4 Types of artwork, and why I love them all

Last Light, Mt. Robson, Canadian Rockies

I had a thought driving down the road somewhere between Miami and Tampa last week. It occurred to me that there are several different kinds of artwork that people gravitate towards. Each type reinforces positive thought patterns in the viewer, which is why folks buy art in the first place. (I don’t know of many people who buy art that they hate!) And since I’m a photographer, I’m going to talk about three of them, in photographic terms. You can feel free to apply them to your favorite medium as you wish. I’ll get to the fourth in a minute.

Aspirational work — places you’d like to go, things you’d like to do. This type of work is often inspirational as well, providing some incentive to complete a task, or reach a goal. Climbing Mt. Robson, for example, or going to Italy. One of the reasons that the Tuscan photographers do so well on the art show circuit is that many people have strong desires to visit the places that the Italian guys photograph. Images of tall mountain peaks likewise inspire the armchair mountaineer in us all. We may never get to Katmandu, but we enjoy the view all the same. While hanging a picture on the wall is a poor substitute for visiting faraway places, it can provide a strong incentive to save those shekels and go.

Freedom of the Hills

Emotional work — by far, this is the largest category, and the strongest reason for buying a particular piece of artwork. Images that reach out and grab us by the heartstrings, or remind us of a life-changing event. Wedding pictures fall into this group, of course, but so do subtler images of places we’ve been. Conceptual images are also a contender in this arena, and often those pictures that don’t recall a specific place work better than those that do. These images tend to provoke a feeling, as well as recalling memories, and can be very effective as a reminder of  those good times. I often tell people “There’s no better image than the one you shoot yourself.” While my images may be better, if you were there and took the picture, that’s the one that will speak the loudest to you.

Images like “Freedom of the Hills“, on the other hand, don’t speak to a specific place or time, but remind us all of those moments where we were on top of the world, celebrating the joy of living, or the joy of being up high in the mountains.


Meditative artwork goes one step further, and is often abstract in nature. Patterns of natural elements, color fields, motion blurs — these can all conjure up peaceful feelings in the viewer. Sometimes a meditative piece works very well as a focal point in your living room. The non-specific nature of a meditative work can accent a color mood, or enhance a less traditional point of view. Sometimes you just don’t want a picture of the Grand Tetons hovering over your couch!

Functional art is the last category, and while photography falls outside of this boundary, many people like artwork that serves a purpose. Ceramics, glass vessels, wearables, jewelry — these are all examples of functional artwork. I know I like my everyday items to be designed well and to be beautiful to look at as well as serving the purpose for which they were designed. While you can’t hang functional work on the wall, it falls into a whole ‘nother category.

Personally, I produce all three kinds of work, for different reasons. I started my photographic career shooting pictures of landmarks in national parks, and have since moved away from what I call “drive by shootings”. Drive-bys are easy to do, common viewpoints that everyone sees, and everyone shoots — not too emotionally involving. I love pictures that tell a story without being “place speicific”: my recent ghost town work works on two levels, that of collective memory, as well as documentary of places in slow decay. I’ve recently started working on some abstract color fields that intrigue me and push me in a whole different direction — you can see these meditative pieces here. How about you? What kinds of artwork do you prefer? Drop me a line or leave me a comment.

Photoshop’s new HDR Pro — Gimmick or blessing?

Assay Laboratory, Vulture Mine

HDR image, Assay Laboratory, Vulture Mine

I’ve not been a huge fan of HDR (High Dynamic Range photographs) up until now. I toyed with Photomatix, and the bundled plug-in with previous versions of Photoshop, but was less than impressed. However, the newest version of Adobe’s Photoshop (CS5) includes a brand-spanking new plug-in that is worth the price of the upgrade: the aptly named HDR Pro. Almost an application in its own right, HDR Pro will take multiple exposures and extract the highest possible dynamic range from them, while merging them to a new image file. I’ve been playing around with a couple of image from Vulture City, and I was impressed with the new plug-in. Previous versions of Photoshop were pretty lacking in the amount of control you had over the end file, but the latest version allows granular exposure, gamma and saturation control. There’s also a feature that will try to eliminate ghosting from moving grass, clouds or water. While I haven’t tested it on tough subjects on a windy day, it works well on static subjects with small amounts of camera shake.

Each of these examples was made with three exposures, one over, one under and one one the money. The camera was held steady on a tripod to minimize shake and ghosting. Files are shot in RAW, and imported into Lightroom for minor color correction. I made sure to apply the same amount of color and white balance to all three exposures before importing into Photoshop for the conversion to HDR.

After playing with these images, I’m a convert to HDR for certain subjects. The amount of range and level of detail that you can pull out of a photograph is nothing short of amazing. While this isn’t intended as a full review of HDR Pro, or  Photoshop CS5, you can see that it offers expanded creative possibilities for your photographs. I vote for blessing. What do you think?

Kitchen still life, HDR image

Assay Manager's Residence, Vulture Mine

First Friday in Northville — Photography Night at State of MInd Gallery

The first Friday of every month, downtown Northville galleries and restaurants host the monthly Art Walk. This month, the resident photographers at the State of MInd gallery in Northville, MI will be at the gallery to share stories with you. The Art Walk is a great opportunity to get inside the heads of local artists, and this month’s event is no exception.

Watching the Sun Go Down

"Watching the Sun Go Down" -- Rock figure at sunset, Lake Superior

I’ll be there, as will fellow photogs Kim Kozlowski and Sooney Kadouh of MetroDevious. If you are interested in local color or southwestern themes, we’ve got you covered. Consider yourself personally invited to join us at State of MInd, 120 E. Main St in Northville, this Friday night, January 7, from 7-9PM. We’ll have some tasty stories as well as some tasty snacks to share. You’ll be able to see my Michigan work, as well as some of my classic doors and windows from the Southwest.

And that’s not all. Each of the photographers will be offering a 20% discount on anything purchased during the event. No coupon necessary — just come on by and join the throngs!

A few thoughts on marketing

Asked in a online forum recently:

I am thinking about what I could do differently for the next year for my shows and I am thinking about whether involving a marketing company to do some marketing in the city where the show is held would make a large enough difference to sales to cover the costs. […] Not sure how much the cost would be, but my thoughts are to do a test with a local show, use a marketing company to work on a solid branding as well as get an article in the paper as well as give me a couple of ads to run, that I could then in other towns/cities in advance of shows there. Has anyone had any experiences with this to say that the increase in sales outweighs the cost for the kind of business we do.

Based on my experience in agencies as a creative director, you may find it difficult to find a full-service marketing company affordable enough to make it cost-effective. It sounds like what you may need is a freelance public relations person, who can get you placements with the local media. Buying ads is probably not going to help you as much as personalized appearances and mentions in the news. Think about your audience. Do they read the newspaper? Is there a local magazine? Will they see your ad and remember it when the show comes around? Radio and television advertising is too scattershot to do you much good, except as news.

Free Publicity

If you can get interviewed a day before the show, or during the show on the local news, that’s always good. Free publicity will work better than paid advertising IMHO. Even advertising in the local show program is not generally as effective as you might think. Sure, you’ve got targeted eyeballs in the show program, but most people spend a few seconds at most with each page, often scanning the information, and saving it for when they get home.

Develop Your Own Brand

You might be better off hiring an artist consultant rather than an agency to help you define what differentiates you from similar artists. If you’re creative (and what artist isn’t?), you can do a lot of the marketing part yourself. Especially the branding and design of your materials. (See http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2010/06/07/artists-creatives-internet-marketing/)

Most importantly, you want your brand to reflect your work and your personality as an artist.You may want to hire a designer to help you work on your branding, if you feel that you can’t handle it on your own. Designers, while good at working with the look and content of your materials, may not be the best fit for ad placement and media advice however. It should start with a logo that clearly defines you as an artist, and extends to the look and feel of all of your marketing materials. This includes your business card, letterhead and envelope, your artist statement, booth signage, price tags, your postcards, leave-behinds, portfolio, web site  — anything that finds its way into your customer’s hands. Separate your branding assignment from your advertising needs. Once you have a solid brand, then think about how best to increase awareness of it. Is advertising the best vehicle? or should you spend more time working on direct marketing? What about social networking?

Advertise Only as a Last Resort

If you do decide that you want to run some advertising, make sure that it matches the rest of your branding. Developing ads takes a while — there is a systematic process that you go through to determine what you need, how to get there and how to execute. Many marketing companies do this in a similar fashion, but call it different things. Essentially: Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy. (An example can be found at re:group, an Ann Arbor marketing agency). If you shortcut the process, especially the first two, you may not get what you need. The main thing to remember in advertising that multiple impressions is what usually drives traffic (and sales). And for artshow artists, that’s difficult to do on a limited budget.

Focus on Public Relations

My suggestion is to work on your brand, and focus your attention on public relations & networking activities in those cities that you want to target, rather than spending your hard-earned money on fleeting media placements. Work on getting in front of your target audience through local appearances, interviews, speaking engagements and social networking.

For more advice on marketing, check out Alyson Stanfield’s web sites, or sign up for Ariane Goodwin’s Smartist Summit 2011:


Alyson’s book “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is also a good read and well worth the money.

Ariane Goodwin’s blog can be found at: