Lights, Camera, Document!

Now that you’ve created so much art that it stacks up to your ceiling, it’s time to get your camera out before you forget what it all looks like. You’re going to need pictures of them—even the ones you hate. 

It’s important to document your work. All of it. Don’t worry; it’s not a narcissistic thing to do. It’s normal. One day, you’ll look back on some of it and learn a great deal from it. Even if you later destroy or paint over your work, take a good picture of it first. In fact, title it something. Anything. Date it. Then, write it down in a notebook, in a ledger, or on a Post-it. Anywhere. You’ll need it, if not for your historians.

The smartest thing you can do is get some kind of database established. I’m serious. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done to keep track of my art, sales, storage, pricing, collectors, galleries—you name it. It’s the secret weapon for administration by far.

Before I had a database, I titled and numbered every piece I made and wrote it down on notebook paper. I kept these papers in a 3-ring binder. Each artwork had its number (1, 2, 3, and so on) with its title, size, medium, price, and notes about where I made it, where I may have exhibited it, who may have purchased it, and for how much, and other info too, like info about the collector and the transaction. This was all vital information I learned was needed as I went along in my life. Trust me. You’ll want room to fit these things somewhere on the lines of that piece of notebook paper. 

After I had a few hundred paintings in the binder, guess how overwhelming that was to deal with? I’d have to flip through every page of that shit whenever someone asked me how much something was or if I still had it, its size, etc. It was an enormous pain in the ass! 

Do you know how much easier my life was once I entered it all into a database? Well, I can’t be a bigger cheerleader about it. It was a miracle godsend. My advice is to get one before you accumulate a thousand paintings. And you will! 

It is more than wise to make the investment. You really are going to need it sooner than later. For this, you can spend a little money, or a lot. But you do get what you pay for. There are cheaper, cloud-based inventory management apps like artmoi and Artwork Archive that start roughly around $10 a month (or less). But there are expensive ones too, like ArtLogic at $40 a month, which is more extensive, or ArtBinder, which will charge you something like $180 a month! Sheesh! (Forget it, right?)

There are also professional software programs you can keep on your computer, like Artgalleria for $180 a year (or $18 a month). Or, the best deal seems to be My Art Collection for only 330 bucks and no monthly fees ever. There are others, but you can do your own research. I’ve done enough now.

EDIT: Oh, and I was just informed of Airtable, which, apparently, is free (to a point).

However, if you don’t do a database in some way, shape, or form, write it down in a notebook or something, for christ’s sake. Just keep track!

What database do I use? You might not believe me, but I have a custom-built one that’s almost as complex as Einstein’s brain. Okay, maybe not that crazy complicated, but Hannah and I coded one together about twenty years ago in PHP, and it runs on MySQL. Let’s just say that it runs similarly to how ArtLogic performs when you buy all their customization to integrate their database option with a website. My website runs on this monstrous database that includes thousands of artworks. The viewer sees a website, but there’s a backend where I see all the specs I spoke about for each painting (sales, location, collectors, transactions, shows, series, notes, etc.).

But, what I wanted to say when I started this post, was to make sure that you take good photos of your work. If you have the funds, hire a professional. If you don’t, that’s okay. If you have a decent camera, and even cell phones these days have pretty good lenses (like iPhones do), all you need is a tripod. Always use a tripod! That’s just as important as anything. I have a Canon EOS M50 Mark II with a 49mm lens. It’s a pretty damn good camera, and I paid somewhere around $700 for it. My Samsung phone can take good pictures too, but not as great as the Canon because, of course, the lens is not as fancy.

You can try taking your work outside on a nice, bright day with the sun at either 11:00 am or 1:00 pm—no need to purchase lighting. Hang your art in FULL SHADE. Make sure there are no shapes from any light sources on it. You want flat, even shade on the art, but you and the camera should be in the sun. Get it perfectly square in your viewfinder and take pictures on your auto setting, and you will wind up with pretty good shots. 

If you’re good with Photoshop, you can tweak the pictures a bit in the Levels setting, but if you take your pictures this way, the colors should be pretty much correct. You probably will need little tweaking, and only in this setting.

If you do hire a pro, they cost anywhere from $100-$200 per hour, depending. A professional photographer and a professional art photographer are different. You want someone who has experience in taking pictures of art, not weddings. You can usually get a good ten or twelve pieces done in 90 minutes or so, depending on how you and your photographer work together on setting everything up. It’s fastest when the set-up is in one place and you are switching out the paintings on the wall, not the lighting. That’s a smart way to do it. Maybe you can it done in less time that way. 

If you can’t get your images cropped perfectly, a white background is best, so shoot against a white wall. If you’re doing it on your own outside, and you don’t have a white background, crop your photos in Photoshop. If they aren’t cropped to the edges, that looks like shit.

I save my images multiple times (many different versions) for various purposes: for print, for the web, and for my website. The first one is the RAW version, just as it came off the camera. It’s usually a .tif file. I save it in a separate folder on my computer. This is either when I do it myself or hire my photographer.

Then I’ll start making .jpgs at their highest resolution at 300 DPI, with the print size as big as the camera allows. My camera allows pretty large, so I can save it at about 11 x 14 inches sometimes. Usually, I’ll just save it at about an 8 x 10-inch size or a 4 x 6, depending. 

Then, I’ll save a couple of large web versions at 72 DPI because that’s the largest the web can read anyway. One will be about 1500 pixels large, and one will be 900 pixels large. The 900-pixel one is for the detail image on my website. The bigger one is to email my gallery and whatnot.

Lastly, I make two more for my site. One is for the page with all the info on it, roughly 500-700 pixels high/wide, and a thumbnail, which is always 75 pixels high (sharpened in Photoshop). 

Jeez, that’s like seven versions! Believe it or not, I need them all. At times, galleries or publications want super-large files for press releases and printing, and the others are standard for my site, so there. 

Also, when you have an exhibit, take pictures of your work installed on the walls. That’s a good idea too. It gives a sense of scale.

Okay, so all this info was probably overkill, maybe even a little boring for those of you that already know this stuff, but for those of you who are interested and on the edge of your seat with bated breath, here it is! Happy documenting!

Next time, I will talk about pricing artwork, which is probably what you’ve all been waiting for. Or maybe not. I have no clue.

4 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Document!

  1. DJenne DJeno December 29, 2022 / 1:31 pm

    Your thoughts please … for various reasons I take my own photos, and only sell prints from them. I may edit to create a digital version of the physical pic. Removes a barrier to posting images. Interested in thoughts about this type of digital print Vs original work.

    • Ayin Es December 29, 2022 / 1:55 pm

      I’m not sure what you are doing exactly, so I can’t comment. 🙁

      Can you explain this differently? Do you mean you don’t sell original, physical art and only sell edited prints of it? Is this a selling question or a documenting question? Sorry I’m so confused.

  2. Hannah December 29, 2022 / 2:00 pm

    There’s a free option for a database:

    It’s not an *art* database, but you can make it do whatever you need. The free version gives you Airtables up to 1,200 entries, that’s a lot.

    • Ayin Es December 29, 2022 / 2:01 pm

      Ha ha…I just edited the post to include this. Thank you so much!!! 🙂

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