Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking Photographs of Your Work or How Important Can Good Pictures of Buttons Be?

You've heard folks speak to the importance of high-quality photographs. And as a former semi-commercial tabletop photography, I've got an advantage. I'd like to share some tips that will get you photographs that will help you promote and sell your work:

1. Invest in, or borrow a good digital camera. "Good" means at least 5 mega-pixels and some ability to control the camera (i.e. not full-automatic). Don't think that you have to spend thousands of dollars; get a decent camera and know how to use it!

What controls do you need? At least these:

  • adjustable white balance..for daylight, flourescent and indoor/incandescent lighting

  • Adjustable, manual depth of everything is in focus

  • Zoom, so that you can crop your picture in the camera.

  • A tripod mount. See below.

2. Learn how to use your camera and any lighting you use. See above. Knowledge and a barely adequate camera beats out a fabulous camera that you can't use.

Wanna buy some buttons?

3. Get a demo version or other inexpensive version of photo-editing software and learn to use just these 5 tools:

  • Brighten/darken

  • Contrast

  • Sharpen

  • Saturation/hue

  • Color cast/color temperature

All of the other 'tools' in Photoshop may be nice to have, but only if you're an ad exec, a retoucher or making your living at photography as art.

4. Keep a small area permanently set up to take pictures. As one who produces tons of pieces every so often, I'm guilty of not taking pics of my work and then selling it before I can take photos.

Recently I set up a small table with two Home Depot lights and matching bulbs in my 'junk room'. It's perpetually ready for a shoot; I put a small piece on the background of the week (usually an interesting board and rock combination...see the picture to the left) and shoot a couple of pictures so I can edit one good one. This morning I took 2 pictures of about 30 small glass pieces. If I would have had to set up the camera and lights, it wouldn't have happened.

My friend and artist Rachel Hoehn keeps a roll of 4-foot backdrop paper on a dowel in her she can immediately pull down the paper, take a couple of quick shots and then roll things back up.

5. Use a tripod or other stable way to hold the camera still. This will not only reduce blur, but you'll be more methodical about your images (note we segued from 'pictures'..that one 'takes' to "images' that one 'makes').

6. Mix it up - vary your backgrounds, have alternative people wear your stuff, etc. I change out my backgrounds (different wood, rocks, props) every couple of weeks so that my work doesn't get stale.

7. If there is one thing that the digital age has brought us, it's uber-cheap 'film'. Take lots of pictures. Take the best one and then crop it several different ways and save 'large' and 'small' versions of it.

8. My permanent small setup uses a cheap table, two cheap Home Depot lights, sheets of white typing paper to diffuse the harsh glare of the lights, a $75 tripod and my background props. The Home Depot lights were around $10 each. Soften that hard lighting with white cloth or white paper. Get matching daylight bulbs and always replace both if you have to change'll get more consistent color that way.

9. Consider doing a 'photo party'. Get 3-5 crafty friends together and share knowledge, equipment and get pictures to boot!

10. Use your pictures to tell a story. In the world of visual art, make sure your pictures represent what you do!

11. Edit mercilessly and seek out others' opinions on which images work. Just becasue your daughter looks extra-cute modeling that fabulous polymer necklace, be objective about the necklace and decide if that image captures the essence of your work? Can your future buyer see the details? Are the colors accurate on the computer screen? If not, select another image!

12. The 'art' isn't the photo you're taking. Your handmade product/art is! Strive for clean, well-lit photos that show off what you do.

So go set up that mini studio, learn how to use that old digital, and take pictures that you can be proud of!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

12 Suggestions for Jurying for a Show - What Do I Do?

For new artists/crafters, the thought of jurying for a show can be intimidating.

I'll never forget my first....mercifully easy, in its' own way. I'd been doing glass, furniture and picture frames and one of the principals in the Oak Cliff Artisans happened to be taking a walk by my house with a neighbor and they say me working on some of my Mission picture frames and stopped in for a look.

This gal was apparently impressed and so invited me to the next OCA meeting and asked me to bring some pictures of my and wood.

I dutifully showed up with a CD ROM of 10-20 pictures thinking we'd all have 'show and tell'. I was the only one whose work we looked at. Later I learned that they'd voted me 'in' to OCA and that's how I got into my first art show.

Most of us don't have it so easy. We get an application for a show and see that "submit pictures for the jury" and get nervous...

Here's some tips to prepare..and now is the time to start thinking about this, folks!
  • 1) Submit no more than the required pictures unless you truly have a compelling reason to do so.
  • 2) Take, or have someone take really good pictures! Have someone take really good pictures! Am I clear? Nothing is worse than getting an application with fuzzy, bad images. As a many-times juror it makes me wonder if the work is as sloppy as the pictures. Better to submit 3 good pictures than 5 mediocre ones! Get good pictures!
  • 3) Submit in a small enough file size (if electronic) to get through their firewall, but make them big enough so the details of your work shows through. If that means submitting a CD ROM with 3MB pictures, so be it!
  • 4) Some shows (sigh!) still ask for slides... You can go to BWC on Maple Avenue and have them make slides from .jpgs. You can even e-mail the .jpg file and then just pick up the slides when they're ready. Cost is around $5 - $7 per slide... FYI, you usually get your slides back if you submit with a SASE.
  • 5) Be prepared to submit a good picture of your booth display. Artfest and many other shows use this as a good way to cull out the 'also rans'. You might do stunning work, but if your display consists of a couple of 2x4 easels and a card table, they don't want you. If you don't have such a picture, set up your entire display in your living room or your driveway and take photos. See #2. Take good pictures!
  • 6) Label all of your .jpg files with your name or artist moniker. If they mix them up with something else, you'll benefit when they can identify which pics are yours.
  • 7) Fill out the application completely and submit with a letter on letterhead. You want to specify the show you're applying for, you want to express excitement about being in their show and you want to reference that you 'get' what their show is all about. Recently I applied for a show in which it was clear as a bell they'd been burned by 'resellers' or folks that didn't make most of their own jewelry components. My letter and my application made clear what parts I did and what parts I purchased. I "got" that they want 80% handmade components!
  • 8) When you're filling out an application, think about the jury's perspective and try to be strategic about getting in. I'll give you an example. My biggest seller is my glass pendants. That means "jewelry". Shows are overrun by Jewelry folks and painters/photographers. So when I jury, I say that no more than 1/3 of my booth is jewelry..and emphasize my glass lamps and sconces and, sometimes, even my Mission furniture (even though I rarely bring more than a few pieces to a show). This gets the juror away from thinking "oh great... Another jeweler"...and raises your chances of getting in.
  • 9) If there is any way to call or e-mail someone with the show, do so. Be friendly, funny, whatever makes them remember you and endear you to them. IF they have any influence in the process, it'll help you in the long run. If not, they still may come by your booth and meet you..and maybe buy something! I've had that happen!
  • 10) Get your materials in on time...always. That said, if you miss a deadline, call them or e-mail them and see if the deadline has/can be extended. I've been the lucky beneficiary of this two times last year... Be nice, kow-tow and accept "no" graciously if that's the answer.
  • 11) Try not to take this whole thing personally...hard but true. You may never know why they didn't accept you into the show. Maybe 900 folks applied for the 125-booth show and they picked nothing but the creme of the crop. Maybe they didn't think your work would 'fit' in the scheme of the show. Maybe they had too many folks who produce baby items or jewelry or glass and wanted to balance it with a broader selection of work. Go the the show and see if you can speculate what might have gotten you in.
  • 12) Finally, have fun and don't sweat the small stuff!

Monday, January 5, 2009

13 Ways to Organize Your Life In Craft

The following is a reprint of an article from The Craft Report:

13 Ways to Organize Your Life In Craft

Set regular business hours. Let your friends and family know that these are times when you will not be available for social visits or phone calls. This is your job. Act like it!

Leave phone calls to your answering machine or voice mail, and set aside a half hour a day, for example, to return phone calls to customers. Let friends and family know you will call them as soon as you have some free time.

Set aside time, even if it is only a few minutes, to relax. Set a "closing" time each day that you will put down your work and leave it until tomorrow. Some artists may work non-stop until a project is finished, but doing this consistently and consecutively can take its toll.

In the same vein, take regular, although perhaps brief, breaks. Walk outside for some air, run errands, etc., just to get a few minutes away from your work. Not only is this good for your peace of mind, but also for your body, which can get stiff from sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time.

Pick one day each week to do certain tasks: Mondays for mailing invoices, Tuesdays for follow-up calls on overdue bills, Wednesdays for ordering supplies, Thursdays for research/reading about your field or your market, Fridays for thinking and creativity -- focus completely on your work and new ideas.

Seek assistance in areas of your work that you can't manage and are letting slide, e.g., financial records, invoices, bill collecting, order fulfillment. Even an assistant who is paid to come to your studio once a month and update all billing and collect on overdue invoices may free up a greater deal of your time than you realize.

Talk to other artists. Other people may have learned valuable management tips through their own experiences or from other artists. Ask your neighbors at a craft show how they keep records, manage invoicing and collecting, ship orders, purchase supplies, etc.

Visit online news groups. Internet sites like The Crafts Report's online discussion group
( and the alt.crafts.professional newsgroup are online forums for craftspeople to share professional problems and solutions, or just keep in touch with other people with similar lives or situations.

Set realistic deadlines. Deadlines can help you stay on track from day to day, and if followed, will help you avoid hectic "crunch times" like pre-show inventory preparation and promotion, or submission deadlines for juried shows or competitions that seemed so far away just a few weeks ago. Set a deadline for having your pre-show mailing printed and ready to go in plenty of time. Set a deadline for having your work photographed and slides ready to mail. Mark a calendar and check it every day to see what you need to accomplish.

Prioritize. Whatever you have on the calendar for each day, do that first. If you have multiple tasks scheduled, decide which one is the most important and do that first. Anything unfinished should become the next day's priority.

Stop and think. This works if you're feeling overwhelmed -- you have too much to do and too little time, and all you can do is think about how much you have to do and how you'll never get it all done. Sit down and think about what is most important, and go from there.

Set aside the last few minutes of every day to review completed and unfinished tasks, and plan for tomorrow's tasks.

And, finally, take the time each day to appreciate your work and the fact that you can make money doing work that you love. If you're not feeling very appreciative of your work at the moment, ask yourself, "Why not?" and then try to think of possible solutions. If the bills are piling up and dealing with customers is making you dread answering the phone or making necessary phone calls, perhaps you can consider hiring a part-time business manager. Will the costs be offset by the extra time (and peace of mind) you will have to invest in your work? If not, what are your other options? Think about it and make it happen, so that you can enjoy the life you lead to its fullest.

Friday, January 2, 2009

WalMart Mentality and Telling the Story

How often do we go to an art festival or a craft show and find either ridiculously low-priced goods in the booth next to us OR we discover that the show has not been limited to handmade goods and the folks all around us are selling imported jewelry or other mass-produced, low cost items.

The dilemma is how do I, as a lone, single-artist entity compete with what I'll call "The Wal-Mart Mentality"..the expectation that my price for a beautiful hand-made fused glass pendant compete with someone who buys them by the gross from China?

My answer is "Tell the story"! That, and quality/uniquity of your work, absolutely will differentiate you from the importers and also rans. It has been my experience that if I point out the features of a piece that make it unique AND I tell the story of what inspired that piece, what inspires me in general and if I talk about how my work is done, the folks that matter will 'get it'! I can assure you that some folks are willing to pay more for something with 'a story' than something without. I'll give you an example: Folks who have been to my home have seen the 6-foot tall neon rooster that graces my living room. When I bought him, no one knew where he'd come from or what his story was. He had fabulous value to me or I'd not have purchased him, sure enough. A few months ago one of my glass students and her husband visited me. Her husband recognized the sign from a long-defunct Mexican Restaurant in Lakewood. Not much of a story but much more than I knew at the time...and the value of the piece literally doubled in my mind!

I could (and maybe will, at some point) post a blog on how crafters devalue what we do by pricing low, spec work, etc, but I'll save that for another day. Just know that the pieces in your booth or on your Etsy site, or wherever you show, will sell much better if the story is crystal clear.

I'll close with one more example. I have an artist friend whose work is just stunning!, etc... She does a line of beautiful wooden pendants with birds adorning them....very nice pieces. I was with a friend in a gallery that sold her pendants and my friend bought a lovely piece with a beautiful cardinal. I noted that in an e-mail to my artist friend. She replied with the story about how her Grandmother had loved birds, trips to her grandmothers house were filled with visions of, and stories about birds, and as such, these formed an emotional connection to her grandmother..and carried a little piece of her grandmother in each finished bird pendant. My advice to her? Make a little tag that tells that exact story...and in doing so, establish why she does this, an emotional and historical connection and, in doing so, attract a wider art-buying audience!

Tell the story!