl turned 17 and I turned -cough- we don't need to know.  :D

I had a lot of fun with metal this month!  I made a leaf for my Mother in Law's birthday!  It was fun to create using fold forming and repousse/chasing techniques.  I experimented with using oil to obtain a rich, brown patina.  Here it is:

I also created a new pendant and tutorial!  This tutorial is not yet available on the Wubbers University website, but you can find it in my own website's shop and my Etsy shop.  I had a lot of fun creating "string art" using wire.  My tutorial shows how to create the back plate and bail, as well as how to create the wire design.

I also got some new tools!  I love tools!!!  They make me happy!  My latest acquisition is a set of the brand new Wubbers Apprentice Pliers!  They're so awesome!  I really love the size and they're shiny and pretty.  The Apprentice Pliers are mid-sized between the Classic Wubbers and the Baby Wubbers pliers.  These fit perfectly in my hand and feel good to grip.  They appear to be powder coated and are very nice indeed.  They come with their own stand, too!  I'm so tickled every day to be affiliated with this wonderful company!  Here's a link!

Photo courtesy of Wubbers, Inc.

Birthdays were had, parties were thrown, gifts exchanged.  Thanksgiving was awesome and we got so stuffed!  Lots of laughs, lots of family, lots of love.  :)

Kitties!  Binxy is fitting in well with the rest of our cat herd.  Our dog still thinks she's a cat and they all pile up on my bed and cuddle and snooze.  It's a good life.  :)

Let's see... hmm... well, I've read a lot of books!  I love me some books!  :D  Lots of book boyfriends, lots of fun and adventure and alternate worlds.  Good times.

We also received word that my son won an academic scholarship from the college based on his grades, woohoo!  His next term will be paid for, which is a load off my mind.  I'm so proud of him!

So:  What's in store for December?  Why, I'm glad you asked!  I was recently invited by the editor of Digital Beading Australia magazine to be in their December issue!  I'm working on a project for the magazine and I really hope you'll like it!  I've never been in a bead magazine before so I'm both nervous and excited.  It's a huge honor!

Also, December 1st marks my 23rd wedding anniversary with my hubby!  Every day, I'm so proud to be his wife.  :)

Y'all have a great last day of November!  Until next time, adieu!  ~Val

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hardware Store Hijinks!

Hihi, all!  Today my mom and I went to the hardware store because, well, that's where all the cool chicks hang out, right?  :)  Well, not really-- I needed sanding sponges for my studio and a new key made for the house.  Seriously though, I do love my local hardware store.

My local Hall's Ace Hardware is like an old fashioned general store.  There are gifts and trinkets, a kitchenware section, a nice tool section, and a huge garden center.  They also sell vintage style sodas and candies, old fashioned toys, etc.  They even have a "ladies' night" in December with live music, door prizes and 20% off anything in the store.  You get the idea.  It's nice.

I've been visiting this store for a while now--years!  Imagine my surprise when I realized today that they sell Para-cord.  I think that's what it's called-- it's for making those survival bracelets?  Oh, geez!  They had so many colors and styles and patterns and sizes!  Like, a whole section of the store was filled with cords!  I took pictures!  Why am I so excited?

Well, I have a penchant for pendants.  I make more pendants than anything else.  Some of the Para-cords looked awesome for simple ropes!  Ropes to hang my pendants!  And holy crow, I got 9 different (2 feet long) styles and colors for a whopping $1.80.  You heard right!  At my local Hall's store the Para-cord is .09/foot.  They also sell by the spool, by the package, they sell mini cord which is thinner, micro cord which could be braided (Kumihimo, anyone?) and well... I just think it's neat.  Take a look!  I apologize in advance for the blurred photos.  I was taking pics with my phone and the people in there thought I was just as crazy as a loon.

Who gets that excited over rope?  Me!  < .10/foot, y'all!  :)  Stick cord end caps over the ends, attach a clasp, and BAM!  You're ready to wear your necklace.  OR, how about stitching a rope around the cord?  or just embellishing sections of the cord?  or beading cord end caps?  or wire wrapping end caps?  or macrame an adjustable closure?  Or... you get the idea.

So many colors.

So many patterns!

Cool, huh??  I didn't even get the wall behind me, which held the micro Para-cord and the ropes.  I chose quite a few that were kinda- sorta neutral looking, since I didn't want too much noise clashing with my bead work.  Still, you could match virtually any pendant with these.  People who live in my home town are very lucky.  I told the man in the store to be prepared for an influx of little, blue-haired ladies because I was going to tell all my students about these cords.  I know, I live under a rock... I'm sure you all knew about these cords long ago.  I'm sometimes slow on the uptake.  But!!!  Now I know, so all my pendants will have homes.

These are the ones I chose.  Some are thicker than others.  How fun!

See?  Some of my pendants are very happy.  I'm very happy.

So there you have it!  A quick and easy option for necklace cording, something I've never thought about using before today.  It's an option!  I don't sell my jewelry, so I don't mind using inexpensive cord to hold my baubles.  I don't think I'd mind even if I did sell my jewelry!  Heck, you could use the cord as display props, too!

I'm telling my ladies about this, for sure.  :)  Sorry-- I get all giddy when I find something neat, even if others found them oh... 4 years or so ago?  That's how long the store said they've carried the cords.  I never went past the wooden shelves until today.  :sigh:  Gotta explore your stores!

Check out your hardware stores!  Check out your home centers!  You may find a mini trove of goodies!  Have a great day!  ~Val

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Two Quick Tips! Organizing My Studio

Hi, all!  Those who know me know that I'm --cough-- a smidge OCD enthusiastic about organizing my studio.  Right at the beginning of studio season, I usually clean and rearrange everything.  I just can't help it!  :) Plus, with 7 cats, the hair is a-flyin'!

As most of you know, I'm amassing quite a few Wubbers tools!  As a result, my old pliers rack wasn't cutting it, even though several pairs of my pliers are in my bead studio.  I needed a new rack.

I have a plentiful supply of moldings, dowels and scrap bits of wood in my studio from home repair projects.  I've used the scraps to make my own bead shelves and hammer rack, etc. so I never toss anything if I think I can use it.  I also tend to collect hardware, old hinges, screws, bolts, etc.

Today I spent a few hours trying to figure out where on my cramped bench I could fit a long rack with no luck.  My original goal was to hang a rack using screws on the edge of my soldering bench.  My pliers would have been in the way, so I was at a loss.

I had a shelf that I planned to use from an old CD cabinet (the cabinet is now a puppy palace for our dog).  The problem?  With the shelf straight upright, the pliers danced along the edge and fell off.  They just didn't want to sit on the edge!  Finally, I figured out that if I turned the shelf slightly so an angle was on the top edge, the pliers sat nicely and happily (my pliers do get happy).  Keep in mind that I was lucky to have the perfect width shelf.  It was about as wide as my longest pliers handles.  I think if my shelf was too short it wouldn't work out the way it did.  However, you could put feet on your shelf, attach a dowel to the bottom or something to raise the height.

 I had some "L" brackets so I screwed them to the back of a shelf and bingo!  Easy, portable pliers rack!  I can put it anywhere on my tabletop.  Here's a back view:

Here's a closer look- it couldn't be easier!  I lined the bracket with the top edge of the shelf and it created just the right angle.  You can experiment, but this worked for me!

Of course, then my table was getting scratched up, so I slipped some tubing over the ends.  The table is all scratched anyways, but no reason to make it worse.  You can tape the bracket ends with masking tape if you  want.

Another view. Ahh, pliers make me so happy!


OK, that's Tip #1.  On to Tip #2~

I really like these hooks (below).  They aren't really cup hooks.  I call them "L" hooks.  I found them in a box of miscellaneous bits and bobs from a Dollar store.  I'm sure they can be bought anywhere though.

I used two to make a hanger for my Flexshaft handpiece key.  Of course, later, the cats figured out they can make it swing to and fro... but still, I like it!  A place for everything and everything in its place.

Also, another advantage of the "L" shape is that cup hooks are curved quite a bit, and you can't always hang things on them.  For instance, look at this grid ruler thingie I use (below).  The hole for this is deep inside the plastic.  There's no way it would slide onto a cup hook unless it's a huge hook.  It fit easily on the "L" hook.  I also hang my bail templates on the hook.  I hang my saw frame, dust rags, particulate masks, etc. from them too.

Oh, before I go, I wanted to show you my new stumps!  I have another one off camera.  My mom's new house had lots of stumps sitting in the yard and I took a few.  So happy!

Today, Dante, my sweet orange/peach tabby, decided to help me in the studio.

So, nothing ground breaking of course, but I just wanted to show you that you can use things around the junk room to make cool new organizing tools.  Don't discount dollar stores!  They have tons of great little items for studio use.  I hope you enjoyed my tips!  Ciao!  ~Val

Friday, October 17, 2014

And the Winner is...

Hi, all!  Thanks so much for all your responses and advice!  I have lots of new ideas, and I especially like the list suggestions and the reward system.  I do that for my books-- I'm a bookaholic, and when I put in a good days' work, I like to reward myself with a good book.  I'll let you all know how it goes, and I appreciate the time you all took to help me with my focusing problem!

This is my first ever blog giveaway and wow, was it fun!  Granted, there was a lot of tedious and bothersome trouble with posting replies on the blog, for which I apologize.  I dunno what happened, but I hope that my next giveaway will go smoother.  Here's hoping!

OK, as I'm writing this post, 9 pm is sneaking up, so I'm going to wait til it's officially 9 and then visit random.org to generate my random number.  Based on my posted replies, I count...14 individual responses to this giveaway.

And the winner is... ~drumroll~ ... RENETHA!  She was lucky number 2, which was chosen by the random number generator.

Congratulations, Renetha!  Please be sure to contact me through blogger or through my facebook page, and give me your address info (please do so privately in PM or email) and I will ship your beads!

Fear not!  I promised a prize for all participants, so these ladies (listed below) will be able to choose one free pattern from my Etsy shop.  Once you choose your pattern, please don't buy it!  Send me a convo via Etsy's messaging system and tell me your choice, plus please tell me where to email the pattern.

If you don't have an Etsy account, view my ArtFire studio and choose from there.  Same thing applies- message me with your email and your pattern choice.  I have a checklist to make sure I get you all.

Many thanks to you all!

1.  NEDBeads
2.  Renetha
3.  Catherine King
4.  Niky Sayers
5.  Minxdkrolo
6.  Deb Calderon
7.  Dianne Blondeandblue
8.  Lois Buhalis
9.  Bonnie Smith-Nichols
10. Nan Smith
11. Alicia Hartley
12. Becky Clay
13. Peggy Kemp
14. Deborah Apodaca

Thank you all for participating!  Have a wonderful weekend!  ~Val

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Yummy Beads Giveaway!

Hi, all!  I have a very good friend who I chatter with almost daily, a former Bead Maven like myself, Twyla Harbick of Lady Abeada Designs .  Over the course of our friendship, we've discovered we are very much alike!  I swear we're separated at birth or something, hah!

In a talk the other day, we discovered that we both suffer from the same ailment from time to time:  Lack of Motivation.  Not lack of inspiration- we both have many designs floating around in our little heads!  We suffer the dreaded lack of get up and go.

Take me for instance:  I haven't worked my "day job" since June, yet I've published a scant few tutorials in this time frame.  I have several illustrated!!!  I just have to write the words!  It's kind of ridiculous, no?  There are times when I just feel like burying my head in a book instead of getting the work done.  We both sometimes find it hard to self-regulate since we both work from home.  Setting work hours and sticking to them are sooo hard!  I have so many unfinished beady projects, half started tutorials, sketched projects that just haven't been made yet, promised articles or blurbs, etc.  I have a basket full of already beaded goodies that just need to be written up!  I'm also really lacking in the "gaining blog followers" department.  You know where I'm not lacking?  Having great beady friends.

I'm taking the advice of my friend, Nancy Dale of NEDBeads and holding my first ever giveaway!  I'm lucky to have such nice friends who can share their advice with me.  This will cure two ailments:  I'll gain a few followers to my blog, and I'll hear some much needed advice on sticking to time frames, making good use of time, etc. Heck, if you want to share some marketing advice, I'm up for that, too!

So here's where my giveaway comes into play!  Bear with me; I have to show you something first.  I've had my eye on these wonderful, rustic, imperfect, slightly misshapen, large hole, nubbly, sand-cast, African trade, recycled glass beads for a while.  That's a lot of adjectives!  :)  I finally bought some this weekend at my local bead shop (Danish Princess Beads and Jewelry, LLC in Milton, FL).  She only has 3 strands left, ladies!  They came from a trunk show she hosted a while back.  Anywho, here they are:

Aren't they fab?!?  I'm a huge fan of the rustic look and imperfections don't bother me one bit!  So I had a thought:  Pair a precious few of these with other favorite rustic beads in my collection and host a giveaway!  How does this relieve our lack of motivation?  Well, here's how:

I'd like to hear how you deal with lack of motivation.  How do you create "office hours" when you work from home and how do you stick with them?  How do you motivate yourself to stay on task and to complete projects?  For this giveaway, I'd like for you to comment below and tell me your secrets.  Suggestions are welcomed!  I need to make better use of my precious time.  You may even help other readers!  So here's the deal (or rules):

1) I'd love it if you'd follow my blog.  I have an RSS feed link, or you can follow via email in the box to the upper right of the screen (I don't receive an email list- it's secure through a 3rd party).  You can also follow the old fashioned way- through Blogger's "follow" link up top that appears if you're logged into Blogger.  I post at least once per month when I can, and I sometimes have free tutorials to share.

2) Feel free to share this via social media like Facebook so your friends can enter.  It's not required, but it's appreciated if you do.

3) For everyone who comments on this blog post with your time management/motivation advice, I will enter your comment number (not including replies of course) into a random number generator.  That randomly generated number will win a small parcel of beads from me!  The comments should be here on my blog, not on facebook (though I'm happy to receive advice anywhere, they only count for this giveaway here on my blog.)

4) You have from now (9 pm, CST Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014) until 9 pm CST on Friday, October 17, 2014 to comment on this blog and have your number entered into the giveaway.  I will generate the random number (via random.org) after 9 pm CST on Friday the 17th and I will post the winner in a blog post here and in an announcement on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Artisan.Originals .

EDIT:  Some of my readers are having trouble replying to this post.  They've written long replies only to have them disappear.  I'm so sorry- it's got to be something with Blogger.  If this has happened to you, please post your reply on my facebook post announcing this giveaway (or on my page, either way) and I will insert a placeholder reply for you here.  I'm not sure what's going on, but this makes me sad.  Giveaways are supposed to be fun!  I want to be fair to everyone.

OK, now for the good stuff!  What will one lucky respondent win?

Ta~da!  Some of my zealously and jealously guarded hoard of beads.  You will receive everything in the above photo:  I'm including 6 each of the pale blue and darker blue African trade beads, 4 copper roundel beads (I use them as little buttons for clasps), 20 dark wooden roundel beads, various wooden beads (I love wooden beads), a few cabochons of unknown stones (I think one is serpentine and the other two are dyed), a really cool carved bead (I think Mookaite but I'm not sure), 2 beautiful, matched, black lip, oyster shell daggers, 1 gorgeous, stamped, handmade porcelain cabochon (the sandy looking one), 4 opal glass, picasso finished roundels, a small amount of genuine turquoise chips and a small amount of light green glass chips.

Be on the lookout for my winner announcement because I will need to contact the winner for postal information.

This is my first giveaway, so I hope I didn't leave out anything important in the rules.  If so, let me know and I'll correct things.

So, let the advice begin!  I appreciate your help!  ~Val

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Photo Evolution - My Style

Hi, all!  I'm in a great group of beady ladies and gentlemen on Facebook and one of the recent topics was the age-old favorite for jewelry makers:  How do you take photos?

The ways we take photos are as varied as the styles we create.  Many (most) are taken on white backgrounds because they produce a clean background for web pages and advertisements.  Selling sites love the "catalog" look of white, too.  For me, it just doesn't work, and I'll explain why in a few.  It's nothing to do with the look of white - I just can't pull it off without a lot of work.  :)

Still others use black backgrounds, and I have to say that they are dramatic and gorgeous, but I've never been able to achieve good results.  I'm jealous of the gorgeous black background photos I've seen.

My color of choice?  Slate grey.  It's an awesome neutral!  White seems to over-expose my pieces.  Black reflects the light back so much that any crystals glow too much.  Grey is just right for me.  Other good neutral suggestions would be wood, concrete, stone, brown paper bags (no kidding!) and neutral colored card stocks.

At some point in my career, I have tried all these things with varied results.  Before I show my setup, let me show you my initial photography fails.  Let's take an embarrassing trip down memory lane.  These photos are from years ago, evolving to more recent photos near the end of this post.

So yes... I thought dark fabric would be dramatic.  It was, alright!  This is what happens with black for me, too.  It overexposes the crystals and light objects.  Light bounces off the black or dark color and this is my result.  :blush:  Case in point:  below.

I think a lot of my problem was that I was trying so hard to do the light tent setups that you read about online.  Homemade or professionally made, light boxes rely on direct light.  I tried a homemade tent, so I can't speak for the real ones out there, but direct light has disastrous results for me.

Then I tried sunlight.  Go outdoors!  They tell me.  Use natural light!  They say.  Well, this is Florida, and our natural light is blinding.  :sigh:  It's never worked for me.  I lose all definition outdoors, even if I try a fabric screen to eliminate shadows.

So eventually, I try white crocks and doodads as props.  The problem?  White doesn't really translate as white with regular light bulbs.  I have a ton of old, yellowed pictures to attest to this.  Could I have negated this with white balance and exposures on my camera?  Sure, if I knew how!  I tried to learn how to manually set cameras and it just didn't work for me.

This one isn't so bad, right?   Wrong.  I totally washed it out by trying to eliminate the yellow and to brighten the photo.  Post editing was my nemesis for a long time until I found a system that worked for me.

Then came the epic trial of the backgrounds.  I must have tried everything under the sun.  Home Depot has free sample tiles and I loaded up on all sorts of colors and styles.  I stuck to stone looking ones and neutrals- by now I learned black wasn't my friend.  Still, my choices weren't great and just look how awful this photo is!  So washed out, again with direct light.

After a while, I tried natural river stones.  I liked this look.  I could live with this.  It's not so horrible, but still a bit overexposed due to semi direct light.  I'd learned to not focus my light right on a piece, but I still had a way to go.

Wood- not bad, I could live with wood, but this grain was distracting.  My style is getting better though.

Leather.  Well, leather bounces a lot of light if it's dark.  Same thing as with a black background for me.  This photo was tolerable but still overexposed.

Ah, slate.  I found my slate at last!  This one is still over-bright. I was getting there, though!  I had, at one time, a mix of slate and wood and white backgrounds in my shop.  Once I decided on a singular, cohesive background, slate won out.  Grey is my perfect neutral, and the texture is good without being distracting.  Of course, it's my own opinion.  Others make white look awesome!  I've seen black backgrounds that were dramatic and gorgeous!

At some point, I tried to go all fancy and reflective.  This is a piece of glass over my slate.  I liked it for some of my photos, particularly metal, but I had to create a solid roof over my booth because the glass reflects everything...

Reflections became a problem, so I ended up nixing the glass.

Back to the slate, but still brightness was an issue for me.  Things seem dull to me and over bright.

Somewhere down the line, I had an "ah-ha!" moment and turned my lamps completely away from my work.  I liked this!  It also brought out the texture of the slate.  Some of it is due to my camera angles.  I began to take my photos down low to my pieces.

It works with metal, both silver and copper.  If I want shadows, I use dark paper on the far side- I'll show you in a few.

Beads.  Personally, I think it's gorgeous on beads.  For crystals, I shine the light almost completely out of my booth altogether!  I have just a smidgen of light on the back wall.  I've now found my style, and I've used slate for a few years now.

It may not be perfect.  We all have to find our style, but for me, this is it.  I've bought "how to photograph" type videos and books.  I've tried their way.  I always come back to my own way.  For me, this is it!  My signature.  :)

How do I do it?  Here's a photo!

White foam core booth, $6 drop light from Walmart, $2 slate tile from Home Depot.  I use a small tripod, I get low to the piece, usually from the right side.  Shine the light off the back wall, use dark paper to throw more shade if needed, et voila!  The rest is creative cropping, a bit of post editing/color correcting (use a white eyedropper on a white area prior to cropping), toss on a watermark using Gimp, and I have my style.

Mannequin shots!  What about those?  Well, here is a photo of my entire booth.  I direct the light at the roof, still away from the manni.  If you don't direct away from the mannequin the jewelry leaves shadows on the "skin".

I hope you've enjoyed my embarrassing trip down memory lane, and I hope I've been able to help a little bit.  I'm not saying to go buy slate or use this setup.  I'm saying that we evolve our styles over time.  Don't be afraid to experiment!  Eventually you'll find what works for you!