More Copyright -> A Brilliant Resource

question markAs artists, bloggers, authors, publishers, and generally creative people, we often turn to stock images — at sites like Shutterstock, DepositPhotos.com, FreeImages.com, MorgueFile.com (not what it sounds like), and a bazillion others — for art, photos, and inspiration.

We also use things like the Creative Commons search engine, to find hidden gems for our work.

But, do you know what’s okay to use in your artwork…? And what’s legal to use in artwork you sell…?

I’ve talked about copyright in the past. I’ve also debunked the “three stroke rule.” Those are old articles, but most of the information still applies. (Remember: I’ve been online, talking about art, for 20 years now. Really.)

Now, a friend has created a great article and infographic on the topic of stock images and how/when to use them:

Stock Images [Cheat Sheet]

Go see it. It’s very cool!

What’s on Your Desk?

Aisling's computer desk - 20150901Following the lead by K. M. Weiland (http://www.kmweiland.com/all-the-super-important-stuff-on-this-writers-desk/) and encouraged by my friend Nanette Day and the example set by Jules Dixon  I’m sharing a completely un-staged photo of what’s on my computer desk this morning.

(My current “art desk” is my bed. I have stacks of paper for drawing, plus a silverware drawer insert — $2 from IKEA, but you can find similar ones at Target, Walmart, etc. — filled with pens, pencils, paintbrushes, etc.)

Anyway, here’s what’s on my writing/computer desk and (at least partially) shown in the photo:

1. Computer (bearing a Honeydukes sticker from the Harry Potter shop at Universal Studios theme park), printer/scanner, and monitor.
2. One mic, plus one headset with its own mic.
3. Two pens, four thumb drives, a calculator, a portable hard drive, and a spare USB hub.
4. Two bottles of vits and a glass of water.
5. Lots of papers: My daily to-do notebook, and yellow, lined pad for notes. Notes from said yellow pad.
6. A printed page from my upcoming coloring book, still in progress.
7. Last but not least: A white mouse from IKEA.

(If you’re just desperate to see everything in detail, click on the photo for the 800 x 600 pixels version.)

Since I’m incredibly busy right now, it’s a minor miracle that my desk is this tidy.

I decided to post this since it’s kind of in line with “Real Professional Qualities,” my somewhat sarcastic article from Professional Quilter magazine, March 1986 issue.

 

Stage Fright, Perfection, Flow, Teaching, and Art

Chairs for audience or students.Stage fright has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  It’s very selective.  I’m fine in front of a crowd of thousands, especially in halls where the lights are on me and I can’t see the faces of anyone past the first row or two… and even they are too dark to see clearly.

Put me in front of an audience of 20 or 30 people, where I can see every face and every micro-reaction to what I’m saying…?  Panic. Total panic.  I have to steel myself to even think about that kind of public speaking.

That’s why, when I teach, I have a firm rule:  I need access to the classroom, in solitude, for at least 30 minutes before the students arrive.  (Otherwise, I’m likely to blurt all kinds of things… usually extreme and unexpected, if you’re not ready for the panalopy of creative ideas that rush through my mind like high schoolers rushing to class before the “late” bell rings.)

During my personal pre-class time, I give myself a “pep talk,” and use breathing techniques that would make Dr. Lamaze proud, to relax myself enough to teach.  With the right mindset — or at least mental distance from “not good enough” self-talk — I can teach a great class with lots of student involvement.

(Without exception, every class I’ve taught that fell flat… it’s because I wasn’t given that 30 minutes to prepare.)

Creating art can be a similar issue for me and many other people.  We may not have that visible audience, but when the initial spark of inspiration fades, the voice of the inner critic can be worse than any heckler in the classroom.

(You know that student.  She’s the one who sighs loudly and repeatedly. And, at the end of the class — when it’s too late to do anything about it — she tells you how deeply you’ve disappointed her, and how you really shouldn’t be teaching.  Or making art.  Or both.)

Regardless of where the message comes from, we’re often striving for impossible perfection… as artists and as teachers.  The slightest shortfall or flaw seems magnified on a big screen and in HD, and every metaphorical pore and blemish is the size of the Grand Canyon.

In fact, we’re often our very worst critics.  We hold ourselves up to impossible standards, and we’re usually using the wrong measuring stick.

Last night, I was disgruntled.  I’ve been working on a series of small (5″ x 7″) oil paintings, based on memory and photos I’ve taken.

Unfortunately, the results are — so far — uninspired. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

Pandorica-inspired ink drawing
Click to download the ATC file. (Original is 5″ x 8″.)

So, I took out my pen and paper, and started doodling one of my Pandorica-inspired pieces. (The Pandorica is a Dr. Who story element.)

I was so caught up in it, I let it run to the edge of the page.  And then, I felt so disappointed, because that meant the piece would require an additional, larger support, just to be matted.

This morning, my husband pointed out that it’s a perfectly good work of art, as it is, and there are worse things than needing something in back of the work so it mats well.

He also reminded me that art is about the inspiration.

That gets me back to my paintings… the ones that aren’t turning out.  I said that they aren’t inspired, and I mean exactly that: I’m working on them, production-style.  By definition, that’s an industrial approach. (Yes, I am reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.  It’s brilliant, inspiring, and terrifying, all at the same time.)

So, I went back to my Pandorica doodles.  I’m waiting for this evening’s sunset, hoping the colors will be inspiring enough to spark (and complete) some or all of the six little paintings currently on my easel.

I want to take them with me to M.I.T. next week, when we’re hearing Seth Godin speak and participating in whatever’s going on at that event.  I’d like to hand out art, at random, in kind of a random acts of kindness gesture.  In other words, just for fun.

But… I feel a little stuck.  And, I’ve been trying to work with a deadline more than inspiration.  Bad idea.

It’s compounded by my fear of disapproval, or — worse — no reaction at all.  Boredom.  Kind of a “What, you think you’re an artist…?” reaction, as they drop the art in the trash.  (Have I mentioned how well I can awfulize when I’m in this mode…? *chuckle and sigh*)

Okay. I’m not sure if this is more stage fright or the visual equivalent of writer’s block.

Either way, it’s putting the emphasis on the finished work and others’ opinions — even their potential opinions, if it’s work I haven’t shown anyone — instead of where it belongs, on the inspiration, and the creative expression that results.

But, what I’m describing in angst-laden terms is how we, as artists, make ourselves tiny and insignificant.  And, it’s why we often stall and lose precious time in which we might be making art.

It’s a toxic, all-or-nothing approach.  It’s so far from being in flow — in the creative process where we’re in touch with the sublime — we couldn’t find it with a road map, a compass, and a laser-tuned GPS.

The teaching…?  I quit, years ago. Yes, that’s letting small-minded people win, but that’s okay with me.  It’s a battle I never wanted to fight.  I’m happy to leave those political games to others who savor them.

The art…? That’s another matter.  Recovering my willingness to be creative, out loud… thats why I changed this website back into the blog it was in the first place, back in 1995 or 1996, when I began it.

And, it’s why I’m staring down virtual stage fright, posting last night’s Pandorica piece here, as a graphic and as an ATC you can download (and print at 300 dpi). Click on the illustration, above and on the left, to print your own copy.

Art and the Economics of Giving

Online picture of a free poster and ATC - Imagination by Aisling D'Art

Are your usual fans in a temporary financial jam? In recent years, that’s been sadly commonplace.

The fact is, as of 2011, Half of Americans don’t have $2000 for a rainy day.

In an emergency, even with 30 days to come up with $2000, only 25% of Americans are sure they could beg, borrow or steal that much money.

If you’re in business, you need to know your potential audience and customers. In 2011, if your usual fans & collectors are among 75% of Americans, they can’t buy your $1500 painting, wall hanging or assemblage, no matter how gorgeous it is.

Sure, your art may be worth that much or more. Value isn’t the issue here.

The more pertinent questions are:

  • Do your business practices make your future customers feel better or worse about themselves?
  • Do they like how they feel around you and (especially) around your art?  
  • Do you have rapport with them?

If they don’t feel that sense of mutual understanding on a personal level — even as artist-to-customer — they won’t be as open to connecting with what your art communicates.

Sure, you can focus on the minority who can afford your art. That may be a smart tactic, for now.

However, that probably shouldn’t be your exclusive focus.  Even if you don’t put as much time into laying a foundation with the rest of your audience, they’re still important to your future as a successful artist.

Reaching the 75%

If you’re meeting some of that 75% at art shows, galleries, or even as you’re running errands — and hope to attract them as clients, customers and collectors in the future, when they’re back on their feet — now is the time to establish rapport. They’ll remember it later.

Think about what you can do, so they feel a connection with you right now. What can you give or sell to them that they can own, and — at the same time — help them feel better about themselves?

Even if the person can’t purchase any of your art right now, he or she should walk away thinking, “That art is so great.  I’m going to own some of that, some day.”

Contrast that with the sad, “That art is beautiful, and yet another thing I can’t afford. Maybe I never will.”

See the difference?

So, make it possible for the person to connect with your art and feel good about it, right now.

The importance of gifts

FREE Product Samples for home and officeWhether it’s a happy conversation, a free art postcard (like VistaPrint’s freebies, which I use), a link to a webpage where they can download something… make sure you connect with your friends and fans, and they remember it as a happy meeting.

This isn’t a reciprocity thing.  It’s not, “I’ll give you this now, and you agree to give me something in return, later.”

The gift economy is a little different.  It’s about bonding as individuals, and as a community, to establish a personal connection and goodwill for the sake of the group and each other, period.

What do you get out of this?  You get to be part of a happier, more connected community in a happier, more connected world.

You get the satisfaction of having done something good.  Too often, that’s vastly underrated.

Remain sensitive to what’s really going on, despite appearances.

It’s important to stay current about the world in general.  Use other people’s surveys (such as the article linked above) to understand your audience and what’s going on with them.

Right now, the global economy is in transition.  This effects artists as much as anyone else, and perhaps more than most.

This is your opportunity to do something nice and helpful… and be remembered for it.

Everyone wins!

Pave the road to your successful future.

It’s fine to focus on people with cash who also like your art.  That’s common sense.

However, pave the road for your continuing success — and invest a little happy karma — by making it possible for everyone to own some of your art, right now.

It’s not difficult.  It may require a little creativity, but you can do it.

(Note: If you liked my graphic at the top of this article, it’s a free download.  You can click on the image or here to download it as a 5″ x 7″ poster.  If you collect ATCs, click here for that free download.)

To understand more about
our economy and the importance of gifts
be sure to read Linchpin by Seth Godin

Copyright, Flickr and Google Images

Gummy worms, photo by shinjaejun (USA), shinjaejun.comWell, my recents posts on the topic of copyright — especially related to Flickr and Google Images — seem to have opened a can of worms.

I did a little more research so I could refer people to the best resources & opinions I could find.

Here they are:

Flickr photos and images are not in the public domain. The photos and images are generally copyrighted.  Some members of Flickr choose to release some of their rights via Creative Commons licensing, and you can search the photos for pictures that are okay to use.

There are several copyright-related threads at the Flickr forum.  Click here to read one of the best replies, by joepphoto.

Combination lock - photo by Linusb4, AustraliaHere’s one of the clearest explanations of what’s what at Flickr:  Understanding Copyright on Flickr.

(Flickr itself, and its parent company, Yahoo, default to the normal rules of copyright as outlined by the U.S. government.  And frankly, that’s fine.  Flickr shouldn’t have to repeat the laws.)

Google Images are usually copyrighted, as well.  Google aggregates (or “scrapes” or collects) images from all over the Internet, the same as they post the titles of webpages, and summaries or excerpts of them.

  • Nobody’s webpage is automatically in the public domain because Google indexed it.
  • Nobody’s photos are automatically in the public domain because they’re among the visual indices at Google Images.

Bootleg video recording, photo by Piotr Ciuchta, ScotlandA copyright thread at Digitalpoint includes good answers and some stupid ones.  Correctly attributing ownership is not enough to meet copyright laws.

That’d be like someone copying a recent movie and thinking it’s okay because all the credits are intact in the copy they added to a torrent site.

(Oh. Wait.  People do that.)

Google explains the rights pretty clearly.  In a nutshell, you have permission to view the images in Google Images.  You don’t automatically have permission to copy and use them.

However, you can use some of the Advanced filters to find images — in Google Images — with Creative Commons licensing.

Highlighted in yellow on the page linked above, Google reminds people to verify the exact terms of using images that appear at Google Images, even when the images bear Creative Commons licensing.

Here’s what Google says:

Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. [Link]

I hope that helps explain what people can & can’t do with your images, and what’s okay (and not) if you’d like to use someone else’s images in your art or other products.

Personally, I’m rabidly enthusiastic about Creative Commons licensing.  I’ll talk about that in a later post.

For now, I’ve ordered the following book. I want to see suggestions about apparent conflicts between unbridled creativity and the copyrights of those who’ve created works of seminal (= strongly influencing later developments) importance.

Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

emu photo
Image courtesy of FreeImages.com

Many people — perhaps most people online today — don’t know how copyright laws work.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.

But yes… some people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.

After all, everyone else is doing that, so it must be legal… right?

Umm, no. Really. No.

I’M NOT A LAWYER

I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.

Also, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law.  How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.

WHY I CARE

I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 20 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.

The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first.  I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover. But, the band asked permission.

I go directly to the webmaster when I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally.  Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.

However, a few balk.  They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.

Or they found the image at Flickr.  Or something.

That’s when I contact the person’s website hosting service. Usually, the hosting service shuts down every website that person has.  They’re banned.

Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.

I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists.  Some of that information may apply to you.  My original article is at https://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , along with several other copyright-related articles.

I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.

It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online.  When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/default.asp

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Maybe you shrug off copyright laws.  If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you haven’t felt the anguish of seeing your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.

However, if you’re breaking the law, it’s only a matter of time until you’re caught.

Today, software can identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums use this technology to protect their images, online.

Just like Google Image Search, the specialized software recognizes distinctive elements in original graphics and scours the Internet looking for any matches.

Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.

You’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or artwork without permission.

USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD

There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.

There are many great, public domain images online.  Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use.  You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.  https://search.usa.gov/search/images

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as http://www.4freephotos.com/

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/image/

And, here’s a mother lode of free image resources (or kinda-sorta free, so read the fine print): Almost 100 Free and Freemium Stock Image Websites.

Those are just some of many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images.  (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)

Stock.xchng was one of my favorites.  No matter what the name of the site is now, if the option is offered: be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”  http://www.sxc.hu/

Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource.  Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image.  http://www.morguefile.com/

Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee.  The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, it’s easy to double-check the owner (and the rights to that image).

Browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.

Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project.  Many of us are happy to say yes.

The best idea of all?  Take your own photos.  Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could.  And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like iStockPhoto.com and earn money from them.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.

What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away.  The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.

Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission.  There are many wonderful, free resources for great images.  Use them instead.

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Want to reprint this?  You can.  It’s free.  This work by Aisling D’Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

5 Important Tips for Selling Art at eBay

selling art at ebayAre you selling art at eBay, or planning to?

(This article is from 2011. Some policies and business tips may have changed since then.)

First, see my article, eBay, Facebook and other artists’ dilemmas.

If you decide it’s worth selling art at eBay, despite their new rules, here’s my best advice:

Keep in mind that eBay can enforce its rules at any moment, without warning.  If that happens, your account (and/or your bidders’ accounts) could be closed.

If that’s your only point of contact with people who buy and collect your art, you’d be back to Square One, rebuilding from (almost) scratch.

So, here’s what I’d do if it was lucrative and convenient enough to try selling art at eBay.

0. Start with the basics when you’re selling art at eBay.

Of course, have an “About Me” page at eBay and make it juicy with details about yourself and your art.  People are buying the energy as much as the art, so give them plenty of reasons to want your art more than anyone else’s.

Add great (and big) photos of your art.  Include a photo of yourself.  Feature your artist’s statement, and tell people why they should buy that particular work of art.

1. Have an art-related website.

No matter how successful you are at eBay, your friends, fans & collectors must be able to find you elsewhere online, easily.  I recommend a website with your own domain name (that is  your name) on it.  (See my article, How to Choose a Domain Name.)

If you use a free website, I recommend a Blogger site (in your name) or a WordPress.com site (in your name).  So, my site would be AislingDart.Wordpress.com or something like that.

(Do you need more than one website?  Probably not, when you’re getting started.  However, when you’re selling art at eBay or Etsy or anywhere else, you need more than just a MySpace page or a Facebook account.)

Some artists have one website that’s specifically about their newest art, and one or more other websites that actually sell the art, or talk about personal news, or share how-to information for other artists, and so on.

(However, I tried splitting off topic-specific sites, and it reduced my name recognition in the art community.  That may not happen to you.)

At the very least, link to your art website from your “About Me” page at eBay.

2. Also link to your website from your auctions.

As I’m writing this, when you’re selling art at Bay, they allow you to add a link within your auction description as long as you’re not selling at that link.

The precise wording is:

“…your listing can’t include links to: Websites where you can buy, sell, or trade items outside of eBay.”

So, be careful about linking to a website where you’re selling anything.  (This is one reason why you might have one website that shows the art, but another site — such as Etsy or Artspan — where you sell it.)

Be sure that your link leads to a page that features, according to eBay’s rules:

“An item description, photos, or terms and conditions.”

In other words, the page should provide:

  • More backstory to your art.
  • Details about the materials or techniques you used.
  • Additional photos of the work, etc.

If you do include a “buy this art” link on that page, make sure it links only back to the auction (or store) page where you’re selling art at eBay.

3. Be sure they’ll bookmark your website.

When you’re selling art at eBay (or anywhere), it’s not enough to just have a website.  When your friend, fan or potential customer arrives at your website, they should be dazzled.

Look at others’ websites and see what you like (and don’t like).  Here’s a good article, as well: Dear Artist, Blog Like You Mean It.

Generally, your friends & fans should be so impressed, they bookmark your website and check back regularly, or add it to their RSS feed page.

For example, I regularly offer free, one-day downloads.  Usually, that’s art in a print-quality JPG, but sometimes it’s a free ebook, report, or… well, something cool and free.  It gives people a reason to check back regularly or follow me at Facebook, and tell their friends about your freebie of the day, too.

(Tip: If you get into massive bandwidth issues, Amazon’s S3 file storage is easily the cheapest.  However, there is a learning curve in setting up your account there and adding files.

3. Know (and be nice to) your friends, fans and collectors.

When you’re selling art at eBay (or anywhere else), maintain a list of people who’ve bought your art, contacted you there, etc.  Thank them and stay in touch with freebies, big or small.

If your art will be in a gallery or show, invite them to the opening, or a pre-opening art show in your studio.

Also know who’s interested in your art, whether they’ve bought your art or not.  If someone comments at Facebook or Twitter (or especially reposts or retweets your art link), thank them and remember who they are. Treat them like valued friends, because that’s what they are!

Be sure your website visitors have a way to stay current on your latest additions.  Don’t rely on them to remember to visit your website.  (They probably won’t.)

  • Keep an (email) mailing list to update people, or use a free automated service (as I do) such as Feedburner.com.
  • Consider sending out announcements and freebies regularly, via the post office.  (I’m increasing my activity with snail mail, aka postal mail.  Most people love to receive free art in the mail.  I highly recommend postcards from VistaPrint; that’s where I buy mine. Watch for their regular sales, offering free postcards, business cards, etc.)

4. Selling your art is a marketing opportunity.

When you sell your artwork, be sure to give your customer an attractive brochure about your art, your creative process, and so on.

You could create a simple brochure and print it at home.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.

However, just as Vistaprint offers great (and sometimes free) postcards and business cards, they also offer special deals on brochures.

Your brochure should show your picture, your logo (if you have one), your website URL, good photos of your art, your artist’s statement, contact info, and… well, anything else you’d normally include with a press release or an application to be in a show.  (In fact, you may use these same brochures for those purposes, too.)

If you have some extra art postcards, sign one or two and add them to the shipment to your customer, too.

Just as your website should dazzle people, your shipments should, too.

5. Be ready with a Plan B.

Whether you’re selling art at eBay or somewhere else, have a Plan B ready.  Even better, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Online and offline, businesses change, galleries change their styles or move (or go out of business).

Web Bot (and a few scientists) suggest significant Internet interruptions, possibly due to solar flares, between late 2012 and mid-2013.  If you had no access to the Internet, or extremely sporadic Internet service, would you still be in business?

If you’re already selling your art at multiple galleries, regular shows/fairs, and several websites, you’ll be okay.

You don’t have to go to extremes.  It’s just a peace of mind issue, like locking your front door at night; once it’s locked, you don’t have to think about it again.

In other words, even if everything goes right (and I hope it does), selling art at eBay cannot be your only outlet.

With several ways to sell your art, and with each of them running smoothly, you can focus on what you do best: Create art!

Though I can’t recommend selling art at eBay, these tips can help you use eBay as an effective springboard for greater success as an artist, online and off.

(Please leave comments below if you have questions or additional tips for selling art at eBay.)

Spam and Negative Reviews

negative reviews - spam graphic by Michal Zacharzewski, PolandThis morning, an email advised me that my website has one or more “negative reviews” and I can pay a business to counter the negative effects of those reviews.

In other words, another company (and probably a dozen or so) have launched a new campaign to create anxiety among website owners.  Ick.

If you receive a similar email (or two or three or 100), it’s okay to ignore them.  They’re spam. They’re intended to scare you into hiring the services of the advertiser.

I raise an eyebrow at this kind of nonsense, but I know that some website owners will panic and hire the advertiser.  If spam (unsolicited — and often unwanted — emails) didn’t work, we’d receive only good & interesting emails.

Here’s more information, if you’re still a little anxious.

The spam/email included this information:

Google is now using business reviews to determine business ranking. A search for your business shows at least one negative review.

We can help you.

[Their contact info was here.]

How does posting positive reviews help in your businesses Google ranking?

1. Positive reviews increase your business rank by linking important and relevant websites to your website.
2. A constant stream of positive reviews improves your online reputation.
3. Positive reviews drive traffic to your business.
4. Positive reviews restore a tarnished reputation by pushing down negative reviews and links.
5. Helps protect against competitors or anyone else from attempting to run your ranking.

Those “negative reviews” aren’t anything new and could mean almost anything.

Ever since Google created Sidewiki, which allows anyone to post anything about a webpage they’re looking at, there will be snarky comments and negative reviews by idiots… and perhaps a few people with legitimate gripes.

(Frankly, if you’re not doing things that are innovative enough to fail sometimes — or at least generate a little controversy — you need to be more courageous.)

And, that “at least one negative review” might have been posted by the spammers, to have something to startle the website owner.

Note: If your site uses WordPress, you can block Sidewiki comments — including positive and negative reviews — with this free plugin.

But that “negative review” might be some general comment about artists, posted in a thread that you commented at, too.

Or… gosh, “negative reviews” could be almost anything, from (in my case) “Aisling was having a bad hair day,” to “She doesn’t teach by-the-numbers workshops,” to  “Worst. Art. Ever.”

Since I’ve been posting my art online for about 15 years now, I’d be amazed if I didn’t have negative reviews!

Anyway, when I saw this stupid email about “negative reviews,” I sighed in exasperation.  I think this is the new incarnation of companies who get paid to post backlinks.  (Don’t pay for them, either.)

If a spammer emails you with alarming news about negative reviews, flag the email as spam and forget about it.  Negative reviews can mean anything, and — unless they’re overwhelmingly awful (and you’d already know about that) — you can safely ignore them.

If you have a good website, Google will love you (and so will your readers) whether or not you actually have negative reviews.

In Business? Who Are You Reading?

business of art - who are you reading?Are you a professional artist, or launching an art career?

Whether you’re a gallery veteran or simply considering selling your art, it’s vital to remain current about the art field as well as business trends in general.

So… who are you reading, to stay current?

One of the most important recent books is Seth Godin’s Linchpin.  It’s changing about 70% of how I spend my online time, and almost everything about my offline art/business activities.  (Godin is talking about art, but not necessarily visual or fine arts.  The book applies to anyone with a job… self-employed or not.)

In addition, I subscribe to updates (or read the RSS feeds) from several people.  Once again, Seth Godin is high on that list.  (See his recent, excellent blog post, The First Rule of Doing Work that Matters.) Dan Zarrella is another one.  (If you’ve never heard of him, this is a typical post:  Introduce Yourself: Why Should We Listen to You?)

To stay current on art trends, read magazines related to art collecting. Generally, watch for regional trends that are likely to spread.

I put the most focus on the European markets, as they often influence what’s going on the States.  However, I also like the American Art Collector Magazine website, especially their Virtual Art Walk.

Look for colors, designs, and price ranges that are popular.  Look for the influence of mixed media and sculpture, paper arts and fiber.

You can benefit from these insights, whether you’re a full-time artist or someone who’s hoping to earn extra money with spare-time creative projects.

Magpie logic

I’ve been completely redesigning my office/studio this week.

The room is a normal bedroom size, about 12′ x 12′, and it serves two important purposes:  I write in this room, and I create art here.

Writing

The writing requires lots & lots of reference books within easy reach.  I write on a variety of topics — mostly related to art, travel, history and/or paranormal themes — and I’m well-known for my exhaustive research using obscure (but fascinating) references.

Writers need to promote themselves and their books.  So, I have stacks of PR materials, including a dozen different styles of business cards, each tailored to a particular audience. I need to access them easily when I get a call from an event or a reporter.

Art

My art is all over the place, sometimes literally.

080401-3treesbush-illus-dsI paint with oils and acrylics.  My canvases can be 36″ x 48″ or larger, and as tiny as 3″ x 3″. It’s easy to lose the little canvases and difficult to store the huge ones.  They end up in boxes, behind doors, in closets, under beds, etc.

I also create fabric art, especially dolls and wearable art, plus quilts.  My paper arts require considerable space, including my basic collage supplies (lots & lots of magazines) and embellishments.

Then there are the one-off assemblages that occur to me at odd moments, which — completed or in gestation — take up space.

Placing all of my writing supplies and all of my art supplies in the center of my studio floor… well, it’s been exhilarating and enlightening.

Magpie syndrome

magpie-black-billedI often think of myself as a magpie, in a way.

Sometimes, I see things that spark a project idea.

More often, that project idea is how I explain to myself why I need to own whatever-it-is. It’s how I justify the acquisition.

This is important: If I stay locked into that project idea and don’t explore other options, that collected object becomes clutter.  Two years later, I have only the vaguest memory of the painting, collage, shrine or doll that I intended to make.  The energy is lost, at least partly in regret.

Don’t let the guilt obliterate the energy of the object, or how it resonates — no matter how quietly — with your creative impulses.

That’s what I’m learning as I open boxes and rediscover half-finished projects and objects that never realized their greatness in completed art.

yorkh1-day1sdswAt least half a dozen paintings were in limbo, waiting for the technique I’m currently developing in my work.  (The photo at right is an example.  It’s barely started, but I love the glow of the houses facing the sunlight.)

Until I hauled those paintings out of the closet last night, I had no idea those paintings were such wonderful starts. With a fresh eye, I can see what works — and what doesn’t — and the energy is surging off the canvas as I admire it.

(I thought they were just bad paintings that I’d paint over, eventually. But, every time I looked at them, I wanted to cry because I could see the sparks of brilliance in them.  I couldn’t bear to paint over them, and now I’m glad that I didn’t.)

Yarn intended as doll hair now sings to me as embellishment wall hanging.

Books that I purchased are falling open to illustrations and phrases that almost glow with inspiration.

This is a very cool experience.

Though I realize this can be an excuse to accumulate clutter, I think it’s vital to avoid the extremes of collecting or purging, compulsively.

I’m also mindful that — from a bigger perspective — if you’re supposed to create a particular work of art, the supplies will probably show up, almost on their own.

However, as I sit here surrounded by art supplies, books and projects, I’m astonished at how precisely my “magpie collection” is fitting into place.  It’s as if I always knew that this day would happen.

It’s a concept worth considering.

My paintings: Three Trees (Bush Park, Houston, TX)
York Harbor View (York Harbor, ME) – in progress
Photo credit: Magpie – Juha Soininen, Finland