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Monday, December 27, 2010

Review - Imaginative Realism by James Gurney

"There is no line between fine art and illustration; there is no high or low art; there is only art, and it comes in many forms."

I knew I would love this book the moment I read this line from the section "Art in the Twentieth Century" detailing the shift from demand for original art to printing and publication.  There is a progressive attitude here that treats all forms of art as a means to an end, tools to aid in the expression of a vision.  Leave all your doubts and fears at home because you are here to create, not quibble over what's better or pays more or what art form is more worthwhile!

I just adore that.

For those who don't know him, James Gurney authored the masterfully illustrated series of Dinotopia books, which show what life would be like if humans and dinosaurs lived together in a world much like our own.  Having penned and illustrated adventures in his own fantasy world, Gurney shares his extensive experience in doing just that - depicting believable worlds that do not exist through a variety of illustrative methods.

Gurney explains a brief history of illustration, how industry focus has changed, and what drew him personally to become an artist.  The following sections detail his workspace, developing styles, and identifying artistic influences - all useful for expressing our own unique takes on imagery using the tools and strategies of those who came before.  There's a constant emphasis on developing the idea over the technique in this book, such an important philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with!  For if the seed of a creative idea is there, then it's only a matter of having the patience to train yourself to realize it.  The toughest part of creation has already been achieved!

There are so many moments while reading this book where I felt a sense of awe and enlightenment.  Gurney put words to concepts I have never been introduced to, even being a college-trained artist!  His sections on composition and tonal development are some of the most golden nuggets of wisdom I've read.  This book is what my college education should have covered.  Everyone knows Line, Shape, Form, Texture, Space, etc...but do you really understand how it applies to creating a successful artwork?  I feel that Gurney helps to bridge the gap between these esoteric theories by giving us real examples of his working process from conception to realization.

Other techniques that really struck me are Gurney's utilization of maquettes to serve as references for his images, which allows him to bring a level of realism to his lighting and placement that would be difficult to glean from the mind's eye.  For characters that appear in multiple paintings, he suggests using a head maquette for achieving consistency in depicting those characters again and again.  What a novel idea!  Sometimes it takes a good book like this to make us start thinking in simpler modes.

The final sections briefly cover Gurney's painting process and suggested career paths for artists with tidbits of advice from someone who has been there and done that.  This forthcoming advice is the kind of gold that makes this book priceless and a must-have for any artist.

While the majority of this book is not presented in a step-by-step manner, I found his examples illustrated his points eloquently and Gurney's philosophy on art and work methods in general to be just as helpful.  His philosophy and conceptual advice make this book relevant to digital artists as well, even if most of his specific techniques are traditional.

This one's a must-have for any artist's collection! I'm looking forward to adding the rest of Gurney's books to my library as well after the inspiration and motivation this one has given me.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Facebook Profile vs Fan Page vs Group

I've been meaning to cover this topic for a long time now, being the advocate of Facebook that I am.  FB has had its ups and downs as far as inane legal-ese in their terms and spammage of Farmville requests, but truth be told it's an indispensable way to network quickly and easily with friends and fans in an environment growing more reliant on social media and instant gratification.

I started using it a few years ago at the same time as a Myspace page (which I promptly left inactive after receiving so much spam about things I had no interest in).  FB has been a more streamlined and controllable experience for me.  It's relatively easy to block spam notifications by being able to choose what you receive (and who you receive it from) in your Settings.

If you're sold on the concept of Facebook as I am, you may be wondering whether or not to start a personal profile, a fan page, or a group for your social media needs.  I personally use the fan page format for my business and a personal profile to keep in touch with friends and family.  The two are kept wholly separate so that I can see updates from friends and family without sifting through the minutia of messages that can add up if I were to combine the two.  The Page also has a few more perks than the other formats, which help me keep track of who is keeping an eye on my work.


THE FAN PAGE

PROS:
  • Trackable stats of who visits your page from week to week sent via email each week and viewable in a stat tracker
  • Ability to integrate with Facebook Ads for targeted campaigns (by gender, age, region, etc)
  • No limit on number of people who can join as Fans (now called 'Liking')
  • Ability to customize your front page just like a personal account. (Shop apps from Etsy, Artfire, Etc. are particularly useful here!)
  • Can upload videos and photos.  Fans can also upload media at your discretion.  Media is viewable by everyone by default without being logged in. Permissions are customizable.
  • Includes a Discussion Board to fuel fan interaction
  • Ability to send targeted updates to Fans
  • Multiple Admin functionality lets you spread out the work load
  • RSS integration for blog feeds
  • Can link directly to any tab url for personalized use outside of FB


CONS:

  • No notification of comments sent when viewers post to your Page's wall or on your individual items. (Note: There are several work-arounds for this issue, one being to 'Like' all of your posts, thereby recieving notifications about them or to use notification Apps, such as Page Watch)
  • (NOTE! This has since been fixed! A Page admin now gets notifications on their Home tab when there is new activity on their page)


PERSONAL PROFILE

PROS:

  • Customizable with apps, boxes, etc.
  • Makes people feel like they are personally connected to you.
  • RSS integration for blog feeds


CONS:

  • Limit on number of Friends you can have (5000 was the limit when last I looked)
  • No trackable stats or ad integration
  • Easily overloaded with messages from personal and business contacts (a solution might be to have multiple accounts)
  • No separation of business and personal means some posts may be inappropriate
  • Photos and videos are Friends Only by default. Cannot link to media directly without sharing a 'public link', even if Media is marked as viewable by Everyone.

GROUPS

PROS:

  • Built around interactive discussion, so keeps your fans active
  • Can chat with any online Group members without being Friends with them
  • Multiple Admin functionality lets you spread out the work load
  • Can create completely private invite-only Groups, if you want to be off the grid


CONS:

  • No trackable stats or ad integration
  • Not customizable with apps or feeds
  • Albums open to uploading from Group members only and are not viewable to people are aren't logged in.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I've seen good use of all of these formats, from artists who have a personal profile and an 'artist' profile to people who combine formats and run a Group in addition to a Page to keep people constantly interacting with things to do.  Technology is always changing so I expect these features won't always be the same in the future!  

Till then, hope this proves useful for those of you trying to make a decision about where you want to start with social media.

USEFUL APPS
Useful apps for FB artists.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Review - Licensing Art 101 by Michael Woodward

In my efforts to find out more about how artists can bring in income from their work, I've stumbled upon what I believe to be a supremely valuable resource, Licensing Art 101 by Michael Woodward. If you're like me, you may be intimidated by the prospect of licensing your work to companies. There's so much involved with copyrights, royalties, and publishers that it seems almost too much to take in all at once!

Thankfully, this book eases some of those worries by telling you exactly what to expect from the licensing industry, from a breakdown of royalties, what to expect from contracts, and what size image and portfolio to present to agents/companies.

This book also gives a detailed section by section breakdown of the various markets that exist in the licensing industry. Art licensing is not limited to greeting cards and book covers, but expands to many fields, including (but not limited to) apparel, character design, prints, plates, stamps, animation, stock photos/illustration, and much, much more!

One of the most helpful elements of this book is the random facts that I never would have thought of otherwise, such as the fact that calendars require special ISSN codes to be sold in stores, the planning process of calendars, the window of time you have to sell them, and many other such facts!

Another invaluable section talks about the advantages of representing yourself or seeking out representation in an agent, how the royalties breakdown, and also how to keep track of your licenses regardless of which route you choose.

Lastly, the appendices collect the major licensing agencies and associations that exist along with their websites and other companies of interest, a truly invaluable quick reference.

There's so much more in this book to mention, but I'll just let you read it for yourselves. This one is staying in my library as a reference book as I am planning to hit the licensing market sometime this year. I have quite a lot of work ahead of me to compile a portfolio of consistent images (and imagery) to present to prospective agents but I'm hyped to get started after reading about the industry.

I can't recommend this book more for others of you who may be curious about the market and want to learn the basics before diving into trade manuals and trade shows.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Packing for Conventions [VIDEO]

Here's a walkthrough of the things I pack when I go to a convention to sell art, where to find these items, and their uses.

Sorry for the squintiness and sour face. It is indeed hot and sunny in Georgia right now!

You can see photos of my display and my costume in the previous entry.


Direct link to the video

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wordpress & Artists: Final Thoughts

After the latest redesign of my website using Wordpress' content management capabilities, I've let my thoughts percolate for awhile on my final impression of its effectiveness and usefulness for artists. So far, my impressions haven't changed much from the original Pros & Cons listing that I did previously. Here are a few thoughts that might help you come to a decision of whether you want to use it or not.

The Trouble With Wordpress...

...is that it's definitely not for beginners, as far as online management of content. You must know how to install a database, backup a database, and upload files. If you have a Geek on call that can help you with all this, than all the better! I learned how to do this all myself and it's technically not that hard once you get the hang of it. Get yourself a good FTP program (I use Filezilla) and play around in your website's control panel until you're familiar with it. I killed my own website a few times before I finally learned how to make a backup properly. Luckily, Wordpress is insanely easy to get running again! I restored my site to basic functionality from scratch in just a day after nuking it.

Taking Risks with Plugins & Upgrades

Another issue of concern for me is that plugins are always being upgraded and sometimes they might be borked in the upgrading. There is a dialog menu that pops up before you download and install a plugin that tells you whether or not it has been tested with your version of Wordpress. Pay attention to this because it could spell disaster if you haven't backed up your site recently! Plugins and upgrades to the core of Wordpress are a calculated risk in my opinion. I'd much rather deal with that than going back to my old way of doing things (Photoshop, html, and building everything by hand). The Wordpress community also seems very tightly knit and there's always an ear out for troubleshooting, if you post your concerns on a plugin's webpage.

Code Makes My Brain Hurt

I did end up grating my brain a little over certain CSS programming that was required to make my website look the way I want, but generally I found that for everything I wanted to tweak, there was an online tutorial showing me how to do it. Be careful with following tutorials, however, as sometimes they might be for older versions! (I found this out the hard way when I nuked my site following a database backup tutorial). Pay attention to the date of the tutorial and try to find the most recent ones.

Easy to Use Gallery Functionality

Updating my galleries has never been easier with the NextGEN Wordpress plugin (you just upload, tag descriptions, and go!). It's saved me so much time with my website's upkeep, particularly where galleries are involved, and also provides a sleek looking slideshow integrated with its interface. This is definitely one of the strongest reasons I've decided to bank on Wordpress for my needs as an artist.

E-Commerce Capabilities

I've managed to get a shop running with the e-commerce plugin by Instinct (will review this in a later post). It's not the prettiest shop, but it is free (unless you want to pay to upgrade to a prettier interface with additional payment gateways). I had some bugs during setup, but have managed to get it working to allow me to accept Paypal. As an admin, you can also print packing slips and keep track of orders all in one place. Another randomly useful feature is the ability to make a product link offsite if you have it listed elsewhere. For example, I have many of my products set up so that they link to their Etsy listings instead when you click them.

It's not perfect, but it will serve my purposes till I can afford the premium plugin at $200 for a commercial license for a multiple person business. It's only $40 if you have a single employee. Considering how much I've paid in the past to upkeep an Amazon Webstore ($60 a month) or an eBay shop (approx. $20 a month), this one-time fee is a small price to pay.

All in All...

If you can handle the learning curve and don't self-destruct at the thought of a little coding, than I recommend Wordpress. It's not perfect, but it's certainly functional and easy to manage right out of the proverbial box.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art

There have been so many little tasks on my platter lately, from website building to registration for conventions! I've had to shift modes to figure out just how I'll be transporting my art safely to those art fairs and conventions that are a little farther away from home than I've ever ventured for an event. Watercolor paintings in Georgia/Alabama heat and humidity for hours? Lightly bubble-wrapped frames reinforced with masking tape clanking together in my back seat? Nightmare waiting to happen!

Whilst surfing through the discussions over at Art Fair Insiders, I heard mention of a product called a Gallery Pouch, which is like SUPERPOWERED bubble wrap envelopes that keep your art safe. One thing led to another and I found myself experimenting with how to Do It Yourself by making my own pouches out of things you should easily be able to find at your local hardware store.

This time, I finally hauled out the camcorder to record my efforts! Enjoy and feel free to ask questions!

Oh and should you join up over at Art Fair Insiders, tell them that AngelaRSasser sent you in the referral field!

EDIT: I should also note that I have weather tested these envelopes by leaving them in a car parked in the sun from dawn till dusk and they showed no signs of melting tape or other adverse effects. Time will tell how well they stand up to weathering usage, but I am optimistic about their survivability thus far.

Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art - Part 1


Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art - Part 2

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Websites & Artists Part 4 - Describing Art Online?

After getting my website live last week, an interesting thought occurred to me. When we're showcasing our art online, is it really necessary to describe that work in detail in a little text clump next to the image? Is it really necessary to talk about your inspirations, how the work came to be, etc? Does anyone really care?

I posed the question to my Facebook/Twitter/social networking groups and received some interesting feedback:

Nobody Cares...
...or rather nobody has the time to read these days. This camp believes the image says it all and that those browsing your art are really only interested in the final product. Basic information, such as medium, the program you used, the size of the image, and the purpose of creation (for a commission, for a company, etc) seem acceptable by the 'keep it simple' philosophy. From the standpoint of the artist, this is also an efficient approach if you don't have the time to sit and write descriptions about your process, or merely have nothing you're inspired to say about your pieces. Many websites for illustrators, concept artists, and industry-focused fields seem to be done in this fashion.

The More, the Better!
This attitude seems more prevalent in the fine artist crowd who believe that process is an important part of the expression. I would argue that it is also more prevalent on the sites of artists who sell a majority of their work to the general public. While Art Directors and the like have little time to read long heart-felt descriptions of a work's creation and inspirational impetus, the general public appreciates learning why that work is 'special' and worthwhile. It all links up to 'implied value', in this case, or how much worth an uninformed individual places on your work from presentation alone when they have no previous knowledge of you or your work.

Things to Think About
From the standpoint of a website designer with search engine optimization in mind, remember that meta-tags are not the most prevalent form of how search engines find a site. Nowadays, search engines like Google index the content, or text, of your pages in order to glean the most relevant results, though meta-descriptions on pages still seem relevant, if you have time to fill that field in for each page you design (meta-description being what shows on the results of any search engine's results page).

But neither should you fake a description! Personally, I think it's not worth it to ramble on about something if you really don't care about it. You only waste your own time and leave fans with a false impression of your priorities as an artist (and the more astute fans amongst us with doubts about your sincerity).

Personally..., I've invested myself as a writer and an artist, meaning there's a bit of poetry or a story behind most (but not all) of the pieces that I do. My site has barebone descriptions right now, but I hope to find a way to include text in a collapsible box so the most ADD amongst us can either skip the fluff or click a plus box to reveal a brief bit of prose.

In the end, I think an artist should consider what their site is going to do for them, who their audience is, and just how much time they have to manage writing long descriptions. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable with.

How do you showcase your art online? Do you write long or short descriptions? What value do you see in either method?


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

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wordpress & Artists: A First Impression

Have any of you ever wished you had your own personal Geek on call to fix your website? (I know I do!)

An important part of my business as a fantasy artist is my website where I can keep in touch with my fans and friends. From there, people are guided to information about me, sections of my stores on Amazon and Etsy, my social media profiles, and to all manner of odds and ends. Maintaining my website, however, is never an easy task for me with my archaic method of using html tables and images.

It takes weeks at a time to alter the navigation, update the galleries, or add new content. My info is scattered across a forum, 3rd party sites, and various sections with broad organization that requires a lot of click-throughs. In short, my website is a bloody mess to update because I have to do everything by hand.

I build the thumbnails, large and small, every time I want to update my gallery. I build my menu navigation from scratch in Photoshop. When I want to add news, I have to do it by typing in text on the news page and then having to redo all the RSS coding for that page. I dream constantly of a CMS (Content Management System, a type of database powered program that is useful for designing websites) built especially for artists that bares in mind our need for easy gallery updating, dynamic content, and a smooth customizable look.

It may not be specifically for artists, but I've recently stumbled upon Wordpress, a free CMS I've been investigating lately to solve my website woes. Last week, I finished a 24 hour trainer book (in about 3 days at my absorption rate) which really opened my eyes to how much having a php/css powered website can help me manage my website better!

I've only just started playing with it and here are my first impressions:

The ProsThe Cons
Super easy to create image galleries by default (or with handy dandy plugins like NexGEN) A moderate learning curve.
Ability to import blogs and comments, including Blogger, and most major blogging services.Some CSS code knowledge required (but none I couldn't find tutorials for online so far)
Tons of plugins, including ones for forums, easy form builders, social media integration, automatic metatagging, and shopping carts! Updates to Wordpress may cause some plugins or themes to go wonky.
Visual interface that's fairly self-explanatory
Tons of free themes that you can customize for your own look.
Ability to make individual posts or pages private or password protected (IE. Good for giving special subscribers sneak peeks, perhaps?)
Multiple admins and co-admin users allowed (IE. Handy if you have have a studio with multiple people)
Ability to integrate your forum, blog, and website together so people won't have to register a username at all of them separately.
Page editor allows html or rich-text editing (super handy for seeing how your pages look and giving ultimate control over your code)

So far, it seems like Wordpress is going to do everything that I want it to do to help me keep my website updated! Expect a full report once I've had more time to play with all its bells and whistles.