Professional Art Practices: What you should already have (Pt. 2)
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By Dominique Hunter

Too often we take for granted that young artists know exactly what is expected of them professionally. And unfortunately, somewhere along the journey through our arts education, a huge chunk of that critical information gets withheld for whatever reason. So in an attempt to make the transition Photographing-artwork-the-right-wayfrom art student to art professional easier, I wrote an article last week that covered three of the seven items every creative practitioner should already have should have in their starter kit (a curriculum vitae, biography and artist statement). This week I will be presenting the final four items, which are less about art theory and more about art business.

Letters of recommendation
Every single human being on the face of this planet will, at some point, be required to produce letters of recommendation for their prospective field of work. Contrary to popular belief, creative individuals are not exempt from this. For the young artist fresh out of art school, it would make sense to ask a lecturer or director to assist you. However, for those persons who have not passed through any art institution you can ask curators, established artists, writers, critics or any notable person operating within the creative field.

The key to getting a positive response is developing and maintaining a friendly relationship with as many art professionals as you possibly can. I’m not telling you to constantly bombard them with unnecessary or inappropriate chitchat. There are ways to stay in touch and update them about your progress without being a nuisance. In the same way, it’s not smart to approach someone you haven’t spoken with since 2001 without first establishing a friendly conversation. Take into consideration that you cannot approach someone at the ninety-ninth hour and expect that person to take you seriously. Have respect for that person’s time and schedule by giving them adequate notice (at least two weeks).

It is equally important to provide that person with the necessary information to complete the letter of recommendation: the name and address of the company/organization you are applying to; the purpose of the letter (grant, scholarship, job etc.); a brief description of the duties that would be expected to perform; a copy of your biography, artist statement and CV; and a few images of your artwork. These are all necessary for that person to make a convincing case that you are the right candidate for the opportunity/post. Finally, after you would’ve received your letter of recommendation, don’t forget to say thank you!

Photographs of your work
This subheading should actually read: “Photographs of your work that aren’t terribly dark, blurred or have a nasty glare somewhere in the middle from the lens flash.” This is perhaps the most underrated selling point of any young artist’s work that I have noticed here in Guyana. As a creative practitioner it is important that you always have good quality, high-resolution images of your work in your portfolio, preferably done by a professional photographer. The last thing you want is for your viewer to have to “imagine” pixels that aren’t there. However, if you’re now starting out and can’t afford to pay someone to do it then I’m going to share some tips to make it less obvious that you took the photographs yourself.

The first important factor is your light source. If your home is unusually dark during the day then shooting indoor should be out of the question, unless you understand how to bounce artificial light sources. You should always try to photograph your work outdoor making full use of nature’s very own light source. If, at this point, you’re thinking about laying your canvas down in your backyard in the glaring sun, then stop. As much as possible always try to photograph your work in an upright position and away from direct sunlight. Ideally, you should shoot your work on an overcast or cloudy day. Look for a spot that does not have anything hanging overhead that can cast unwanted shadows. In the case of artworks behind glass, they should be photographed before being framed to prevent reflections obscuring the artwork.

When shooting any sculptural work your background needs to be even more considered. Opt for a plain, solid black, white or even grey backdrop (all dependent on the colour of the actual sculpture) to place behind your artwork. Remember that the focus should be your work and not the pile of old car parts screaming, “Look at me!” in the background. If you’re using a fabric backdrop then it should be taut and tacked in place while you shoot. You don’t want any distracting folds or creases. Although technology has allowed for software like Adobe Photoshop to fix virtually any problem, why would you want to give yourself the extra work? Get it right in the frame.

You will then need a DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex) and a tripod (or any flat surface that is high and sturdy enough such as a table or stool). Notice there was no mention of a cellphone or “point and shoot” camera and that’s because they are terrible at capturing images that are true to the original artwork. You can try to use these cameras but they will require way too much editing and will most likely result in a grainy, over-saturated image. Do yourself a favour and invest in the proper equipment that will carry you through your creative career. In the meantime, if you know someone with a DSLR and they’re willing to let you have their child for a few hours, by all means “knock a borrow.” Ensure the flash is off and everything is lined up perfectly then start shooting!

Dominique Hunter is an independent visual artist who recently graduated from the Barbados Community College with a Bachelor of Fine Art (First Class Honours).

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