Thursday, September 1, 2016

Scan Pastel Paintings for Better Prints

A recent question from an artist friend asked about how I get good image files for making prints:

"I wanted to tell you that I think your art is beautiful and inspiring. I work with pastels also. May I ask you a question: If you do giclees, what is the best way? Is there such a thing as scanning the art, do you take a photo?"
Here's my answer (with a few revisions to make a better blog post!)

Yes! Scan it!
I do scan all my artwork, whether I make prints or not, so that I have an accurate, high-resolution image file for my records. I highly recommend scanning artwork (and pastel is perfectly fine being placed down on the glass.) My current scanner is an Epson V700; it's been the best one I've had so far, and has lasted the longest.
Scanning small works are easy, as they fit well in the scan bed:

I've also learned not to be TOO picky with getting an exact color match on the print (I had a cheap little hp scanner years ago that really captured exact color - except couldn't separate the very darkest values [has to do with D-Max rating]) Every scanner will be a little different and you just get used to learning how to get the best out of it. This Epson came with Silverfast SE software which I really like.

Scan vs. Photo 

Sometimes I will just photograph a painting if I'm away from home and need a quick post. The best way, in my opinion, to photograph artwork (if, like me, you don't have all the expensive photography lights and meters to balance everything perfectly) is to set the painting on a shady porch in daylight and, standing right over it, aim straight down with your camera and zoom in to just around the painting, making sure the edges are squared with your viewfinder. (If the painting is too large to stand over, lean it against the house instead.)
Cameras with better lenses will capture better quality images of your art, but there can be variations in temperature that are hard to manage without professional lighting and know-how. And, in my own experience, the clarity and crispness of the tiny details always seems to fall short through a camera (at least with pastel anyway.) Usually, a good camera photo will be sufficient for an image posted online, what with all the variances in other people's monitors anyway, but I really prefer a scan when I want to make a print.
To show you an example of a painting that I photographed and also scanned, here's "BFF" (16x16 in.) in both images. The slightly warmer image on the left was from the photo. The other is much more accurate tone and clarity (scanned.)
This is even more noticeable at full resolution, which you can see in the cropped images below (click and zoom in for a better comparison.)

Large Pastels on Small Scanner?
And yes, the scanner is just a normal desktop size, but with larger work I scan in sections and splice it together in Photoshop. I actually lay the scanner on the floor, move the painting carefully between scans without dragging, and wipe off the glass every few scans. (A heavy book comes in handy when weighting edges and corners to keep the large painting on the scanner bed.) It is labor intensive but still MUCH cheaper than going somewhere that has one of those huge flatbed scan things. (It's also much easier when working on a stable surface like gatorboard or some other board. A large work on paper would really need to be mounted on a firm surface to keep it flat over the scanner.)
Here is what one of my large paintings look like right after I scan it, and before it's put together. Each of the separate parts is one scanned area. In Photoshop this would be 16 separate layers.
The extra section with the nibbling ear is the first section I scanned. I always start with an area that has the highest contrast so that the scanner can get the greatest range of lights and darks accurately metered. I also overlap each section to give myself leeway when assembling the whole. (And also because when the painting is face down on a scan bed, it's hard to see where its scanning! So I move it in short increments to be doubly sure I'm not missing any parts.)
Then, after it's all put together (that might be info for another post...) ...Voila! A 300dpi full-sized image ready to print.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Breaking out of the Creative Rut

"Lennui" (Boredom) by Gaston de La Touche, 1893
A friend sent me a message last month abut what to do to get out of a creative rut. It was a timely question, as I was just then trying to pull myself out of a 5 month dearth of creation.

She wrote, "My hubby says YOU SHOULD DO SOME PAINTING... I know, I know... I don't know what to do to inspire me... What methods would you use to get yourself out of a rut?"

I replied:
GOOD QUESTION! Especially now when I'm kind of in a painting drought myself. However, mine (or so my excuse goes) is not a creative rut, but a lack of time. Weeks ago there were other variables involved, but now it's become an unfortunate habit to fill in the days with 'necessary life functions', previously-ignored household and business chores, and newly-developing family obligations. Couple that with getting older and moving slower and the days seem like they're each about 2 and a half hours long! Before I know it another month is gone.

But I'm not helping much in that last paragraph! Sorry!

When I'm in a creative rut, the best thing to do is something different. When I was tired of painting cows etc one summer I did a little series of road sketches from photos out the windshield on vacations.

If you're having difficulty actually getting started, then start with a list. Over wine (or coffee, or your favorite refreshment, or bubble bath) have a little relaxation time and let your mind wander. Think about "what ifs..." what would you like to paint/draw if there were no obstacles, scheduling conflicts or painters block. This is easy to imagine because you can let it be a fantasy... When you're not actually in front of your blank canvas there's no pressure! Just imagine.

Now, write down all your ideas and go to bed.

If you're lucky you'll dream about actualizing your art ideas, and the next day you'll be excited about getting into some of them!

If you still can't just jump in, let your list of ideas brew for a few more days while you make a schedule of 'drawing/painting time' and put it on your calendar (put it in all the empty places after all your immovable priority necessary life stuff is written in). Then go back to your list and start planning. Visualize. Set goals.

Then, when it's time to jump in, you'll be a little bit more prepared. It still might be difficult but the starting is the hardest, as you probably know is true of so many things in life. Once you start the rest is easy and you'll wonder what took you so long!

A favorite quote from James Wyeth: "I do more painting when I'm not painting; it's in the subconscious."

Some other anti-rut ideas:
Visit a museum, walk in a park, browse art magazines, see a ballet or symphony, visit a zoo (my favorite!), take a road trip, watch a demo, take a workshop, browse youtube art videos, join a plein air group, enter a theme-specific art show, browse through your 300+ gigabytes of photo files (my other favorite!)

Well, sorry for the book here. But thanks for giving me an excuse to exercise my creative art-writing brain! (And I might actually use this as a blog post... multi-tasking, yea!)

Good luck, hope this helped!

PS: this post might have some helpful info also:

Friday, June 3, 2016

Does an Artist Need a Website?

I had a conversation with a friend the other day, about whether a professional artist really needs a website.

Kira asked: "Rita, may I ask you a side question? Does a professional artist need a website? How can I argue that I really need one? My husband is software engineer, so I can use his help, but he is not sure that a website is more useful than a couple of social networks."

I replied:

Kira, that's an excellent question! I suppose one's attitude might depend on one's budget. But in my opinion, an artist can't afford NOT to have some online presence where they can showcase their work. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to pay for a professional site. There are many free or low-cost options including blogs, etc.

(Tip: Google "free or low cost websites for artists")

Another important point is that if, as an artist, your goal is to sell your work and make a living as an artist, then you will do better to take advantage of ALL avenues of exposure that are available to the limit of your budget and time. After all, as marketing genius Eric Rhodes (of Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air Magazine) says: "No one will know who you are unless you tell them!"

In this day and age, if an artist doesn't have a place online where prospective clients can go to see their work, they're missing out on a huge chunk of possibility, because really, where else is someone going to see your work without traveling to a gallery, a show, or your studio? ...The internet is the queen of convenience!

Another thought... professional sites such as may seem expensive to someone who's never paid much for a website, but a site like this pays for itself in the life of a professional artist by saving time, ease of use, and a professional image which many collectors respond to.

As for a couple of social networks being more useful... Personally, I think blanketing the social media sites on a consistent schedule (daily! or almost daily) is a LOT more valuable that just having a website alone. But I also think having a place where people can go to see all of your work easily in one place is a valuable tool. I think that could be done with a blog too... I've seen blogs that have various 'pages', but I've never looked into that with mine (from Google Blogger) since I also have a website. I think most blogs are free? I know Google Blogger is free and very easy. 

I think a website is like a business card. It's something to give people (a link to) where they can see your work and contact you, but also read about your accomplishments, see what you're up to (like the sites that have integrated blogs), and even sign up to receive emails (newsletters, or website updates) from you.

You should be the judge of where you are in your career and whether it would be justifiable to add the effort/expense of a website. You may want to start a blog at least. Lots of people like to browse through blogs, and that can also be a way to interact with your public with demos, and casual conversations about art and how you do what you do. Prospective clients love being able to get into the mind of an artist, through writings that you can make about your work.

I like to use my Daily Painting blog as a 'jumping-off' point for all my social media posts, and frequently include a link back to my blog so people can see progress shots of the work I'm posting that day. And then, on my blog I have links for my books, workshops, and other sites.

There's no such thing as too much free advertising, and IMO, every avenue of social media / online posting/sharing/blogging that there is, is one that you should to try to fit into your schedule.

As an added reference, you might want to read another of my posts, which includes a run-down of most of my marketing habits...

Good luck!
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