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Imaging Paintings for Giclee Printing

I’ve heard enough from friends, colleagues, and others that I tend to go a bit overboard when it comes to my possibly overboard concern with quality when it comes to imaging and printing.

I spend a *lot* of time researching this, trying to find new ways to get better results, and to have more control over the process, especially since my move to Michigan, where high operating costs for businesses and a lack of local money have led to available services being less than stellar, if available at all. I have spent days, and days, every few weeks, just doing web searches, sending emails, making cold calls, and trying what few services I find here… and though I have managed decent results, they have come through much supervision, and the asking of many questions I would not have known to ask 10 or even 3 years ago.

Chances are, that if you do not live in a major city with a thriving art scene (if there is such a thing in this day and age), and if you are an artist trying to get prints made, you have found yourself frustrated with at least one aspect of the process.

Though printing for giclees is easy enough to find these days, in the most common of places, the imaging part is the absolute hardest to nail down, and the most important – because once you have sold the original painting, unless you have visitation rights in your seller’s agreement, you won’t get another chance.

There are a number of great digigraphic or reprographic places abroad. In Cincinnati, I had access to Queen City Reprographic, as well as the imaging person/photographer for the Cincy Art Museum, and the University of Cincinnati print lab. In Boston, I had access to Parrot Digigraphic in Billerca MA with their huge 72-inch scanner, and Ditto Editions in Salem MA with their 120MP Seitz camera setup (though they appear to have moved to New Hampshire) – but no longer living in the area, as amazing as these places were, there is the cost (and fear) involved in shipping a painting that has not yet been imaged many states away… and having to work by mail for proofing and other such services. A broken or lost painting can’t be imaged, so the fear of being forever screwed drives me to always look for local services if I can.

If you have $50,000 or more laying around for a Seitz camera setup, or $100,000 for a huge scanner (and recommended maintenance plan), you probably aren’t reading this anyway, and don’t need to. I’d think your time is worth enough that you’d rather outsource this work to a premium imaging company (as listed above) – So I am going to skip past those aspects of the process, and go directly into steps for the rest of us:

Step 1 – What Am I looking for?

This is pretty important. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know whether you are getting it, and you’ll frustrate yourself and everyone you deal with, either in not knowing what to ask for, or finding that what you get is just not good enough.

— Actual size, in 600 DPI (preferable), 400DPI(still good), or 300DPI(acceptable). Sure, the human eye sees at 300 DPI, but consider that you might want to make prints larger than the originals, or highlight specific parts. Also consider that printers are getting better and better every day, as are papers, as are inks – and that if the result is a higher resolution, one might appreciate being able to take a magnifying glass to the print to see how great it is. Or, you may, like me: I am the sort of person who can read the microprint on a 20 dollar bill… I may not be able to see a tree at 20 years, but that is a product of being so detail-oriented. I put in details I can see that most others need a magnifier for, I even go so far as to put in details that *I* need a magnifier for, or details that I just *know* are there though I can’t see them. Most of all, the better your working file, the less fine details are lost to things like color adjustments and resampling through resizing. Don’t let people tell you that 150DPI is good because people are standing further away to view it – detail is lost, and they will not get the experience of looking at your work, but the experience of looking at a blurry version of your work. “Good enough”, is never, and will never be “Good enough”, else it need not be said at all.
— RAW or TIFF format. Jpegs don’t just lose data and detail every time they are opened and saved, the creation of a jpeg image alone is lossy. A group of eyelashes becomes a dark blotch of close colors that *look* perfect, until you campare.
— No adjustments. Every time a color adjustment is made, data is lost. A level adjustment brings you closer to the actual values, but causes colors to disappear. Every time an adjustment is made, close-to-white may become white, close-to-black may become black. Once they are gone, they are gone, and there is no processing you can do to get them back. It is always good to have an unprocessed image to start from, and always go back to that image if you need to make changes in brightness/color/levels.
— Quality. A 600DPI image makes no sense if it is 600DPI of blurry or 600DPI of blocky color.

Local Services

Calling or emailing in detail can be important here. I tried the universities first, hoping that they had for-pay services for non students, or that maybe I could put their students to work using the college’s equipment. It may work for you, but here, I couldn’t even get as far as finding out for certain what equipment they had on campus.

Then I turned to the local arts organizations, called a number of galleries, and asked what few local artists I could find what services they used. The answer was a resounding “uuuuuhhh?”.

When it comes to local artists, especially in mid-western cities, I’ve found that a lot of artists don’t even sell prints; Hell some don’t even actually produce artworks, or do anything more than sporting a goatee and adopting a highly-liberal point of view. Most functioning artists however are in the business of catering to galleries and coffee shops, who, since these places desire artists who can produce 20 or more artworks in less than a year, stick to artworks they can create in a single night… or several a night – which aren’t exactly the sorts of works that require printing. These sorts of works go to people who want an original, of certain colors or size, for $80 or less, to hang over their couch or in a closet…. or just to people who want to support budding artists… they tend not to do well as prints, especially considering that a person could just pick an original out of a bin.

Out of over 100 printing/imaging/reprographic places I contacted, only 10 said they were able to do this sort of work in house.

Of those, most were sort of scary – either for not having a grasp of the scale, or having a “sure, we’ll give anything a try” attitude about it. Not a one of them had a Seitz setup, or a large flatbed scanner (though one claimed to have a large enough flatbed). Some offered to use a 10 (or less) MP camera, some actually thought as far as to offer to take multiple photographs and piece them together (The latter, though ill-equipped I think might have actually known what they were doing, and *could* possibly have come up with passable results).

I went with the one who claimed to have a big scanner. The results were decent, save for some scan lines which I removed in photoshop, and the price was low (probably because of the scan lines). The color and brightness were the absolute best for adjustments – raw and untinkered with, with a broad range of values to be adjusted, just the way I like it… no data lost. When I walked into the back of their shop one day to see my painting being pressed against an 11×17 inch Epson scanner, I felt a bit betrayed, but continued to use them until that employee moved on (being mindful to remove my paintings from the canvas stretchers so they could scan without potential damage). After he left, the workers were less capable of getting me the results I wanted, and the new inconsistent pricing came straight from the “USS Make Shit Up”, so I started into the adventure that is….

Imaging At Home

Part I Scanning:

Scanning Smaller Works (under 11×17 inches):

I have a scanner that I bought through Sam’s club (I actually bought my membership specifically because the cost of the scanner+membership was $5 below buying the scanner elsewhere); The scanner is a Mustek A3 scanner (11×17 inches). They sell for about $199 including shipping most places you find them. I bought mine for $142+$7 S&H through Sam’s. The colors pretty much dead on, straight off the scan, and the detail is superb. It also plays nicely with photoshop and has the best import GUI I’ve had short of an Epson professional scanner ($thousands for a tinier scanner).

Until I broke it (I’ll talk about that later), I’ve always used this for any work smaller than 11×17; I have however found (in a moment of need) that Fedex/Kinkos has a flatbed 11×17, and will scan for under $2 a scan at any resolution you want. I tend to go for 600DPI for all my pieces, big or small. I know the human eye sees at 300 DPI… but I detail my paintings and other works so deeply, that printing larger than the original is sometimes desirable (plus: my tendency for quality overkill).

I think Kinkos $2 a scan is a pretty good deal. The scans come out quite well (but may vary at different places and with different employees). It is still always good to have your own scanner at home, in case your local Fedex is not staffed with adept people, or for scanning at 3AM.

Scanning Larger Works (above 11×17 inches)

As for scanning larger pieces with the A3 scanner, the biggest problem is the scanner’s “handy” beveled recess (the dip in the tray that holds papers in place). If your piece is bigger than 11×17 inches, it will sit away from the glass, and you’ll not get a good scan – it’ll be hella blurry, with colors shifting greatly from one edge to another, and utterly useless.

Is it on Canvas?

If you are so inclined, if your painting is on canvas, you can pull the staples from the back (or sides for cheaper ready-made canvas), and scan the piece in sections:

— Varnish can really help things, or really mess things up. If you have already varnished the piece, especially if it is a glossy varnish. Think of varnish as a lens. Not only does it increase the distance between the scanner glass and the actual artwork, but if your varnish has a brushed texture, you may get better scans in one direction than another, because such “polarizes” the piece. If I *have* to varnish before scanning, I brush the varnish in one constant direction, and scan in a way that the scanner arm is moving *with* the “grain” of the varnish. If I ever *have* to varnish, it is typically because I find that certain spots of paint are more flat or glossy than others, and I do so to even out the sheen painting-wide. A flat varnish is preferable, satin is a runner-up, and the thinnest coat possible.
— Keep in mind the most important thing when scanning in pieces is making sure all your scanned sections are square with the others. If they are off, when re-assembling in Photoshop, it is difficult getting that 0.02 degree tilt from one piece to another and making them all line up. If you *have* to rotate pieces in photoshop, don’t think rotating with the mouse will do it: use the numeric rotation (if you have gone to image:rotate, you’ll see a text box in the toolbar the top of your screen where you can enter numeric values). Be sure to zoom in and look it over from one corner to the next, to make sure it looks right (full view lies).
— Don’t rely on the photomerge tool, especially if your pieces are highly detailed. Photomerge is plenty good enough for assembling photographs for novelty’s sake, not for art.
— You may need to adjust levels from piece to piece to get them to match up well in color and lighting.
— Make sure each scanned section has at least an inch (or two) of overlap with the next so you can get rid of the edges, which tend to be shifted in color slightly due to the bevel.
— Turn off all lights in the room before you hit ‘scan’ (you can of course turn them on again in between scannings). Outside light can bleed in at the edges of your work, or through your work and make the pieces inconsistently colored/valued.
— A higher bit rate (8 bit color, 16 bit color, 32 bit color, etc), means more colors on the pallet, meaning smoother transitions between colors and values. Higher bit rate is good (though it greatly increases file size).
— Always save one assembled version that has no color/brightness/levels modificatons, and save it in TIFF (lossless format). You might need this if you decide the prints are too light or too dark.
— Always make adjustments from the original lossless and unmodified source. Every time you make color adjustments, data is lost, and your work drifts farther and farther from the original. Also, every time you open and save a Jpeg, it decays (loses resolution).

Is it on a Wood Panel?

If your painting is on a wood panel (or similar surface), this gets tougher (you’ll still want to read much of the above about varnish and whatnot). There is no amount of strength you can apply to put the board flat on the scanner, and you’ll break the scanner long before that. Even with an un-beveled scanner (like some Epson models), you need to be mindful that the board is probably not perfectly straight – press accordingly (but try not to break your scanner in the process).

I modified my 11×17 inch scanner so I could scan paintings on wood panels. I did so by

(0) **read this entire thing before you decide whether it is a good idea**
(1) carefully removing the glass. It isn’t easy. It is held on by some *very* sticky stuff. I used an old iron on the glass side to make the glue “melty” enough so I could pry the glass loose. I thought I was going to keep the glass, so I put cloth between the iron and the glass to keep from scratching it.
(2) carefully removing the calibration strip from the glass (it looks like a bar code, and lines up with the scanner arm’s starting position)
(3) built a wooden box to hold the glass nice and level.
(4) taped down the calibration strip (face down, tape on the blank side, calibration strip on the top of the glass)
(5) repositioned the box with the glass until the calibration strip was being read properly

it isn’t as much rocket science as it would seem, except for the last part (so read this in full before taking your scanner apart):
— The scanner arm has a bit of spring to it so it always meets the glass, so getting the glass “close enough” to touch the arm, is good enough… no microns of distance/precision to worry about.
— The calibration strip needs to line up pretty perfectly, but if you make it so the glass/box is just loose with the scanner body sitting below, you can move it around until you get a good scan – then secure the box in that position with tape/nails/screws.. whatever.
— The glass *has* to be the same thickness, optical quality (normal glass has a greenish tinge that can throw off the color calibration), and *tempered*. In most cases, the only way you’ll get a 1/8th inch sheet of glass tempered is for it to be chemically tempered. Why not use the sheet that came with it? Well, *that* glass is made to be secured by sticky stuff, and is typically just microscopically wider than the scan arm that needs to move against it. So, making a support for the glass that won’t get in the way of the arm is difficult to impossible.

.. That last part is what got me. Though I *have* found places that will make the glass, it is around $100 to $200 #realartistsdonthavemuchmoney, so I am making due with the original sheet… which teeters delicately on .01 millimeters of metal bracket edge, which the scan arm occasionally gets hung up on.

The FrankenScanner (above). It works… but that is all that can be said about it. The glass, which I secured with two-sided tape, after a year, is pulling away from the remaining plastic bit. So, now anything with any weight causes the scan arm to freeze. I’ll need a new scanner… but I’ll probably rebuild this one as originally planned (diagram below) once I get the chemically tempered glass I need.

Frankenscanner 2 (Bride of Frankenscanner),waiting on a sheet of tempered glass. The nice thing about this way of doing it, is that the glass and box can be as big as I want them to be – lending to a better support area for large paintings. I’ll probably make some brass bars on hinges up top for reference/alignment… something I can swing down to match up with lines I’ve drawn on the back of the piece, for better squaring (not included in diagram).

(yay!) Out-of-the-Box For Wood or Canvas: The Scanjet 4670
(boo!) Discontinued

For scanning large items, especially if on a wood panel, you might be better off finding an HP Scanjet 4670. Unfortunately they are discontinued, because marketing gurus and management are typically idiots, and don’t know *who* to market a good thing to in order to make it a good thing.

I found out about this 4670 scanner, which can be laid with its nice flush surface down on a large object, through my friend and colleague Brigid Ashwood. I just ordered one days ago, but from what she has told me, it does a pretty damned good job and is a godsend (for all of the reasons outlined above). You can typically only find them used – try Ebay. This week, I’ve seen three in box sell for $103 (plus $36 shipping).


I plan to buy another of these as a backup BTW… so please don’t buy all of them.

Photography

Long have I waited for digital cameras to be good enough for this. I waited for cameras to get up to 7 MP, then found out that was not good enough, then 10MP… still not good enough… then 14MP… Now Nikon and Sony have 24 MP cameras out – which are good enough for 18×12 inches at 300 DPI… which really, is still not good enough.

I realized this lately, when I got an incredible photographer, both in skill and in talent, to photograph my pieces for print. The images are amazingly crisp and perfect in color, but at 12 MP, they will never be so crisp that they can be printed at 36×24, especially with all of the detail I put into my works.

It takes 25MP to equal 35MM film, 100MP to equal medium format film, 500MP to equal large format film.

If you are waiting to be able to do this in one single shot, you might want to just give up on digital for now, and try to find yourself a good medium-format film camera, or a photographer who has one. Just be sure you also have the means to scan the negatives (or a photo lab who will scan them *for* you).

For the rest of us, taking multiple shots in order to make one image.

It *can* be done, no matter how few MegaPixels you have Рjust how many individual pieces/shots you need depends on how great the resolution is.  Another important part is realizing that moving the camera is bad, and why (outlined in the list of caveats below).

— Don’t let *just* MegaPixels dictate your decision though. Recently I found an amazing 14.5 MP camera with a great lens, and true SLR format for $149. The downside is that it saves all images as Jpegs, which are instantly lossy with bits of detail and nearly matching colors blurred together in chunks.
— Make sure your camera saves in either TIFF or RAW format. This is more important than MegaPixels. I switched back from the 14MP to the Canon 10MP because of the Jpeg thing.
— Don’t use a point and shoot. Don’t use a macro lens. *All* lenses round out at the sides (meaning a square will be “bowed” at the edges), and the best you’ll possibly get is a “true vision” or 50MM lens.
— Don’t use digital zoom. That just uses computer logic to try to translate an image more crisply from smaller pixels. A computer cannot know to make a row of eyelashes from a black blotch – all it does is to crisp up the edges. Make sure your zooming in or out is all optical.
— Use a Tripod! This should be a given, but I am saying it. Camera shudder is your enemy.
— Use the timer, or a remote, or a cable release. If you click the button by hand, your camera will move and shake, no matter how good your tripod is.
— No on-camera flash! Seriously… flash for any photo subject is best as a last resort, and terrible for capturing a painting. This isn’t a sporting event or a party, you don’t need to be mobile. You’ll get hot spots, color shifts, and maybe glare out your image altogether if you use a flash. Use stationary lighting. It isn’t like you need actual 200 watt or 500 watt lights anymore, there are low-wattage equivalents everywhere. Stationary lighting allows you to see your shot exactly as it will shoot.
— Lighting: You need a natural daylight spectrum. *but* you want it to be controlled and constant, since you’ll be trying to put multiple shots together, and you want them to be identical in lighting, distance, and angle. You can buy a 200-watt equivalent (40 watt actual) daylight spectrum bulb for $6 to $9 most anywhere online (try google shopping). You’ll need several of them.
— Lighting stands/reflectors are highly recommended. It’ll save you the frustration of gathering lamps from the household and propping them up on books and moved furniture. You can use extra photo tripods or tall lamp posts and utility light reflectors, or pie plates if you need to improvise.
— Put one light on each side of the camera, at 45 degree angles, and slightly higher than your painting. If the lights are in front of you, keep them far enough away from the camera that the light isn’t bleeding through from the sides of your shot. Also make sure there are no hot spots/glows/reflections on the portion of the painting you are shooting. Move the lights around until the *portion* of the painting you are shooting has just the right amount of light. Indirect lighting is absolute best for avoiding hot spots, so don’t point the lights *at* the painting. Try moving them higher, lower, more outward, more in – maybe even experiment with bouncing them off white surfaces (walls, ceilings, tacked up sheets) to soften them up and spread them out. Bouncing the light is of course best. If you have reflectors (umbrellas) made for this, even better.
— If you have a camera with light metering and related controls, and can set your white balance manually, do it. A *lot* of the fine-tuning can be done through just adjusting these levels.
— Set your camera’s ISO to its lowest setting for best image quality.
— Set your aperture to between f/5.6 and f/11 – this allows you the best sharpness, while still allowing some room for minor adjustments.
— Shoot each portion without moving the camera. If you move the camera, you will never have the lights and painting the same distance and angle from shot to shot, and you’ll lose all consistency. Instead, move the painting a foot or two to the left/right/up/down until you have all parts photographed.
— If you are good with building things – for this, I’d highly recommend making something where the painting can be mounted securely to a flat and straight board, and where that board can easily be shifted up/down/left/right. You can use drawer slides, or brackets, or just screws (screwing board A to board B, unscrewing it and re-screwing it for each move), or you can go more advances and use gears and cranks. I am using the low-tech boards and screws method (but on the lookout for old window cranks and worm gears so I can do the latter). Paintings on boards, or on canvas, when unframed, tend to be slightly bent or bowed.. so just hanging it in different places on the wall might not do.
— Make sure (as with scanning) your photos have a bit of overlap – not just so you can crop off the edges and keep the center (which will be slightly rounded), but so you can more easily line up one piece with another.
— do not pack up your lights and painting and camera. Leave it where it is for now. You may need to come back to it later.
— Again, do NOT use photomerge.
— Put each piece in its own layer, move them into place, crop away some of the edges of each (but leave yourself some overlap), make minor color adjustments to each piece if needed. Once all pieces are properly aligned, use your eraser on the edges of each overlying piece to ensure an extra smooth transition. Once you are certain everything is going to meet up perfectly, merge them all together. If there are any parts you aren’t altogether happy with, go back to your camera setup and re-photograph that piece or section.

I’ve found that at 12 megapixels, I can get a 36×24 inch painting with 15 photos (5 photos wide, 3 photos tall). If yours needs to be printed smaller, you can of course get away with less photos.

If however your painting is less that 11×17 inches – this is silly. Take it to Kinkos and scan it, or buy an A3 scanner.

Some Last Little Tips:

— Calibrate your monitor. There are free apps for this such as Calibrize. I have mine calibrated for perfect colors and perfect web brightness/contrast, and then have my *mind* calibrated for perfect print. I *know* how much lighter the images need to look in order to get them to print as they are seen on my screen, for each and every printer I use, and I know this through trial and error.
— Don’t use “Image:Adjust:Brightness/Contrast”, use “Image:Adjust:Levels”. Move the triangle on the left over a few points so it is nearest to the first spike (black values), slide the middle slider right a bit to make the mid tones richer, do not slide the white point (far right), ever if you can avoid it unless you want to forever wash out your near-whites. Don’t take this as law though: Experiment, and always do what is best for that individual piece. Most importantly, do not save over your original file, or you’ll be sorry when you need to adjust these levels for a new printer or printing medium.

Conclusion

1) Scan small stuff at Kinkos, or buy a Mustek A3 scanner.

2) For large works, if you can get one, grab the scanJet 4670 from Ebay or elsewhere – or go the photography route and (recommended) build a rig for photographing paintings in pieces. Also, don’t forget that you can (carefully) remove canvas paintings from their stretchers if you must scan on a standard scanner.

3) If you can, pay the man (time is money) – If you are not hell-bent on full control, and have the money, and can find a good local service: Use them. This stuff is a huge headache, and you can use all the hours you’d spend on research, practice, fine tuning, and execution on making works that would be worth whatever you are trying to get out of paying. Reasonable imaging for a painting is $300 for something in the 36×24 to 48×24 ballpark.

I’d recommend against proofing ($200 or more additional) – do the color adjustments at home, make crops of your image (saves money) with different color adjustments, and get those printed. I have several versions of the most crucial 8×10 section of a painting printed in my first try. Be sure to label each try, so you know which was the one that looked bright on your screen, which was the one that looked dark, etc… Hold these printed bits up to the original and compare.

Once you have this down, use the same printing company for as long as you possibly can… Once your prints are perfect, buy all 20,30, or 50 limited editions of that print that you plan to offer – and store them in a flat file or a large flat box. Why? Because a printing company’s printing profiles can change, or maybe the day you order print #27 of 50, some nose-picker replaces the worker who used to print your works perfectly. Maybe they change inks, or canvas type… either way, that Limited run you thought you could run one at a time (the benefit of digital offset world), is screwed… and by the time you make adjustments to account for the variation, you are sitting on three or four prints you can’t (in good conscience) sell.

I’d go into recommended printing companies,things about color profiles and other such things here, but that would make my summary/conclusion long. That will have to wait for another post. Stay tuned.

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The Artist’s life: Myths and Misconceptions

This post is for those who are aspiring artists, those who are living the artists’ life/fighting the good fight, those want to know what the typical artist’s life is really like, those who erroneously assume we are on some pedestal above the working class, and especially those who see us as something lesser than the hard-working masses.

I really enjoy what I do, and I enjoy every person I interact with online, and every person I meet at shows and conventions along the way, when we are able to make conventions anyway.

Often times, I find myself being labeled or referred to as a “successful artist” – and I suppose that, if artists were paid in web hits, kind comments, web features, magazine features, book features, television news spots, peer/colleague recognition, and used bandwidth, that just may be… And, really, there could be nothing better, save for that ever-distracting rumbling from within…

– Some people mistakenly think that being an artist means not having to work – joyfully stroking away at a canvas with a very long brush so we can still recline in a golden hammock, while dining on peeled grapes and supervising our apprentices to urinate more passionately upon a silk-screened soup-can.

– Others assume that being an artist means not wanting to work, as if we spent all of our days on play and recreational drugs, and only picked up a brush to avoid “real work”, or maybe just to have something to offer for money… like that guy on the corner offering to sell you a handful of dumpster findings from his pockets, because he knows you’d rather just give him 50 cents.

For an actual artist, one who lives for art, and lives as an artist, *neither* assumption could ever be farther from the truth:

Now, I am talking actual artists here: Not those jet-setters who would gladly have fame rather than create something worthwhile – Not those coke-headed scenesters to whom “art” is rubbing elbows with the wealthy over champagne while conversing about the deep and existential meanings behind sloppy paint on a half-assed doodle ready-made to satisfy the “chic” galleries’ demand that an artist produce 12 pieces a month to be considered – Not the “I’m gonna splatter this paint on a canvas” guy you see making a living off 5 minutes work per $50 painting (or sometimes $4,000,000 painting).

… No, I am talking about those who couldn’t live without being able to create things worth being proud of, and would gladly die of starvation or lack of sleep if it meant finishing that one last work… which in its conception and crafting is nothing short of amazing, but completed, will never, ever be good enough, but always one step closer… while never anything worth patting oneself on the back over.

Even a step backward is a step forward, every failure is a triumph. We learn through experience, improving our art through noting the good and the bad – and for all the works you’ll ever see, are at least three that get crumpled, scrapped, abandoned, burned, or shot and buried ceremoniously.

Artists included – Any of us who struggle to work for ourselves, are the most tyrannical of bosses – We typically spend 16 to 36 hours at a time on our work between 4 to 10 hour naps, grabbing a shower or a bite to eat when there isn’t an important deadline to meet, or paint threatening to dry on the pallet. (I’ve managed over 150 hours of straight-painting in my worst/best days – bathroom breaks and Mountain-Dew refills excluded).

On the very best days, those hours are spent on art alone, though those days rarely come – so the days get longer and longer, bedtime gets that much further away, just so some actual art can be managed before “day’s end”..some 48 hours later.

If we are doing well online, much time goes into ordering tubes and packaging, ordering prints, wrestling with cardboard and glue to make painting-shaped boxes, rolling prints, printing labels, signing things, making certificates, running to and from the post office… it keeps us from our work, but it is happy work. Sending my art to hang in the home or office of another person keeps us going, emotionally and financially.

The rest of our time is spent writing blog entries, redesigning our sites, managing our “social” network pages, creating sales, adding new products to the web, looking for affordable advertising, logging clicks and cost, submitting to boards and sites and magazines, answering our email, waiting for others to answer theirs, looking for new markets or merch like skins and tattoo flash and tee shirts and such, and doing work for others to make ends meet: Web design, ad design, various other things “artistic” which are not “art” and often soul-sucking – especially that every hour spent here, could have been another hour of painting.

Things being what they have been these years, we spend more and more time on the latter, less and less time on the former, and all those extra hours of tearing our hair out and staring into this screen, mean bedtime is that much further away if we are to get any actual painting or drawing done… because an artist who does not create, is not an artist, but a “seller” if they are so lucky as to be making sales in that time.

And when things suddenly go well… due to some freak internet occurrence, some kind soul with a lot of traffic posting our images, or numerous kind souls posting the same to their friends, Tumbling, Stumbling, Tweeting, whathaveyou, or just the purchase of an original work: When we have shipments out of the way, if we have money left over, what we don’t re-invest in replenishing our art supplies – we use to allow ourselves time for our very best days: A worry free day or week of making more art, maybe sleeping and eating more regularly… maybe even putting ourselves on the list for a convention.

… and for those days of pure art, still working most of the day, we feel like kings; It boggles my mind to see these people who get huge funding and fame for their art, and could actually bear to spend their days just riding out that fame, when they could be using all that money and attention to make bigger and better art… and not just things that will sell or grab headlines simply because a famous person made them.

Truth be told, if art were not so incredibly important to us, we artists could live far, far better begging on the street, or even working a minimum-wage job. We are in a class below “poor”, and often looked at as much less – though we don’t get government money to sit on our butts, no medical coverage, no paid rent, no food stamps, no $5,000 EIC for making babies we can’t afford … Instead, we *choose* not to be a burden on society, we *choose* to overwork ourselves to death, and do so for much much less, and a lot of nothing in between.

We live on caffeine, adrenaline, will power, and most importantly the hope that all of our hard work will someday mesh with the American dream: That determination and sacrifice will pay off in the end.. knowing that having spent years of your life on this pursuit, that giving up now, or tomorrow, would render all that suffering and struggle pointless.

And this is not for lack of skills or knowledge; The both of us are very adept in crazy things like PHP, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Actionscript/Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design, and other things that *could* be making us a decent living; We put all that time invested learning into our web sites, magazines, pre-press on our own artworks. We know how to work power tools, we know how to shape and work with lumber, we know how to work with more materials and how to do more things than most people could imagine, because every thing we don’t yet know, reflects something we may one day want to use for art… and we learn it all on our own time, without grants, without scholarships, with no reward greater than simply knowing … and being able to do whatever we cannot pay others to do.

We are thrilled to be able to justify $8 on drive-thru food we don’t have to cook, being able to spend that time instead on art is like Christmas for us… the same goes for trading blown-out boots for the next 2 years’ “new pair” or getting a pair of glasses that are less scratched-up in order to struggle less with the painting. We drive a car the mechanics gave 6 months to live, and have done so for 3 years waiting to have $350 that does not need to go to bills or art. We pay for our medical expenses out of pocket – and just hope for the best on anything we cannot pay for: Abscesses, unknown pains, troublesome coughs, broken bones if they are not compound fractures.

… Really, If I haven’t just cooked up the last breast of chicken and the last egg in order to make sure the cats are fed, or if I am not stressing over catching us up to “$nothing”, it is a pretty good day… yes, I live on the brink of homelessness – and I work very very hard to live on that brink.

For all of our work, despite the amount of homes that have our art hanging in them (including those where the art was paid for), or how many people know us online, or how many places you can find us, or the appearance of our web sites, these hard-working artists are really lucky to make $1 an hour for their 100+ hours a week.

… And I hope I die never knowing what it is to give up on my dreams. If that is sooner, or later – then I hope the the latter as I am not yet where I want to be with my art. Though I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with what I do, I know that choosing comfort or even life over art is death for me.

Any artist who can survive another day, having lived a day as an artist, is a lucky artist

… and I suppose, *yes*, that does make me “successful”.

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– If you are another artist and maybe looking for some clues on how to survive “the Great Art Depression”, it is pretty simple: The secret to survival is to not give up and die. Those businesses who made it through the 1930’s Depression, came out on top, and remained there for the rest of the century.

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– If you are not an artist, and I have provided some level of understanding, or if you simply agree – Please take the time to add to the success of the creatives you appreciate seeing work from. Buy a CD, buy a book, or an e-book, watch a program and wait through the commercials… And though some of the art you enjoy may be a bit dark or crazy for your walls, do something more than just setting a desktop image. Maybe this means giving them $1 – not as a handout – but in appreciation for the millions of hours of thankless work and study¬† they invested into just getting to the point where you can enjoy an image – or maybe this means telling a few others about their work.. stumble, tumble, blog, do *something*… become a part of the creative process, a part of history, by tipping the scales in favor of what you like to see, hear, or read.

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Specific Items Still Available for Holiday Shipping

By this date, the only thing I can offer Holiday delivery on are original works of art (paintings, sculptures, engravings, woodwork, etc…). Gift Certificates however are available for my site via paypal, and a perfect gift -especially if you were wanting to give something from my store, but not sure what. The below link will take you to the page for purchasing a printable (or email-able gift certificate).

Buy Gift Certificates Here

Originals can be found via the right-hand column (store Category: Originals), plus I am adding a few previously unlisted originals to the mix, tomorrow (December 19th) … as long as I find that blasted camera anyway.

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Rescue Sale

Long story short: The Rescue 11×14 Metallic prints are on sale for only $24 through Mid-December [here]

The Rescue (featuring Abney Park's HMS Ophelia) can be found in my store (click the Store link at the top of any page)

I am at month 7 of trying to get an issue resolved with the printing company who used to be my favorite. 7 months of getting no response back here or there, or a simple “cut and paste” via phone or email.

Their customer service has recently upgraded to an email here or there, and actually trying to sort the problem out, but mostly a lot of “I’ll be in touch tomorrow”, followed by a 2 day wait and me trying again.

Fortunately, I found another company to order through… though this did not help me much for SteamconII, the World Steam Expo, or the 7 months of added expense/time ordering elsewhere, printing locally, and/or looking for other elsewheres to order from…. the prints are every bit as beautiful as the sort of quality I once expected from my former printing company (though they cost me about double if I don’t order in bulk).

Of course all this chaos had to be happening during Holiday rush, and I neglected to put up any sales…

I am at the point where, in a few days (December 15th), it will be too late to order from me and expect your gift orders to arrive in time for gift-wrapping and giving.

… Except…

I plan to order a huge re-stock on 11×14 Metallics of “The Rescue”… that pesky best-seller I wasn’t able to send to Steamcon this year.

So, if you already have this print but would like to give one to someone else, or if you haven’t yet gotten one for yourself, I am selling these for only $24 through December 16th, maybe till December 20th if supplies on-hand hold out.

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New Additions

The Destination 1111 show gave me the opportunity to show a number of works that I hadn’t previously been able to show at any official showing or convention.

Speaking of which, I now have several current and ongoing art displays running, which I recommend if you are in the Massachusetts, Northern California, or Illinois area; They are at: Gallery Nucleus (Alhambra California), The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation (Waltham, Massachusetts), and Gallery Provocateur (Chicago Illinois *beginning October 30th*).

Some of the works I showed at Destination 1111 dated back as far as ten years ago, one or two have been available here as prints for a while, but there were a handful of them which I had never been able to offer here, and was unsure whether to offer here. Not that life for me has ever been all that easy, but several of these pieces were from an exceptionally rough time, which made me hesitant to show them … But, given their reception at the 1111 show, and because they were widely requested, I finally decided to have them imaged.

This week, Jim Gebben, an extraordinary photographer from Grand Rapids, who I met during our Artprize run, spent some time taking some fantastic high res photos of my non-imaged works – so, I am not only finally able to offer prints of these, but finally able to offer some more originals as well.

Here are some of the new offerings:

Arclight 24x24 Oil on Panel
Arclight 24x24 Oil on Panel

Arclight: Available as:

Original 24×24 painting (framed 32 inches by 32 inches)
Giclee on Canvas (limited edition of 20)
Giclee on Fine Art Rag (limited edition of 20)
12×12 Metallic print (open edition)

The Day You Died 16x20 acrylic on canvas
The Day You Died 16x20 acrylic on canvas

The Day You Died: Available as:

Original 16×20 painting (unframed, with option for framing)
Giclee on Canvas (limited edition of 10)
Giclee on Fine Art Rag (limited edition of 20)
11×14 inch Metallic print (open edition)

Drill Baby Drill 24x36 Acrylic on Canvas
Drill Baby Drill 24x36 Acrylic on Canvas

Drill baby Drill: Available as:

Original 24×36 painting (unframed, with option for framing)
Giclee on Canvas (limited edition of 20)
Giclee on Fine Art Rag (limited edition of 20)
12×18 inch Metallic print (open edition)

The Wait - 24x36 Acrylic on canvas
The Wait - 24x36 Acrylic on canvas

The Wait: Available as:

Original 24×36 painting (unframed, with option for framing)
Giclee on Canvas (limited edition of 20)
Giclee on Fine Art Rag (limited edition of 20)
12×18 inch Metallic print (open edition)

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Sneak Peek of the Mural from the Destination 1111 Show

Work in Progress - 30 foot wall mural by Bethalynne Bajema and Myke Amend
Work in Progress - 30 foot wall mural by Bethalynne Bajema and Myke Amend

Work in Progress - 30 foot wall mural by Bethalynne Bajema and Myke Amend
Work in Progress - 30 foot wall mural by Bethalynne Bajema and Myke Amend

Bethalynne and I set out to complete this mural by the end of Destination 1111. We painted till 1AM during the days leading up to the event; We also painted during the event all the way up to the event’s closing, but each of us got taken away from the project for carious things over the weekend more than expected – most of these distractions being pretty awesome ones. It was nearly complete when we left 1111, but tomorrow we’ll have to have it hauled home and finish it in the garage… it should be done this week.

So… anyone in need of over 30 feet of artwork for their home? … It *is* sectional (3 ten foot panels)…

Oh… I do a lot of gum chewing and mumbling in this film, as I had no idea there was a camera on me…

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The Art of Cirque A Circa

Cirque A Circa (A Circus Out of Time) is coming up fast, and with it our 121st Annual RetroNauticon – which is much like a convention, but without registration fees and admission fees.

In a work of art nearly the size of two football fields, we will have many performers throughout the ArtPrize competition. Performers include airial, fire-spinning, fire-eating, and other sideshow performances by Cassie Truskowski, Author Bethany Grenier, Local Artist Ted Jauw, and many others – as well as fashion shows, and of course music: Such as acts by Zoe Boekbinder of Vermillion Lies, and also by The Gypsy Nomads – a great band last seen (by us) at the World Steam Expo.

You may, or may not be able to make it – but this promotional art featuring the Art of Bethalynne Bajema, and Ted Jauw’s Cirque A Circa logo and the Love ambigram is well worth-grabbing while it is still available. Not only do you have the chance to snag some wonderful and rare art for a low price, but you get to take a part of this event by supporting the artists behind it… thereby supporting the event (not having to find and earn money to eat on allows us more time to put towards this monumental effort).

Special Prints for Cirque A Circa by Bethalynne Bajema
Special Prints for Cirque A Circa by Bethalynne Bajema

Not only is Bethalynne offering these limited edition images for a very low price on the CirqueACirca page (direct link to the shop), but she has a beautiful limited edition (limited to only 21 prints) 8×10 metallic from this series available on her site, here ($2o): http://bethalynnebajema.com/scriptorium/?page_id=42&category=9

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Of Books and Other Things

I’m getting closer to being done with this series, and finished with the book… well, the art book anyway.

The shirts and bandanas will likely be available months before the book – They will be decorated by the cover image, but not the cover text, and are pretty amazing. I’ll be screen printing all of these on my own this time around – hopefully that will make them extra special, at least to to some people.

Airships and Tentacles
Airships and Tentacles

I was going to wrap the book up with some pencil and pen and ink work, some watercolors and gouache, but I’ve received a book cover commission from an artist I could not stand to have turned down, and that author wanted something similar to what I’ve been doing. I’ve also been asked to do some similar-themed interior illustrations for another author as well. So, this book will be delayed by a hair, but will also be several pages thicker when released.

Anyway, this post has knocked down the post for the November Sale, so I am just going to remind you here that through November 1st through November 31st of every year, my prices are their very, very lowest (because I don’t want to be buried in shipments the week before the Gift-Giving Season). You might want to take a look around my store (if not the entire store, look at the November Sale Section).

Here are some items which are coming soon, though maybe not in time for Christmas. The shirt is now available – though the tonal striped tees I wanted originally are no longer being made by the manufacturer… bummer:

One-Color Four Corners Airships and Tentacles Bandana
One-Color Four Corners Airships and Tentacles Bandana
Two-Color Forehead decoration Airships and Tentacles Bandan
Two-Color Forehead decoration Airships and Tentacles Bandan
One-Color Airships and Tentacles Dusty-Brown Tee
One-Color Airships and Tentacles Dusty-Brown Tee
Two-Color Airships and Tentacles Dusty-Brown Tee
Two-Color Airships and Tentacles Dusty-Brown Tee
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November Sale

Winter is on its way, and in order to make our Holidays better, yours and mine, I am holding a big November Sale.

Giclees are the main thing on sale this month – some of which there are less than 15 of remaining, ever, out of 50 that will be out there in the world, ever.

Beth and I would like to get into our apartment before winter hits, which will require a new electrical box, having the stove connected, and a lot of work and investment all the way around. Help us towards this goal, and help yourself to prints at the lowest prices we can ever offer.

Now is your best chance this year, perhaps ever, to get these prints for yourself, friends, or family. Not only are the prices incredibly low, but reserves being what they are, some of these may be gone completely by the month’s end.

I’ve organized a section in the store for this sale, click here, or look for “November Sale” in the store categories (lower right side of this page).

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The Dark and Spooky Automated World of Thomas Kuntz

Death and Resurrection: One of many amazing clockwork pieces by Thomas Kuntz to be featured in the Archive.

Thomas Kuntz, a professional artist for over 20 years, began as a sculptor of Commercial Toys, but later gained notoriety circa ’89-98 as a pioneer in the making of model kits based on old silent films like Nosferatu, The Man Who Laughs, Vampira, and others.

After a period of time Kuntz found that merely sculpting his dark creations was not nearly enough for him, and that he wanted to give life to his creations through mechanical, perhaps supernatural means… This change in method resulted in some of the darkest and most interesting automations known to man, and not nearly as many fatalities and disappearances as may be rumored…

[Read the rest of this article, view images, watch more films at the Miskatonic Archive]