Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Playground-- dedicated to my Dad

I'm dedicating this photo to my dad. Happy Birthday Dad !

My dad lives in the Bay Area now, and he's happy because he has a bunch of friends, a nice peaceful little apartment with a porch overlooking a gorgeous park and beyond that a boat harbor.

My dad loves boats and he loves the ocean. Sometimes he's a tour guide for the Balaclutha, a restored wooden tall-ship. Unlike some tour guides, my dad took the time to learn virtually everything there is to know about the ship-- his memory is nearly photographic, it astounds people. You can't win "trivial pursuit" against my dad. He's a water sign, Cancer, and maybe that's why he takes solace in the sea.

If I ever want to know about a movie or a play, my dad can probably tell me not only the title, but the actors' names and the name of the director too. He was an excellent college professor for many years, a favorite of many students. In the early years he taught drama with a zeal which was infectious to his students. I think he taught them that when they're acting in a play, that IS reality until the final curtain goes down. If you've ever seen him act, you'd know what I mean.

Like many young actors, my dad went to Hollywood and took his shot. Coming off a ranch in New Mexico where he worked as a cowboy, he looked the part, tan and lean. He once went up against Michael Landon for the role of "Little Joe" on the series "Bonanza." Well, if he'd gotten that role, chances are I would never have been born, so I guess I am thankful that he didn't. Eventually he returned to New Mexico and got together with my mom. They married and travelled together to San Francisco where my dad completed an MFA in theatre. My brother was born in San Francisco. I was born a few years later.

Why dedicate this photo? Because it reminds me of my dad-- no, but I'm willing to make some shit up. You see, I was raised in an artistic family. We place a high premium on the make believe, on art, on the human spirit.

This is a twilight photo of an unlikely dirt playground in the Southwest. The children have all gone home for dinner and bedtime stories. Three horses in the foreground face to the right, putting their best foot forward, their grins are painted on with determination and their eyes are fixed on the ground ahead of them. A fourth horse shies away near the left edge of the frame, his position is fetal but facing forward, he is an introvert, a non-conformist, an artist. He'll go a different way-- or, just bounce back and forth on a bright red spring attached to his belly, same as the others. Above and behind them all looms the military-industrial-complex: linear, angular and starkly bland. The dark window has a faint small light at it's center. Anyway I'm a at least a little bit like my dad, and grateful for it. We both love art, and a good joke too.

So my dad is retired now and gets to watch wonderful plays every week in the Bay Area with a good friend and fellow theatre critic. He gets to play on his boat and hang out with his sailing club buddies. He worked hard all his life and enriched the lives of thousands of students and now he gets to enjoy himself and just play. Congratulations Dad and Happy Birthday! Thanks for sharing of yourself with me.

Love, Paul

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Various digital photo tips, RAW or JPEG

I was just surprised to find myself in a debate with a fellow photographer over something I figured I never would debate. RAW versus JPEG. I shoot Jpeg because I almost always get the results I want in camera, or pretty darn close, I shoot a lot of frames and I don't want to have to break the bank buying new hard drives and the biggest possible flash memory cards for the camera all the time. As I keep getting cameras with more megapixels whenever I can, the files are even larger. Also, on the off chance that I have to shoot many many frames in a row, I don't want the camera itself to bog down storing those huge raw files and stop me from getting all the shots I want-- sometimes the last shot in a long series is actually the best one, especially in a wildlife or sports situation.

So a while back a friend of mine sort of berated me for not shooting RAW. I didn't like that-- as my results are every bit as good as hers, or dare I say, better. Six months later and this same photographer is whining because she had to buy herself a new camera, having worn out the old one. She also whines about having to do a 9 hour wedding shoot, some 3,000 photos which she'll whittle down to 500 keepers. I've been listening to her whine about her own success for years now. She got paid just under $3,000 near as I can tell, for a days work. And she gets approximately $300 an hour every time she does a wedding, which is a lot of the time. She also has managed to rent herself a Studio. I'm crying great crocodile tears, right now. Not for her, for me. I didn't want to be a wedding photographer, and in a sense I'm paying the price for that, the price of not getting paid as well as she frequently does. Little secret here, she often hates her job, can't stand the brides or their families. . . so whatever. You get what you pay for, I guess.

Back to the story: First she's complaining because she may have to read the new owners manual on her brand new camera, hours later she says she's crying with joy because the new camera has something the old camera didn't have, a relatively easy way to set things like color saturation, contrast and sharpening in the camera. Yeah, I do that, been doing it for years. I've also been aware for years that RAW means none of those settings, plus a few more like white balance aren't actually being committed to the file. If you do shoot in RAW, the whole point is to have the option to make all those settings be essentially infinitely variable in post-processing. That means you use a separate computer and some software like Lightroom or Photoshop and you get to absolutely go nuts with white balance or saturation or whatever.

While you're shooting in RAW all you have to worry about is all the other things which go into making a fine photograph, which is plenty: f-stops, shutter speeds, framing and focusing is enough. You're freed up from the rest of it until the photos are downloaded. It's not a perfect system however: as RAW files are proprietary to every camera manufacturer, and every time new cameras hit the market software incompatibilities ensue. And for archiving there could be some real trouble unless all those now outdated translator applications are saved too. JPEGs however, are pretty universal and the format isn't changing. It's pretty stable.

So, what does a RAW file look like? It looks like raw data direct from the digital sensor! That means it looks like nothing. How it should look is a matter of opinion. Any software used to import RAW data has to interpret it and show it to you. In some cases Adobe Camera RAW might do a great job of "suggesting" a certain default white balance, saturation etc. In other cases the software which came provided with your Nikon might be better at interpreting your RAW Nikon proprietary data. Same goes for Canon-- I use Canon cameras, but I don't use the software that came with it. If I wanted to I could shoot in RAW and after downloading tell my software to "suggest" the various pre-loaded picture styles like "landscape" or "portrait" or I could pre-load my own custom settings. I don't care to do that-- stunts the imagination. I'd rather approach each frame as it's own unique canvas, and that teaches me to be forever fine tuning my abilities to play Photoshop as though it were a musical instrument in it's own rite.

Now if I did shoot in RAW, I would know that I don't have to worry about white balance at all while I am shooting, or color, or sharpening, or contrast. All that is for later. I would still have to get a decent exposure, mind the lighting, the composition, get it in focus etc. RAW allows me to set the rest later, assuming I didn't crazily over or under expose the shot, or even worse mix two or three wildly different color temperatures (white balance) together in the same shot. Very hard to fix that.

If you've ever photographed somebody under an incandescent light with direct sunlight hitting the side of their face, there is no "correct" white balance for 2300 kelvin versus 6500 kelvin on the same subject. Furthermore, the sunlit areas might be "blown" (over-exposed and lacking detail) and the lamplit sections may be too dark. The sunlight will be too bright and bluish, and the lamplight will be sickly yellow. RAW or not, doesn't matter much, you've got serious photoshopping to do. RAW reportedly has about 1/2 stop better ability to recover blown highlights. That ain't much-- and besides sometimes blown highlights look great, so I just don't care for RAW right now. Often "recovered" highlights look worse than they did before. Not knocking it if you like it though, it's a free country (sort of).

Again, back to the story: so my friend gets her new camera (boo-hoo, poor thing had the audacity to complain) and then decides it's fantastic (tears of joy) and states that "the camera is going to save me 90% of my time" post-processing. So I figure she's using camera presets, loves the results, and naturally is now shooting JPEGs. The difference with a JPEG is that the camera firmware processes the RAW file, decides what the final photo should look like based upon the settings you tell it, compresses that data, throws away the rest (such as millions of possible color combinations which aren't actually present in the photo) and saves it as a JPEG. JPEG shooting is a major a time saver and a storage space saver, but if you're extremely meticulous about post processing or you really like bizarre white balance settings etc, you might still shoot in RAW. Oh, and I almost forgot, nowadays you can shoot in both at the same time. I still post process my JPEGs of course, and so far haven't had any real problems with JPEG artifacts or other degradations, but there could be theoretical drawbacks some time. If a client wants RAW, no problem, no big deal, RAW they will get.

About my friend: I was wrong-- my friend is still shooting RAW. And she's crying with joy because of a few camera settings which show her what the final image might look like when it's properly processed later. She even told clients that their photos will be "so much better" with the new camera. I got confused and was sure she was committing her custom camera settings to JPEGs, because I know for a fact that RAW is RAW-- it does not take alterations to it's data files. People call them digital negatives which is a fair enough comparison in some ways. Anyway, if a couple of clicks on the camera will save hours(?) of post processing then why shoot in RAW? I didn't get it. I still don't get it. I was unable to explain to my friend that her new camera isn't better than the old one just because she can juice up the images in camera-- if she gets it wrong she'll still have to fix it in post. Her new camera might be better than the old one just because they keep improving them by leaps and bounds every year... so you might be happy for your clients that you're responsible enough to buy a new camera in order to deliver the best possible final product. You might be equally happy because you shoot in large format film! But that's a whole other story.

People are getting quite confused about RAW and image quality, especially now that we've got cameras saving special settings and attaching them to the RAW file: now your software reads that file and goes "Oh, you mean it should look like this?" If it looks great, and couldn't be better, then sure! But here's the thing: if you were to look at a RAW file with a very neutral set of settings: they look kind of blurry, low contrast, washed out and fairly colorless/lifeless. It takes increased brightness, contrast, color and often sharpening to make it "pop". So really, it's all a bit "artificial". My friend still thinks she has to shoot in RAW for her profession, but clearly she'd rather the images came out of the camera "fully cooked" and with nothing further for her to do. Like many things in life, you can't always have it both ways. Some of my best shots have been pretty thoroughly tweaked in photoshop-- one might indeed argue that I should shoot in RAW instead, but the fact is that I find my somewhat "pre-tweaked" in camera JPEGS to be a better guide for me to know how the frame will really look in the end, and based upon that I change alot of other things which can't be fixed later: I change my position, change lenses, lighting, change filters, shutter speeds and apertures, if I see something good I shoot 20 or 200 more frames to make sure I nail it-- anyway, to be continued I guess.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Front Porch Tempest 2

I pulled Sheryl off the computer and of considering the evil things that men do. There was a storm brewing off in the distance and it was growing closer, looming larger just as the sun was setting. It's often difficult for me to fathom how there is so much beauty in the world and so many ways to miss it.

Oh, I recently learned that if I want to be considered one of the top 15 emergent photographers in America, my description of the above photo (after I move to New York City that is ) would be as follows Title: "Becca"
"My work is about showing the isolation and alienation of the individual from the larger forces of nature and of civilisation. The subject above was born profoundly deaf and communicates exclusively by a series of facial expressions which only her sister understands. Medication reduces her tendency to self-flaggelate. They live alone in a manufactured home on 46 acres near Albuquerque. This is one of her calm moments."

Old fashioned stuff like honesty, clarity, and higher values

So, I am on facebook but almost never do anything over there. I could have nabbed a better domain name or whatever they call it, but I was slow and didn't really care. I'd put it here but to be honest I am having minor privacy issues-- it's kind of good now ( I think) that facebook is addressing certain issues there and if I used it more, I'd care more. It's an odd juxtaposition that I only signed up there to help my business presence on the web, and now I am considering deleting a bunch of "friends"-- on facebook that largely means people you don't really know. If I do delete a bunch, I don't really want those people getting an email that says "Paul deleted you as a friend" because it's not like that at all. Having hundreds of "friends" whom I don't actually know (I know a handful of them) just feels wrong. It's the wrong terminology.

We are very much late adopters for things like Facebook, Myspace, Youtube, and of course, Twitter. Skipped right over Livejournal. And by the way I wrote disparagingly about Twitter in a previous blog and now I get an email from Twitter that somebody wants to "follow me" there. I doubt that, I doubt it's true, which is yet another reason that Sheryl and I are often slow adopters of new stuff: because in my generation things that aren't true were commonly referred to as "Lies" and we believed that consequences would ensue for "liars". Yeah, that dates me. Also, if somebody really wants to "follow me" isn't that a bit like "stalking"? Yeah, I'm old. You darn kids with your rock and roll. Get off my lawn.

Sheryl has been writing about businesses who blatantly violate agreements and then expect people to simply comply with whatever new terms that they dictate. Well, there's really no obligation to comply with terms one never agreed to is there? In fact, if it's perfectly OK to change terms at will and act upon them as one sees fit, then people in my generation call that "Anarchy." In some cases it could be called "Felony". But we were raised to believe that we live in a civilized land governed by the rule of law, and we were taught to call that "America."

Damn, we are so out of touch. What dinosaurs we are. It's a whole new world now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top Ten Oil reserves-- the latest

This is a map from 2003-2004, click on it to see it larger.

I last wrote about this issue in April 2007 here.

I also wrote about this before we invaded Iraq, but it's in a creative non-fiction genre called "Technicolor Yawn" and that story is pretty long and covers a lot of personal territory as well. Same goes for "No Place".

For up to date info, I found this blog with some details. I noticed that where Iraq used to be #2 (before we invaded) it has fallen down a few notches and now Iran is in the #3 spot, where it used to be #6 according to the map above.

I am liberally quoting below from the blog linked above which is in turn quoting from the EIA which is the official energy statistics from the US government. Uh, I may have messed up and put 2008 below instead of 2009 but it hasn't changed all that much in that time period.

"Petroleum - Billion Barrels
1. Saudi Arabia - 266.75 (20.03%)
2. Canada - 178.59 (13.41%)
3. Iran - 138.40 (10.39%)
4. Iraq - 115.00 (8.64%)
5. Kuwait - 104.00 (7.81%)
6. United Arab Emirates - 97.80 (7.34%)
7. Venezuela - 87.04 (6.54%)
8. Russian Federation - 60.00 (4.51%)
9. Libya - 41.46 (3.11%)
10. Nigeria - 36.22 (2.72%)

Notes: The world total of proved reserves is 1,331.70 billion barrels of petroleum. The total of the top ten countries makes up 84.50% of the world's proved reserves. Canada's proved reserves are estimated to be 5.4 billion barrels of conventional crude oil and 173.2 billion barrels of oil sands reserves. (Oil sands are much more costly to refine than conventional crude oil.)

Natural Gas - Trillion Cubic Feet
1. Russian Federation - 1,680.000 (27.16%)
2. Iran - 948.200 (15.33%)
3. Qatar - 905.300 (14.64%)
4. Saudi Arabia - 253.107 (4.09%)
5. United Arab Emirates - 214.400 (3.47%)
6. United States - 211.085 (3.41%)
7. Nigeria - 183.990 (2.97%)
8. Venezuela - 166.260 (2.69%)
9. Algeria - 159.000 (2.57%)
10. Iraq - 111.940 (1.81%)

Notes: The world total of proved reserves is 6,185.694 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The total of the top ten countries makes up 78.14% of the world's proved reserves. Venezuela moved past Algeria into the 8th spot for the 2008 listing, having been listed 9th last year."

Unfortunately, Sheryl and I are, from time to time, made painfully aware of man's inhumanity to man. As I recall, shortly before we invaded Afghanistan, there were quite a few news stories about "human rights abuses" in that country. Of course, the official story was that we were invading because that country was harboring a terrorist. Well, if we thought that terrorist was in France, would we invade and conquer France? What if France said, "We don't know what you're talking about-- we're not harboring anybody" because, in essence that's what the government of Afghanistan was answering us with. Our response was invasion. Well, the combined powers of all the US government forces did not find the guy, but we did manage to get to work on a natural gas pipeline . " The US will be dismayed as its oil and gas company UNOCAL's efforts to pass gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan had been delayed because India and Pakistan have opted to sign an accord with Iran, analysts say." (2006).

Brief note about Iraq; we never found weapons of mass destruction, and Colin Powell resigned over it. He's the guy who said, before the invasion "You break it, you buy it." Pretty expensive, isn't it?

Notice from the map how secure US military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are pretty conveniently located on either side of Iran. We've got them surrounded. Now, the presidential candidate who did not get elected was the one caught on tape singing "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran" so I have high hopes that perhaps Barack Obama will be able to change our foreign policies and our energy policy away from war, and towards something far more productive, less costly in human lives and suffering, and sustainable into the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hawk in flight, or an osprey, not sure which

Click on the photo for a slightly larger view

Well, we have not decided yet whether this is a variety of Goshawk, or Osprey. I'm simply not a bird expert. It's not easy getting shots like this, at any rate, as they don't hold still too well while I am pointing my 500mm lens, trying to track them, get a good focus and a good angle etc. I used to spend a lot more time trying to get good shots of birds in flight but honestly, my tastes have a changed a bit and it's more fun watching birds in flight than it is trying to get stills of them now.

Anyway these guys soar over the lake up at woodside, then they are pretty damn good at hovering as they spot a fish under the water from about 100 feet up, then they tuck and dive-- hitting the water at an incredible velocity and then fly off with a fish in their considerable talons. It really is an amazing sight.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day to the big dogs everywhere

Spotted this prairie dog in Taylor, AZ. Cute, isn't he ? There are lots of them there-- very playful. We watched them today chasing each other, rolling and tumbling and jumping into each others burrows. Lots of fun.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My "shooting blind" technique

Took these two images around the house with my "shooting blind" technique. It puts my camera where I don't want to put my head, or body sometimes. I don't have "live view" either, in fact I find that feature a bit annoying, so I really can't see what I am framing.

Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes things really surprise me, like in the top image where I had no intention of framing the background with the oval bend in the wire. I like it though.

Also, these are two consecutive shots, one right after the other from opposite directions. When it works it usually works the first time. Use the force, Luke.

One of our favorite horses

One of our favorite friendly horses in the Taylor area, a lovely pinto.

Trappers Family Owned

Welcome to Trappers, family owned for 35 years. We keep missing Cindy when we show up there though. I wish we knew her schedule.

Country roads

One of the country roads out here. I could photograph a lot more of these gates and barbed wire. Some days it's hard not to keep taking shots of the sky.

An old taylor barn

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How to make money as an artist

There are a lot of different ways to make money as an artist, and the market changes constantly. A year ago I would have recommended Cafepress as a way to sell ones art online via what's called a POD company or "print on demand". Now I can't. We have over 400 designs up on something like 32,000 products, and we've spent hours on every design, not to mention a lot of self promotion. You can still buy our stuff at reasonable prices that we set ourselves here in our shop, but if you go here to what's called the Cafepress Marketplace the corporation that we partnered with has jacked up the prices and hacked down our commission to only 10% of the selling price on exactly the same products and designs. Learn from our mistakes, read on.

A real world example is a long sleeved t-shirt which somebody was about to buy at the inflated price of $28.00, they cancelled the order without ever knowing about the existence of our shop where they could have saved $5.00. Interestingly, had they bought the shirt in our shop at the lower price, we would have made five or six bucks commission. Had the sale gone through at the inflated price, we'd have made only $2.80 and the corporation would have profited from the rest. It gets worse: the same corporation has already set what they call the "base price" upon which they already make a profit. In this case they added about $10.00 to the base price as their profit on top of profit. They charge us money just to have a shop too. Bottom line, I think that one of the next steps is that they will take over pricing and commission in our shop as well. We don't really have any good reasons to stay there-- we're just still reeling from the shock. In the meantime, however, I've sold my work in thirty-six US States and six foreign countries, and as a resume builder, that helps me.

Almost unbelievably, people are still signing up as new shopkeepers to Cafepress, thinking they are going to do well, while all the existing shopkeepers checking in are reporting a real world 80% reduction in income. All that money now goes directly to the corporation. Many artists and designers have had their incomes completely wrecked by the greed of this Corporation, all the way from some who barely makes grocery money (including the disabled, handicapped, stay at home moms) on up to loyal, top-shopkeepers who have been there for many years and typically rake in $100,000 a year in commissions (making several times that for the corporation). The official word is that every shopkeeper in the marketplace just got their commissions slashed to the bone.

Even from a pure greed/business perspective this makes no sense to kick your top earners in the teeth-- but they did it. I guess the lure of quick cash was just too much. And that worries me, because a year ago in July, they had just made similar greedy moves, and bought another POD company called Imagekind (we have some of our work there also). So now regardless of how we feel about our "corporate partner" they own both POD companies where our work is housed. What are they going to buy this July? I hope not Zazzle-- because we just opened a shop there.

There are many other POD companies of course. Two of which are Zazzle and Printfection. We have opened a shop at Zazzle which they don't charge us money for, and we get to set our own prices/commissions (for now). There are a lot of other perks at Zazzle, and I now wish we'd branched out sooner. However, it is possible for terms of service to change there also, and we could find ourselves in the same boat as before, with hundreds if not thousands of hours of our time and efforts invested, and our "partner" suddenly skimming 80% of our profits in plain view. As an artist I now have to warn others to be very cautious about putting their creative work into the hands of others. If you're new at this and you think that 10% sounds pretty good-- yeah, it could be if you manage to sell $1000 retail every day of the week, and I guess some people do, but not many. At that level you'd really have to ask yourself if a 10/90 split is a good deal for you, cuz it ain't. If you can sell in big numbers, invest the money in your own production. Don't give it all away to a glorified print shop ( a POD company ).

Working with POD companies is essentially self publishing, meaning nobody judges your work and it's up to you to sell direct to the public. So before you jump in, ask yourself who is going to sell more units; Walmart, with some lame design which is nonetheless incredibly palatable to a wide number of people? Or you, all alone with your masterpiece. It probably really is a masterpiece. That doesn't matter much. Even on the Internet you're going to want top placement: that means you want people seeing your design first, and if possible, mostly your design amongst a small quantity of other high quality designs. This is where 10% commissions versus much higher commissions become so vitally important. If a big chain store offers you even 5% that might be a real good thing for you. But conversely if you're going to sell small quantities yourself you need to do a lot better per unit. Personally, I'm not all about the money. If I thought it would be cool to sell greeting cards myself on the street corner making a dollar per unit, I would do that. Success isn't always about money.

By the way, 10% is considered a fair licensing fee. A licensing fee is what a company pays an artist for the rights (usually limited rights) to reproduce their work. It's considered fair because the company pays you upfront and you sign away the limited rights to a specific design. The limits usually involve time limits, and a maximum number of units reproduced. You still own the design, they are just renting it. So, for example they say, "Hey, we'll give you 10% of ten thousand units for one year on a coffee mug. We'll sell them at $3.00 each (wholesale) and you'll get thirty cents. Here is your advance check for $3,000." Of course, you could do it yourself instead: buy 10,000 white porcelain mugs here with a one color design for 98 cents each, put em all in a truck and drive around selling them to retail outlets at 3 bucks a unit. Better yet, if you're the retailer you get to sell them at 6 bucks and you've increased your investment sixfold.

On the other hand, if your one color design only looks good to you, your mom, your wife and one of your best friends ( the rest tend to change the subject when asked, or they say the design is "interesting" ) then YIKES. You just blew 3 grand plus shipping, storage costs etc. This is why people get tempted by "print on demand." Your risk is minimal. There's no risk for the POD company either, so when they get greedy there just isn't any excuse for it. They aren't going to mass market a print run of 10,000 for you, they aren't paying you anything up front, they just throw your designs in with thousands of others and it's all up to you if you can possibly get your work noticed. There's a lot more to that but I have to get off this POD thing.

If I were a retailer, I'd get into the manufacturing business on at least one product, even if I had to produce it myself in the back room. As an artist, I have to consider becoming a retailer/manufacturer, because at least you have some control, and the risk is somewhat outweighed by the possibility of selling your one dollar item for six or eight bucks even if "cute" and "funny" are it's primary attributes. Right? That means you have a break even point on your investment after selling only a fraction (one sixth or one eighth) of your inventory. The rest is gravy.

Which brings me to my next point, fine art, and selling original works (not reproductions). If you're Andy Warhol, you'd be dead and you wouldn't care about any of this. But if you're a living breathing reasonable facsimile of Andy Warhol, you'd take your 3,000 mugs with the same design and stack them up in an art gallery. The entire piece would be "conceptual art" and the price tag might be in the millions of dollars. If you're Damien Hirst, you might do the same thing. In fact, if you're Damien Hirst and you stack up 3,000 coffee mugs anytime soon I'll appreciate advance payment for stealing my conceptual art.

Damien Hirst is the highest paid artist in the world. He's a conceptual artist. He conceives of things, he doesn't make anything himself, except amazingly clever titles, without which much of his work would make no sense at all. I'm pretty sure that makes him the most highly paid WRITER in the world, but what do I know about fine art. So, if Damien has a concept which is photographic in nature, he'll hire a photographer to take a picture of a human skull. Then he'll hire a printer to print it on a t-shirt. Then he'll have an assistant wrap the t-shirt around the human skull, photograph that, and print it on a another t-shirt. Then he'll wear the t-shirt to one of his gallery openings and title it "enough is enough" and some rich guy will hand him fifty thousand bucks to give him the shirt off his back. Far be it for me to Judge. Damien, if you need a photographer, I'm available. I think you're cool man. Really cool. I'm not kidding. You and I would totally get along.

It's judgement which put Damien Hirst where he is today. Not my judgement, and not even his, but the judgement of those in the art-world who have gained the reputation to be "the arbiters of taste." I understand that his big break came when a guy named Saatchi saw his work and liked it. Offered to fund future projects. PS, Saatchi is really cool too-- invests a lot of his own money promoting upcoming artists. We need Angels like that. They are, in a sense, the authorities who decide which art is worth thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars. Sadly, it is usually the artist himself who decides that his work is worth two dollars and twenty cents commission on a t-shirt that he's only going to sell a dozen of. . . over the course of two years.

As an artist, besides luck, judgement is your most important concept to pay attention to. It's your conceptual art. Like my "Rock On" design. Not a big seller, but it sold lately and it has sold several times. It's not even a very good photo, and as a designer, putting together words and photos is not exactly my strong point. But some people have liked the concept. It's an upbeat way of expressing both concern and conviction over equal rights. It acknowledges that those who are "different", are here and have always been here, will always be here. Rock on baby, that's right. A PhD professor who is an expert on such things told me that it's a metaphor which works on many levels. Yeah, I thought, too bad it doesn't look nicer. A lot of my best photos have never sold, and some of my mediocre ones have sold multiple times. Sometimes it's the concept, sometimes it's just good timing, sometimes it's placement: a dumb joke at the right time and place is actually priceless, but a price tag can be put on it. So, you, or somebody who is a better expert than you should judge where and when and how a specific design should be sold. My "Rock On" design shouldn't be in an art gallery, but maybe it's OK on a t-shirt.

In some cases therefore, an artist might have his work in several different venues and in many different forms, depending on what the design is most suited for. Some oil paintings reproduce extremely well. They might never have the power and impact of the original, and reproductions will probably never have the pull as a financial investment that an original does. But you, the artist only gets to sell the original one time. Frig magnets are forever. An in-between solution is to sell limited production, signed and numbered reproductions. That means that you, the artist is promising to only reproduce a piece a set number of times, thus preserving the value of each print as something rare. It goes without saying that the limited run should be of the highest possible quality. The best bet for an artist investing in print repros is to be particular, but not over the top insane about exact color matching. If you want to form a relationship with a print shop, you let the best that they can do be good enough-- and then you tell them what a fantastic job they did, and mean it.

Making sales is really what it's all about (to you, or you wouldn't be reading this), but it might be the last thing that you do as an artist looking to make money. There are a lot of good reasons for that. For one thing you don't want the "cart leading the horse." This can happen when an artist has a popular design early in their career. Next thing you know, they make ten more designs remarkably similar to the first one. Now you've plagiarized yourself. Writers fall for that trap too. Sure, it worked for Louie L'Amour and his western pulp novels, but Annie Dillard? Please, move on. "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso isn't exactly mainstream, commercial, or even pleasing to the eye some would say. But it was one of the most expensive paintings of all time, until Damien Hirst sold his platinum, diamond-studded human skull (with real human teeth!) for about a hundred million dollars. Some say that Damien Hirst bought the piece himself, titled "for the love of god", thus grabbing the title of most expensive art sale (of a living artist) of all time-- but don't get mad, take notes. He's a conceptual artist. He's making a statement. And he's doing it better than any other conceptual artist ever has.

So let's say you've built your skills and talent over a period of years. Maybe you have an education in the arts, which is probably a good idea. You've sold a few things here and there, you've been in ruts, stuck, stagnant, repeating yourself, and you've crawled out of them too. You also have extended high points creatively. Now you're ready to really start making some sales. Well here is the real secret that you've been waiting for: don't. Don't sell anything. Make the next art project you do be the least likely thing that you'll ever sell. Artists build upon reputation, and reputation is built by not caring if anyone else loves your art, as long as YOU do. Don't believe me? ask Damien Hirst, or any other successful artist. Art is made for art's sake, it belongs to everyone, and even if high rollers trade in art like it were stock options that's OK because it supports the concept of the value of the human spirit as precious and irreplaceable. So, after you've made your art that won't sell, donate it to a museum. Then do it again. Find some people who will look at your art and make statements about it in writing, like art critics. Because here is the most ironic bit of all: a successful artist follows the dictates of his soul, then art critics and connoisseurs critique it, bash it, and eventually some of them like it. When the public learns that art critics and other experts like it-- then they'll buy it in droves, and at a fair price, but not before. People want to be told what to like and treasure, they want to be told what's valuable. I really, really hate that, but it's true. The best way to make money as an artist then, is to build a reputation which is of course built on the foundation of not caring what anybody thinks. You can always sell your Frig magnets later on, but the best way to make money as an artist is to get the fame by having your work noticed, judged, even hated. Then Walmart will offer you 15%, but only after you're dead. That's the art world. If you understand it better than I do, leave me a comment because I really want to know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome to Planet Arizona

Welcome to planet Arizona. Not to be confused with Planet, Arizona
You get a different angle on things out here.
Even shooting blind gets some interesting results sometimes.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More rural art photos around snowflake and Taylor, Arizona

The presence of Grandmother, still here. I got up near dawn the other day and spotted this fantastic household scene. My mother is surely an artist. My family is full of artists. I'm so lucky to be around them, and to have been raised by them.

Saw this rural scene walking through Taylor and had to capture it. The cows were nuzzling each other and playing, except for the one who had taken ownership of the single tree in this huge meadow.
Irrigation canals like this one remind me of my childhood in Turlock, California. Click on any of the photos above for a larger view.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Destructive Hand of God

Wow, Ganesha is not what I had in mind but I randomly came up with this photo and it fits. Ganesha is the "remover of obstacles."

Yes, God the destroyer--- the third part of the Hindu trinity of Creator, Preserver, Destroyer. Not that I'm Hindu, but sometimes these definitions are useful. Not that I seek to define God: as that would literally mean "to make finite".

Anyway somebody is in "take away" mode right now. And I'm not whining. No, I'm not. Not right now anyway. I mentioned Cafepress recently-- an outlet for artists to self publish their work, and the fact that thousands of artists just got about 60-80% of their money taken away. There is more to it than that, a lot more, but for now let's just say we're amongst that group. You could say that we're some of the lucky ones in that we never made much money there anyway. In essence we all got fired, just not all of us have admitted it yet. I have a grand theory explaining it all but I'll write that down here later. Anybody who has ever worked corporate knows that money explains everything, even ridiculous bald-faced lies and seemingly incredibly stupid decisions.

Then there is Craigslist; a free online advertising venue for goods, services and more. We had been using them for a long time. Just the other day we realized that they wouldn't allow any postings with photos under therapeutic services anymore. Then a day or two later we discovered that they are now charging ten bucks every time you place an ad in that section. Right there that makes it not worth it for us. Oh, poor us, but then those ads never really worked all that well anyway-- and they especially don't work out here in the desert. We no longer have an in-person, face to face practice because we are too remote from everything. Telephone sessions are what remains, and Craigslist is all built around that which is physically local to the shopper or potential client.

Another prominent marker of Craigslist is that they list a lot of "erotic services" ads, and unfortunately many of those ads have ended up in Therapeutic Services despite explicit warnings that they aren't allowed there; they have their own section after all. So, Craigslist decided to fix a few problems at once: no photos in that section kind of put the hurt on the sex ads, and then the ten dollar charge was supposed to discourage postings in therapeutic when they really belonged in erotic. You see, they had already started charging the ten-spot in Erotic, and for awhile it just made matters worse in Therapeutic. So now, if you check Phoenix, for example, therapeutic is almost exclusively sex ads which are mildly disguised as legitimate therapy. Because (duh, craigslist!) most sex workers can afford the ten bucks over and over, and most, say metaphysical counselors would rather raid the piggy bank to pay for lunch. Hilarious, really, that the sex workers now pretty much own two sections on CL, and us more mainstream types have been driven out. In Flagstaff, by the way, Therapeutic services contains exactly zero ads now. But hey, what in the world were we thinking having our ads right between "Sweet Melonie Massage" and "Man for Men Rub-a-Dub!"

More funny Craigslist stuff: I used to post ads for my art-work under for sale. If you post once in a while, you get very, very few looks. Maybe several the first day, then nothing after. If you post too often, people eventually get mad and the ad gets pulled down. Basically, abusing the free ad privilege pays off though, and a lot of people have figured that out. I abused it some. A little bit. I wasn't the worst of them. I tried not to be annoying. But CL got wise to me a couple of times. This time-- they pulled down several of my art ads at once, but not all of them. They left a single art ad in the middle untouched, in Paris, France. Sigh, I guess we'll always have Paris. I think they are trying to tell me something. I think they have an excellent sense of humor too. I just wish I knew who to write to and could thank them for it. Did those ads really sell my art well enough to be worth the time and effort of placing them? No way. Not even close.

The Jeep still works but a mouse crawled into the ventilation fan and built a nest. The AC part stopped working a while ago. For you Californians: we're in Arizona, and it's June.

A lot of stuff still works though and I am glad for that. I am thinking that Sheryl and I are being assisted with the concept of "One door closes, another opens." Sometimes it takes blind faith to close a door and stand in the darkness. But I do think that sometimes that door must be closed first, that it standing ajar actually prevents the better one from opening.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Overgrown House

I love these old, overgrown houses. Click the photo to see it larger.


Hey, get a job you, or you're going to end up in the gutter.

Anybody know what kind of snake this is? I suppose I'll have to learn to identify baby rattlesnakes before I start crouching down again to take pictures of the "cute little snake."
I'm off to google that right about now. This guy did threaten to bite me. That was cute too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

At the end of the rainbow

Like a lot of us, Sheryl and I are still seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We have the good fortune to pursue our various interests as entrepeneurs and there's a lot of upside to that, mostly having to do with the freedom to make our own choices, the control over our own lives and business decisions without having to run it by "the boss" because we are the boss. But it's not easy, and too often it's not rewarding enough. In essence, everything we do is self published, self promoted, self everything. Very recently we suffered a setback where our self publishing intersected a big corporation called "Cafepress." I'll write more about that another time, (and I have already blogged here about it some) but just picture the worst of both worlds: all the responsibility of a self run business and a sudden money grab by a corporation who actually holds your puppet strings.

When we were back in Santa Cruz, California, we got pretty good at getting ourselves known. All our client feedback was at least 99% positive, we got oursleves in the newspapers several times (in a good way) plus we had a print advertising budget. But it wasn't enough. If we had been in another more mainstream line of work, like say, yard maintenence, we'd have been the best known in the entire region and would have been making great money.

Long story short, the least affordable county in the entire nation was not in the least bit affordable enough for us. I began to understand that getting mass publicity on a scale we could hardly imagine would apppear to be the necessity just to live in the Bay Area and eek out a living there. Like I said, it's because being independent spiritual counselors/healers is not all that mainstream. Oddly enough, we consider oursleves pretty maintstream: what we do is a lot like any counseling session. Hard to picture that we'd have to write books and become as well known as a Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Caroline Myss, but it's starting to look that way. Those guys don't self-publish. They're part of the great mass media machine, and I do understand why.

In photography too, in art, writing, even in Sheryl's perfume business the common factor is that we're doing it all oursleves, and we'd be doing a lot better with a little help. So, currently we're looking at those options. Exactly what help do we need to enlist, what's OK with us and what isn't--because we do a lot of different things, it's complicated and we'll have to be addressing it one step at a time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Con men and the "free gift scam"

Not talking about a "buy one get one free" or "buy five and get a free gift", those are often perfectly legit. Sheryl will give you a free Reiki Teddy bear if you buy a certain number of her retail perfumes, but that's very upfront, an honest incentive. This is something altogether different. I did a little research online about recognizing scams and cons (aka confidence artists) after we got a couple of suspicious phone calls. My mother is in an age group where she gets preyed upon by nefarious types on a pretty regular basis.

Here is a variation on the "free gift" scam. Picture this:

A guy from a shipping company calls on the phone to verify your address in order to deliver a large package. "What? we didn't order anything."
"It's got your phone number on it, but the rest of the address label is illegible-- we don't even have a return address. So, if it's not yours, then I don't know what we're going to do with it. We can't store it, haven't got the space."
"But we didn't order anything. . ."
Then the guy chats with you for awhile in a friendly way, just making conversation, comes across as a real regular guy, makes jokes, seems to be in no hurry. He takes his time in sealing the deal.
"So, are you SURE you didn't order this, because it's a really nice army generator, heavy duty. Maybe somebody you know sent you a gift or something. Do you have any use for a generator?"
"Well, yeah, as a matter of fact we do need one, pretty badly-- ours is on it's last legs."
"No kidding. I guess I'd feel better about delivering it to you then. Because we're just going to mark it down as "lost in transit." Like I said we don't have any place to store this, can't send it back either. . . we just need to get rid of it. Is it OK if we deliver it tomorrow?"

The phone call went on for quite a while: the guy was extremely polite and ingratiating. Just trying to do his job. We'd be doing him a big favor by accepting this package, and after all, it does have our phone number on it. The entire rest of the tag is obliterated, except the word "seacrest" and do we happen to know anything about that?

But that's as far as we got. Unfortunately they've confirmed our address (it's listed anyway). The somewhat scary part: the fact that we have a generator and could use a new one one. How did they know who to target ? As free gifts go, not everyone wants a big old generator. Out here, however, everybody wants one. We got a bit roped in because we thought, well, what could be the harm in having a package dropped off-- we'll leave it sealed for awhile and it will just be like a lost and found. If nobody claims it, then I guess it's ours. That's basically how the idea was sold to us. The guy even said they'd pick it up again within 2 weeks if we didn't want it.

How do I know it's a scam? First, it makes no sense. No legit shipping company wants to knowingly deliver a large, expensive item to a wrong address. It costs some money to send a truck out here, and you just don't "lose" something on purpose. I'm sure every shipping company has ways of dealing with illegible tags, and this isn't one of those ways.

The guy wouldn't identify himself, the name of his company, nor would he give us a callback number. Packages get tracked, they get signed for every step of the way. And a big generator ships insured-- there would be follow up, that is, if this item really exists at all (which I doubt). He also said the item is "already on the truck". Oh yeah? already on it's way to some completely unknown destination? Just waiting for an address to be dictated by telephone? Our smooth talker made a couple of small mistakes, but overall he was pretty good and pretty convincing.

Anyway it has all the earmarks of a con: the victim gets a free offer for something that they actually need pretty badly; something big and expensive. But it's just a little shady, slightly dishonest because the con man would rather that you felt a little bit naughty, a little bit lucky, and a little bit ashamed so that you don't go around talking to other people about it; especially the police. So today, I think, the story will change just a bit. We'll get another phone call. Shipping delayed, perhaps. Or, "you can have it for the cost of shipping". Something like that. I don't actually expect a big truck to show up in the driveway with a free gift. Box of rocks maybe, at best-- and a demand to pay a shipping charge before we open it, but I don't think so. I can think of several other ways that it might play out, but we don't really want to play.

I think the guy is going to call and request credit card info or cash on delivery or some such-- it could easily be an identity theft scam. Very safe for him, no face, no name, no phone number-- no recourse. Again, I'd be really surprised to see an actual truck out here-- with license plates, etc. Too risky for the con man. But it could happen.

So, watch out people. This guy came across as very nice. Not a fast talker, but a more or less constant talker, not giving you enough pause to think. He took his time, apparently called about a week before also, just laying down a little groundwork.

We'll be telling all our friends and family out here about it. And they'll tell their friends and so on-- so at least this guy may not be able to pull his scams in this small town.