e-Picture formatting

I was talking, with a friend who does web-site layouts, about the huge variety of platforms now requiring attention for an application. No longer can you just size any pictures to read well on a 600 x 800 monitor…no you have to consider HD aspect-ratio display formats, high resolution displays, and now iPads and other tablets, smart phones, and various e-readers…high and low resolution…big and small…portrait or landscape orientation.

I recently ‘bought’ a (temporarily) free book on Kindle, Lexi Fairheart and the Forbidden Door, to see how a picture-oriented children’s book worked on a eReader…a Kindle Paperwhite in this case. I had understood that they didn’t work well on that platform. Reading it on the Kindle app on my laptop, the pictures were in color and looked very good,  but on the eReader, while they were sized OK, the conversion to black& white made them so dark it was impossible to see any detail…I would suppose a change in the brightness of the pictures with an eye to the conversion might have helped. [Also, the same problem I had with fonts on my own eBook plagued this eBook…the choice of font styles was totally overridden although the size could be altered.]

When I now start to configure pictures for eReaders I face the challenge of what resolution to use, what aspect ratio, and how light or dark to make them. Kindle suggests 500 x 700 pixels for interior pictures and something like 1800 x 2500 pixels for covers, but they caution that you should preview all files on the various target devices to make sure you can accept the result. That is well and good but what it dramatically shows for picture/drawing/graph-oriented books, the  highly fragmented viewing market really demands that I prepare different files for each target device. Whatever the capabilities of the operating systems on the devices, they do not intelligently optimize all the various files that they display.

How wonderful it would be if there were a defined standard which, in a single file, would play well across all platforms–probably that is presently impossible…it would require the capabilities of a photo editor program in each device as well as a computer with the graphical layout savvy of a professional designer.

Photo sharpening tools

I just got an ad for a 50% discount on Photozoom Pro and wondered if it would help the horribly poor photos I have been given for a book I’m preparing. The remaining $99 seemed a bit steep for something I would use infrequently, but I wanted to investigate. Search engines being what they are, I checked it out and found a ‘shareware’ version for free…bad news, the features are all there except a watermark in the output which doesn’t fit my idea of shareware.

Anyway, I tried it and found that it is especially good at removing jpeg ‘artifacts’…the strange pixels around the edge of a transition when the compression is high and the resolution is low. In addition, it seemed to be able to expand a few pixels at low resolution into the diagonal edge of an object they were representing. I suppose the spline function is the key, although that goes beyond the math I can remember from 40 years ago.

There was another tool (I forget the name) based on ‘fractals’…something that never made it into my ancient math curriculum. It was about $200, I believe and didn’t seem to work as well. But while I was poking around the sale on Photozoom went off and I’m too cheap to spend $200 for that. 

What I already had in Photoshop Elements which was really useful for salvaging Leslie Stewart’s horribly low resolution photos that he wants in his next book was their ‘Smart Blur‘…a sort of relative to their ‘Unsharp Mask‘ tool. I had never tried it since it lurks under Filters…Blur…Smart Blur way at the bottom of the list. By playing with the settings I was able to get rid of the JPEG artifacts without totally destroying the picture. So my time spent wandering was not totally wasted.

8x10s for $1

I just discovered that Blacks is doing a deal on 8 x 10 prints through August 19th for $1.00. Since the files can be transmitted digitally and the chain will return the prints by Canada Post (for about $8 in shipping and postage charges), it is a very attractive deal. When you consider that they usually charge $4.99 (and Walmart charges $3.00), it can be a good time for someone who uses the prints in products to stock up. In my case I used to print my photos on an ink-jet printer, but the declining quality of my printer head output, the high cost of paper and ink, and the water-sensitivity of the prints makes the photo-reprint option attractive. The finished prints easily arrive well within two weeks…perhaps one week if things go well.

Keeping an eye on print prices is fascinating. Having surveyed the market on the internet, the big problem is finding sources (in the US) that will ship to Canada…and even then the shipping costs are absurd. Blacks and Walmart are the best sources so far. In the interesting-but-not-at-this-moment category was the previous Blacks offer of 1000 (!) 4 x 6 prints for $99…about $0.10 per print. I couldn’t get together such an order in the short time allotted. I wonder what next week’s deal will be!

Karen Gallant Painting











I just finished converting a picture of amateur painter Karen’s amazing work into a post card to be printed by Vista Print (she is not to be confused with another more well-known artist with the same last name). The original is 30 x 40 inches, done in acrylic. The challenge is to mate the proportions of the painting to those of the post card, but that is all done now and the cards should be back in about 2 weeks.

The marvel to me is that she spent about 18 months doing it…finding both pictures of each president and researching details of their lives…and she has no US roots. She describes it as a journey without a specific goal in sight at the start. She certainly puts me, coming from the USA, to shame both for my ignorance of much US history as well as a vast ignorance of Canadian history!

Karen has prints of her painting for sale and presumably will have large postcards as well soon. She can be contacted directly at karen_anne_gallant@hotmail.com

What is art?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What would be simply an academic discussion has become a more significant issue which boils down to, “Are books a form of art?” Perhaps I should give some background. I volunteered to put my matted prints in the Artisans on Main Gallery. One of the organizers suggested I investigate wire racks that she had heard were at Habitat for Humanity. The only ones left were quite unusual ones, but I found one assembly that could fit several rows of pictures on 4 sides with about a 3′ x 2′ footprint. Since Wood Islands Prints has long ago branched into publishing, I decided part of one side of the rack could be dedicated to showing (and offering for sale) (only) the books I have published. After all, laying out books and editing pictures for insertion is a sort of art. Well, this has been a bone of contention from the first week. I think the ‘spiritual’ nature of some of the books was a problem for one individual, but when someone pointed out that many paint-artists would view their works as having spiritual dimensions, the next move was to argue that any books are not an appropriate item in an art gallery. I think block prints would start to push that boundary since they are a form of printing, and the term ‘artisan’ seems to me to have a somewhat broader use. Part of the problem is that the ‘artisans group’ had no defined membership nor any mechanism for deciding such issues. Nevertheless I expect my books will be voted out. As one of my professor associates said decades ago in another context,

The intensity of the argument is inversely related to its importance.

As I commented here some days ago, there are thoughts of setting a minimum price for items based on size…is it fear of being undercut by other artists?…I’d like to purchase 212 square inches of art today. Since all of my matted prints are priced far below suggested thresholds, I am thinking of preempting any vote, shaking the dust off my feet, and moving everything to the boutique across the street (if as I am told, the owner over there is now open to taking them). Then I don’t have to spend a day cutting mats or could even drop the photography classes…I don’t wish to do that at this point, but the climate does not enhance the desire to help.

One good result of this kerfuffle is that I have decided to resume painting. I realized last night that all the paintings on display in the gallery are quite realistic…nothing even slightly abstract hangs on any of the walls. Since I really enjoy painting with palette knife on big surfaces, I have set up today to do a whole batch of pictures with a goal of being quite abstract. Half the garage is full of about 20 hardboard panels and I am going around to all of them in a round robin fashion carrying out steps to create pictures that are abstract but slightly scenic. If it was good enough for Turner, it should qualify now. So far I have done the skies…or at least the first draft. With acrylic paint the dry time is fast enough you have to keep going if you want the blending that can come while paints are still wet…perhaps an hour vs days with oils! I am intrigued at something after Pollock, but there isn’t enough wall space to hang even one of those! My intent is to offer up the best these for the jury process of the gallery…if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Photography classes

[Here is the outline of a proposal submitted to the artisans group last night. I have not heard any official response, but individual comments have been favorable.]
The idea: Understanding that utilization of the studio is sparse, if the group approves, I would like to do a series of every-Monday-afternoon classes primarily relating to photography. The classes would run from 1 to 4 pm. Where appropriate classes would include ‘field trips’ around Montague as part of the class.
The logistics: There would be no prerequisites and each class would stand alone, so anyone could take any particular class that attracted their fancy, and it could draw folks who are here for only a week or two and are looking for activities. I envision it as a very personal small-group class where each person can have some individual attention. The format would be similar to what I have done for the Library Photography Club, drawing on the preparations for Seniors College classes and Community School. I would rather not require advance registration (unless an astounding number of folks show up…I am a firm believer in not solving a possible problem before it actually becomes a problem). My current thinking would be to charge $10 for a 3-hour class so it would be ‘profitable’ with as few as 2 or 3. I assume at least 10% would go to the collective kitty.
Equipment needs: I would want a sandwich board set up outside the building all week to attract passers-by to the coming class with more details on a sheet in the window. I would need the loan of the conference-room computer projector (but not a computer) and two folding tables and some chairs. I would prefer to run classes in the ‘kitchen’ of the studio which would be shielded from afternoon sun for better viewing of images. I have a screen which I can mount for the duration. A key would be handy if we were to go out for an hour in the middle some weeks. I would supply tea and snacks for a mid-point break out of the registration cost.
Topics: I can easily come up with different topics for successive weeks since I have PowerPoint presentations already prepared on many photography topics. Here is a list of possible topics:
  1. photo composition
  2. taking vacation/travel pictures
  3. close-up photography with YOUR camera
  4. photographing people…portraits, children
  5. learning features of yourdigital camera
  6. introduction to Photoshop and picture enhancement
  7. optimizing and repairing old photos
  8. mat cutting and framing
  9. introduction to self-publishing
If this is approved I would like to get advertising in place by next Monday, July 2nd, for weekly classes beginning as early as July 9th.

Minimum prices

[The discussion that follows is in relation to a co/op gallery that has quite strict policies and might be a model for a similar organization forming in Montague.]
The basic mechanisms (of the example co/op) seem OK. I do find the minimum-pricing LAWS to be stifling since they take no notice of the economy (or lack thereof) arising out of wise production decisions or efficiencies of production. Case in point:
I produce 5 x 7 matted photos with a production cost of $0.10 for the print (4 x 6 reprints from photo shops), $0.14 for the matting (34 mats from a 32 x 40 sheet obtained in batches of 10 from source in the USA for about $4.50 each), no cost for the backing (produced from waste cardboard cut from cereal boxes, etc. or worst case $0.03 for 1/2 of a sheet of card stock @ 250 sheets for $12), and the clear envelope at $.05 (as best I can recall). The double-sided tape costs about $0.05 ($4 for a 36 yard roll and a 5 x 7 uses less than 15” giving about 86 prints per roll). Now, of course there is labor involved, although I’m sure I can produce them in a large batch with less than 2 minutes time giving $0.50 in labor (at $15/hour), but the point is there is about $0.37 of material cost in each matted print. With those costs I can afford to wholesale them to gift shops for $3.00 (to sell for $6.00) and still have a significant margin. Yet the co/op rules require a MINIMUM price of $12.00.
In the same way my 8 x 10 matted photos cost ($.40 + $.28 + $.12 + $.10 + $.06) about $0.96 in materials and I’ve set the price at $11, yet the policies, if implemented, would demand I raise the price to at least $15.
I notice that the price minimums do not reflect framing method for paintings; they take no account of frame quality nor differentiate for canvasses that are displayed without framing. Painting on Masonite board, or clever cost savings by waiting for sales, carries no weight in allowed prices. And, of course, there is no way to set minimum prices for other art forms…by the pound for sculpture or by the square foot for quilts?
OF COURSE pre-made high-quality frames with linen interiors are very expensive and OF COURSE artists with recognized names can command higher prices, but I question the justification for setting minimum price limits. My low-cost prints have not been leaping off the shelves, but I don’t believe their presence undermines the sales of other matted reprints of paintings; they are different things.
Presumably if someone is undercutting everyone else the collective group can rise up and boot them out after the 6-month probation!

Artisans on Main Street

I have put in my first day ‘demonstrating’ at the Artisans Gallery in Montague (on Main Street, of course…next to the Post Office). The effort is to have an artistic presence in Montague and the planning has been going on for many months. There are three venues all within a block: the gallery which has mostly paintings and photography; the Boutique, which I believe will have mostly jewelry (but I’m not sure since it hasn’t opened yet); and the Studio, which is to demonstrate the ‘messier’ forms of art such as sculpture, jewelry making, and woodwork.

Be that as it may, I signed up a good number of weeks ago to be in the Gallery on Monday and Thursday mornings to help out providing manpower to sell stuff and keep an eye on things during open hours…at least that was what I thought I would be doing. Closer to time I find out that the ‘artisans’ are not burdened with something that mundane but are to spend their time being creative in an artistic sense. What on earth could I do that would allow observation by visitors? Wood Islands Prints entails lots of computer work: book design and layout for the publishing side and photo manipulation for the matted print and postcard side. A small computer screen is not particularly accessible to casual passers by.

Then it struck me…I could cut mats and assemble more matted prints. Since the matted prints–especially the large ones–long ago proved they don’t sell well in gift shops, I have let the stock dwindle. If they can actually sell well when surrounded by paintings that are asking up to 200 times the cost of one of my prints, I certainly want to be there with enough stock!

So I sat for almost 6 hours (I agreed to put my time in one full block to fill in where more needed) cutting mats and pairing them up with the prints I mentioned in an earlier blog. Between wandering around and chatting with the several visitors–Tom Rath stopped by to check on his new KittenCat book and Gary Gray, the keeper of the Library Writers Guild books, stopped by–I didn’t apply myself to the task full time. Still I did complete about 16 8x10s and engaged some of the folks in deciding which mat colour went best with specific pictures.

Next time I will come better prepared with snacks and drink. If the production catches up I can always set a table with my back to the room and with my computer oriented so fokks can see it more readily and do photo manipulation. As my wife can attest, talking is something I do quite readily, so I can expound on photo or publishing techniques. The one need I have identified is for a ‘tent sign’ identifying what I am doing and inviting questions. While I sincerely enjoy answering questions, I must seem intimidating (or else no one is interested)…the sarcastic side of me compares the sign as the labels they put in front of the cages at the zoo identifying the type of animal behind the bars…‘here you see the gray-bearded mat cutter…you can identify it by the tools it uses and the presence of the thick coloured cardboard material lying around.’

Prints here

The enlargements for making 8 x 10 matted prints arrived yesterday, the 14th, via Canada Post (which is fine…it was just that they said courier). I can hardly wait to get started.

Artisans on Main Street

This Summer an effort is underway to promote art in Montague, PEI, going by the title of this post. A lot could be said, but I want to focus on recent developments that impact me.

I had volunteered to fill two half-day shifts at ‘The Artisans Gallery’ (there are two other venues for consignment and for a ‘Production Studio’). I assumed they needed warm bodies to welcome people and to take payments. But Thursday evening I discover I misunderstood and I am down to, as I see it, do something ‘artsy’. Since my focus is on publishing and photo-products, all I could think of was to sit there on a computer editing or manipulating photos. How dull and non-interactive with visitors!

But wait, I discovered that my small matted photo prints are not wanted at the consignment shop, so I had decided to call them fine art and have them on display in the gallery. Since tourists in gift shops avoided them like the plague for years, maybe they will sell in a more ‘fine’ atmosphere (surrounded by original paintings selling for hundreds of dollars). In that atmosphere my products look like a fire sale. But, since they didn’t sell well, I have been letting my stock decline. I especially need more 8″ x 10″ pictures. I have a pile of mat blanks already cut, but I am not about to try to resurrect my ink-jet printer which has misbehaved despite a new head.

So yesterday I priced 5″ x 7″ enlargements locally…$1.99. Off to the web…no one is giving away 8″ x 10″ prints but I discovered that Blacks will make 6″ x 8″ prints for $0.29 plus shipping! Wow! I got busy in Photoshop Elements and made up a batch of layouts set to that size with a simulated inner mat as part of the print. I just sent off an order for 114 prints and even with tax and shipping it comes in well below $50. When these arrive in a week or two, I have something to do in the Artisan Gallery…I can pick mats and cut them for these photo prints. 6″ x 8″ allows a 1″ mat all around (and the cutouts can easily be used for the smaller 5″ x 7″ mats that go with the 4″ x 6″ prints).

So now visitors can enter in to the process of choosing coordinating colours to go with the prints, and I can produce more 8″ x 10″ product for sale!