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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Shadowscapes Tarot - Major Arcana

It's been a really busy holiday season so I must apologize for the barrage of holiday sales and things of that nature. To celebrate my return to entries with a little more substance to them, I wanted to talk about the book I finished reading while I was waiting at the airport during my latest travels.

I had the pleasure of pre-ordering the book The Art of Shadowscapes Tarot: Major Arcana, the first in a series of books planned by artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law presenting the major and minor arcana from her lavishly illustrated set of Tarot cards (with the full deck due out this coming Spring). I have been plotting to do my own deck ever since I started studying divination a few years ago. Stephanie's book was just the shot in the arm I needed to get inspired again for what will likely be my next involved project!

But back to this gorgeous compilation. As the title suggests, this tome encapsulates all 23 major arcana paintings from Stephanie's tarot deck reproduced in full color. Each section is adorned with fascinating ink drawings in the borders that draw the eye in with their intricate detail. Every time I look at them, I find some new detail I missed before.

However, the icing on the cake of this delicious treat of a book is the way it's jammed packed with preliminary sketches and tidbits of folklore discussing the symbolism utilized for the final pieces. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is seeing the process behind the finished images and how decisions were made to change the figures. Stephanie goes on to discuss how those changes affect the symbolism and presence of the compositions, something which is helpful especially to other artists learning how to make their own decisions when orchestrating a drawing.

But don't take my word for it, take a peek into this sumptuous feast of art for yourself!





All in all, a worthy addition to any artist's, or art lover's, collection! You can buy Stephanie's book here. For $15 more, you can purchase the book with an original sketch, which I can attest is well worth it! My version came with a lovely ink drawing of a masked crow woman.

It is a Shadowscapes exclusive book which you cannot find in stores and must buy directly from the artist. It won't disappoint!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Evolution of an Artist's Alley Table Part 1

(My display has since leveled up! See the new display.)


After the last couple of conventions, it seems my artist's alley table is growing and evolving into something grand! I am always seeking ways to improve and welcome any suggestions you might have.

It started out at an Anime Weekend Atlanta of years ago where I just tossed unmatted and unbagged prints on the table and sold them for $5-$10 with a banner hung out front. Then we had the Dragon Con display this year with an elevated banner and slightly more offerings of necklaces and matted prints.

Now, we have the Anime Weekend Atlanta display where we pulled out a few more stops to make our display the best it could be. Here's a run-down of what we did.




The Elements of an Artist's Alley Table

1. One Sleep Deprived Artist - Complete with circles under the eyes and friendly smile. Customers like to see the artist at the table so they can talk to you personally and maybe watch you while you're working on a project. People like to be close to that creative flow and are generally curious about 'the life'. ($100,000,000 or 100 steak dinners)

2. Professionaly Printed Vinyl Banner - Printed at my local sign shop by my wonderful brother over at Graphic Signs Atlanta. I chose vinyl because it can take abuse and weather the elements. It's guaranteed to last longer than a paper sign. (FREE, generally $6 per square foot)

3. Backdrop Display - This is actually a piece of photography equipment called a backdrop kit. The poles break down and it comes with a handy carrying case to store it all in. It is relatively lightweight. I generally use this set for my stock photography needs. Bought from eBay. ($85)

4. Jewelry Stand - My dad made this wood stand ages ago and I stole it from my parents' bedroom. You can buy cute tree style stands from eBay for pretty low prices. Having a stand for necklaces helps draw in the crowd with more visibility for your shinies. (FREE, generally $25 for a nice one, less for a wire one)

5. Small Prints - I like to have these out for folks who don't have a large budget for buying the larger pieces. At only $5 a pop, they're a colorful way to help fill up empty space on the table and provide a low end price option.

6. 3 Tiered Magazine Display - Purchased from displays2go.com. Instead of magazines, I put in matted prints. People enjoyed rifling through it, but I want to invest in one with deeper compartments with more room for people to flip through. ($30)

7. Greeting Card Rotating Rack - Purchased from displays2go.com. I used this to display matted 4x6 prints and unmatted 5x7s which fit snuggly in the slots. It's amazing how a rack like this can give your work a more professional feel. This is pretty lightweight for transport, if a bit bulky. ($35)

8. Canvas Bin - Purchased at Big Lots. I used this to display more large prints to rifle through for those who wanted something a little more beefy than the 5x7's. ($15)

9. Cube Grid Walls - Another item that was donated to me. These grid walls were a lifesaver for making my display project upwards more. They stack easily when broken down and give you plenty of space to play with as far as hanging art. I had only 6 cubes, but imagine what you could do with more! (FREE, generally $16 for 6 cube set)




What am I missing?

Display Portfolio - I didn't have it out in this photo, but I had a portfolio of my best work laying out on the table housed in an Itoya notebook with a custom printed spine. ($8)





All in All...


I feel the weakness of this display setup is that it is slightly bulky, but the ability to project upwards I feel is a necessary one for my tastes. I've also been told carrying primarily more expensive items forces people to buy those instead and that a lighter setup is easier to do. My experiences have shown this does not work for my particular set of items and audience, though this lighter setup with more expensive items may work at conventions where customers are more willing to pay for top dollar items. At smaller cons, customers seem to like an option for smaller budgets.

The next big step in my display campaign is to figure out what I need for a large 10 x 10 foot space, the standard floor plot for art fair space. I sense canvas panels, tents, and god knows what else in my future!

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to drop 'em here!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Product Review: Mustek Express A3 1200 Pro


There comes a time in every artist's life when they want to toss their scanner out the window because it's such a pain to scan large paintings into the standard format 8.5x11 Inch scanners. The pieces don't fit together right, the exposure between passes are too different, and it's such a time waster to have to sit and stitch them together in Photoshop. The problem becomes compounded when we go shopping for a large format scanner that can process anything larger and we find that such scanners cost in upwards of $2000!

In my journey to find a solution that wouldn't cost me selling my kidney on the black market, I found a humble scanner called the Mustek Express A3 Pro USB Scanner with a scanning area of 11.7x16.5 Inches (29.7x42.0 Centimeters) at the equally humble price of $150. I bought one from Newegg, which had a comparable price and 30 day money back guarantee. So with little ado (and my love of lists), I present the Pros & Cons of the Mustek Express A3 1200 Pro USB scanner.

The Pros The Cons
The large format is a dream. All that lovely scanning space! (11.7x16.5 Inches total) The scanner is all you get. There are no quick buttons for you quick button fiends out there.
Seems to pick up a decent amount of detail and is particularly effective at picking up color luminosity.Subtle tones are somewhat lost in the scanning. But you can pop those out again with post-processing.
Compatible with Photoshop import options (which is the only thing I use) Like most new scanners, this one is finicky about anything that is not pressed flat against the glass. Anything raised from it will be out of focus.
Scans up to 9600 DPI
Very affordable price tag at around $150
Cover is removable with no lip around the glass, which is handy for scanning oversized pieces.


Image Quality
I currently use an Epson Workforce 500 as my main scanner and will continue to do so unless I need to scan larger format work. Though the Mustek is decent, it does not pick up the more subtle details that my Epson does. I have also been told by my publisher that the Epson is about as close to print quality as can be.




The Skinny
The Mustek is by no means a bad scanner, but it does have its minor shortcomings. However, for the low price, it's a pretty sweet deal if you're in search of an affordable deal on a large format scanner with decent scanning quality.

EDIT: It's also come to my attention the company is no longer making updated drivers for this device! In essence, it can only be used with Windows XP machines, for now.

EDIT 2: They finally came out with a new driver for this one!  You can find it here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

eBay vs Etsy - Which better serves the Artist?

So you've finally got enough artwork to want to try and sell some to others, you've finally braved that dangerous copyright void that is the net, and you've finally decided it's time to try out the e-market. It's almost a given that in trying to find a place to sell your work online, you've run into the names eBay and Etsy.

For those who haven't heard of them, here's a quick rundown of what they are:

eBay, The World Marketplace - eBay is the most popular auction style marketplace on the web. It offers you the ability to put up just about any kind of item you can think of for auction for a small listing fee. eBay serves international audiences as well, with several sister sites dedicated to specific countries.

Etsy - The Homemade Marketplace - Etsy is newer than eBay, but has grown in popularity recently due to the latest reports of success of its members. Unlike eBay, however, this online marketplace is dedicated to all things handmade (or suppliers of things to aid in the process of crafting things) and is not auction driven, but utilizes fixed price listings. As long as you have a credit card, you can sell on Etsy, no matter your country of origin. By handcrafted, I mean jewelry, artwork, sculpture, etc which are made by hand.


The Pros & Cons of Ebay

Personally, I only occasionally use eBay to auction off random original art, ACEO's (which are something of a fad on eBay right now), and ladder style commission auctions. I do not recommend the eBay Shop feature unless you are sure you can offload a high volume of art (see my eBay Shop review).

eBay has changed a lot since its inception. Nowadays, it's far easier to sell artwork than it used to be thanks to their new policies. Here are some things to think about if you're considering selling your art on eBay.

Pros


  • Cheap Listings & Image Features - The latest selling policies at eBay allow a seller to post five free listings a month. You only pay the final value fee IF your item sells. Also, you can add free gallery images to your listings in the art categories as well.


  • High Volume of Visitors - Being the world's largest online marketplace means you are naturally bound to get views on your auctions. You never know who's looking when. However, this is a double-edged sword (see Cons)


  • Cons


  • Payment Scams - Within the first few weeks of using eBay recently, I had an issue with people trying to scam others on eBay using my name and email (via the eBay messaging system) (these problems were solved, but still annoying). There's also a high amount of payment fraud going around involving checks and money orders, which eBay no longer allows as a payment method for the Art categories. You must have Paypal, Propay, or other payment methods set up in order to accept payment on Ebay.


  • Getting Lost in the Crowd - It's easy to get lost in the crowd unless you have exceptionally stand out work. Again, you never know who's looking, despite the high amount of competition. Someone might see your work and connect with it regardless of others which are up for sale.



  • The Pros & Cons of Etsy

    I have become a more avid user of Etsy, of late, due to its cheap listing fees and heartfelt community. When you buy something on Etsy, there's a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing that each item was lovingly hand-crafted by an artist such as yourself. There's a great artist-to-artist atmosphere with an administration that really seems to care about what we think as users.

    Etsy has filled the void that I had when I closed my eBay Shop. I can post here without worrying about the next subscription fee that may or may not be covered by my sales. They're a relatively new site with a bright future ahead of them.

    Pros

  • Cheap Listings & Advertisement - You don't get free listings like you do with eBay, but at 20 cents for a 3 month listing, the investment risk is minimal. I can maintain my entire shop's worth of necklaces and art for $10 or less every 3 months. Also, if I want added publicity, I only need to pay $7 for a Showcase that features my art at the front page browsing for the specific category I choose to showcase.



  • Fun Widgets - Etsy allows you to link from your websites and blogs with widgets that display thumbnails of your items in a nifty little bar. This doesn't seem like much to some, but the ability to cross-link is powerful! Especially when it's done in such an attractive way.


  • Cons

  • Low Capacity on Advertisement Slots - Nearly every time I've tried to buy a jewelry Showcase, the slots have been filled. It seems near impossible to buy a slot in some categories due to the low capacity of slots available.



  • Relatively Low Traffic - Compared to eBay, you're pandering to a much smaller niche audience of lower numbers. Most of the customers I've had on Etsy so far bought items because they already knew me from DeviantART, or randomly found me whilst searching Etsy for a gift or Halloween accessory. The amount of visitors here is lower, but again, you never know who is out there looking on the net! I am still building my presence on Etsy, as well.



  • Which One is Better?

    It all depends on what you want to sell. eBay has more viewers, but art (fantasy art in particular) does not sell well there currently unless you are selling it for less than $100. In some cases, art can sell for more, particularly for those who have already built up a following outside of eBay and believe their art is investment-grade (generally of the fine art genre).

    Etsy is a better solution for the artists who sell in smaller volumes and who want an audience who understands that their items are handcrafted and therefore aren't meant to be given away for a cheap price. Etsy is also more cost-effective for a storefront type of setting.

    In the end, why not use both? I plan to start utilizing my 5 free auctions a month to auction off original art just for the free publicity while still maintaining my Etsy and personal web shop as my main outlets.

    The key to art marketing and e-commerce is to combine your efforts to create the most effective results. I highly recommend trying both sites to see how they can work together for your art!

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Websites & Artists Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization

    Websites & Artists Series
    Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
    Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
    Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
    Part 4 - Describing Art Online


    Now that you've settled on your domain name and have some semblance of an idea for a design, there's yet another aspect of designing a website to consider - SEO (or Search Engine Optimization). SEO is an overarching term used to describe the elements of a webpage and strategies which can be altered in order to make it easier for search engines to find your page.

    Now, one thing I will make clear at the beginning, if you don't want your site to be easily found by search engines, there is no need to go through the trouble. Sometimes, like in the case of personal portfolios to be presented to art directors, we don't necessarily need to obey these rules of optimization and don't want people stumbling upon these pages because they're not meant for public display, beyond job solicitation. By all means, go crazy with Flash and other things which aren't very search engine friendly. (See this article on hiding your webpage from indexing)

    But chances are, you do want your webpage to be found easily! For this purpose, I personally employ Google's edicts of website optimization. As one of the foremost search engines on the net, Google also offers a wide variety of free tools and guides for webmasters to use in lieu of hiring SEO marketing experts.

    A good first step once you have a completed page is to submit your url to google or the open source project to begin indexing your page with various search engines across the web.


    Some Things to Remember:


  • Metatags have become moot! - At least for Google, and a growing number of other search engines. There was a time in the past where all you had to do was put a bunch of invisible metatags into the header of your webpage, but now, most search engines crawl your page in search of keywords and relevant content that actually exist within your webpage itself and aren't present in invisible tags. For artists, this means that you will need to actually include relevant info about your images rather than merely leaving the images to speak for themselves. The exception to the rule here is the meta description and Title tags, which are still used as a summary for your page in search engine displays.



  • Flash galleries are tricky - Because of the metatag issue, Flash galleries also present a bit of a problem. Because the text itself in most Flash displays are embedded into the Flash, this makes the text impossible to crawl for the majority of search engines (though it seems Google can read it now!). My suggestion is that if you're going to use Flash galleries that you put your relevant keywords in your artist biography, add them in the title tag of your page, or incorporate them within your page's content somehow, instead.

    Note that web standards are always evolving so this may change in the future! Also, if you try to hide your text using CSS or making your font small and the same color as your background image, Google may remove your site from its indexing if it is deemed 'deceptive in intent'!
  • Backlinking is your friend! - A 'backlink' is basically a link which is incoming to your page (particularly from another website outside of your own). Search engines often calculate your rank in their search engine by the amount of backlinking present on your site. Search engines will also measure the relevancy of the text providing the link and the relevancy of the site which you are linked from. If you are being linked to from an authoritative source, this adds to the importance and ranking of your site.

    For artists, this means being sure to link to your website from your forum signatures, online articles, blogs, and website profiles. The more linking, the higher your rank! But also remember to keep these links relevant and pertinent to your content! One wouldn't link back to their art gallery from a webpage on baseballs unless you're doing baseball art.
  • EDIT: 6-15-2015 - Be Mobile Device Compatible! - Phones and tablets have become all the rage since this article was first published.  Google has recently announced that your site's ranking can now be affected by whether or not it can be viewed properly on these devices.  To test your site's friendliness for devices and read more about this topic, see Google's article here.

  • For further info on designing for search engine optimization, see Google's Webmaster Guidelines and Google 101.


    Additional Tools for SEO




  • Google Analytics - So you've optimized your site, how do you keep track with what's working for you and what's not? My favorite tool is Google Analytics. Using Analytics, you can see the amount of traffic, new and old, to your page, as well as where this traffic came from, how long viewers are looking, what referring sites linked to you, what keywords people are using to find your page, and a plethora of useful information. All it takes is the insertion of a little bit of code into the pages you would like monitored by Analytics.





  • Google Alerts - Want to know when an article might be posted online about you, but don't want to have to manually search online every night just to find information? Try Google Alerts. The way it works is that when Google crawls a page and finds a search term which you've told it to alert you about, it will send you an email with a link to the page it finds with that specific term on it. I have Alerts programmed to find my name, my characters' names, and my alternate usernames on various art sites.

    For an example of its usefulness, Alerts helped me to discover that a Twitter-bot took my artist username so I could put out a notice saying that this user on Twitter was not me! Alerts also helps me to keep an eye out for art thieves who are are dumb enough to use the same title on images that I originally used (Tineye is also good for this purpose, as it is an image recognition tool that scours the net for you).


  • For further reading about SEO, check out these great resources!
    Google's Search Engine Optimization Guide
    Yahoo's Search Engine Optimization Guide

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Websites & Artists Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?

    Websites & Artists Series
    Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
    Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
    Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
    Part 4 - Describing Art Online


    In the last part of this series, we discussed considering your audience and what things you need to think about when designing an artist's webpage. This time round, let's consider the strange and weird world of domain names.


    What's in a Name?

    Or a domain name, specifically. There are several approaches for choosing an artist's domain name. Many artists go the easy route and simply use their real last and first name (ie. www.angelasasser.com). If your real name is taken, you can try your first initial (ie. www.asasser.com). Or even hyphenate (ie. www.angela-sasser.com). You might also try your name plus the word art (ie. www.sasserart.com). Some folks are wary of using their real name, but if you intend to be a public figure involved with the community as most self-marketed artists are, you will have to overcome the fear of identity theft and simply be cautious about the information you post online. Unfortunately, presenting your real name to your audience is the first step to getting to know them!

    Still others decide on a studio name, which is the path I've chosen for my Art Nouveau and angel art. A studio name can help build a sort of brand identification, especially if you can think of a quirky name that defines you or your real name is unusual and difficult to spell or remember. I decided on Angelic Shades years ago as a play on my own name (Angela) and the multi-faceted quality of the word "Shades". Not only can 'shades' signify shadows and all the ephemeral imagery shadows entail, but it can also represent varying values of a single color or indicate multiple colors in an image, which works perfectly as the name for an artist's studio.

    The downside of building a brand, however, is that you limit yourself to one overarching theme. Having a single theme, though, is not necessarily a bad thing when you're trying to market yourself professionally. Plus, there's no rule saying you can't have multiple websites on the net (which I actually have two additional sites for my character art and artisan crafts).

    A note of warning! Check your studio name on Google, or your preferred search engine, and make sure that your studio name is not similar to anyone else's! You wouldn't want the same studio name as a porn studio, would you? Not quite the audience you want to drive to your site (or is it?). And yes, this has actually happened to major businesses before!  I recall reading about a church whose domain name was bought by a porn company and whose name was very similar.


    The Many Names of Net Domains

    There is no need to settle for a single name. It's easy enough these days to register multiple domain names and domain suffixes (.com, .org, etc) that it has become common practice to register multiple names to cover all possible ways that a web surfer might arrive at your website. I can buy www.angelasasser.com in addition to www.angelicshades.com for $20 a year or lower and set them up so that they both lead back to my main website. This way of forwarding addresses is useful for funneling your web traffic back to your site OR to different sites, if you have different venues set up on the net to present various aspects of your art.

    Also, be aware that some domain names imply a certain type of website, such as .biz and .eu, which are respectively reserved for businesses and websites associated with the European Union.


    Don't Forget Sub-domains!

    There is also a facet of domains called sub-domains which allow you to create an address within an already established domain. For example, I have set up a forwarding address with the sub-domain blog.angelasasser.com which links to my art blog. This subdomain is a part of my main domain, angelasasser.com, and can be setup with my website host, which allows me 99 sub-domains to do with what I will.

    The advantage of creating this sub-domain for my blog is that it associates my blog address with my main address and appears more professional and succinct. You can do this with all facets of your online identity, from your forum, blog, professional portfolio, licensing portfolio, and more!

    Examples:
    My Blog - http://blog.angelasasser.com
    My Shop - http://shop.angelasasser.com


    How to Register a Domain Name

    The most common method is to check the availability of your domain name at www.whois.com. Once there, you can also register domain names for a fee. Additionally, you can check and see if your website host offers package deals where you can register a domain name for free.  For example, my web hosting package with www.oneandone.com came with a single domain name with free registration.  Squarespace also has a similar deal.

    A word of caution about registering with Godaddy.com as I've heard really terrible things about the headaches that come with transferring your domains from them.

    Now go forth and register!

    Next up: Search Engine Optimization and why you need it!

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    BOOK REVIEW: Art Festival Guide by Maria Arango


    I've recently finished reading this gem of a book I discovered in a recent foray to find resources for entering the art festival market. In the next couple of years I hope to expand my art career into selling at fairs and to my surprise, this was one of the ONLY books specifically written about the wonderful wide world of the traveling fair artist.

    Written by Maria Arango, a printmaker who makes her sole means of living from her sales at art fairs, this tome offers information from how art fairs are ran, how to apply, what equipment to consider, what to expect when you get there, and just about everything in-between.

    For example, did you know that in order to sell at art fairs in other states you must have a business license for each state (and possibly each city or county) you wish to sell in? One of the most helpful sections in this book is Arango's explanation of her experiences in getting audited and what information she had to show the auditor to prove that she was a business and not a hobbyist.

    Another extremely helpful resource is the appendix Arango includes in the back of the book which has such useful info as layouts for setting up your booth to maximize traffic flow, lists of website links for equipment, and other valuable resources. I discovered some sites I'd never heard of before, such as Artcartons, which are custom made mailing containers made specifically for shipping larger artwork safely.

    The only downfall I found in this book (which is probably due to my own personal preference) was its loose, conversational writing style. You have to sift through a lot of superfluous chatter to get to the relevant information. On one hand, this down to earth talk gives us a glimpse of Arango's humor and experiences at festivals, but on the other hand, I am a very busy impatient person and sometimes I just want a list of useful information instead of walls of text. The useful info IS there, you just have to go with the flow till you find it.

    Overall, if you're looking for insight on entering the art fair business, I can't recommend this book enough! As Arango says, it takes a brave soul to venture into this business, but seeing someone else who has been able to do it and learning directly from them is a precious gift. Pick this one up, if you can!

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Websites & Artists Part 1 - Considering Your Audience

    Websites & Artists Series
    Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
    Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
    Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
    Part 4 - Describing Art Online




    Some of you may ask, "Well, why do I need a website anyways?" and I guarantee you that the first question any person will ask you when trying to learn about you is "Do you have a website?" It's a new age, my friends, the age of the internet!

    Artists couldn't be more lucky in the fact that the world wide web helps us connect directly and easily with our target audience (and at a very low cost!). What you can't fit on a business card can be expanded upon at a website, as well as acting as a way for any person curious about you to remember you more easily than if they looked at your business card for a few milliseconds and then shoved it away in a file somewhere never to see the light of day again.

    Before we get carried away, though, I think you should know a little about my experience with websites. I worked for a couple of years as a self-trained webmaster and website designer for a writing center in the past. Also, the information in this entry was taken from various lectures by illustrators and professors at the Savannah College of Art & Design and various articles & books. Much of this info is additionally gleaned from research pursued for my thesis on e-marketing, which is available at the SCAD-Atlanta library.

    In short, these are only suggestions informed by a plethora of sources and methods and my own personal experiences, which may be different from yours. Feel free to share your own methods and do what works for you! I've decided to break this topic into a series so I can go into detail on each topic.


    Considering Your Audience
    A single website need not do it all.


    Designing for the General Public:
    When the theater gates open, a mob pours inside, and it is the poet’s task to turn it into an audience. --Franz Grillparzer

    A website, like the theater, is open to a rush of all types of folks who wander in from the net. And more often than not, these people do not know you. You have about 10 seconds to gain their curiosity before they get bored and surf to another page. People don't want to hear how amazing you are, but would rather see examples. Bright colors and images keep people much more engaged than heavy pages of scrolling text.

    People like to see a glimpse of your personality and what type of person you are. If you're a children's book illustrator, make a site with a fun, colorful mood like the books you would be illustrating for. People respond even more to the thought that an artist is willing to teach and share their experiences with others (which is one of the most alluring strengths of social media).

    Tutorials, blogging, and some kind of method to communicate directly with your audience (like a forum) are all great ways to draw people in and add to your website's arsenal. Don't let your website become a lonely island floating lost in the net! Throw it a lifeline by linking from your email and forum signatures, your Facebook/Twitter/etc, and where ever else you can. This increases your search engine rankings as well! (More on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) later)

    Also, if you are hoping to sell your art directly to the public, a personalized website with a shop area is generally the first stop for anyone wishing to support an artist directly.

    However, beware! Running a forum, blog, etc DOES take time! You're not required to go that far in the making of your website, but it's a smart idea if you have the time and intend on doing much of your marketing mainly through the internet (which I do).

    Examples:
    -- My Main Site
    -- My Blog
    -- Shadowscapes
    -- Pat Schories

    Designing for Art Directors: If you wish to build a website with the intention of showing your work to art directors, I recommend building something small and simple without the bells and whistles. Art Directors don't have the time to wait for massive loading time or to look at every single piece of work you've ever done. It's best to pick a few of your best works (no more than 10-15) and structure them in a simple gallery format where they can click on the thumbnails and load the full picture. A note about the size and medium along with a little intro page about your skillset and your contact info might also be prudent.

    Personally, I build a simple portfolio page using Photoshop's automated gallery feature where you just tell Photoshop where your pictures are and it builds you a page, complete with html and images, instantly. I gear each portfolio page to the company I'm soliciting and link them to the appropriate portfolio, which I store in a subfolder hidden within my web server. These simple portfolio pages are not connected at all to my main website, which is geared towards the general public. That way, I have a choice in sending any client a simple page or something a bit more fun and personable, like my main website.

    Example: Simple Portfolio Page (EDIT: This example link used to link to a very simple gallery page generated by Photoshop, but I have since changed the link to point to a DeviantART Portfolio instead. It's just easier for artists to build and maintain, in my opinion.)

    Get FRESH!
    And by that I mean keep your site updated! Both art directors AND the general public will get bored if they go to your website and find that there's nothing new to discover or explore. Give them a reason to keep coming back, be it a new blog post, new discussion at your forum, or new pieces of work. If you are a slow worker, you can always titillate your audience with work-in-progress shots of your latest painting or talk about your methods.  You can also include an RSS feed of a blog or other journal with new content showing up in a sidebar to show that you're still active.

    In Conclusion:
    Do art directors not care about your personality? That's not always the case and some of them may enjoy a glimpse at your personal website and what it says about you. The biggest difference to keep in mind between types of viewers is the time factor. Most art directors do not have the time to peruse a large gallery while casual surfers may be more able to let themselves be lost in the tide of creativity, but still require tidbits of interest to keep them going.

    When in doubt, you can always include links to both in your cover letter or email.

    Next Up: Domain names - What's in a Name?

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Resources - Watercolors



    QUICKIE UPDATES

    - Check out my latest offerings at Esty. Lots of new pendants up! Plus a special offer for those on DeviantART.

    - New paintings in my Fantasy & Scifi Gallery

    + Verdant Muse
    + Angel of Purity

    Lately, I've been brushing up on my reading to make sure my skills are sharp for my current projects and it struck me that I should put my obsessive-compulsive researching to good use! I have a fortunate (or unfortunate) habit of collecting art books, links, and all manner of things and figured I would share what I have with you all. In turn, I hope you will suggest other good sources so I can add them to my lists!


    BOOKS ON WATERCOLOR

    Painting Weathered Buildings in Pen, Ink, and Watercolor by Claudia Nice
    Nice's books on watercolors are some of the best I've seen with plenty of suggestions on how to create textures in watercolor by blending media, using rubbing alcohol, sewing threads, and plenty of unexpected things!

    Creating Textures in Pen & Ink with Watercolor by Claudia Nice
    More of the same quality as the last book with tons of illustrations and a focus on creating natural forms and textures.

    Dreamscapes: Creating Magical Angel, Faery & Mermaid Worlds In Watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
    This is technically meant for fantasy artists, but I find that the techniques concerning texture and design are applicable to all artists interested in watercolors. Flipping through the full color pages jammed with fantastical creatures always gets me inspired. Pui-Mun's work also possesses a particular grace that's often absent in most fantasy-themed art instruction books,which are generally very cartoonish with generic character designs.


    ONLINE RESOURCES

    The Handprint Watercolor Guide - An excellent, extensive, and easy to understand guide about everything from brushes to paints and methods.

    The National Watercolor Society - A great place to consider joining. They host open exhibitions, activities, and other such things that are good for career building.

    WatercolorPainting.com - A handy compilation of images, info, and free tutorials.


    TUTORIALS

    Bob Davies' Tutorials - An awesome beginner's video tutorial by bob Davies. Be sure to check out the rest of his easy to understand tutorials on watercolors, watercolor pencils, etc. I really enjoyed his voice and laid back sense of humor as well.

    Watercolor Tutorial by Clap-San - A glimpse into doing a more light and airy style with watercolor by DeviantARTist, Clap-san.


    Want more? Keep an eye on the Resources Section of my forum. Suggest your own resources too! What are your personal favorite resources concerning watercolors?

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    Certificates of Authenticity - Are they worth it?




    The paint is fresh on the canvas, the prints are hot off the press, and the online store beams with the glow of new updates. I'm happily cruising along the winding road of organizing myself as an artist, though there is still a long road ahead! The issue that has concerned me lately has been how best to present and sell my original artwork.

    I've gotten off my bum to properly mat and store things and now I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep track of the history of my art. When original work sells, should I just let it disappear into the ether into whatever hands have claimed it at a far off art show? The thought of letting this happen with no real way to keep track of where my work goes is a bit disturbing to me sometimes. The question of how to inventory my art and keep track of collectors hovers over my head like an ominous apple waiting to fall. Is it even important to keep track of who has my work for a convention artist?

    Could certificates of authenticity be part of a solution to my worries?

    A certificate of authenticity (CoA) is a certificate which is included with a work which states the title of the piece, the artist, the current owner of the piece, print edition number (if any), and other such pertinent information (Example CoA).

    Certificates by themselves are not enough to guarantee authenticity, but some services which provide CoA's, such as the Fine Art Registry, also provide special tags to be attached to the original which carry the registered number of the work and consider the CoA a type of Title Registration which is then added to their searchable database. Titles may be transferred from one collector to another with the information aiding in providing legal provenance for a work (or an origin traceable from artist to collector), which is important for those who claim art as an investment and for some museums and galleries who appreciate the security of an existing provenance.

    Such tags, certificates, and registration can help deter counterfeiting and to keep track of artwork after it has passed from the hands of an artist. Also, the perceived value of a work is cemented by the fact it is proven, of sorts, as a one of a kind piece made by the artist, and no one else. In a world where the internet and computers have made it possible to easily copy just about anything, this concept appeals to me.

    Now I am left wondering if it is worth paying a company to register my work? Is registering my art safe? Would you, as an art buyer, have more confidence in buying if a work was tagged, certified, and registered? Presentation-wise, I have to admit I am rather impressed with prints which tout a nicely printed certificate hand-signed by the artist. It gives it that special something rather than just tossing a print in a bag and shoving it at someone (granted that's what I do now and I've never gotten any complaints).

    I am currently doing what research I can on the various art registries and hope to have some sort of concrete evidence to show for it soon. I am also considering registering some of my limited edition prints to see how the system works and if it has any effect on the confidence of my buyers.

    Places I've been looking at (feel free to suggest others!):
    • National Fine Art Registry - Requires a monthly fee. Allows for title registration and provides CoA's, price cards, and title transfers.

    • Fine Art Registry - Various membership levels, including a free membership. Ability to pay per registered work instead of monthly. Allows for title registration and transfer and provides a special holographic coded tag to be added to work directly. Tag is readable even if destroyed or removed. Tag also self-destructs if removed with the remaining residue readable as an identification key.
    I hope to return with another post reporting any additional findings concerning authentification and registration of artwork in the future. Till then, I leave you with the following questions to ponder:
    • Would you, as an artist, pay to register your work?

    • Would you, as an art buyer, feel more comfortable with work which has been certified?

    • Are art title registries reliable?

    • Should certification be reserved for 'popular' artists, or can everyone do it?

    • Does certifying your artwork when you're not 'popular' mean you're being arrogant?
    Please share your experiences, if you have had some with registries. I would love to hear about them.

    EDIT 2-18-2015: I've started a discussion at an online art group I'm in which may be of some use to my readers. See what other professional artists and art collectors have to say about this topic here!  Kurt Rush's comment is of particular interest to the topic and how it affects collectors.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    eBay Shop Review


    Back in 2001 or so, I got wind of eBay shops, tried it for a little while, and then gave up when it didn't seem like I was getting many bites at all. At that stage in my development, I chocked it up to not having enough quality inventory nor much presence on the internet in general. The fees proved too much and I was simply not selling enough to cover the $15 a month bill.

    8 years later I decided to try eBay shops again in December of last year. I had built up a decent inventory of art since my first try and had several communities and websites to my name to promote the shop at. eBay shops had improved much in my absence, such as a greater ability to organize your inventory, greater search engine compatibility, cross promotion capabilities, and the integration of Store search results with eBay's main search page (which was one of its main failings previously). Another handy feature is the ability to export sales reports and integrate the eBay shop with organizational software. There are definitely a few more bells and whistles than it had during its infancy.

    In the three months I've used it, I've gotten a few inquiries on items, but never sales. I tried customizing my options with the Bold higlighting as well as the international listing option which allows my items to be seen by eBayers in the UK. I got plenty of views, but still no bites even with proper cross-promotion from my other websites. Meanwhile, the wracked up fees from listing my inventory and auctions plus the $15 for maintaining the shop produced a $30 drain per month rather than merely a $15. Add onto that the 12% commission eBay would take out of my final sales and you have a store that eats profits rather than creates them.

    The Bottom Line: eBay shops seems best suited for those of you who may be able to move items faster (ie. if you sell collectible items, cosplay, or other in-demand things), therefore making the monthly drain not so detrimental. The interface is customizable with lots of features, but the majority of your pageviews come from active Auctions and not standing inventory (at least in my experience with Shops).

    From my time with eBay Shops, it seems to me that to make a shop work successfully, you must keep both a regiment of active auctions and an in-demand inventory, something which is hard to do if your inventory is in less of a demand and you are not producing work for auction monthly. It is a good alternative if you can move items quickly and don't want to deal with the headache of programming inventory pages yourself, but not recommended for those with slower high priced luxury inventory like fine art unless your name just has that much demand behind it and you have the budget to support the shop.

    For now, I've decided to focus on revamping my website store with the free shopping cart Mal-E, which integrates Paypal, Google Checkout, and other useful payment methods so that my website becomes the one stop shop for personalized items rather than eBay. (EDIT 1-21-2015: I have since moved my site onto a Wordpress CMS and am using the WooCommerce plugin, which has been a great free e-commerce solution thus far!)

     I still plan to post eBay auctions at random per month to give people a chance at acquiring originals and commissions for less and to draw traffic to my website store, but my shop on eBay is closing indefinitely this time unless their fees decrease and their benefits increase.

    I welcome any comments from those of you who have eBay shops that are actually operating at a profit. Please share your stories and advice!

    Till next time, keep your creative spirit strong!