Saturday, March 29, 2008

Miniature Animal Series on Vellum Film

I suddenly realized that I hadn't posted any of my artwork here yet. How could I have been so remiss?! Well, I will just have to fix that then!

I am currently finishing up a small piece for a competition and a portrait just for fun. But, in the meantime, while I am working on those, I'm going to post my animal series on vellum film.

These pieces are miniature works, all 2.5" x 3.5", and they are all on vellum drafting film. This type of film is archival and acid-free. It is textured and rather than being transparent, it is translucent, meaning that it is cloudy looking and not completely see through. This film uses up more pencils than you would imagine it too. So, if you use it, be sure to have your pencils stocked up. I used Derwent Coloursoft pencils with a few Prismacolors thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, you cannot get very many layers on the film, even if you use a light hand. Therefore, you need to plan out how you want to mix your colors ahead of time and plan on getting the color mix you want within 3 -4 layers. If you use a very light hand, you might be able to get more layers on, but it's better to plan on only 3-4 layers; anymore than that is a bonus.

In addition, because this is film and it is translucent you can work on the back of the film as well as the front. Not all films let you do this, it needs to be textured (matte) on both sides in order to do this. Many people who work on film use the back to do a grisaille or a complementary underpainting. A grisaille is generally done in grays. Both techniques are used to help establish the values of the painting before adding the final colors and to add a sense of depth in the painting. However, I did not use the back side on most of these mini's, though I probably should have.

As you can see, I really enjoy creating macro shots of animals. I love doing the eyes most of all. To me that's the part that makes or breaks a painting.

I hope you like these little miniature treats! All of them now belong to new homes all over the world.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Guidelines For Conducting A Photo Shoot – Part I

Well, I'm feeling much better now, though still not completely well. Well enough at least, to finish another article. And not soon enough I see. Her Royal Highness Treat appears to have taken over my last article. It looks like she's feeling better at least, but I'd say she had better look out for Tooki & Tony. It looks like they're out to get her, but then again, what's new?! *Grin*

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Okay, onto the article: Guidelines For Conducting A Photo Shoot with Animals - Part I

When I get a commission, I try to arrange to have my own photo shoot with the subject rather than accept my client’s own photos as references. I have only had one commission thus far that was not exactly within reasonable traveling distance. As a matter of fact, the commission was from Texas, which is approximately 1400 miles from Shiloh, NC – just slightly beyond reasonable travel distance. I opted for the client to provide their own ref photos with guidance from me on how to take them. However, the photos were still remarkably bad even though they obviously did try to take good shots. I think that was the worst portrait I ever made, and it shows just how important it is to be able to take your own reference shots.

I’m going to cover this topic in two or three articles so that each one doesn’t get too long or boring. I hope I give you the information you need, but if not, please contact me and ask me whatever you want and I will try my best to answer your questions.

Today I will be covering:
1. Arranging The Photo Shoot
2. Getting Ready For The Photo Shoot
3. Equipment You Will Need

Using Your Client’s Own Reference Photos:
Since I rarely use photos other than my own for commissions, I’m not going to go into detail about this. However, if you must use your client's photos, try to use these guidelines:

1. Make sure they have the copyright for you to use the photo they give you. Some people will try to give you a photo that was taken by a professional photographer. The photographer retains the copyright to all of their photos unless they sell the copyright to someone else. If that is the only type of photo your client has, find out who the photographer is and try to get their permission to use the photo. Otherwise, in order to protect yourself from a lawsuit, you'll have to cancel your commission.

2. Try to guide your clients in how to take the photos. Use the same guidelines I will give you in part II of this article.

3. Remember, you ARE an artist. You can change the background and add or subtract highlights and shadows. You do not have to follow the photo exactly! 

Arranging The Photo Shoot
The first thing you have to do, obviously, is set up a time and date with the client for the photo shoot. I always do my shoots at the client’s house, for various reasons.
  • The subject will be most comfortable at home. If your subject is nervous or tense, it will show up like a red flag in the photos. Number one rule is that you want your subjects to be at ease when you take their photo.
  • It is far easier to get outdoor AND indoor shots at the client’s home as they have ready access to both. If you go somewhere public to take the photos, you would be extremely limited in the kind of shots you would be able to take, and that you don’t want.
You will need to find a day and time that agrees not only with both you and your client, but also with the subject. This can be an exercise in patience and pain. If the subject is an animal that regularly gets groomed and/or their fur cut, be sure your client has them groomed and cut no more than 2 weeks before the photo shoot, otherwise, the fur will have had time to grow back and look messy again. Also, I always ask for one to two hours time. I also go over the contract at this time, so I leave plenty of time to get the photos I need plus time to go over the contract thoroughly.

I did a photo shoot with a Bichon-Friese one time. I had a terrible time getting the shoot scheduled because my client was an investment banker who traveled almost constantly. She sent Bentley to get groomed, we set the date, then she was sent away on business at the last minute and had to cancel. By the time we finally were able to do the photo shoot, Bentley’s fur had all grown back. I didn’t realize the difference though, because I had never seen Bentley (or a Bichon-Friese) that was freshly groomed. However, when I delivered the portrait on Bentley’s birthday, there was a newly groomed Bentley and I barely recognized him. When I put the portrait on the sofa, he jumped right up and sat down next to it. I took a photo of him with the portrait, and I was horribly embarrassed!! He looked nothing like the portrait with the exception if a few features on his face and some character traits. My client understood and said the portrait looked just like Bentley when his fur was longer, but I was mortified and promised myself this would never happen again!

Getting Ready for the Photo Shoot: The Equipment You Will Need
Okay, you’ve checked on the subject’s grooming/hair cutting schedule and you’ve set the appointment. Now, it’s time to get ready to go to the photo shoot. Here are a few pointers to remember:

Always get all of your equipment ready the night before and lay it out somewhere where it will be easily accessible to you in the morning, but out of the way. I put mine either on the kitchen table or on the sofa. What kind of equipment might you need? Here are some suggestions:
  • Batteries - Always have extra batteries charged and in your camera bag. Make sure you have a way to separate your used batteries from your charged ones, other wise you’ll have a heck of a time trying to find four batteries that are all charged when you need them.
  • Camera - If your camera is digital, have at least one memory card in your bag. Your memory card should have at least 4 Gigs of memory, which today is not very expensive, depending on which type you need to get. I use SD cards and the last one I bought (Christmas 2007) cost $40.00. I always have two cards because when I go to upload one card I put the other one in my camera right away. The card I am uploading stays in my computer until the next time I need to upload, and then I just trade them out again. This method has allowed me to always have one memory card in my camera at all times. It’s just a little trick I play with myself so I don’t forget my card at home.
After my previous digital camera got stolen (along with my camera bag, batteries, and memory cards) You don’t know how many times I went off with my camera and no memory card! It was very frustrating! I was so used to having two cards and using the “swap out” method that when I only had one card I was forgetting my card at home in my computer.
  • Tripod - Bring a tripod, although I have never used one yet, you never known when it may be necessary. Make sure you know how to use your tripod very well! You do not want to waste time setting it up, getting the camera on, setting different angles, etc. I never use one because I prefer to get candid shots and those are very spontaneous. Impossible to get with a tripod.
  • Toys & Treats - If the shoot is with an animal, be sure to have some treats and a squeaker toy with you. It is amazing the difference between a bored dog, cat, or horse and one with their full attention riveted in one direction and ears pointed! However, you might want to save the treats for after the shoot. I made the mistake of trying to get a dog’s attention with a treat one time, and I never could get him under control again for the entire rest of the photo shoot! Treats are either for well trained dogs or for a reward AFTER the shoot. Of course, always ask the owner first to make sure it is all right.
  • Camera Bag - Hopefully you bought a camera bag when you bought your camera. You can carry all of your extra batteries, memory cards, lenses, animal toys & treats and other camera equipment in the camera bag. It’s a handy little piece of equipment to have, but you’ll want to use the shoulder strap that came with it so you can keep your hands free for other things.
  • Laptop - One of the reasons my husband bought a laptop for me was so I could immediately plug in my memory card, upload the photos of the shoot, and go through them with my client right then and there. I can pull the particular photos I want to use, discuss the pros & cons of it, what changes I might want to make, etc. By the time I leave the shoot I am prepared to start on my first sketch of the portrait. I just have to make the laptop is completely charged the night before.
  • Date Book - I always bring my date book so I can give my client some sort of timeline of when they can expect me to reach the halfway point (which is when a second payment is usually due) and when the portrait should be finished by. We also decide the delivery date, although I don’t like to set that date in stone unless my client needs the portrait for a special occasion such as a birthday or Christmas.
  • Commission Contract - DO NOT FORGET TO BRING THE CONTRACT!!!!!!! Unless you have already gone over the contract and had your client sign it, they must sign it at this point and give you a deposit and down payment. You will need to give your client a copy of the contract as well. Two ways you can do this. One is to take the signed contract and make a copy of it then either hand deliver it or mail it to your client. The second way is to bring two copies of the contract with you and have your client sign both (you sign as well), then leave one copy with them while you file the other one in your filing cabinet for safekeeping.
  • Directions - Do not forget your directions and your client’s phone number in case you need to call them!!!!! Trust me, you WILL need them. Do not try to go by your memory!
  • Map - I always bring a street map of the area with me as well. If I get lost I can pretty much figure out how to get there by using the map, but if not, I always have my client’s phone number with me too! (UPDATE: Today many people like to use GPS. Please believe me when I say that GPS will NOT always get you to where you are going. One person got sent right into the Great Dismal Swamp when they used GPS to come to my house. Always have a local and updated street map if at all possible!).
  • Change of Clothes - Remember we ARE talking about animals here! You never know just what to expect, so you might as well be prepared for anything (such as dirty paws, grass stains, mud, manure, and a multitude of other things! It is especially important to have a change of clothes if you have to go somewhere else after you finish with the shoot.
  • Hair tie, barrette, etc. - Yes, I know I’ve already mentioned this before in a previous article, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. Be sure to take care of your hair if it is long enough to get in your eyes, especially if it is a windy day.
I'll go over how I actually conduct my photo shoot with my subject. I'll also have some photos that I took at a couple of photo shoots and YOU decide which ones should be used. Put your vote for which one in a comment and I'll show you which ones I actually did use.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Queen Treat Introduces Other Household Residents

Good afternoon good people of blogville! I am the residing Queen of the Hoover household, Treat. My human, Nancy, is still sick so I thought I would take it upon myself to introduce you to my loviness and give you some insight into the other, ahem, residents in the house.

First is the most important one of all, ME. You can see all of my resplendent glory in the photo above. This is me watching over all of my kingdom, that is, before my human decided that I wasn't allowed outside at all except for the dreaded ........ oh I hate to say it ............. exercise. Argh!! Yes, she actually makes me exercise. Oh the inhumanity of it all - of course all the attention I get while exercising is worth it, plus the added benefit of getting the lowdown on who's been around visiting us and any little presents left for us makes it ...... almost ...... tolerable. But I ask you, look at that glorious body of mine!! Do I look like I need exercise?? Of course not! I'm just ............ poofy! It's all that beautiful fur, that's all.

Anyway, I love to sit along the back of my human's chair when she sits at her drafting table drawing or working on her computer. She has this thing about me sitting ON the drafting table. Claims I'll hurt her artwork. Sheesh! When I'm not on the chair, I'm either following her around the house or forcing ... er ..... sweetly loving my way into her lap. If her lap is unavailable, I'll try another human's lap. At night, I lay cuddled with my human, preferably across her face - her breathing is so warm, soothing and relaxing. For some reason my human finds this position uncomfortable. Humans! Go figure!

What? Oh, oh yes, I need to continue, don't I? The next resident I'll introduce you too to the goofiest, craziest, most ridiculous fool I have ever had the misfortune of meeting. His name is Tooki. You can see him in all of his foolishness right there on your right. Yep, he's a winner all right! I'm not quite sure why my human wanted him, but here he is. He was born here along with his brother, Blitz. Let me tell you, sharing a home with those two clowns was torture!! They were always tag teaming poor little me. Well, Blitz is no more now (he got too brave with the mean outdoor critters), much to Tooki's dismay. Now Tooki and Tony (more about him in a moment) have turned my wonderful home into a race track! *sniff* It's awful! They whip around here, sliding around corners, bouncing off of everything from the top of the sofa, to the bookcase, right through the middle of my House master's (my human's mate) feet and under his desk ........ oooooooooooh, that's not good. Boy do they get in trouble for that! *snort* Hehe.

What? Oh all right stop pouting. Tooki is insisting on me putting up a more flattering picture of him. So how's this one??

(hehehehehe). Oh be quiet! All right, all right, I'll put up another one! Sheesh, male cats. Sometimes there's no pleasing them. *smirk* I still like the one with Tooki's head in the watering can better. Hehehe, Hey! Back off there! No swatting the Queen! By the way, I had heard a nasty rumor that my human is painting a picture of Tooki for a competition. I actually saw it today.
How insulting! Why she would ever want to paint such a nincompoop as Tooki I don't know, especially when she has such a glorious model like me around.

Last year a new resident moved in. Why my humans felt the need to add to the number of felines in the house I do not know. Humans often do fickle things for no reason. We have now got yet another male cat in the house.

That's just not fair, two male cats against little ole me! Well, I had to make sure this new upstart understood his place here, and he was quite good about it all. Better than that furball Tooki is. Tooki will just never get it!

Tony is of the long-haired variety, like me but not nearly as beautiful. You can see him below. Whereas I have many splendid colors in my coat, he has only two, gold and white, just like Tooki. Can you say booooooooooring! He is quite mannerly though, and is even willing to play with me occasionally. However, he sometimes has the audacity of trying to play with me when I have not instigated it! I can not have that happening, so I put my paw down in no uncertain terms whenever that happens. Tony has been pretty good, even though he did not grow up here like the rest of us did. My human has raised all of us from kittenhood, but Tony came to us already grown up. He's the same age as Tooki (God have mercy on me!), and I heard he lived in a garage before coming here. My humans have had a terrible time getting Tony to understand the concept of not getting directly under their feet and he has been stepped on several times. I think he's finally getting it though. Poor Tony doesn't understand, the only one here who can lay in the middle of a doorway in the middle of the night and not get stepped on is me! That's because I'm the queen (that, and I'm not stupid enough to just lie there and let myself be stepped on like he does). Tony doesn't try to steal my human's lap, or sleep with her (like some other buffoons), so he's okay. I won't post an embarrassing photo of him. *grin* Tony mostly likes to spend time in my human's brother's room. I go in there now and then to make sure everything is in order, but I let Tony have the run of that room. As long as he leaves my human and her son alone, it'll be all right.

Now, there's one more resident feline here, she lives outdoors though. My human says we have to go live outside when we stop using the litterbox properly. The horror of it! I shall always be sure to park my tookus in the litterbox whenever I feel the need to go. My human is really serious about this!

The outdoor feline's name is Mischief, and Mischief actually raised me to be the glorious Queen that I am today! She isn't my real mommy, but Mischief was already an adult feline living in my human's home when my human brought me home as a little baby. Mischief is about one year older than I am, but she is sooooo much more experienced from living outdoors with those possums, raccoons, bears, and other mean neighborhood felines!! *shiver* I don't think I could cope if I found my house taken over one night by one of those big ole nasty possums! But, Mischief likes living outside, although she does occasionally get lonely and my human brings her in for some loving when Mischief feels like that. Mischief has her own nice comfy house with a nice soft padded cushion for a bed and protection from all of the nasty weather we have here in northeastern NC! She's almost treated a bit too much like royalty for my taste, but I give Mischief some slack because she's outdoors. At least Mischief doesn't try to take over sleeping with my human like some felines do (Yes Tooki I mean you!!!! Just because I was sick myself while my human was sick doesn't mean you can take over comforting her).

We also have several visiting felines who actually live here more than at their own human's homes. One my human has already painted a picture of, is Mufasa. He's an all right feline. Kind of handsome, quiet, not too rambunctious, more of a gentlefeline. My human likes him very much, but poor Mufasa must not get treated very well by his humans. He's always so scared, but he likes my human and lets her pet him and even hold him. My human is glad he spends more time here and she takes good care of him. Tooki loves to play with him on the times when he sneaks out, which is getting out of hand lately. I've heard rumors that if he doesn't stop he may end up out there with Mischief ......... sharing her house!......... permanently!! Hey, this could work out for me! Tooki, look the door's open a crack. Want to go out?! *Snicker*

Hey folks! This is Tooki. Tony has her highness trapped and quivering like a kitten. We thought you should see what her highness is really like, so here's a photo of her overlooking her "kingdom" while plotting horrible things for me. Yes, it was ME she was looking at. *shiver* The Horror!!! ! Oh no, here she comes!! Run away, run away! The great behemoth queen is waddling after us!!! Ahhhhhhhh!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Commission Contract Part II: Costs & Copyright Law

It seems I have joined everyone else with getting sick. My whole family has been sick and some of us twice! So far two versions of this year's flu strains have made their way through my house, hopefully the third will think the first two did us in enough and leave us alone. At least, for the next few moments, I can actually think clearly enough to get this done.

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Continuing on with the Commission contract, we now find ourselves at the most complicated part of the contract - costs, and the most important part - copyright information. I have tried to simplify everything in this article as much as possible, but some parts may still seem a bit difficult to grasp. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or comment and I will try to respond as soon and as clearly as possible. I understand that this all seems rather dry, but it is critical information to know if you plan on doing commissions, so please hang with me here!

It would probably be much easier to understand this information if you first refer back to The Commission Contract - Part I, just to brush up with where we are on the subject and where we have already been.

C. Costs

1. Tax: I am required to charge state taxes on any commission I have when the client resides in North Carolina, so I write down this amount first.

2. Portrait Costs: I add up all of the costs in section B and write it down. This is the total price of the commissioned portrait, which included matting, but does not include framing.

3. Shipping & Handling: I add shipping & handling costs, if any. (If the client is within driving distance to me, I personally deliver the portrait to them at no cost).

4. Total Price: I calculate the total price of the portrait by adding together #’s 1, 2, and 3 from above. Matting is always included in the total price, but framing is extra.

5. Down Payment: I write down the amount of the down payment the client wants to make, a minimum of which is a $75.00 non-refundable deposit. This down payment guarantees the total price in the contract and holds the client’s place in the calendar.

D. Payment Plans
This is where the client chooses which payment plan he or she wants. It generally takes me at least two months to finish a portrait (usually more), depending on the size and complexity, so I allow the client to make monthly payments on their commission. This is much easier on the client, which in my case, generally turns out to be a hard working middle/working class person with a family. It also helps me to get some commissions I would never be able to get if I asked for total payment up front or at the least, all at once when the portrait is completed.

I have two payment plans, but I am also flexible. If I know a portrait is going to take longer, I allow the client to make more payments. As long as the portrait is completely paid for before I deliver the portrait, I am happy. I never deliver a portrait and leave it at my client’s house without first receiving the final payment.

Payment Plan A: Two payments. A first partial payment, which usually is 50% of the entire commission. The first payment is made in the down payment stage when the contract is signed. The second payment is made when I deliver the portrait to the client (sometimes the client has requested to make the final payment earlier, which is, of course, also acceptable). I clearly write out how much each payment will be for, and I spell out at what point the payments will be made.

Payment Plan B: Three Payments (mostly for commissions over $300.00). A first partial payment, which usually is 34% of the entire commission. A second partial payment of 33% is made at the halfway point. The third and final payment of 33% is made at the completion and delivery of the portrait. Again, I specify the exact amounts in the contract and spell out at what point the payments are to be made, including dates.

Additional Info: Lastly, I include a little blurb that describes the portrait process, including at what point they are to sign off of the work, meaning that no additional changes may be made from that point that will require a major reworking of the painting. If such a reworking is requested, the fee that will be charged for the extra work a rate of $50.00 per hour. This is not greed on my part. It is simply to strongly discourage any major changes to be made beyond a certain point in the painting process. I make sure when I am going over the contract with the client, I emphasis this part so that they completely understand it. I explain how difficult it is to make such changes and that sometimes if such a change is requested it would require me to completely start over and all the time already put into the painting is gone. Just a little note here; I send the client updates of the portrait as I progress and they let me know if I have gone a stray anywhere so that I may make any necessary corrections right away. This should avoid any problems later on, and so far I have never had anyone ask for major changes and no one has ever gotten angry at me about the fees.

Insufficient Fees: This MUST be written into the contract if you want to charge a fee for a check that bounces due to insufficient fees or for any reason that the bank returns the check and refuses to cash it. If you do not include this in your contract, you cannot charge this fee!! I write in bolded lettering that I charge a $25.00 fee for any check that is returned by the bank and the bank refuses to cover the check for whatever reason (this also includes stop payments). That fee gets added to the total commission price to be paid before delivery of the portrait. Also, if I run in this problem before the final payment has been made, then I will with hold portrait delivery until the check clears the bank completely. Only when the bank has given me clearance will I deliver the portrait.

For artists who are from other countries, please check on the laws of your country on this matter so you can conform to them.

E. Copyright Information
Whereas the cost section was the most complicated part, the copyright information is the most important part of the contract!

Always, ALWAYS (and I cannot emphasize this enough) include copyright information in your contract. Make sure you read it to the client and that they understand it completely! This section will be different for people in different countries because the laws are not all the same. Basically, I make sure the client understands that ALL copyrights of the original portrait, the reference photos used (if such photos were taken by me) remain with the artist. The client is not to reproduce the commissioned portrait or sell any reproductions of the portrait. I state that I agree not to reproduce or publish any commission in any derogatory manner whatsoever.

Copyright Specifics:
(All quotes in this section have been taken from the U.S Supreme Court case of Community for Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730 (1989). I include citations from the case and the location from where the quotes were taken so you may look them up yourself).

According to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Community for Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730 (1989),” an artist commissioned to produce artwork is considered an Independent Contractor, rather than that of an employee as is the case of “work for hire.” According to the decision, factors that help define the relationship as that of an Independent Contractor are: everything written inside the parentheses are my own inclusions and not from the quote)

  1. “the skill required,
  2. the source of instrumentalities and tools, (does the artist supply his own tools, such as pencils, pastels, paints, drawing board, paper, boards, etc., or does the hiring party directly supply them)
  3. the location of the work, (does the artist use his own studio or home to work in or does the hiring party provide the workspace)
  4. the duration of the relationship between the parties,
  5. whether or not the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party,
  6. the extent of the hired party’s discretion over when and how long to work, (does the artist set his own work hours)
  7. the method of payment, (does the hiring party give the artist a "paycheck" with taxes taken out)
  8. the hired party’s role in hiring and paying assistants, (does the hiring party have any say over whether or not the artist can hire additional help to work on the commission)
  9. whether the work is part of the regular business of the hiring party, (if the artist works for a company and created the artwork as a part of his job for that employer, or created the piece while working at his job, then the employer could claim copyright of the artwork)
  10. the provision of employee benefits, (does the hiring party provide insurance benefits, vacation, and sick leave)
  11. and the tax treatment of the hired party.” (page 7, section B, paragraphs 1 & 2)

In addition, "section 101 of the 1976 Act provides that a work is for hire under two sets of circumstances:

  1. a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
  2. a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a
    1. contribution to a collective work,
    2. as part of a motion picture or other audiovisual,
    3. as a translation,
    4. as a supplementary work,
    5. as a compilation,
    6. as an instrumental text,
    7. as a test,
    8. as answer material for a test,
    9. as an atlas.” (page 3, section II, part 2)

Thus, a sole artist working alone, who is commissioned to produce a portrait does not fall under the definition of “work for hire” and is not considered an employee of the hiring party so long as the above conditions are met. Therefore, copyright is NOT automatically assigned to the hiring party, however, Joint Ownership of the copyright could be assigned to both the artist and the hiring party if the hiring party and the artist prepared the work “with the intention that their contributions be merged in inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.” (page 7, section B, paragraph 5)

Fortunately, there is a way for the artist to retain sole copyrights to his/her artwork. The Copyright Act of 1976 allows the artist to retain the copyright IF there is a contract signed by both parties stating that the copyright will be retained solely by the artist.

Therefore, ALWAYS add into your contract that the copyright of the original artwork and of any reference photographs taken by the artist for the artist to use in creating the commissioned artwork, remain solely with the artist. However, make the client comfortable by also including a blurb that the artist agrees not to reproduce any commissioned artwork in any derogatory manner whatsoever, and that any transfer of the copyright from the artist to another individual or company/organization must be in writing expressly identifying what rights are being transferred and for what purpose.

The above should protect you in an American court of law. If you live outside of the U.S. & its territories, you need to research your own country’s copyright laws.

Final Bits:

At the end of the contract I have a place for the signatures of both the client and myself, along with a place for the date, and I make sure the client’s name is printed as well as signed.

You will note that in numerous places I mention that I read something in the contract to the client. Well, I actually read the entire contract not just parts of it. I have found that most people do not bother to read the whole thing, even though it is only two pages long and I have simplified it as much as possible. The details outlined in the contract are extremely important and if you want to avoid trouble in the future you had better make sure they know every little bit of it! I explain to them how important it is and that I want to be able to answer any questions they may have. So far I have never had anyone act like I was insulting their intelligence by reading it to them.

Other Tips: Here are some final tips for you.

This is a business contract and a serious matter, even if it is between you and a friend, co-worker, or family member. It not only protects you from a dishonest client, but it also protects the client from YOU. However, if you want your client to take this seriously, you need to dress and act the part.

  • You are a business man or woman – look the part! No, just because you are an artist does not mean you can dress sloppy. You don’t have to wear a suit, goodness knows I never have. But go dressed for the part. If I am doing a photo shoot of the subject, I generally wear black dungarees with a nice button down shirt tucked in and don’t forget the belt (if your pants have belt loops). Some shirts are made to be worn outside of the pants; just make sure it does not look sloppy. However, don’t wear a top that would be difficult to clean if it becomes dirty. Remember, you are working with animals, children, and adults, accidents do and will happen!
  • Have your hair neatly brushed and out of your way. If your hair is long enough to get in your eyes at all, pin it up, put it in a ponytail, or put a barrette in it. Nothing is more distracting or frustrating to getting a job done than having to keep your windblown hair out of the way (both from your eyes as well as the camera lens).
  • Be sure to carry on in a business like manner. That doesn’t mean a boring, dry, ho-hum manner. You can laugh, play with the subject, and have a good time because if you don’t your subject and client surely will not. But do not get carried away or say anything questionable, distasteful, or inappropriate.
  • In addition, remember that anything that is said in front of you by your client and/or their friends or family can be considered confidential. Be very careful of the stories you tell about your clients and your experiences in doing commissions. Ask yourself that, if your clients read what you write or hear what you say, would they be hurt, embarrassed, or angry or would YOU feel that way?? If the answer is yes, don't say or write it. Remember, people aren't always thinking when they speak, and your client's friends and family don't expect you to repeat what you hear in their presence.

Remember, you can still lose the client and commission right up to the final payment and sometimes even after that.

Next Article: I'm going to cover how I conduct my photo shoots with my clients & subjects.

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For more information on copyright laws:
U.S. Copyright Office
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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Commission Contract - Part I

The Commission Contract: The Most Important Part of a Commission

There have been numerous people asking what I include in my contract for commissions, so I thought I’d write an article on what I put in my contract and why it is necessary. As artists, we don’t like to think our clients are people we can’t trust, or that our clients will ever stiff us or give us a problem. However, those of us who already do commissions know that, unfortunately, you cannot always count on the good side of people when dealing with a lot of money for a portrait. So, for those of us who would far rather avoid headaches with difficult clients, or want to just have a clearly written and concise contract that spells out everything for the client as well as for ourselves, I hope this article helps.

For ease of the reader, I have divided up this article into parts. This particular article covers the following:

1. Why Do You Need a Contract?

2. What Is In a Contract

  • Client Information
  • Portrait Information
This is a very simple beginning. Although ALL sections in a contract are important, some sections are absolutely crucial. The next article will cover those crucial sections, so be sure not to miss it.

Why Do You Need A Contract?

You need a contract between the artist and the client for a variety of reasons.

1. It spells out ALL costs and expenses involved in the commission.

2. It explains any special fees that may occur during the course of the commission.

3. It contains all the information you, the artist, need to get in touch with the client, how & where to deliver the painting, details about the commission and the subjects, and copyright information. In addition, it is a signed contract between the two of you and is legally binding in a court of law if, God forbid, it ever needed to go that far.

As much as we would like to think the best about people, and as often as agreements start out amiable, they do not always end that way. Without a contract, you could end up being left high and dry, or you could end up with a lot of extra work and not get paid for it.

What Is In A Contract?

So, what exactly does a contract consist of? I have broken down the contract I use into sections, and I will cover each section separately.

A. Client Information

This is pretty self-explanatory. I include the client’s name, address, telephone number and alternate number (usually a cell phone number). If the client has a P.O. Box, I also ask for a physical address.

B. Portrait Information

Okay, now we start to get down to the nitty gritty. I begin this section with a little blurb about how the client wishes to commission me to create an artistic portrait and that by entering this contract the client acknowledges that he or she has reviewed my other portraits and is familiar with my style. This blurb is to make sure that the client really understands what he or she is getting and what the portrait is likely to look like in the end. That way, the client cannot say he did not know what your artistic style was from the beginning.

Portrait Size
The sizes I include are a total of six different sizes:

8" x 10"
9" x 12"
11" x 14"
14" x 18"
16" x 20"
18" x 24"

I keep to standard frame sizes to make it easier to mat and frame. Each size has a base price that I have already determined. The base price is the starting point, and it goes up from there depending on the particulars. After checking which size the portrait is to be, I write the base price in the spot provided next to the size.

The portrait to the right, "Gazing Toward Heaven", is a 9" x 12" three-quarter body with a simple background. I didn't make it complex, even with the garden sign included.

Type of Shot
This tells me how much of the subject is included in the portrait. My clients have three choices:

Head & shoulders
three-quarter body, or
full body

I charge 25% more for the full body.

The portrait to the right, "Bentley", is an 11" x 14" full body with a complex background (because it has furniture in it).

Last, I ask what kind of background my client would like. They have two choices:

Simple - a background of gradient color
Complex or detailed - including furniture, nature, specific items, etc.

I charge 25% more for the complex background.

The portrait to the right, "Bird Watching", is a 9" x 12" three-quarter body complex background.

Additional Information

I use a separate piece of paper to record such information as eye color, hair color, height, and any additional distinguishing features or information the client wishes to include. I used to include this info in my contract, but it got too cluttered and confusing, so I took it out. Now the contract is much more understandable!

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One thing I have decided not to do is to provide a copy of my contract. This is because I want you to write your own, one that suits you and your needs. I got the basic information for mine from another artist, then changed it to suit my own needs and preferences. That is what you should do as well. I am providing you with the information that I feel is necessary to include. You may feel that I am missing an item or two that you want to include. Additionally, you may feel that I have included sections you do not feel necessary. Again, this article is simply meant to be a guideline for you to use in the creation of your own contract.

NEXT: Costs, Payment Plans, Copyright Information, and Other tips.

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Other Blog Articles About Commissions:

"The Nuts and Bolts of Commission Work" by Maggie

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Using Reference Photos to Create Artwork

Have any of you artists out there ever used a stock image to create a traditional or digital piece of art? Let me ask you how do you use the stock images you download:


2. Do you CHANGE A LITTLE BIT of the photo?

3. Do you ONLY USE A LITTLE BIT of the photo?

4. Do you simply USE THE PHOTO MERELY AS A REFERENCE along with an assortment of other ref photos?

What are the pros & cons of each of the above responses? Below I discuss briefly each of the four ways to use a ref photo, one by one. Read on:

1. Copying a photo EXACTLY for creating a piece of art has several downfalls:

1a.) Cameras distort reality - Unless you really understand how this happens, you will end up copying the distortion into your artwork, which will ultimately take away from the beauty of it and it will be a red flag to others that you have copied a photo exactly.

1b.) Copying exactly does not allow you to grow as an artist - Not only does it hinder your growth, but your own creativity is also hindered because you are at the whim of other photographers. Even if you use your own photos as reference material, if you copy the photo exactly you are limiting your ability to put together your own composition. There are two exceptions to this downfall - one is if you are a beginner and two is if you compose your photograph before taking the picture. Both of these are discussed further below.

1c.) In copying a photo, you may be breaking copyright law! Even in online public stock sites that have copyright-free photos, it’s hard to know for sure which photos may themselves be stolen from someone and which ones are really owned by the photographer displaying them.

Here is an example of copying from a ref photo:

On the left you see my painting and on the right you see the ref photo. This is my own photo that I took of a cat named Dusty. I cropped the photo, made the colors a bit more vibrant, and changed Dusty’s coloring a bit (since I know him personally and know his coloring to be a little different from the photo). I guess you could also argue that I changed a little bit of the photo, but essentially it is the very same as the photo, I just have made a few very minor changes.

Here are the advantages of copying photos:

1d.) If you take your own reference photos, and you compose your own picture rather than just happening upon a scene and snapping a picture, than you are getting EXACTLY what you wanted in a piece of art. Often times artists do this when it's either impossible or very inconvenient to work with subjects from life. Also, there are some incredible photographers out there who take some amazing photos that you just feel drawn to painting. Just be sure to thoroughly check out the photo for camera distortion first and correct it! This is one of the exceptions to copying photos hindering your growth as an artist.

1e.) If you are a new artist and are learning, using someone else's photo as a subject to paint, draw, etc., is one of the best and most convenient ways to learn. It's how I taught myself how to draw. But, you also need to research and understand camera distortion if you are going to do this. After copying a few photos, try making a few changes to a photo. Change the colors, add something to it, take something out, change the lighting, etc. There’s a multitude of ways you can change a photo. Each time thereafter, try to make more and more substantial changes to the ref photo you are using. By doing so, you will be challenging yourself as an artist and your skills will increase. This is one of the exceptions copying photos hinders your growth as an artist.

1f.) If you are creating ACEO’s, or miniature art, I find that I need to focus on one subject close-up because I am a detail freak and that is the only way I can get the details into a picture that’s so small. Thus, I usually crop, flip, or otherwise move the subject around before painting it from my ref photo, unless it is macro photo, which is already a tight crop of the subject. You can take a photo of an entire flower, and crop it so it only shows a close-up of the very middle of the flower, or crop it in some other way to only a portion of the flower. You can do the same thing with animals and even people.

2. Changing a little bit of a photo:

Changing a little bit of a photo simply means changing an item, such as a piece of furniture or removing the background, changing the color, turning a black & white into color, etc., but still using the majority of the photo as is.

Here is an example of changing a little bit of a photo:

On the left below is a painting I made of Bentley, a dog I was commissioned to paint. On the right is one of the photos I took during a photo shoot with Bentley. I chose to use this photo for the painting because it caught Bentley's personality. However, as is often the case with photo shoots I couldn't control the background very much. So, in painting the portrait I had to change the background to eliminate the sofa and loveseat from behind the dog. I simply put in a simple gradient background.

3. Using a little bit of a photo:

Using a little bit of a photo means only using one item in or just a little piece of a photo, such as the leaves of a plant or a tree, the background, one of the buildings, one bird in a flock, etc. Usually when a person uses only a little bit of a ref photo it’s because they are also using several other ref photos in the same way, and putting together their own composition. By using this method you are using a great deal of your own imagination to put together your composition. This is generally the next step from copying photos. This is acceptable as long as you use the subject/item in the ref photo in such a way that you cannot really tell for sure that it came from that particular photo, in other words, you have included other items/subjects, changed the lighting and/or the colors, etc.

Two examples of using a little bit of a photo.

Example 1: Say you are creating a composition of kittens playing. You want several kittens to be in the painting, but you have no real live kittens to work with. So, you search for just the right photos with kittens in certain positions. You chose several different photos of kittens, but you only use one kitten from each photo. You then put those kittens together in your own composition, thus creating your own unique work of art.

Example 2: This is a piece I created using my friend, John Houwaart's tiger photo - with permission of course. I cropped it to do just a macro shot of the tiger rather than the whole body. You would never know by looking at it exactly whose photo I used to get this shot, it could be from any head on shot of a tiger. In addition, I turned this painting into a banner that I am currently using on my online journal. Next to the painting is the original photo I took the crop from.

4. Using the photo merely as a reference.

The best way to describe this is to give you an example:

You want to do a painting of a cardinal on a branch in a tree. You have your own ref photo of the bird and of the tree that you want to use, but it is from further away than you would like and you can't make out all of the bird's features very well. You search for cardinal photos and find several you like in similar positions. You do not copy any of them but simply look at them to see how the bird's beak is shaped, look at another one to get a better idea of the feather coloring, etc. much like an artist often uses several photos to do a commission on one subject. Each photo offers different views, different positions, different lighting, etc. and you look at each one for a specific reason, but never actually copy any one photo. This offers the greatest amount of creativity and challenge for the artist (other than creating a composition directly from your head, using NO reference at all, which not all artists can do).

Using photos as a reference for creating traditional or digital pieces of art is perfectly fine as long as you keep a few things in mind:

4a. Keep camera distortion in mind when copying and be sure to correct for it.

4b. Follow all copyright rules when using other people's photos!! There is a difference between exclusive rights and permission to use a photo simply as a reference. Don't confuse them! (I will cover these differences in another entry).

4c. If you are using a photographer's photo for reference, be sure to ask them first!!! Also either ask or read the photographer’s rules to see whether or not you can copy the photo if that is your intention. Many photographers do not allow copying; instead they insist you make significant changes. If the photographer sees your artwork and can tell right away that you used their photo as a ref, you have not made significant changes for your painting.

If you do use ref photos to create artwork, it is always best to use YOUR OWN photos!!! This especially applies if you intend on putting your artwork in a show or selling it. You don't want to damage your reputation just so you can use someone else's photo as a ref, do you?!