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How do I photograph artwork?

Here are the basics that I will expand upon further.
• Use a tripod.
• Use a digital camera with manual settings.
• Line up the middle of your camera with the middle of the piece you are shooting.
• Make sure that the amount of light is even across the artwork.
• The area behind the camera should be dark to avoid reflection.
• Shoot inside with photo lights if you can
• Do it on an overcast day if shooting outside
• Remember to take some close-ups along with the wide shots.

Specifically, I am referring to photographing two-dimensional artwork. Most of my art is rectangular so, for the purposes of discussion, I will stick with that. If the format of the artwork is an unconventional (non-rectangular) shape, the same principles still apply but may not be quite as critical. Rectangular artwork is especially tricky because of distortion caused either by the lens or the relative positions of the lens and subject. If your setup is wrong you will end up with slightly wonky shapes and that can be really frustrating.

How Do I position the Camera?
For best results, the camera needs be on a tripod. The tripod not only keeps the camera rock-steady, it maintains the same position. You’ll also need a tape measure and maybe even a plum-bob if you like. It’s virtually impossible to get a good result doing hand held photography. The middle of the lens has to be in line (or as close as possible) with the middle of the artwork that you are photographing. This is true both horizontally and vertically. For example, if the middle of the painting is 4 feet off the floor then so too does the middle of your camera lens. You really need a tape measure to achieve this. Being precise with your set up is the only way to avoid distortion in your images.

Getting everything lined up horizontally is another key part of the equation. It can be little tricky but I would recommend finding the horizontal middle of the art and aligning it with a line or seam in a hardwood or tiled floor. This is where the plumb-bob can be helpful. If not, a pen at the end of a string also works. Then you can line up the camera to the line on the floor.

I always have a roll of masking tape and a Sharpy handy so that I can use to make temporary marks on the wall or floor.

The camera needs to be perpendicular to the surface of the artwork. This can be made easier by the use of a spirit level. Otherwise, you can do it with a careful eye and some trial and error. I definitely prefer having a vertical wall or an easel that is set completely upright. It’s just easier to match two straight up-and-down planes than it is to match two odd angles.

It’s worth noting that the degree of difficulty in avoiding distortion and thereby ending up with wonky (skewed) shapes increases with size. So larger pieces make careful setup even more essential to success.

Use a Camera with Manual Settings
I won’t go into really technical detail about exposures here but the problem with shooting on automatic means that the camera is left to do a lot of guess work. There are many factors that can throw it off.  For example, the lightness or darkness of the artwork can hamper the camera’s ability to make an accurate white balance reading. The colour balance can really get out of whack and that is a problem when photographing art.

A camera with manual settings allows you to ‘bracket’ your exposures. Bracketing simply means taking multiple shots with different camera settings. I use the preview on the back of my camera to tell me when my exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed combination) are about right. I know from experience the image on my preview tends to be a little deceiving so I take that into account. Once I am happy enough with what I am seeing in the preview, I take two more shots with different exposure combinations. I prefer to keep the same aperture setting and vary the shutter speed. I take one shot with a shutter speed that is one setting faster and another that is one setting slower. Keeping a constant shutter speed and varying the aperture setting will also work.

One more thing – if your camera has the capability, shoot in RAW mode. This way you have the most range to adjust things like exposure, colour balance, and contrast after the fact.

How Do I Light Artwork?
You basically have the options of shooting indoors with artificial light or outdoors with natural light. Some people suggest a combination whereby you shoot the art work on a wall that is beside a window that is letting light in. In my opinion, this is just plain wrong. There is no way that you can get an even amount of light across the surface of the piece that you are shooting. This is essential to capturing an accurate record of the artwork. In other words, you have to have the same amount of light hitting the entire surface, top to bottom and side to side. Fudging things in photo-manipulation software after the fact will not be able to solve this. But I digress.

Shooting with Artificial Light
You need two photo lights that are set at a 45-degree angle to the subject. They need to be an equal distance from the art and also aimed at the middle of the painting. My paintings tend to have a glossy surface so getting this right is particularly critical. Otherwise you can easily end up with hot spots on the image caused by the surface reflecting the light back at the lens.

I have a pair that I bought on Amazon. Each is a soft-box on stand that holds 4 led bulbs and have two intensity settings, full and half. I forget how much I paid but it wasn’t a lot. They aren’t professional grade by any means but they do the job well enough. The bulbs I put in them are LED balanced to simulate ‘daylight.’ LED bulbs create very little heat and use minimal energy so are a great option. You can leave them on a long time without worrying.

You need to eliminate any extraneous light sources. Obviously, shooting after dark will take care of any light coming in from a window. Just turn off all other sources of light in the room and you should be all set. Control is key and you really don’t want to mix natural light and artificial lights because your camera settings will only work for one or the other.

Whether shooting indoors or out you don’t want to have any source of light coming from behind the camera. You can avoid a lot of pesky reflections this way.

Using Natural Light
You can also shoot artwork out-of-doors using natural light. This certainly eliminates the work involved in setting up your lighting but it can present some other complicating factors like wind, rain, and changes in the amount of light available from one moment to the next. I also find that setting up the artwork or even finding a good place to do that makes it more difficult than in a controlled studio or interior setting, which is generally my preference. However, shooting outdoors can be a great choice if the conditions are right. AVOID SHOOTING IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. It is virtually impossible to avoid hot spots of reflected light. Shooting in shade or much better yet, overcast but bright conditions will yield much better results. The light is much more even, and diffuse in overcast conditions. This makes it much easier to have even lighting across the surface of the two-dimensional artwork. You can still get variation of light intensity from one side of the artwork to the other. I find it a good idea to have the work facing toward the brightest part of the sky.

It’s Time for Your Close-up
Once you have your wide shots done I strongly suggest taking some detail shots of the artwork. You’ve got your lighting all set up and your camera at the ready so why not take some close-up shots that can show details and what the surface or texture is like. I take the camera off of the tripod for this and do it hand-held rather than zooming in. You get better image quality this way. These close-up shots are particularly valuable when posting your artwork online. Sites like saatchiart.com and Etsy.com typically require that you have detail shots in addition to the main shot of the artwork. After all, showing or seeing online comes with a few disadvantages when compared to an in-person gallery situation. This is one way to help overcome that.

Wrap-up
Photographing artwork can be challenging but it is possible to do it yourself and get good results. I hope what I have written here will be a help to some of you. Bye for now. – L/C

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Getting Weirder

I have been working on some new pieces and notice some evolution in style and tone. Nothing feels too drastic but some odd things are showing up here and there.

When I started on this current direction a couple of years ago I wanted my process to be simple. I do realize that the images I make appear to be anything but simple, however, I am referring to the thought process involved and not the visual form they take. My goal was (and still is) to keep the pieces free of artifice and pretense. I just wanted to paint and not think too much. Actually, I didn’t want to think at all. I wanted the act of creating to be fun. I wanted to play and not to worry about stuff. After all, I had struggled for years with being critical of my work and over thinking to the point of paralysis.

Some of my pieces are becoming more whimsical. Maybe they’re just getting weirder, like everything else in the world. – L/C

P.S.

I really need to put the newest stuff on the site but I need to get some decent photography done first. My photo lights are at the place Quebec and I’m too Scottish to rush into buying more. Unfortunately, I may not be back there for a while because of travel complications related to COVID. I would do it outside but it’s still cold and snowy here.

You see, I have a lot of excuses and if you don’t like them, I have more.

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Are ‘Social Distancing’ and ‘Self Isolating’ new-age verbs?

I can tell you without hesitation that my spell check doesn’t know what to think of them. It feels like they both need to be hyphenated, so let’s go with that.

Self-isolation is a pretty natural state for me. When I work (doing terrible things for money) I usually do it from the comfort of home. The same goes for when I am making art. It allows me to wear comfortable (albeit paint-splattered) clothing and talk to myself without attracting any undue attention. However, I do get that a lot of people need to be around other people. I may have been like that myself at one time but these days I prefer to work in solitude. Come to think of it, others often prefer that I work alone as well.

Getting rid of the whole shaking hands thing seems less problematic. It’s kind of a strange and unsanitary custom at the best of times. I’ve always felt a lot of pressure to it to the acceptable standard. You know, suitably firm and with the requisite simultaneous eye contact. Good riddance! The next time I feel the urge to shake someone’s hand, I’ll just grab a toilet seat and shake vigorously. But I digress.

Social-Distancing feels a little weirder to me, for sure. After all, we can all use a hug now and then. It also makes for a lousy party. How do you have an art show opening or even an exhibit? Also, weddings and funerals will be way weirder than they already are.

Social media has already rendered us isolated and disconnected. Is this going to be the new normal?

On that note, I leave you with one of my newest pieces. It’s called ‘A Celebration of Nature’ and it was done, I can assure you, in complete isolation.

  • L/C
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Why LooseCanine

For many years, especially when my kids were young, art was hard to get to. There were just too many commitments demanding time and energy. I would occasionally succeed but it was sporadic. There was no continuity. I tended to do 4 or 5 pieces that looked like they belonged together and then stop. By the time I got back to it, I had lost the plot from the previous direction. I’d go in a different direction and repeat the pattern of doing a set of 4 or 5 and then stop again. None of these directions ever felt quite right. More than time and energy, I lacked a point of view to hold everything together.

This went on for years and years.

My body of work felt more like a random and grisly collection of body parts that remained buried and hidden in separate piles in the basement of the house. I very rarely showed them to anyone and stopped showing work in any kind of gallery setting.  

Eventually the life commitments abated somewhat and I was able to spend more time doing work. Oddly enough though, two separate and distinct kinds of work emerged.

One was completely non-objective and had a lot in common with doodling. Also, I was using house paint which had a very appealing fluidity to me. The first piece I did was very large and came out of an impulse to let loose with some heels of leftover latex paint on a large (6 ft. x 6 ft.) canvas that I had. It happened on a sunny day outside on the porch and, best of all, it was fun to do. I continued in this vane with smaller canvases and boards. Each was different from the other but shared a common trait of chaotic energy. I liked the sense of energy and flow that I was getting. I also really liked that they were about instinct and required no thought.

The other (and opposing) direction was representational and definitely aligned to surrealism. The medium was oil paint and the pieces required a lot of careful work. They took a lot of time to do and the successive layers of oil colour took time to dry. The images typically featured wild animals (usually one at a time) set in an artificial environment (usually urban). Along the way, that drifted into images of elephants and polar bears set into more dreamlike contexts. Elephants standing in the midst of fluffy white clouds or a polar bear in a starlit sky maneuvering a tightrope. They were illusion and allusion and I have no idea what any of it meant.

I was working in what amounted to two duelling styles and wasn’t sure what to. In an effort to try and work it out I assumed a different identity for each direction. I felt that doing so would so would allow me to be objective – to free the process of my own interference. It was about getting out of my own way, I suppose. I could let them each style fight it out.

‘Hummygoo’ was the name I gave to the non-representational doodles with house paint. It was actually an alias that I had once used for a series of cartoons that I had stopped doing a decade earlier. ‘LooseCanine’ was from my personal email account, originally inspired by a much-loved dog who had a habit of running away after small animals. Sometimes I would go into my workspace and be LooseCanine and other times, Hummygoo.

Initially, I couldn’t see how the two ends would ever meet in the middle but they eventually did. LooseCanine and Hummygoo became one and looking at the progression makes it more obvious than it was at the time.

The long drying times and character of oil paint no longer work for me. I now use water-based silkscreen ink which is really a more liquid version of acrylic paint. It offers the fluidity of house paint but is permanent and colour safe.

A vote was taken and the ‘Hummygoo’ name was relegated to the basement (where the body parts had been). In name, ‘LooseCanine’ had won out. I had become attached to the idea of working under a pseudonym (or nom de plume). I like the objectivity it gives me. It helps keep me from getting in my own way by thinking too much.

With a name like LooseCanine, I feel free to do whatever I want. – L/C

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Recording how sausage gets made

Smart phones are great for documenting the progress of a painting. It’s fun to be able to record how the sausage gets made. I find myself doing it more and more. It’s also good to be able to show people the process in stages.

I’m currently working on a commission that is based on a famous photo of the Beastie Boys. Yes, I have previously ranted about how much I dislike taking commissions but even I make the odd exception. I have always respected the fact that they didn’t spell Boys with a Z and for that reason alone am happy to pay homage. Also, money.

I’m also starting a painting of a hippo emerging from the water. I love the shape of hippos. To my mind, they are the reigning body-positive champions of the wild kingdom. They look so funny and harmless but are apparently surprisingly effective killing machines. Also, the ears are too funny.

Also doing a painting of a camel cigarette package. I guess it bridges the gap between animals (which I most often paint) and my recent foray/return to pop culture images. I recently did and painting based on a famous photo of Marilyn Monroe at the beach. Maybe the camel cigarette painting is my attempt to reconcile the two apparently opposite directions.

That’s all for now, Nicole. – L/C