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America Creates

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

America Creates - a new site for artists, craftspeople and patrons of the arts

Two refugees from the corporate world have started up America Creates, a new artists site with some interesting features.  The website is unique for a number of reasons, and stands out among the crowd of wannabe art destination sites. For starters, its creators, Sharon Sinclair and Larry Hitchcock both have extensive creative backgrounds. Larry worked as Creative Director at Disney for years, and was a veteran of rock concert staging before that. Sharon, his partner also has a background in stage design and interior design. Together, they share a love for handmade objects and American craft. 

But the site is more than a pretty storefront. They’ve thoughtfully included whole sections on resources for the creative community, forums, blogs and even a way for artists to post video of themselves working in the studio. In their own words:

America Creates is an Internet business that connects American artisans with a local, regional, national and worldwide markets.

America Creates is a showplace for creative goods and services produced by independent American artists and artisans.

America Creates raises awareness of the people, places and events that support creativity in their own communities.

America Creates fosters the education of future generations with learning experiences in the classroom and apprentice programs with local artists and artisans.

America Creates revitalizes the concept of community, inviting all to participate.

The site is still in its infancy, and is looking for talented artists to participate. It is a juried site, so you must go through a vetting process before you are allowed to post work. For more information on how to join America Creates as an artist, click here. If you don’t already have a website, or ecommerce abilities on your current site, this is a terrific opportunity. Joining the site as an artist or crafter is free, but America Creates takes a 25% on any sales made through the site. There is no charge for listing items, unlike Etsy, so limited editions or multiple sizes or colors is not an issue. Creating variations on a single piece is still a bit kludgy, though, as there’s no way to add your own attributes if the pre-filled ones don’t cut it for you.

But there’s more to America Creates than just a store front. Larry and Sharon hope to enable the site as an information hub for events; creative services; guilds and co-ops, galleries, museums and art centers; art schools and associations, and any other resource that you can think of. Listings are free, and it’s a great way to promote your artistic endeavors to a broad audience. The concept of making it an art-based community is unique and sets it apart from sites that are mainly designed to sell. 

Larry and Sharon have recently hired a SEM (Search Engine Marketing) firm to help get the word out. They have ambitious plans for publicity, and the practical experience to make this a great place to find information on anything art related. Their goal is give artists the best marketing tool they ever had, but they need you and your work to make it wonderful.

Some thoughts on editions

My work consists of two kinds of prints: canvas gallery wraps and traditional matted and framed prints. The canvases are all long skinny aspect ratios, both horizontal and vertical; the prints are all 2:3 aspect ratio, so the mix isn’t too glaring in the booth.

There is a distinct difference between my canvas prints and my traditional prints. I use canvas for oversize panoramas that can’t be glassed. My other alternative would be laminated and mounted prints; the gallery wraps work better for me, as I can make them myself. For me, this is an important distinction.

The substrate is not as an important part of the determination within the print editions for me, as printing an entire edition at one time is no longer necessary or practical. I use archival, fine art paper for each image — current favorites are Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper and Breathing Color Chromata canvas. Inks change, printers change and often the same substrate changes over the life of an edition, especially show editions, which are typically 250. I think of these editions as somewhat organic. Usually the changes make the image better. 

If I change the image significantly, it becomes a new edition — ie crop, color vs black and white. At that point, I’ll often discontinue the older edition. If the edition changes only slightly, it remains in the same number sequence, and becomes part of the history of the image itself (improved contrast, slight saturation changes, different substrate. All of the sizes are part of the single edition. My COA states this.

OTOH, if an image has both prints and canvas, I do create a separate, smaller edition for the canvas prints. The break point is size and the big difference between the look. They are very different usually, in aspect ratio, presentation and the feel of the detail in the print. I’d characterize the canvas images more as “décor” pieces, while the traditional prints are more formal.

I’ve seen lots of bad prints — but quality is somewhat subjective. Sometimes you can see banding in fine gradients or noise in the shadow details. Some folks like lots of saturation, or really really sharpened prints. Blotchy color, banding, magenta or green color casts are all hallmarks of a poorly printed image. Too much of anything makes a print look bad. 

A really good printer can overcome many defects in an image, but just like the darkroom, pushing it too far runs the risk of making the print look garish.  I’ve made a few of those myself, and over time, as I get better at the craft, will go back and refine my printing technology to remake those image. The early prints become a record of where I was, even with those defects. 

The key for me is that I print my own work, and record the various moves in the edition, as well as the provenance of each print. That history is important to me, even though it entails a lot more work than sending a batch to the lab.

The Digital Edition — for better or worse

Holding Back the Wave

Photographers are married to technology

In the Yahoo Group ArtshowPhoto, the question was raised the other day — how are digital editions different from traditional darkroom prints? The poster said:

…Digital made [photography] harder because now photographers had to learn a new set of tools…it’s like going from tin types to 35-mm processing. Still the same concept but the process changed. On the other hand for those who’ve embraced it, yes, the computer is your darkroom. You can burn, dodge and do all that fixing in Photoshop that you used to do in your darkroom, but the true problem is that you can also save. The true difference between a series of the same photo printed in a darkroom vs that printed in Photoshop is the ones that come out of your Epson printer all look the same. You’ll never burn and dodge exactly the same way twice under an enlarger.

My question is,” Can this be used as a marketing tool?”

Would the public be knowledgeable enough about photography to buy into the idea that someone didn’t save the final files and each print produced is an original version of the same image taken from the ‘original RAW negative file’?

In reality, it’s just the other way around. Depending on the process, a digitally printed edition may vary just as significantly over time as an edition of individually printed darkroom prints. The inksets change, the printers change and the paper changes. Unless all of the editions are printed at the same time, it’s more likely that the prints will change as well.

As a photographer and darkroom technician, some of us are constantly striving to improve upon the subtle nuances of an image through printing changes. Ansel Adams did this with many of his images. “Moon Over Hernandez”, for example. Whether the changes are for the better or worse within any given edition is a moot point, as the edition serves to trace the trajectory of the image’s life through prints.

The first few prints are exploratory in nature, and are usually reserved as proofs. A suitable medium is found — whether it’s watercolor paper and matte ink or N paper and selenium toner — and the prints made from that point forward tend to be similar if not exactly the same. At some point in time, the technology allows for new ideas to be introduced into the printing of the edition, and the prints may diverge. Depending on your COA statement, this may be part of your process in a single edition or another edition may emerge.

And, if you’re honest with your patrons, no, it isn’t all lies. Full disclosure, while not “de rigeur” is certainly best.

Saving isn’t a problem, but a necessity. Typically the original RAW negative file is going to take some sharpening, at the very least, and some major corrections and compositing on the other hand, to get to a final printing master. Most of the time, the public could care less about how you got there. They just want to know enough about the image to know you didn’t steal it off the internet 😉 so that they can validate you as an artist. The people who ask the technical questions are often amateur photographers themselves, and not necessarily buyers. Start talking about f-stop and reciprocity failure and most folks will just smile and glaze over. It’s all about the image, not the process, although the process can be interesting to some people.

Digital also raised the bar in some ways — many people can get in at an entry level much more easily than in the film days, but it takes a serious investment to keep up with the technology as it evolves much more quickly. Cameras, printers and paper all come and go within 18-36 months, leaving the working pro to upgrade to stay current. Unlike the old days, you can’t hold back the wave of technology, but only embrace it.

Is it Art or is it Fine Art?

Abstract Buildings

The question has been raised…

… what separates a photograph from being labeled “fine art” and one from just the regular “photograph” label?

IMHO, “fine art” has just become an overused label that people apply to just about everything, hence downgrading the meaning of the term. A photograph is a photograph whether or not you regard it as a “fine” photograph or merely an “okay” photograph. As for the “art” part, that is mostly in the eye of the beholder. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, as Rhymin’ Simon used to say. I’ve seen the term applied to velvet paintings sold out of the back of a van along the highway, so I choose not to use it, letting the viewer apply whatever label they feel is appropriate. If they see a couch where I photographed a sofa, that’s their prerogative.

If the viewer thinks it’s art, then it is, for that viewer. Another viewer may think it’s junk. Take Jackson Pollock for example. Was he gaming the system, or creating fine art? For me, if a viewer becomes a customer because they think a piece will look good on the wall, then it must be art. And if it’s fine enough for them to plunk down their hard-earned cash, then that’s fine enough for me.

Art is very subjective. Whether or not a specific piece is perceived as art has mainly to do with perceived talent. The more unique and individual the viewpoint expressed in the piece, the more likely it is to be perceived as “art”, since it obviously took talent to create it. Since most people don’t have that kind of talent, it must have been created by an artist. Ergo, the more unique the piece, the more talent. Certain types of work lend themselves to this perception more readily — things that ordinary folks who are not artist can’t create, like ceramics, or large super realistic oil paintings or pastel drawings, to cite just a few examples. Since it takes skill to create this perception, is the real art in the creation of the piece, or in the ability to market the piece?

Unfortunately, photographs are easy for average humans to create nowadays. Does that make them less “artful”? Perhaps — if the image in question is a picture of Yosemite taken from a roadside viewpoint, amid the throngs of tourists. And even so, there is a bit of challenge in making a photograph and not just taking a picture under such conditions. It can be done, sometimes with skill, sometimes with parlor trickery. And it is that skill which defines photography as art.

This is a rhetorical question for art show photographers, since what matters to most of us is not becoming famous or getting rich, but making a living. The first two, if they happen (rarely), are a bonus. If customer perception of the work as “fine art” will help achieve those goals, great. And so, artists in general apply the label “fine art” as a marketing term, nothing more, hoping that the label alone will sell the work.