I got into the business of fine art printing (and later, out) to satisfy a need: mine. As a fine art photographer who’s gained some local reknown by photographing an ongoing series I call Vanishing Austin (since 2004), I was frustrated by the print results I got when I’d leave a DVD or upload an image file with a local or online vendor. There was no one to discuss my file prep with, no one to consult on the best kind of print paper for the look I was after, no one to review my file with me to be sure the deeps I wanted would print deep, or that the highlights I strived for wouldn’t blow out in the printing process.
I opened a gallery and art services business in 2010, with an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 (a professional imaging system that prints up to 44″ wide in 10 Epson Ultrachrome pigment color inks plus two blacks) and set about to print with the skills and knowledge to tweak the best results from an image file. The goal was to astound and satisfy customers who were as demanding about the art of printing as I was, with one-on-one custom service.
I kept our pricing in line with the services in Central Texas and the online printing sites (that only provided the more typical file-upload-and-batch-process workflow). I stocked two high-quality Epson papers, two higher-end Moab art and photo papers, added Red River Pearl Metallic and lots of samples, so customers could have some options to see how their work looked on differing substrates. I set up a soft-proofing on-the-spot system in-house on our iMac 27″ and encouraged customers to be a part of the process and watch their prints roll off the Epson Pro 9900.
I eagerly shared knowledge about making high-quality images for print, and answered questions about file prep, color profiles, file formats and more so customers felt like collaborators in making their prints shine. Once clients gained trust in our quality and service, I set up a file-upload system using Dropbox, encouraging phone conversations about the uploaded files, even custom proofing or strip tests by delivery, for customers who couldn’t get to my downtown Austin studio for one-on-one service.
These are times of less and less personal service, with so much available online. But I’ve found I’m not alone in desiring the craft of what I create to be of critical importance to my process. It’s ultimately about the end result, the finished product, the stunning print, that I am committed to, as much as it is about the thrill of creation behind the lens.
What’s your idea of a finished product? Are you content to have it viewed online, or are you old-school in wanting that gorgeous print that’s been lovingly made on a richly-textured art paper or pearly-finished photo paper?
Being an artist involves a lot of schlepping, which is not something you are trained for in art school.
(Come to think of it, are you trained for anything in art school? But we digress.)
Schlepping is pretty much thought of as hauling, carrying, lugging, dragging a burdensome load (with some interesting deviations from google.com) . . . and artists have many, many opportunities to practice schlepping in their art practice. Schlepping canvases, paints, brushes, solvents, easels, and more, back and forth from supplier to studio. Then there’s the schlepping of framing, glass, framed pieces, finished artworks, etc. back and forth to coffee shops that agree to exhibit the work, to art festivals where artists withstand the elements to get known, and to art galleries that agree to show their work. Then back to the studio with the art that doesn’t sell. Commitment to your art involves commitment to schlepping, too.
Was there a Professor of Schlepology in the fancy art school you graduated from? Not likely. Wouldn’t artists become discouraged in undergraduate school if they learned that their career success owed a heavy debt to the art of schlepping?
Photographers schlep as well, on a near-daily basis, and all the more so if they are location photographers. And no matter how small memory cards get, cameras and lenses and lights and battery packs and laptops and handy gear never seem to get smaller. Even when they do get smaller, there are still more small nifty accessories to add to the camera bag.
Photographers, at least, are able to solve the schlepping problem by hiring lowly young assistants-in-training. Assistants work for the more established professionals in order to learn from them, and then end up learning how to schlep, too.
Artists are a bit more on their own to become creative when it comes to schlepping. You can go through friends who are willing to schlep pretty quickly in this career.
There are some successful artists who have solved the schlepping problem rather neatly by choosing their partners wisely. I was quite envious upon meeting the husband of a noted Austin-area artist who rather cheerfully introduced himself to her studio visitors as “the artist’s slave.” While the artist’s statement lists many accomplishments in abstract and expressionistic painting, she does not list “schlepping” among them. Apparently she owes all the schlepping her success entails to her husband, the self-described “artist’s slave.”
Artists whose spouses would never describe themselves as “artist’s slaves” nonetheless understand the important role they play in (literally) supporting their creative mates. “See, I just schlep what she tells me to,” one artist’s husband explained to me. They schlep the artwork around, from the art studio to openings and art fairs and back again. Thus their appearances at openings and festivals are understood to be mandatory–especially since they’ve schlepped all of the art in and out.
How much time have you spent schlepping v. creating in your art career? What are your strategies to minimize the schlepping, and maximize the making, of art?