I recently posted on my Facebook page that it's been just over a year exactly since I took my first "fine art" image. There's a fun way to organize on Flickr so that you can make an album and organize it by date taken- So I've put together an album of every fine art piece I've done since that first one- The good, the bad and the really really awful. You can see it HERE, if you like.
What have I learned in the first year of creating storytelling images? Tons. I'll share some "been there, done that" style experience with you in the hopes that you can use it.
1.Learn to use your camera in full on manual mode.
One of the scariest things about photography for me was taking that giant step into learning the manual settings of my camera. I much preferred the safety net of the auto setting, but I was finding that each picture was exposed differently and often, my whites and lighter colors were completely blown out. For composite images, this is a big deal. It is ten times harder to composite images together if they are all exposed differently. (You want each image to match so it looks seamless) Just take the plunge and learn in manual. Practice!! Nobody has to see your mistakes unless you want them to!
2. There are days and even weeks when you will feel uninspired.
The cheerleaders in the art community would have you think that "every day is an inspiration" and that you can find something to create and make beautiful every single day. I know they mean well, but they need to knock that crap off. I read the blogs and books of all the big names in fine art. They all want to preach about how easy it can be to be inspired, and how they wake up every day ready to create masterpieces and tackle new obstacles. It made me feel horrible, because I did not feel that way. In fact, there are a great many days when I wouldn't even get out of bed if someone didn't pour water on me (true story) If you are one of those people who can be inspired everyday- Good for you. I'm talking to the other 98% of artists who don't. It's okay to be uninspired. You never know what will inspire you and you can be bumping along for weeks without a single idea, then BAM! There it is and you spend the next two weeks mass producing masterpiece after masterpiece before you hit another dry spell. You know what? That is OKAY. Inspiration and Creativity are not infinite resources and sometimes your batteries need to recharge. You should absolutely let that happen. Let yourself relax and enjoy the process. If you force it, people will be able to tell.
3. Not everything you create will be golden.
Yeah... a good bunch of my stuff is crap. Pure, unadulterated rubbish. But I am blessed from time to time with a piece that I am truly proud of and will defend to the death against anyone who says it isn't awesome. Don't be afraid to create something awful. You'll learn from it. Even if the only thing you learn is not to do THAT again.
4. Critique can sting, but it's essential to growing!
I'll admit that when I joined the critique groups, I did so for the purposes of harvesting praise for my latest works. And that dream evaporated exactly .05 seconds after I uploaded my work. If you find a great group, who is truly invested in helping you grow, you will gain invaluable insight into your work and how you can improve it. They will pick it apart, down to the bones and then tell you all the places you went wrong, and if you have a really wonderful group, they might even tell you how to fix them. Sometimes, any critique at all can sting, and especially if it's a piece that you are exceptionally proud of, but those are the times when you should calm down, set your emotions aside for a moment and really look at what people are telling you. It's an asset.
5. Create it all and don't apologize.
After I did my very first fine art piece, the people on my facebook friends list freaked the heck out. They didn't understand it, it was wayyyy darker than anything I'd ever done and they took it entirely wrong.
If it hadn't been for my model Ella Paloma piping up and saying how she thought it was awesome, I might have given up right there. I am blessed and cursed with people in my life who will tell me exactly what they think and hold no punches, so when I think about making an image- a little part of me wants to wave her hands and scream NOOOO WHAT WILL THE PEOPLE THINK!?!?!? To that, I answer, "Let them think what they will, this is my art, not theirs" There is no subject that I will not touch if it speaks to me. When I finally release that image, and those people have their say, I never ever apologize. I simply thank them for their consideration, and let them know that my work is not intended to appeal to everyone. We create for ourselves after all, not the masses.
6. You will learn your rhythm through doing.
What I mean by this is that we all have a unique way of creating that will yield us our best results. When you begin on your path, you will have NO IDEA what your way is, and the only way to find it is by doing your thing and noting what works best. For instance, my favorite images are not the ones I intended to take, but what comes from the extras I took while we were out. So, from that I can deduce that I am a spur of the minute creator. The best laid plans will often fail for me, so I always throw in a few extra props so that I can create something on the spot. Another thing that I know works for me is deadlines. So I have to set a few arbitrary ones for myself now and again- with rewards for meeting them. These little bits of insight into my creative flow have come to me over many many many shoots, and now that I know what works well for me and what does not, I can adjust my workflow accordingly.
7. Success is defined by you and you alone.
I want to be successful artist. When I first began, my mind was filled with ideas of being just like Brooke Shaden and Lindsay Adler. I wanted to sell out workshops and have sponsors, and travel and get my own show on CreativeLive or the Framed Network. But that is not my idea of success, actually, it's theirs. My idea of success is simple- I want to be happy with what I create. I want to have some recognition, sure and someday I would like to perhaps teach or put out a book, but the idea of being so in demand that I get off a plane from one workshop and step onto another immediately just exhausts me. I have a full time job that pays me well, I have no need to make money from my work (it would be nice.. mind.) So I am free to create without imperative. Your idea of success will surely be different. The truth is that success is really about where you will feel content. When you will sit back and think "There! I've done it!" By my standards, I am successful.
There you go. Everything I can think of on the spot about what I've learned since I stepped on this path. I hope that I can put some things in perspective for you, if you are also beginning, or maybe further along on your path. Don't take it too seriously.
I'll finish up with another new image- with the help of my ever so patient husband Dan, and my niece Maci and daughter Eve. (The floated the boats for me!)
Recently, I've begun a journey into a new book called "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron. It is billed as "a spiritual path to higher creativity." I would never have heard of this book if not for some people in my [fa] FINE ART Photography Facebook group asking if anyone would be interested in going through the book's process together and sharing our results. I was intrigued by the idea, and for a procrastinating soul like myself, being accountable to others is a great way to ensure that I will meet my goals for my 52 project.
The introduction to this book alone is beautifully written and inspiring on it's own. Already I am armed with a handful of helpful quotes to inspire me in times when I feel uninspired and dull. My favorite so far is this:
"I am here because art brought me here. Obedient I came"
This book has got me thinking a lot on creativity and on how we come to create. My own thoughts follow- and I am not parroting the book, though some of what I say may collaborate, and some may contradict. I don't know, I haven't made it past the intro yet. :-)
Firstly, I believe that when we create from our hearts, we return ourselves to childlike innocence, but with the benefit of our adult skill and adeptness, and tempered with the sophistication of experience. But we approach art and creativity with all the vulnerability of a child in a big scary world. When we create, we are bringing forth an untapped part of our souls, that has no armor in this world. When we offer our creations to the masses, we are like doting mother's sending their firstborn child off to school. Anxiety and foreboding vying for position at the top of our hearts, but followed closely by hope and pride.
Which brings me to my second point. I have no patience for self appointed "Masters" in the artistic community, who stand back and judge other artists based on skills alone. I have no use for someone who is farther along in their journey, but refuses to use that hard earned knowledge to help another artist who may be struggling find their footing. Judging your work against a fledgling artist is about the same as giving a trigonometry test to a high school student and a toddler and being proud that the high schooler got a better grade. Instead, gently reach out to those who you feel could benefit from constructive criticism and kindly point out how they could improve their technique. I cannot stress KINDLY enough. Saying something harshly, however well intentioned, will do nothing but set another creative back. I feel that creativity is an energy as powerful as any and doing or saying anything to quash someone's creativity is an act of murder in a way. You not only bring negativity into someone's life unnecessarily, but you might have just dealt the death blow to someone's dying passion for art. Instead, offer resuscitation when you can. The more well thought out, quality work that is put into the world enriches the Creative Collective Soul, and each individual artist who calls themselves a part of that collective. Why wouldn't you reach out to help someone when you know it will in turn help you grow as well?
About a year ago, I received the meanest email I've ever had in my whole life. It was from another photographer who was upset that I dared pick up my camera and take pictures. He called me a "MWAC" (mom with a camera) and told me I was ruining the photography industry by taking pictures of people. He told me I should stand back and let professionals do it, because I didn't know what I was doing or the first thing about how to run a photography business.
Yes, it hurt my feelings. Like, a lot. I was outraged mostly, because I felt like a little of it was true. I was still finding my footing as a photographer, and I hadn't yet discovered my love of creating fine art and surreal works. He might have been a little bit right, and he was surely right about my not knowing how to run a business. But that was no excuse for him to tell me not to try. How else are people supposed to learn if they aren't allowed to do the thing they are learning?
When the sting of it wore off, I realized that he wasn't trying to "help me" as his email had claimed. "I'm only telling you this for your own good, I"m trying to help you see that there isn't any real future for you in photography" He was scared of me.
He was scared because he could see potential in me that I could not yet see in myself.
He saw future competition. And he was trying to squash me before I even got a start.
I believe this is the case with anyone who puts you down. Maybe they're afraid of you or what you'll become, maybe they feel bad about themselves and want to see you feel bad too, misery does love company after all. But for whatever their reasons are, they have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
If you look at a seed, hold it in your hand, it doesn't look like much. But plant that seed and tend to it, nurture it, and watch it grow, you'll see that it becomes a beautiful flower or a majestic tree. And if you had quashed that seed when it was still a seed, you would never have the joy of looking upon it's final form.
You must think of yourself and your talent in this same way. Especially if someone is trying to put you down. You are a seed. Or maybe a sapling. But give yourself some time and some TLC and you will grow into a majestic tree or a beautiful flower.
If you are already a tree? You must tend to the saplings. Help them grow, move your branches so they too can get some light. Only a falling tree takes down everything beneath it. Don't be a falling tree. A diseased tree will spread it's blight.
Nobody starts off in their final form. We grow into it. and must give ourselves the time to grow. Don't be discouraged. Don't let people try to tell you to quit, because if you DO quit, you'll never know where you might have ended up.
This part of the process made me want to rip my hair out, make a noose, and hang myself.
Because at this stage I was almost wishing that I had just gone with the galleries option to print and mount for me and save myself the cost and headache of shipping.
I'll start with packaging the smaller prints you plan to sell.
Any packaging that will touch the print itself needs to be archival and acid free, because if it isn't, it could cause the print to fade quickly over time. It can also cause discolorations and warping in some cases. You can purchase acid free archival materials from a few places, my favorites are
Bags Unlimited and Clear Bags
It's a good idea to get the backing board, so that your prints aren't in danger of being easily bent, and the bags are a good idea to keep them tidy, prevent fingerprints from handling and it makes it easy to stuff a business card and certificate of Authenticity in the back. I really like the bags with the sealable flap.
Now, for shipping. Remember folks- I work for the postal service. Take my advice on this, really.
There is no reasonable way you can expect any shipping service to handle your packages individually and with the great care that they deserve. It's not feasible. Each carrier handles far too many packages daily to ensure that each package can be treated with extreme deference to it's contents. Of course, we try our best and we don't go out of our way to put packages in places where they'll be destroyed, but it's up to you to package them to withstand the perils of shipping. Doesn't matter who you use.
If you choose to send your prints un-mounted to the gallery- send them inside a plastic bag, rolled and in a shipping tube. Don't forget to tape the heck out of both ends of the tube, because I see it happen all the time that the ends pop off and contents spill out or moisture gets in. Any tracking labels should be affixed length-wish. So that the scanners can scan them. (Laser scanners can't bend around a tube!!)
If you have already mounted your prints, this is where you'll be kicking yourself.
First you need to find a sturdy box, like a really sturdy box. If the prints get tossed in a hamper or truck and something else kinda heavy get's put on top of them, they will bend, even when mounted on gator board.
The UPS store and possibly Pak-Mail have large, sturdy boxes you can buy that should stand up to shipping. Make sure to wrap in bubble wrap and for an extra measure of sturdiness I would add another panel of foam core or something, just in case the box gets punctured.
Shipping costs: Comparison
Probably every carrier will have a surcharge for size. These are large prints and the packaging will make them even larger. So be sure to account for the size surcharge when calculating your prices.
We are going to assume a piece comparable to what I just shipped. The dimensions are
L=33 H=33 and W=6 and it weighed about 15lbs. It's going to Texas from Indiana.
USPS- 77.90 for Standard post- Delivery estimate- 2 weeks.
UPS Ground- $75.74 4 days shipping
UPS Second day air= 164.64 2 days shipping.
Fedex 2 day Am=$94.22 PM=84.20
Fedex turns out to be the best deal for the time. Since I'm a procrastinator, I need a two day service.
The gallery won't ship these back to you for free, and mine had the caveat that if you leave them there for too long, they will be considered a donation to the gallery and you forfeit any proceeds from their sale. So, you'll also need to pay that shipping cost again, to have them returned to you. You can do this easily by asking for a bill of lading or have a pre-printed label to be included in the package. The gallery will re-use your own packing materials and return them to you in the same manner you have sent them. They are not responsible for damages during shipping.
*A note about postal insurance. I have never heard of anyone who has had an easy time making a claim and immediately getting their money back. It is usually a long drawn out process and often ends with the postal service determining that the fault was not theirs. I don't know about the other guys.
Another thing to mention is that you can only insure an item like these for the cost to recreate them. Not for their implied value, but for their actual replacement value. How much would it cost to print and mount them again? That's your insured value. You cannot insure for potential loss of income either. So if the carrier loses your package and finds it after the show has ended, you cannot claim that you lost $10,000.00 in potential sales. Because you can't prove you would have made those sales. Is the insurance worth the cost? It's up to you. If you're willing to fight with them to comp you , sure, go for it. If it's more of a headache to you to fight the red tape, then leave it be.
There ya go! Everything I've learned the hard way from start to finish about approaching galleries, printing for shows, and shipping large prints. I hope I've been helpful for you and if you liked this series of posts, please like and share these with the little links below.
If you have anything you'd like to add, do it in the comments and I"ll update the posts with credit to you!
My Fellow Fine Artists
Tammy Zurak of Z Photog Studio | Memphis, TN, USA | Fine Art/Illustrative Photography Gallery:
Pam Korman of District Photography | Philadelphia, PA, USA | Fine Art Photography:
www.bonniealrifai.com Fine art photography
Handy Andy Pandy