Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vision Board - Part 2

I was rummaging around my tool bench the other day looking for the tools to make a pair of brass earrings I had just sold on Etsy. As my studio is so small, I have a small table inside my closet area where I keep my hammers, buffing tools etc and to work on the messy part of jewelry creations.  To hide this ugly area (as I have no closet doors), earlier this year DH hung some pretty fabric IKEA screen panels that slide back and forth.  However because my studio is so small and I have almost no wall space and last year when I created a Vision Board, I had to hang it over my ugly tool bench.  It's not as if I haven't looked at it, but I guess I violated some of the Vision Board rules by hiding it from my view when the panels were hung.

So anyway, I was looking at it and thinking I have not added anything to the white spaces I had left open, still in a career that sucks my life force from me, no weight loss and killer body, no shed, no puppies and haven't made a splash with my handbags or jewelry, bedroom not even started...but I had  to smile.  A photo from my wedding with my DH...still living happily ever after and there in the middle was a photo from a magazine  of friends gathered around a table.  After my "best friend" stopped being my friend last year and several of our "couples" friends divorced, there were no more dinner parties or nights out with a group of friends.  At the time when I had  created my board, I really missed having a group of friends...

So, as I stared at my vision board,  I kept smiling as I thought about the past week, because the Core 7 (as we have been named), have gone out to dinner, have watched away games together and had another one of our little dinner parities. (Yes I know, there's only six, but someone had to take the picture.) I think of all the things I have on my vision board, at least I have so far accomplished the two most important ones...

As for the rest, I guess 2010 looks like a busy year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Featured in 1000 Markets

I received an email Friday evening from the Staff at 1000 Markets, which was a nice surprise. I almost deleted it my eye caught a few words, your item...featured....

It turns out that one of my charm necklaces, "Even Monkeys Fall from Trees"  was featured on the their Staff Picks Page...there it is on the top left column.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

12 Days of Christmas Sale

On the 10th Day of Christmas by true love brought to me, one lovely  Pleated Clutch Wristlet in Orange and Brown

Was $20.00 now $16.00

A great zippered clutch for the Fall season that is great for running errands or anything. This midsized clutch is large enough to carry all your essentials (your wallet, cellphone, lipstick and keys). Made from a warm cotton print, the color palette consists rust, orange, brown,and yellows. Lined with a coordinating brown fabric, the bag is finished with a beige zipper, contains an interior split pocket and wrist strap.

Approximate bag measurements:

Top Width: 9"
Bottom Width: 14"
Overall length: 7 1/4"
Wrist Strap: 16"

Offer expires midnight tonight!

My Bedroom

I have been blogging on and off about my bedroom for some time now. It started back in 2008, with a post about my Vision Board and my vision of my bedroom furniture, and my Hubris which led to my small misfortunes aka 5 year old leaky roof and the first appearance of my friend Spot.  Again in 2009 when I blogged about Mother Nature and her summer rains that drip drip dripped over DH's head, which was the motivation to the weekend of bedroom shopping and most recently on how Spot is Growing.

Yesterday during my lunch hour I met with DH at Home Depot and we ordered the bathroom cabinet for the area in our bedroom that leads to the shower area. We looked at counter tops as well (really wanted  Granite counter top, but that may not be in the stars) and found a possible supplier.  We also went and looked at flooring (for the millionth time) and found one that we liked instantly and placed an order for that as well.

Last week DH spent a few hours on the roof repairing the roofers repairs (they came out twice), so hopefully the leak has finally been repaired. Afterward he scraped Spot down as well as the other Spot by the door.

What's that you say, there are two spots on the ceiling, well, yes, there are two...

This is Spot 1:  He appeared a few years before the roof was actually fixed, so I am guessing about 2000, 2001?  At one point while painting the hallway in white, I painted over part of spot because I couldn't stand the dark beige spot.  The paint is a satin while the ceiling paint is flat, so now spot is semi shiny....

Next on the list, is ordering the furniture and finding tile for bathroom area, as well as the shower door...

Monday, December 7, 2009

12 Days of Christmas Sale

On the 7th Day of Christmas by true love brought to me, one lovely Serpentine and Silver Necklace

Was $35.00 now $30.00

Serpentine gemstones with a fine sterling silver herringbone wire-weave attached to sterling silver square spiral connectors and sterling silver Rollo chain. All sterling silver parts have been antique for an aged look. Necklace measures approximately 16-18" with extender chain and is finished with a sterling silver clasp.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

12 Days of Christmas Sale

On the 6th Day of Christmas by true love brought to me, one Navy Pleated Handbag

Was $38.00 now $33.00

A pleated handbag constructed in a navy heavy cotton canvas and lined with Joel Dewberry's cotton print, "Narrow Stripe in Blue" from his Chestnut Hill collection. A color palette of navy, yellow, blues and white, this handbag has two interior pockets (a zippered pocket and an open pocket). The bag was constructed with a 2 3/4" inch gusset, therefore it is big enough to hold your all essentials, such as wallet, I-pod, mobile phone, keys and books Accents include a handmade flower constructed from the same fabric and simple blue button and a nickle rectangle ring on one of the handles. Also included is a magnetic snap closure also in nickle to keep all of your items secure.

Approximate bag measurements:
Height: 12"
Width: 16"
1 1/2" Wide Adjustable Handle: 20"

Remember offer expires at midnight today...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Goodness - What happened to November

Good Grief, where did November go?  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I have been busy trying to add some bags to my shop for the Holiday Black Friday weekend.  Below are some of my new additions to the shop:

Messenger Bag in Brown Canvas

Slouchy Shoulder Bag White Flowers in Gray

I also attended a show "Mall in the Hall" at the AA Operations in the Miami Airport.  Sold some jewelry, had some folks looking at my bags, but that was about it.  To the right is a picture of my sad display.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

See Spot Grow

The weather has been strange here in South Florida.  No hurricanes this year, but it's still very warm and a few days ago we had a tropical storm type of rain downpour.  A few months ago when I had blogged about my leaky ceiling, I thought that the leak in the bedroom would have been enough to motivate DH to start working on the bedroom. Wrong. 

During the past few months, whenever there is a heavy rain and there is wind involved, the roof leaks over DH's side of the bed. The roofers have been out twice now, but this most recent storm was the worst by far.  Each time after the roof is repair and then it rains, a new leak appears, just a little further away from the original spot.  At this point, not only has Spot grown, (look how big my boy has grown!) the plaster is now falling and if you look at it a certain way, it looks like he's smiling.  Soon he'll be talking, (saying repair me DH).

Well the end of 2009 is almost here, and the promise of completing the bedroom before the end of the summer has past...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Custom Orders

I received a convo (conversation) on Etsy over the weekend. The individual wanted to know if my Wooden Handle Handbag Purple Dots handbag was available in another fabric choice.
I responded yes, and asked her what she had in mind, if there was a particular color, etc and her response was, "Not really. I was just curious about what options are available. I'd love to see pictures of the choices."

Pictures of the fabric choices? I have fabric all over my Studio, but pictures of the fabric swatches? Should I send her an email with a hundred fabric choices? I thought about including something on Etsy, but I am limited to 5 photos with each item listing. So obviously that silly idea will not work.

So this has me thinking about how to include a custom order option with the different fabric choices with each listing.

So how will I do this...perhaps a page on this very blog with pictures of fabric swatches and its item name and number. I thought that a customer could then enter their choices during the order process in the message box during the checkout. Perhaps that is a bit too confusing for a customer...

There is always the idea of creating a website again, but I really don't want to go down that avenue.

What to do, what to do...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fabric Madness

Ever wonder what 30lbs of fabric would look like? Well here it is...

I don't know what happened. I think it started when I signed up for a mini show in November, called the Mall in the Hall and then a friend with an Amazon Seller's account offered to sell my bags via her site. However, her only condition is that I have a dozen bags of the same bag in stock and ready to ship. Next sent me a 25% off my order coupon and they were having a big sale. At that point I think I may have blacked out because the next thing I knew, UPS was at my door with a large box and rolls of fabric.

Hmmm, now that I am thinking about it, I wonder how many pounds of fabric I had in my studio prior to this shipment and where am I going to put it's madness.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

Today I received a nice email from a fellow blogger that she had nominated me for a "One Lovely Blog Award."

I am touched and honored and a big thanks to Julie's Bits for the nod. When you get a chance, please visit Julie's shop, Julie's Sparkly Bits where she has a lovely collection of handcrafted Victorian themed pieces and vintage items. Just lovely indeed.

To read about the nomination, please read about it on Julie's blog.

Spoiled Puppy

My husband tells me that sometimes he thinks that I love my dog more than I love him. Sometimes I think he may be right... Take for example, my husband's recent request for Apple muffins which lead to baking, but not to make him muffins...

Last year when searching for a dog biscuit recipe I stumbled upon a great dog treat recipes website and signed up for their newsletter. There is a great recipe for Apple Biscuits that my dog loves, but this time I substituted chopped apple with apple sauce. Because the sauce adds more liquid to the recipe, it requires some additional flour, which I added until the dough was stiff. Also my apple sauce was already sweetened so I omitted the brown sugar:

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 apple - chopped or grated
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/8 cup water

Preheat oven to 350, spray cookie sheet with vegetable oil spray (I use parchment paper). I use my Kitchen Aid, first combine all dry items and then add the liquid items and sugar. Lightly dust work surface with flour and roll dough out to 7/8" thickness. Cut with cookie cutters of desired shape and size.

Bake in preheated oven 35 to 40 minutes. Turn off oven, leave door closed 1 hour to crisp treats.

Remove treats from oven.

Store baked treats in airtight container or zip lock bag and place in refrigerator or freezer.

One happy Puppy!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting Older

It happened last week. My frequent headaches and my doctor's advice that I should get my eyesight check landed a visit to the Optometrist. I remembered that I had received a post card stating it was time for my annual eye exam (I've worn reading glass since I was 32). Well, it turns out that they mailed out that post card two years ago, so I haven't had an exam in three years.

Good News: My Eye health is great.
Bad News: "Your vision has changed and I am going to write you a prescription for progressive lenses."

The as I said, it's been a week and I have come to terms with the fact that progressive lenses is a nice word for bifocals. I got a call Thursday evening that the lenses were ready, but I haven't picked them up yet, (so perhaps I haven't come to Anyway I now have a couple pairs of out of prescription lenses which got me thinking about what to do with them. I remember hearing about donating your glasses, so I did what everyone does when they have a question. I googled it and found two possibilities:

New Eyes for the Needy

Lions Club International

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yesterday's Experiment

Last week I participated in a few of the virtual labs on the subject of photography. There were lots of tips on camera settings (I will not use the flash, I will not use the flash) as well as some awesome tips of that Photo Shop program that I only utilize 1% of its capabilities.

So, I had posted a new handbag last week,

Wood Handle Handbag in Garden Maze Linen Red

and after hearing the phase (Don't settle for bad photo!) I purchased white fleece fabric for a background, I dragged out the tripod, waited for the morning sun, turned off the flash and took about 200 photos.

After about an hour of trying to figure out that magic wand feature, I have the following before and after photos to share...

In my Before Photo, (on the left) I can now see graininess and too much shadow on the background, (and yes I did settle on the photo)...

....and on the right, the After Photo, which I think came out sharper and I like the way it looks as if its floating:

I noticed that after I changed the photos that I saw the number of views increase...not a lot, but it was a few more hits after a few days with zero views.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I have been hanging out in the Etsy Forums lately and read a post on packaging presentation. Normally, when I mail out a sold item, I typically place the jewelry in a tiny plastic zip-lock, wrap it in bubble wrap, place invoice and the item in a padded envelope and ship it. Several sellers wrote about how they wrap their items in tissue and ribbons, others thought it was extra work for nothing, etc. This got me thinking about the last two items I had order, (fabric) and both companies mailed my fabric tied with ribbons into a cute fabric bundle. One even included free fabric swatches...

So I decided to try it out and mailed out my last two items (pair of earrings & a handbag) wrapped in tissue and bright ribbon and wrote a "Thank-you" on the invoice.

What do you think, is this extra step worth it?

Now a word from one of my many distractions...

It's Hockey Season!

The picture to the left is a general view of the match during the NHL Premiere Helsinki series match between the Florida Panthers and the Chicago Blackhawks at the Hartwall Areena on October 2, 2009 in Helsinki, Finland.

And, if I can just add that my Panthers came from behind scored a tie goal, went into overtime and won in the Shootout baby....

The Panthers and the Blackhawks face off again today 12:00pm EST if anyone wants to catch the game.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Item in Shop

Since I sold a fat quarter handbag the other day, I added a new one to the shop, Wood Handle Handbag - Maze in Linen Red.

It's a great small handbag with wooden handles in a fabulous cotton print from Amy Butler's Midwest Modern Collection, "Garden Maze in Linen Red." The color palette consists of reds, pinks, blue and yellow and is lined with a coordinating pink cotton fabric. The interior has a large split pocket, a great place to keep your blackberry, cellphone, i-phone, keys or other important items as well as a magnetic snap to keep your items secure. The bag was constructed with a 2" inch gusset, interfacing and a plastic bottom to help maintain its shape and is finished with light brown wooden handles.

Approximate bag measurements:
Length: 9 1/4"
Top Width: 10"
Bottom Width: 12"
Handles: 3 1/4 x 5 1/2"
Overall length: 12 1/2"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Busy Week @ the Shop

Wow, while I not quite the power seller (at all), I have managed to have a few sales in the past few days which makes a total of four sales since September 19th.

My second handbag sale, the Wood Handle Handbag in Garden Maze Brown, sold yesterday.

The first handbag to sell online, the
The Pleated Handbag in Clematis Gray, sold on Sunday.

And, another pair of the Brass Disk Earrings sold the previous Saturday.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

100 Hearts

It happened on Saturday, I had been holding at the 99 Hearts mark for what seemed like forever (actually 4 days) and then, there is was, 100 hearts.

However, hearts do not always equal sales. I wish you were allowed to send notices or sales information to these 100 fans, but in the World of Etsy this is considered spamming.

Oh well, off to work on my next 100 hearts, which hopefully will not take another 1 1/2 to accomplish.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And now a word from one of my distractions

I recently wrote about missing the change of seasons and dreaming of houses in VT in my Living in a L.L. Bean Catalog post. I think that part of that yearning to see the leaves change and smell Autumn stems from the 6 months wait for Hockey to begin again. Normally the start of Hockey would coincides with the crispiness of Fall, however, Hockey in South Florida is a bit different, the weather is still quite warm, especially as you walk from the parking lot up to the arena dressed in your long sleeves, jeans and jersey. Wednesday night marked the first home pre-season game at that the Bank Atlantic Center and although the temperatures were in the 90s, and not cool as I have been yearning, it was nice to see old friends, including that rink down below...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today's Experiment - Part 2

Yesterday, I experimented with a new background in my attempt to improve my photos and was wishing I had a piece of slate or something else in my background. Today I remembered that I have been using a rock to keep the guest bedroom door open for the last 11 years. It came from Lake Ontario in Oswego, NY. I went to school up there a million years ago...

So this was yesterday's experiment, with the gray background. I liked the way the brass is a light yellow, which is a close match to the actual earrings, but I was bored with the background.

And this is today's experiment using the same gray background but using the lake rock as a prop. I can't decide if the gray from the rock makes the photo too dark, but the color of the brass is definitely darker or maybe richer?

Well, while I decide on what I will do next, I decided to make this photo the primary photo for my Brass Earrings in my shop.

Today's Experiment

I sold a pair of Brass Earrings this past Saturday via Etsy. It's my first sale on the site since May, a very long time. Granted I just dusted off the shop's cobwebs in August and recently started out on my Marketing Quest, but somehow one sale is a bit of a let down. However it's a sale and perhaps the dawn of a new day.

A lesson I learned while at the SummerFest in Sayville this summer was that in person, my items sell. The other lesson that I have always know but has come to the forefront again (damn those declined submissions) is that my photography skills have to improve. Since I decided I was going to relist the earrings, I figured it was time for another photo shoot.

First, let me show you the other two photos I am presently using on Etsy...

In this photo, I was attempting to show off the earrings by hanging the item, however the earrings which are brass and therefore have a yellowish tint, appear copper in this photo.

In this photo, I was trying to get away from the white background since playing with the levels feature in Photoshop made the earrings look harsh with the lighting. I think the rocks were to either prop up the earrings or add a different background. I don't know, but now it appears to busy. I know that I have never been thrilled with this backdrop, but now under a different eye, this is really a terrible photo.

Today's experiment consisted of using one of the backgrounds that came with my light box. I actually have a few color layouts that came with the box that I think I will try out, but today I started with the gray. While I am not thrilled with this photo, I am surprised by how closely the color in this photo resembles the earrings. I do need to play around with the camera's white balance because the photos came out a bit too dark and I may have washed out appearance by playing around with the bright/contrast. The overall appearance is also a bit flat, I would love to find a large river rock or a piece of slate to use in the background. I think that would be a nice contrast...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Facebook Fan Page

Okay, so as I continue on my ongoing Marketing Quest, my latest step was to create a Fan Page on Face Book.

After adding some basic information about HMMills, I created four photo albums and uploaded a bunch of photos for each album:
  • Handbags
  • Necklaces
  • Earrings
  • Bracelets

(...probably should have create one for my lampwork beads, but I really don't have any to display) . After publishing the photos and the page I then invited my friends to become fans. I believe the goal is that their friends will see it and become fans as well, but I'm not sure how to see my friends' fan technically challenged...

I also know that I need to submit updates and do some chattering, but what does one say so that it doesn't appear to be spam and then they either Hide or UnFan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Shop

As I continue my quest to explore new marketing avenues, I stumbled upon a new site called Shop Handmade. Although I had completed the shop set up about two weeks ago, this morning I finally got around to adding some Inventory to the shop: HMMills

Below is some information about Shop Handmade

About Us

At ShopHandmade we're here for two reasons:

We enjoy handmade crafts and we want to help people enjoy crafting and enjoy giving handmade items. Handmade items are personal, special, and unique in this world.

We love the environment and want to demonstrate good stewardship. We want to demonstrate how to make a difference. We want to demonstrate through our own action how small things can make a difference. It's remarkably easy to make a meaningful difference.

We think that handmade crafts and the environment both go together hand-in-hand. Both are about a quality living environment.

How we got started:
We started as a spin-off from the best internet craft retailer in the whole wide world. (No bias here:) Seriously, they have a million items in their warehouse. And they have great service. (see our sponsors although we're quick to point out we would love to have any company help with sponsorship.)

Our customers would often ask:

How can I sell the things I make? We tried contacting companies such as eBay, etc. etc. et.c to see if we could partner with them in some way. But they were after their millions and profits and didn't have time to work with us.

How can I sell my used craft supplies? People have left-over supplies that they would just love to not throw in the trash. (Maybe used rubber stamps or half a sheet of stickers, for example.) It pained us to think that we were contributing to environmental waste without doing something about it.

With a bolt of lightening (not literally) we realized: We could and we should do it. So we did.

We already had a world-class eCommerce system, a data center, and brilliant people who knew and loved crafts. Like many a midnight project that you are probably well aware of, we built ShopHandmade in a couple of nights and weekends out of stuff we already had. (It's not like this stuff is hard anymore.)

In an pleasantly ironic way: ShopHandmade is itself made from recycled software and computers...literally.

We then showed ShopHandmade to our sponsors and they got excited! This was a great thing! So they agreed to sponsor our operating costs as a public service so we could get started for real.

Today we are a forum for artists to sell their handmade craft items and for crafters to recycle their craft supplies. And it is good. Welcome!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Item

Added a new item to the shop today...

Pleated Shoulder Bag - Dark Gray with White and Black Drawn Flowers

A great everyday bag, large enough to carry more than your essentials. A heavy weight cotton canvas fabric in dark gray, the design by Linda Svensson has white and black drawn flowers and leaves; this single pleated shoulder bag is fully lined with a coordinating black cotton fabric. The color palette consists of gray, black, olive, white and orange. The interior has a large split deep pocket, a great place to keep your blackberry, cellphone, keys or other important items and is finished with a magnetic snap to keep your items safe. Constructed with a fleece and stiff interfacing to help maintain its shape.

Approximate bag measurements:
Top opening: 10 3/4"
Bottom length: 14 1/2"
Body height: 15" Overall height: 25"
Strap: 21 1/2"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Living in a L.L. Bean Catalog

Supposedly, early to mid September is the pinnacle of Hurricane Season which is marked on our calendars starting June 1 - November 30. In my 19 years here in South Florida, my Hurricane history consists of the Andrew who arrived in August; Katrina (who luckily was only a 1 when she passed by) was in August as well; and Wilma (that b****) was in late October. And while it's been quiet so far, the weather during this time of year is steaming, humid and wet, while in the NE (my origins) the weather is starting to cool.

Last week I went to watch the rookies at the Panther's Rookie Training Camp. Because it would be at the new ice rink training facility I dressed warmly, even wore a light jacket with a lining, yet I was still freezing. However, dressing in layers and the fact that Hockey is just a few short days away, it started me thinking about the crispness of the air, the smell of the leaves, the fall foliage and how I miss the Fall season. Please note, I am thrilled when the rest of the country is buried in Snow during January and I am enjoying 70 degree weather in Florida, but....apparently I must be going through my love/hate cycle of hating S FL, hating my house and my gypsy blood is screaming it's time to move on.

The other day the L.L. Bean Catalog arrived, somehow I got on their mailing list 10 years ago when I purchased a weekend bag from them. Their most recently catalog has a warm pullover fleece with leaves adorning the cover. It makes me want to buy it, but I think about all the pullovers I have in my closet that never get worn, because it's just too warm down here. Some of the models are posing on porches covered in leaves and pumpkins and country craft type things and it makes me want to go out and buy a house in VT.

So all morning long, I have been looking at real estate listings in VT around the Burlington area. This one is my favorite...Wonderful country property in a peaceful setting with babbling brook and fantastic views of Mt. Mansfield. Great open floor plan. Living room with new woodstove, formal dining room, master suite with balcony enjoying fantastic views of the mt. Peace & tranquility surround you. Sauna hut, perennial gardens and deck add to the outdoor space.

Just look at their view from the back of the house... To see more click here

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Shopping Connection

I received an email from My Shopping Connection today.

It appears that my Gold Hoops Earrings - Burgundy Crystals have been featured on their Feature Find.

I am very excited that not all of my items have been rejected and all those hours of working on submissions were not completely unproductive. I have continued with the "Photography Experiment" as well as trying out different backgrounds, so I will post pics soon as I do appreciate the feedback.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Photos uuuggghhhhhh.....

Outside of marketing, taking great quality shots of my products are a constant hurdle for me. Since a customer cannot touch and feel the product, the photo has to be able to sell the item...common sense, yes, but how?

Everyday as I scan through the thousand of photos online, it always amazes me how some folks can take such great photos and my photos always look so bad. For example I recently had three of my submission rejected by craftgawker.

The first one was the Beach Bag - Green with Flip Flops, it was rejected due to "Lighting issues - dull/unsharp." Now that I am looking at the photo here, it appears blurring. (Why didn't I notice that before?)

My second rejected item was the Wristlet White with Black Flowers, it was rejected due to "Lighting issues," which I can see that yellow glare on the right top corner and that strange bluish tint on the bottom left.

The most recent one, came as a surprise to me. It was my Even Monkeys Fall from Trees Charm Necklace, due to "Harsh lighting and/or overexposed." This photo was taken with the camera's macro setting on, in a light box...will I ever win?

So after a few days of self pity, instead of making product or posting items, or submitting items, I spent several hours looking at my photos, trying to touch up my photos and then just retaking photos. For some reason, when I look at other seller's photos with white backgrounds, those appear the cleanest, but my photos with a white backgrounds are harsh or too dull. The other thing that I do find interesting are photos with a stone or slate or distressed wood background, I notice some very pretty shots of jewelry draped upon a piece of slate. I also noticed other interesting backdrops, as in one handbag seller, she sets the item upon a distress stool in front of a painted white brick wall.

So after a few hundred or so photos later and several different backgrounds, I settled (perhaps I was frustrated and tired) on this background.

So now I wonder if this darker background is better or is it too dark? I played around with the level settings as well as the brightness and contrast, I think this still is too harsh. If you look at my tag on the bottom right it appears washed-out. And is this sharp, or dull?