Found Ephemera – Family Jewelry

Family jewelry – both fine pieces and costume jewelry – are as fascinating as old photos. Unfortunately jewelry doesn’t scan well. That doesn’t mean we can’t digitize it to include in our family history projects, it just means it will take a bit more effort.

I see two types of jewelry photos. First there’s the family heirloom photo that shows the piece off in all its glory. This photo might have the item artfully arranged on a piece of silk or velvet to give it all the attention it deserves. It would make a glorious addition to a book documenting the family’s heirlooms and treasures along with the story about each piece. Then there’s the ephemera photo where the item is arranged on a flat contrasting background so we can work some Photoshop magic to isolate the item and turn it into a design element for use in any number of family history projects.

Using family stuff makes your creations even more personal and you won’t have to worry about terms of use or licensing agreements for these graphics. Even the orphan cuff link or earring found tucked in the bottom of an old jewelry box can spark a fond memory when included in a family story or scrapbook.

The first place I went to look for affordable ideas for photographing jewelry was eBay. I wasn’t disappointed. One user – CameraJim – has some great tips in the eBay Guides section with a link to his site for more. I agree with him that light tents are easy to build. My husband built me a PVC cube which I drape with cheap white lining material. My lights are goose neck desk lamps I found at Goodwill with high-watt light bulbs. I’ve used this successfully for photographing items for sale.

Next, I’m taking a stab at heirlooms. A fabulous source for jewelry photography help is Table Top Studio. They are using (and selling) light cubes with gorgeous results. They also demonstrate some beautiful ways to arrange pieces for best effect.

If you are photographing your heirlooms for use as ephemera, the key is to use a contrasting background. White pearls on a white background may make a gorgeous photograph, but it will be a very time-consuming effort to isolate those pearls so they can become a design element for other projects. With a contrasting background, you can use the Magic Wand tool in your photo-editing software to “pull” the piece off the background and save it as a stand-alone item. Imagine including a family brooch or wedding ring as a design element on a page in your project.

Wrist corsage from Ritzy Glitzy Jewelry at Etsy.

My other recent jewelry encounter is way above my skill level, but a great idea for putting the bits and pieces of old costume jewelry together as a new piece full of old sentiment. You’ll find lots of interesting ways to make those old pieces part of today’s family history at Etsy. I fell in love with this hand corsage created from vintage jewelry. Not only would it be a lasting memento of a special event but if made with some old family jewelry pieces it would connect the past with the present.

The family jewels fascinate us all. Adding them to your family history projects will add some sparkle and possibly even generate a few fond memories.

Found Ephemera: Keynote Vector Graphics

If you have Keynote for Mac, you can draw your own decorative embellishments using the built-in vector drawing tools. What is vector drawing? It’s is the creation of digital graphics using lines, curves and shapes. Unlike bitmap graphics which are made up of a collection of tiny dots (pixels), vector graphics can easily scale in size (larger or smaller) without affecting its quality. Photographs are bitmap graphics while illustrations such as architectural drawings, logos and most digital art creations are vector drawings.

Keynote’s drawing tools don’t provide the features found in full-blown illustration programs such as Adobe’s Illustrator or CorelDraw. Keynote doesn’t have their learning curve either. You can be creating your own scrapbook-style embellishments in minutes rather than weeks. Here’s how.

Keynote screen
Choose the Draw with Pen option from the Shape panel.

To begin, create a Keynote presentation with a blank slide. Click the Format icon on the toolbar to display the format panel on the right. Now, click on the Shape icon in the top toolbar and choose the Draw with Pen option at the bottom of the shape panel. It doesn’t matter which colors you’re using at this point.

Click anywhere on the slide to start.
Click anywhere on the slide to start.

Click anywhere on the screen to create a starting point. Click somewhere else and you create a straight line between those points. When you click, you create straight lines. To create curved lines, drag your mouse. Double-click to end the line. The dark line you see in the example above shows a number of points along its length. Once a line has been created, each of these points can be dragged to adjust it. The purple squiggle began as a collection of straight lines. Experiment to see how this works.

Now look over at the format panel on the right. When an element is selected, the panel displays the styling options available to you. The selected item is formatted as a “rough pencil” line in black that is 8 points wide. You can change any of those things to create an entirely different look.

Shape editing examples
Standard shapes have options too.

Even standard shapes have some manipulation options you can put to good use. Look at the star on the left in the example above and you’ll see two green points inside the selection area. The outside point can be dragged clockwise to add points to the star – as in the eight-point star on the right. The inside point can be dragged in or out to adjust the thickness of the points. Other shapes can be manipulated in similar ways.

Then there is the option of combining shapes to create new ones. The arrow was layered with the rectangle to make a pointer. Below that, the line was grouped with three diamonds to create a text embellishment. And, on the left a “drawn” box was copied, enlarged and grouped with the original box to create a doodle frame.

You don’t have to create these graphics from scratch each time you want to use it. I’ve created a Keynote file just for my growing graphics library. It contains elements I’ve found as well as those I’ve made myself. When I need one, I just copy/paste it from the library presentation to the working one. Although you can only create these vector drawings in the Mac version of Keynote, you can use the graphics you create in both the iCloud and iOS versions of Keynote and Pages. I keep my library file in iCloud for easy access. And, to make things even easier, I’ll often copy a slide containing the graphics I’ll be using into the working presentation file so I don’t have to keep moving back and forth between files.

Taking advantage of Keynote’s vector drawing capabilities lets me create custom design elements for my family history projects. It’s quick, easy and affordable. It’s just one more reason, Keynote’s my scrapbooking platform of choice.

Have Your Fonts and Present Them Too

One of the most irritating things about presentation software (Keynote and PowerPoint both) is that trying to move a presentation to a different computer can be a nightmare – especially with fonts. If those fonts don’t reside on the new system, your software will select what it thinks are appropriate replacements from the fonts installed on the new computer. Either you limit your presentations to the few basic fonts found on most systems or you develop your own work arounds. Since I’m a font fanatic, I’ve taken the work-around route.

Beyond Bullet Points

As you can see from this example, I’m not a big fan of bullet points in my presentation graphics. I learned a long time ago that great graphics would be remembered much longer than a screen full of text. And, when I do include text, it’s an important design element. Fonts help make that happen. So, I have to make sure those fonts travel with the presentation.

I have Keynote on my iPad and prefer to use it for presenting so it’s limited number of fonts was a pain until I stumbled onto this work-around. Today, I create most of my presentations on my Mac. That’s where all the good fonts are. Once I’ve built a presentation and everything’s just right, I’ll export the slides as images then create a new presentation inserting those images – one per slide. This serves two purposes. First, I can now “take” those fonts with me and second, it reduces the size of my presentation – especially those slides with multiple layers of graphics, photos and text.  And, I still have the working copy of the presentation should I need to make changes.


Yes, this does mean I can’t take advantage of Keynote’s actions feature on text elements but I never did use them much in presentations. (I do love them for making cards though.) I can still include multimedia elements – like a video – on a slide. It just takes a bit more effort. And, since I can now present from my iPad mini – which is a lot lighter than a laptop – it’s worth that effort.

Found Ephemera – Text

There are a number of ways to use text as design elements in your family history projects. A little creative inspiration can make your words as beautiful as the thoughts they project. All it takes is a little imagination and some great fonts.
Something as simple as a beautiful font combined with changes in size and color can turn a simple quote into a beautiful sentiment. In this case I used the ALS SyysScript font [OpenType – $30] on a Keynote slide. Because I have different font sizes on a line, it was also necessary to adjust the line spacing to maintain symmetry.

Another option is to used scanned text – from personal documents like letters and journals to printed text like old books, newspapers and advertisements. When the text is relevant to the person or story, it becomes even more significant. In the example below, I found a scanned copy of my great grandfather’s book at Google Books and grabbed a screenshot of one of the pages to include with his photograph on a sketchbook page. I reduced the opacity of the text to give the photograph more emphasis.

Scanned type and photo

Scanned text and handwritten pages from your family archives can also be converted into brushes for your favorite photo-editing app. These brushes are the digital equivalent of rubber stamps. Yes, you can download any number of existing text brush files, but why do that when you can create your own in a matter of minutes. If you don’t believe me, this short tutorial shows you just how easy it is.

Now, go take another look at your family archives – with a designer’s eye this time.

Found Ephemera: Eclectic Anthology

I found a delightful Etsy shop offering a gorgeous collection of vintage scrapbooking elements. Eclectic Anthology has dozens of graphic packages ranging from antique photo frames to rhinestone jewelry – and everything in between. While the packages are a bit pricy at $10.50 each, they are licensed for commercial use which means you can use them for just about any type of family history project – including projects you plan to publish commercially.

Etsy graphic shops work a bit differently than other digital scrapbooking platforms. Etsy doesn’t provide a download capability for digital products so the shopkeepers email your graphics purchases to you once your purchase is confirmed. Make sure to read the shopkeeper’s terms before you make a purchase.