074. New Watercolor Tutorial Video: Mountain & Lake

I know... I'm the worst! I have been so bad since returning to Denver about updating my blog and making videos. 
In my defense, I've been REALLY busy with fulfilling Patreon orders, Paintalong tutorial (see results here), streaming, writing my book, studying, collaborations, commissions, and continuing the quest of selling/giving away my stuff.

All good stuff, business-wise.

So here's a new tutorial video for those of you who are learning watercolor!

In this video I talk about the benefits (and tricks) to painting on a small scale - something I do daily. I go through about 100 watercolor postcards a month, and it's VERY different than painting large. They are so great for studies, giveaways, gifts, etc. and really force you to look at minimizing a landscape to it's base elements.

When I'm painting these, I often ask myself "What are the minimum amount of brush strokes required to bring the landscape to life?" And what can I actually fit without making it too "busy?"

And just for fun, here are a couple images from recent projects and work around the studio.

Chinese Rainbow Mountains... probably one of the hardest mountain ranges I've ever painted. It feels so abstract!

Chinese Rainbow Mountains... probably one of the hardest mountain ranges I've ever painted. It feels so abstract!

Dolomites, Italy (practicing minimal brush strokes)

Dolomites, Italy (practicing minimal brush strokes)

The theme for May Patreon postcards!

The theme for May Patreon postcards!

Plus so much research, writing, and illustrations for my book! If you want to find out more about that, visit the official website and see previous blog post!

063. Documenting Artwork

Documenting your work is so important, whether you are a hobbyist or a full time artist. You use images for your portfolio, shop, and social media. Having consistently good images will put you and your work in a better light (pun)!

For those of us who are trying to build our business and make a living through our artwork, it's essential that we make it look as professional as possible! 

20170309_115853_HDR.jpg

First, decide between using a camera to capture your work or a scanner.

For me, that was an easy choice. I come from a photography background, so I already had the knowledge and camera required for good photos. But even more importantly, I often paint very large - sometimes up to 4 feet paintings, and those cannot be scanned!
If you want to scan your artwork, but you don't own a large scanner, you'll need to find a local print shop who can scan large artwork, and they have limits (and it can be pricey).

So this information is for anyone interested in photographing your artwork. This is MY process, and it may differ from other artists, but I hope it helps! Everything in my portfolio was a photo taken with my DSLR and cropped/adjusted in Photoshop after.

Anytime I say "canvas" I am referring to your artwork, whether it's a painting, drawing, or sculpture!

 

Lighting

There are lots of factors to consider when documenting artwork, but lighting is the main challenge. Regardless of your equipment, if you don't understand what good lighting is, your photos will suffer. 

USE NATURAL LIGHT WHENEVER POSSIBLE (But not direct sun)

Each type of light (natural, incandescent, LED, fluorescent, etc) has a different color or "temperature" (warm vs. cool)
Natural light falls in the middle, giving you a very neutral color and most accurately representing your artwork's colors.

Most of us have incandescent or warm LED bulbs in our home, which will cast a warm glow. If you absolutely cannot take photos using natural light, using the artificial light available to you is OK because color can be fixed in post production (to an extent). However what is not OK is low light, or using flashes that create a glare on the artwork. Sometimes, the glare isn't just a white reflection, but a color shift within your shadows. This can be hard to notice until you get into post production, and it's really annoying to fix!

To avoid reflections and glare on your canvas, you need to use indirect lighting. This means making sure there are no direct sources of light hitting your canvas. You can do this by angling your canvas in a certain position with your room. Fill the room with as much light as possible. Don't point light directly at your canvas. Begin angling the canvas and really look at the shadows. If you notice they are "lighter" than they should be or have a slightly different color, this means there's a glare and it WILL show up in your photos.

Keep angling until you find a position that works! Remember to avoid casting a shadow on the work from your body, camera or tripod (I rarely use a tripod).

 

The angle of the photo matters!

Don't take the photo from a harsh angle (from the side). Position the camera DIRECTLY ABOVE the canvas, keeping in mind that you will need to crop the image. Cropping requires straight lines. 

The following examples were taken with my phone (LG G4):

Final image after adjustments.

The last image shows what it looks like after being cropped and the contrast slightly increased.
This painting was not complete at the time, but I wanted to use it as an example because it had a variety of colors, contrast, and texture. These things were captured well with my phone and the final image is perfect for twitter or instagram, or even an online portfolio!

 

DSLR Camera Settings

I always shoot in RAW format (not jpeg) whenever possible.
Most cameras, even point-and-shoots and some phones, have the option to change what file type your images are. RAW format allows you to adjust native settings of the image like exposure, white balance (color), and much more in post production, and it gives you a higher quality image.

Canon: In your camera menu, scroll to the "Image Quality" function and choose RAW.
Nikon: In your camera menu, scroll to "Image Quality" function and choose NEF (RAW).

Keep in mind this will increase your file size, sometimes up to 30mb per image. However it provides the purest, largest, highest quality image, which will allow you to make large poster size prints of your images later if you want!
If you don't have the option for RAW, use the highest jpeg setting available.

Use a high ISO in order to allow as much light into the sensor as possible. If your shadows are "grainy" that means you need more light in the room and a lower ISO (increasing the ISO too much will cause grain).

MAKE SURE THE PHOTO IS IN FOCUS! Stay as still as possible, and take the image directly from above so that every part of the canvas is in focus.

 

Using a Phone

I have the LG G4 phone, and I chose it specifically for the camera. It allows manual settings as well as RAW format! It takes incredibly crisp images and does a great job handling low light.

You can take perfectly decent photos for your portfolio and social media with your camera phone.
(See above examples)

The area that it lacks is usually resolution/file size. If you plan on selling high quality prints of your work down the line, you'll need very high resolution, large files which phones don't always provide. Just keep that in mind.

 

Post Production

After you take the photo, you will need to make adjustments and crop the image to match the borders of your artwork.

I use Photoshop CS6, but you can find other photo editing software out there. Just make sure it allows you to edit RAW images if you use that setting.

When you open a RAW file, it will first open in Adobe Bridge. This allows you to adjust the native settings of the image like exposure and color. If you have a jpeg, open it directly in Photoshop or whatever software you have. You can still adjust these settings in a jpeg to an extent.

The main things I do are:

  1. Crop
  2. Adjust saturation or colors
  3. Adjust contrast (using levels or curves)

 

Social Media

Like I mentioned before, a lot of times using a phone to capture images of your work for social media is perfectly fine, just try to keep lighting, angle, and quality in mind! The more you post consistently good quality images, the more your work will attract others. Posting poorly lit, horribly yellow, or grainy photos of your work just makes the art and your brand look BAD! Give yourself the best chance possible by taking a little extra time and pay attention to the details.

Progress Pics are an excellent way to show off the unique aspects of a medium, whether it's painting or drawing, or whatever! People love progress pics!

Instagram currently offers the choice to upload multiple images to one post, so you can show individual progress photos or closeups of your piece.
Note: For the multiple photo feature, the app auto-crops them to a square, so make sure you take the image from far enough away/the correct angle to fit within a square.

Twitter allows you to upload 4 images at a time, which is also an excellent way to show details or progress shots.

You can also have fun and get creative with your compositions. 

Multiples or closeups don't have to be boring!

If you have any specific questions, please message me or leave a comment below! I'd love to help you reach a level of quality you are proud of!

053. Artist Advice: Shipping Artwork

If you plan on selling physical artwork, you'll need to familiarize yourself with some supplies. I'll talk about the different types of packaging needed for different types of art!

Small Flat Artwork

  • Rigid Envelopes
    I stay stocked up on size A2 (13.25 x 9.25" because my most popular painting size is 9"x12"
    They fit perfectly in these envelopes!
  • I buy mine in bulk on Amazon so they cost less than $1.20 each (free delivery)

Thick Artwork (framed work & canvas)

  • There are many ways you can package your thicker work, but over time I discovered the most cost-effective way is to build my own boxes. 
  • I start off with large "mirror boxes" and cut them down to the size I need. 
  • If you buy them in bulk, they should cost $5 or less each. And depending on the size of item you're shipping, you may be able to make two shipments out of one large box.
  • The mirror boxes I use are telescopic double-walled cardboard, so they are extremely rigid and protect anything inside.
  • I also buy bulk bubble wrap and packing paper for extra padding.
  • Here's a video showing my process for boxing larger items:

This video is from last year, and I've started using thicker boxes & added more padding (bubble wrap) to this process, but you get the idea!

The largest painting I've ever shipped was 2ft x 4ft, and I shipped it from Colorado to UK using this method. It cost $150 for 3 day Priority Express, Tracked, Insured mail. 

Cost of Shipping - Domestic within US

  • Depending on the size of your art, you can save money by shipping Priority. If you ship flat artwork smaller than 12" on it's longest edge, you can use Priority envelopes and ship within the US for about $6.50 - Tracked & Insured
    This is a great option if you want that guaranteed service.
  • For large artwork in thicker packages/boxes, expect to pay minimum $50 per shipment. This will include insurance, tracking, and guaranteed delivery (which your clients will expect). For canvas, my average cost within the US was $60.

Cost of Shipping - International

  • If you're shipping from within the US, to another country, the prices rise drastically.
  • For Priority and generic 12" envelopes, to most countries, you'll pay about $30 (Insured up to $50, but only tracked to the US border)
  • For larger packages/boxes you have a couple options. I ALWAYS ship Priority Express international because the risk of the item getting delayed or damaged is higher.
    This costs about $80-150 to most countries (depending on size/weight of box). 
    This should be paid by the client.
  • If you're shipping from EU to a foreign country, the price is slightly better, especially for smaller flat artwork in rigid envelopes (anywhere from $10-30).
    For larger packages/boxes within the EU expect to pay $50-100 (depending on size/weight of box)

Customs Forms

  • If you're shipping from the US to another country, you'll need to fill out a customs form for anything larger than a regular letter envelope. Such a pain! 
  • The USPS Recently changed their customs forms so that all size packages use the same one (easier!). Grab a handful next time you're at the post office and fill them out ahead of time.
  • If you're shipping International Express, you need to get the customs form with the Express Mail EMS logo on it! Ask the clerk for these
  • Fill out the information as requested on the form, sign & date it. 
  • If you're shipping from within the EU to an EU country, most times you won't need a customs form, unless it's a larger package, going outside the EU. Yay!

Personal Advice

I've shipped over 150 packages, most of them international.
I've only had ONE incident where a canvas was damaged during shipment (from Colorado to Denmark). There was a giant hole in the box and corner of the frame was broken, the canvas was slightly torn. My client was super OK with it, because he ended up framing it under glass, which flattened the canvas and you couldn't see the tear. I still refunded the shipping.

Besides that one incident, I've never had anything get damaged during shipping. 
I still buy insurance for all my packages, just in case. It's all worked into the cost of shipping that the client pays. 
It's a necessary precaution, in my opinion!

If you have any advice or stories of your own, please share them in the comments below!

052. Photography Tips: Chasing the Light

I'm a hunter. A hunter of good light.
Over the years I've played with many artificial lighting techniques, including strobes, umbrellas/reflectors, and even timed flashes. 

They served me well in different scenarios, especially weddings, where the lighting is often unpredictable, and the party stretches late into the night (darkness).

However, nothing has ever quite captured my fancy like natural light. The power of the sun.
No batteries, no extra equipment. Just me, the camera, my clients, and the incredibly flattering natural light. For most photographers, the thrill of capturing a beautiful image is hard to top. And for me, doing that with pure natural light was the ultimate joy.

Dori & Philip's engagement sessions, 2015.

While artificial light has its uses, the beauty of natural light is hard to beat.
There's something exhilarating about chasing and finding the perfect light. 

For most photo shoots, I would tell my clients to be ready 3 hours before sunset. I'd pick them up, drive out to whichever location I had in mind, and we'd just have fun following the sun! We'd walk/hike/drive around, finding awesome backdrops and great angles to capture the sunlight. It was a very relaxed way of shooting, and I wasn't worried about lugging equipment around. The heaviest thing I brought were my lenses! My clients enjoyed the "freedom" of this style and in turn, they were more relaxed and natural in front of the camera.

Bridal Portrait Session, 2014

The "golden hour" is the best time, as the sun is low on the horizon, casting it's yellowish/orange rays. The golden hour takes place approximately 1-2 hours before sunset.
Noon is the worst time for outdoor photographs, because the sun is directly above us, creating harsh, unwanted shadows on faces, and the color of the light is much more "white" (not ideal for skin tones).

However, relying on nature has its downfalls. Weather, for one thing, is unpredictable.
I would often provide a backup date to my photo shoots, in case it was suddenly too cloudy or rainy. However, it was always worth it!
Being flexible meant we were able to capitalize on the best weather.

So, you're out there in the golden hour, your clients are looking great...now what?

Mountain wedding, 2013.

As the photographer, it's your job to know how to utilize the surroundings and angles (based on the sun's location) to capture the best photos. When women are involved, you better be aware of those shadows!
Women are famous for being extra critical of how they look. You'll want to avoid any angles that make them look "larger" as well as unflattering shadows under the eyes. 
It takes practice, but in time you'll get a feel for which angles work the best.

Engagement Session Portrait, 2013.

In order to really take advantage of the natural light, I always include a few stylized shots involving direct sun and sunspots! These often end up being our favorite images. Why? Because they tell a visual story, and are special. Set your client directly in front of the sun, so it's barely peaking around them. This creates a lens flare for dramatic effect.

The dreamy lighting allows the viewer to get lost in the FEELING of the image.

Wedding Portraits, 2015.

Alas, one can get so addicted to using natural light, that they almost develop an aversion to using any artificial light! (This totally happened to me for a brief time in my career, but I eventually got over it).

Without my handy flash, I never would have captured this image of the bride & groom leaving the reception, soluting the moon, which ended up being one of their favorites!

To recap, here are a few tips!

  • Know your location! Research and/or visually document when the golden hour is at it's prime in whichever location you want to shoot. This is called "scouting" your location. Go there a few times a week before the photoshoot to get an idea of when the light is low on the horizon.
  • Don't wait too long! I occassionally made the mistake of pushing a start time until only an hour before sunset. This is a mistake because if there are trees, or mountains, or tall buildings nearby, the sun might dip behind them waaayyyy before the scheduled sunset time! Don't miss out on light due to poor timing.
  • Try to avoid photographing your clients in direct sunlight - this usually just leads to lots of squinting, unflattering shadows, and sweat.
  • When positioning your clients relative to the sun, always start with the sun behind them, or slightly off to the side. If the sun is in front of them, again you may run into squinting and shadows. Once you get them in place, you can then have them turn a little bit to one side if the lighting is more flattering. 
  • Use natural "reflectors." Anything reflects light, except for extremely dark objects. You can use sidewalks, walls, even cars to bounce light onto your subjects. They can be really useful when you're trying to photograph someone who is back-lit (when they almost become a silhouette). Take a friend out for a test photo shoot and try illuminating them with natural reflectors. You'll quickly learn to look for these (or avoid them) during your photo shoots!
  • Watch the grass! I can't tell you how many times I have done a photo shoot, felt really excited about the results, gone home to my computer and realized all of their skin is tinted GREEN! Yikes! This is because the sun reflects the colors in your environment, and if your clients are sitting or standing near one large color source (like grass), that is a LOT of color being reflected! You can waste hours in post processing fixing the colors, or you can just avoid it in the first place!

044. Paintalong #8 Results!

Every time I do another Paintalong, I go through such a rollercoaster of emotions!

I'm extremely nervous beforehand, mainly because I suffer from performance anxiety.
During, I'm incredibly focused and turn into a "teacher" - which I have no background in, but people tell me I'm good at it.
After, I'm super inspired, relieved, and feel a swell of pride when I see what my participants created!

Saturday's Paintalong, which was the 8th time, was no exception! This was one of the highest-attended sessions. More than 15 people participated, and 14 of those sent me their results.

I"M SUCH A PROUD MAMA!

I teach these watercolor tutorials live on my Twitch channel once a month. They are free and open to anyone! Most people who paint along are complete beginners.

These happen because of my Patreons! Each month we meet the milestone goal, we do the Paintalongs. I'm so thankful for the support, this is one way I give back.

If you'd like to watch any of the 8 watercolor tutorials, become a Patreon of $5 or higher and you'll get instant access!

Paintalong #1: Forest Light (warm colors) 

Paintalong #2: Seascape and Clouds

Paintalong #3: Mountain Lake 

Paintalong #4: Forest and Creek 

Paintalong #5: Seascape Sunset

Paintalong #6: Viewer Requests (4 paintings) 

Paintalong #7: Mountains and Clouds 

Paintalong #8: Forest Light (cool colors)

021. Paintalongs

I've been meaning to talk about my Paintalongs for a while now.
A paintalong is a live art tutorial (online) wherein I walk through a painting from start to finish, thoroughly discussing strategy and technique so that viewers can paint along with me!

I started doing monthly Paintalongs in July 2016. They quickly became a huge success and one of my favorite things to do on stream! 
One of the best parts is that participants are sometimes brand new to watercolor, and they have told me it gave them the confidence to keep going and practice on their own. I'm so honored to be part of someone's artistic journey, whether it's inspiration, instruction, or general guidance. 

After each paintalong I ask the participants to send me their final pieces and I make a collage of everyone's work.

Not only have I received amazing responses from participants, but I've also learned a TON by doing these paintalongs. I discovered that since I am not trained as a teacher, in order to explain things I'm forced to break down the process from a beginner point of view, which helps me to understand in more thoroughly. I learn so much while I'm explaining things. An unexpected bonus!

I also found that by planning for these paintalongs, I have learned a ton about marketing, what people are interesting in, what gets people hyped, and that it's possible to bridge the gap between having fun and being candid, and providing a structured "class" environment! There's no need to have a boring stuffy tutorial in order to product fantastic results. Let's hang out, paint together, and make something beautiful!

This all started as a Patreon milestone (if I reach a monthly pledge goal, I do monthly paintalongs). So far we have met the goal every month, so I continue to do them! To reward my Patreon support, I upload the Paintalong videos exclusively for my Patreon supporters (the videos are not available anywhere else). I always try to think of ways to return the love to those who support me!

The next paintalong is tomorrow!! If you want join in the painting, or just watch and see what it's all about, join me on my Twitch.tv/zladyluthien channel at 11am PST / 7pm GMT!