Art Logistics

Backroom aspects of being an Artist by Jeannine Cook

Whenever I paint a watercolour, I then record it in digital fashion and, frequently, I continue to use up my stock of Kodak ASA25 35mm slide film as I am still straddling the two systems. I far prefer the Kodak version because the slide film is superior for colour rendition on most watercolour paintings. As long as I use a grey card, a tripod and a decent camera, I can pretty well ensure decent photographs - the old-fashioned way.

Photographing digitally is another subject altogether and I know reams have been written about how to take good digital photographs of paintings. My personal experience is that the surface of most cold pressed watercolour papers bounces the light all over the place and consequently, photos come out pallid and with very unimpressive colour fidelity. I usually only photograph big watercolours, and then resign myself to a long session in Adobe Photoshop, with the painting beside me to guide me back to colour accuracy.

For smaller works, both watercolours and silverpoint drawings, I have been using a flatbed scanner for ages. I had a really good Epson scanner (courtesy of my husband's careful choice), but alas, it gave up the ghost and I had to replace it. Now I have a large format Mustek scanner installed, and it does help that I don't have to knit so many images together from several scans.

The Bend in the Creek, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

The Bend in the Creek, watercolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Nonetheless, I conclude that I am into the same unbelievably time-consuming colour adjustments that I endure with digital photographs. Somehow, even with the best settings possible, the scanner does not like that slightly rough paper surface and all sorts of odd colours appear. Pulling the work back to what it really looks like is almost a question of luck versus skill. It seems almost as labour-intensive as actually painting a watercolour, which is ironic. The image is a recent watercolour, The Bend in the Creek. It cost me too many hours of scanning adjustments!

I wonder if other watercolour artists have the same problems? These backroom aspects to art are definitely not my favourite pastimes, but are necessary in the business of art. Back to the old adage of there being "no such thing as a free lunch"!

HP Computer woes for an Artist by Jeannine Cook

When a computer crashes, I am reminded saliently and uncomfortably of how much I depend on my office computer and laptop to conduct my art business. Alas, the beauteous world of salt marshes and surging tidal creeks is not the best place to find competent people to help one out - in fact, quite the contrary, and it seems that many local computer repair people are the heirs to the Devonshire coast wreckers of yore.

So the inevitable conclusion, when I cannot even print out an exhibition proposal correctly to meet a deadline, is that I need to swallow hard and buy a new CPU. One that will "reanimate" printers, scanners and all the other gizmos one seems to need in this hydra-headed image business. So a careful study of the latest Consumer Reports computer rankings heads me and my husband to the HP (Hewlett Packard) website, a serious mad-maker. Finally, we narrow down choices that we try to tailor and order on the website. After several attempts, which get one almost to the end and then cancel out, we decide to talk to a real live person. Finally, we succeed. Hurray!

We explain what equipment we have, all the accessories we need to connect to the CPU, ask advice and guidance, and eventually select a Pavilion Elite e 9250t. The scrabble soup of 8Gbs, 1TBs, 1GBs, LANs and SDRAMs gets sorted out. Credit card numbers, e-mail addresses and street addresses are carefully given and laboriously repeated back to us. Signed and sealed - with assurances of an e-mail confirmation to come swiftly.

No confirmation, even 24 hours later. So, armed with order number, my patient husband phones again, since the website doesn't want to recognise we exist. Surprise, surprise, the order has not been put through, despite confirmation. So we start again – with a promised additional delay in the delivery date. Not an impressive start and an augury we should have heeded! However, in record time, I meet the doughty FedEx man staggering up the front steps with the bulky box.

We then spend another chunk of change to bespeak the services of an HP technical representative to come and install the CPU, connect up all the other bits and pieces and get the wireless links going. The only trouble is that until a security code and password are delivered with much flourish and more delay, HP won't get organised on sending someone. We are now into a week of HP dances by now.

The very nice gentleman appears to install everything, on time, and efficiently. He gets quieter and quieter in the computer room and the hours go by. My husband and I exchange glances and raise eyebrows - I suggest cups of tea. Eventually we hear him phoning the HP tech support people and spending the next half-hour having a conversation with a well-meaning person yet again halfway around the world. Someone who is clearly out of his depth and of no use at all. More time elapses.

Finally as the afternoon dusk encloses us, we learn that despite all our earnest conversations and asking advice of the original salespeople at HP, we have ended up as the proud possessors of a totally useless piece of expensive equipment! The problem? Windows 7 !! Mind you, "Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit" - not just some humpty-dumpty Window 7 programme. We learn that this oh so superior programme, the guts of the CPU , doesn't like to have any truck with any of the other programmes we have for printers, scanners, even our brand new notebook and fairly new laptop. We go round in circles, almost contemplating buying new printers, a parallel CPU with another programme - until we get satiated.

I pick up the phone to HP to see if we can put on Windows Vista instead and end up with a very nervous young man who thinks I can get a CPU with all the other aspects we chose, but with Vista instead of this Windows 7 problem. But, he implores me, please, please call back in half an hour, because his superior isn't there. Has anyone noticed that no superior, anywhere, is ever available now when you ask to speak to a supervisor?

In half an hour, dinner guests are about to walk through the floor, when I am going through the same ridiculous mating dance of the duck-billed platypus of name, e-mail address, mailing address, when I have already given a ticket number of the whole sorry business. And, surprise, no supervisor is available. So at 10.30 p.m., we bid farewell to delightful friends, and I pick up the phone again. 76 minutes later, I am cut off, having had my ears assaulted by ugly, over-loud music and had parrot-voices of great formulaic courtesy. I succeed in getting a return authorisation number because there is no redemption for HP Pavilions with their Windows 7 guts. The singsong voice instructs me to print out the return label: I point out that it is
because we can't use our printers through this HP computer that we want to return it. Oh!

At well after midnight, I have been transferred to about seven departments, been put on hold interminably, had conversations which verged from near lunacy to constructive charm, and decided that HP was an company whose ethos reminded me of General Motors 25 years ago. I wondered whether - in our speeded-up world - it will take so long for another such company to unravel. Such a return transaction should have required one phone call, an explanation, exchange of identifying numbers, and the rest of the return and reinbursement arrangements should have been conducted internally, within HP. Not over two hours on the phone... with my having to repeat the same items over and over and over again to different people in different departments in distant lands.

Eventually, I was the proud possessor of two return authorisation numbers, for the CPU and for the installation fee, with FedEx instructed to pick up one from 7 a.m.-1 p.m., and the second from 1 p.m.-7 p.m. - go figure! FedEx sensibly picks up both packages together. But, and a big but, we await more tracking numbers before the three to five days for reimbursement kick in. Not too marvellous for an artist...

Well, after this saga, I am no further along in conducting my art business that ten days ago. But I am older and wiser as a purchaser of HP computers. Has anyone ever heard of that expression: caveat emptor?

Frames - more on their history by Jeannine Cook

I was poking about on the Web to learn more about the history of frames, and for anyone who is interested, there is a wonderful website done by Paul Mitchell, an antique and reproduction frame-maker and conservator of paintings in the UK. Entitled "A short history of the Frame", it makes for concise and fascinating reading for anyone who is interested in how a frame can enhance (as well as protect) a work of art, as well as the evolution of frames.

View of a frame-maker's workshop, oil on canvas, c 1900. (Image courtesy of Dorotheum)

View of a frame-maker's workshop, oil on canvas, c 1900. (Image courtesy of Dorotheum)

By the same token, the changes in taste that dictate a type of frame on a painting at one point and an entirely different one at another period are wonderfully chronicled by a short paragraph about the framing over time of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece hanging in the Louvre.

It reminds me of a wonderful story told with great glee by my beloved godfather, the late Reverend Richard H. Randolph, SJ. He was standing in front of a painting in London's National Gallery one day, and turning to his companion, he remarked that he felt the frame was entirely wrong for the work of art. He then described how he would re-frame it, and as he was talking, he noticed a distinguished-looking man was standing behind him, listening intently. He thought no more of the incident until, on his next visit to the same Museum gallery, he saw that the picture in question had been re-framed – exactly as he had described! The gentleman behind him turned out to be the then-Director of the National Gallery, an attentive audience!

Shipping art for a show by Jeannine Cook

For every artist who is having a show, there comes the moment of having to deal with packing and shipping the artwork. If luck is with one, the museum will pick up the work and arrange all the logistics - a delight. But more often than not, things are not so easy.

Bubble paper - with thinner and thinner bubbles that pop more easily, it seems, these days - is a first priority for me, and then come the choices. If there are just one or two framed pieces of art, my first choice is always for the padded, hard-sided cardboard reusable cartons from Air Float.

An Air Float box for shipping art safely

An Air Float box for shipping art safely

I have owned their cartons, in various sizes, for years and years, and the boxes could have their own frequent mileage accounts. By protecting the art by nesting the pieces in dense foam, and by having non-pierce sides, the art travels safely.

The choices then become more difficult. I used to scurry around to find sturdy cardboard boxes, more bubble paper and lots of strong tape. Now, I find that it is extremely difficult, in coastal Georgia, to find the right-sized boxes, so I opt for UPS and their versions of packing cartons. I know that all art venues absolutely hate styrofoam peanuts - so do I - but when it comes to packing up a large number of pieces of art, it gets complicated to make them padded, safe and tightly packed without those little bits of styrofoam. So – pace, galleries. However, all these exercises in shipping art are not cheap these days, when insurance, drop charges, extra fees and the like get gently added, and added, and added some more.

The total costs of shipping art, over and above fees to enter juried shows, must be having a considerable impact on exhibitions these days. Shipping multiple pieces of art for a solo exhibition, or one with another artist, is indeed costly, but at least there is not the initial jury fee, hanging fee or any of those additional costs. In this economy, most artists must be very carefully considering how many shows they want to enter competitively and how far afield they may want potentially to ship artwork.

In a time when we all are extremely conscious of our global connections, it seems ironic that shipping art is becoming so very expensive and complicated. Ah well!