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Monday, March 29, 2010

MUST DO: Backup & Archive Electronic Art Files

If you have ever had your computer hard drive or external drive fail, then you know the value of having all your important art files stored on at least two separate medias. That way if one drive crashes you can still recover your files from the second one. For example, each file should be on your computer hard drive plus DVDs, OR hard drive plus an external drive, OR two external drives, etc. And each of those should be located at different sites in case of a catastrophic event (fire, flood, theft, earthquake). A method that many artists use to backup their hard drives is by using an automatic remote backup service over the internet.

Five years ago, I found out the hard way when my external hard drive crashed. I had stored all my art files on ONE external 250 GB drive to make space on my computer's hard drive. A data recovery company was able to recover 90% of the files (was very lucky to recover that many) but my mistake cost me time, the lose of some valuable files, and big bucks ($2500 at $100 a GB). Don't make the same mistake that I made. Backup your files!

Difference between Backing up & Archiving
There is a subtle difference between backing up files and archiving them. Normally when you backup files you are not concerned with saving the files forever. You just want to make sure you have duplicate files in case your hard drive crashes or a catastrophic event occurs. However, to archive art files that are not often used or really important, a person usually wishes to save the files and forget about them until needed many years later.

To archive art and prints for 100 years, they are wrapped in acid free paper and stored in an atmosphere controlled room. Unfortunately there really is no way to archive electronic files for long periods because the media that they are stored on do not have a long life expediency. Read the articles listed below to find out more about the longevity of different medias (CD, DVD, disk drives).* And storing electronic media for a 100 years may be irrelevant because the technology to read those files may no longer exist at the time the art is needed. Therefore, in my opinion archiving art files that are seldom used involves periodically transferring them from old drives to newer ones in order to prevent their loss.

*Data stored on CDs and DVDs can last as little as two years due what is called CD and DVD rot. Of course, most last longer than two years but CDs and DVDs are probably not reliable for long term storage. Read more about it on"CD and DVD Longevity: How Long Will They Last?"

*Some external drive manufacturers will sell an extended warranty for three years but admit that the life expectancy degrades fairly fast beyond that. Some users say that they had their external drives over five years with no problems. I had one fail in 1-1/2 years and another after three years. Several others of mine are still fine after four years. And in case you are wondering, I use many external hard drives (eight at the present). Read more about the longevity of external hard drives on Cnet forum questions and answers "Storage: Is there a life expectancy on external hard drives?"

Automatic Remote Data Backup
The Art of Licensing forums** on linkedin.com and recently yahoo.com have discussed automatic remote data storage sites as an excellent method in backing up hard drives. Some sites are free for limited storage, several cost about $5 per month for unlimited storage, and a few cost more. From the discussions that I have read on the forums, people have varied opinions on which service works for them. Because everyone has different needs, each person needs to make their own decision on which service to use. I suggest that you evaluate each of the backup sites (listed at the bottom of this article) for the following attributes that matter to you such as:
cost,
amount of storage allowed,
stores file types you need such as jpg.  (Read Kate Harper's comments in the comment section.)
security,
ease of use,
speed of backup & recovery,
number of computers you want to backup,
backup external hard drives besides computer hard drive. (Only the CrashPlan service will backup external drives beside computer drives.) And,
ability to fine tune what data is backed up. )Some services will not allow you to choose what data you want to exclude.)

Below are a few articles that may help you make a decision on which service to choose. Even through the articles are for Mac users, I think they also pertain to PC users.

A techradar.com article "6 reliable online backup services for your Mac"

A MacWorld article "Online backup services" that compares seven backup services. Search and link to this article is courtesy of Phyllis Dobbs.

A MacWorld article "CrashPlan review." The reason I included this article is because CrashPlan allows external drive backups and the others do not.


Some Remote Backup Data Services
Amazon 3S: (0.15 per GB storage fee + upload & download fees)
Backblaze: $5 month (unlimited storage)
Carbonite: $4.57 month (unlimited storage)
CrashPlan: $4.50 month (unlimited storage)
DropBox: $9.99 month (100GB storage)
Egnyte: $9.99 month (20GB storage)
Mozy: $4.95 month (unlimited storage)
Jungle Disk: ($2 to $5 per month plus storage fees on Amazon 3S + download & upload fees)
SugarSync: $4.99 month (30GB storage)

**Read "Networking Resource - Art Licensing Forums" to find out about art licensing forums.

Read the comments to this article for more information on remote backup data services.

Comments about this article are greatly appreciated. Click on the comment section below.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Licensing Art to the Jigsaw Puzzle Industry

People love the challenge in putting together jig-saw puzzles and in over 200 years after its inception it is a thriving industry. Jisaw puzzles were originally manufactured to teach children geography in the 1760s ("Jigsaw Puzzle History"). Today children still learn about geography with jigsaw puzzles. Also, with the vast amount of available images on puzzles, assembling them have become a popular form of family entertainment.

Jigsaw puzzles are not only manufactured in the original horizontal format but as ovals, circles, square, vertical and in various freeform shapes depending upon the images place on the puzzles. Some even are three dimensional shapes such as globes, animals and buildings. And puzzles do not always have just a plain 2D picture printed on them but are embellished with glitter, perfume, or with a 3D image. Puzzles are not only made with cardboard but with wood, plastic, and rubber. Note: Wooden puzzles are expensive to produce and they are usually made one at a time. Many times the licensing deal that those manufacturers offer to artists is to put the artists art on their website. "If" the art is chosen by a customer, the manufacturer will product the puzzle and the artist will get paid (royalty or flat fee) for the use.

Puzzle manufacturers normally want art that:
1. has bright and saturate colors
2. have an awe factor such as cute kittens, children playing, beautiful scenery and florals, or landmarks that generates an emotional response in the customer.
3. does not have a lot of "white space." Too much white space makes the puzzle difficult to assemble. But if the painting is of a popular subject or was painted by a well known artist, the amount of white space does not seem to matter.
4. in a rectangular horizontal format which is the most used. However, some manufacturers produce puzzles in other formats as mentioned above so art created in other formats can also be used for puzzles.

Some jigsaw puzzle manufacturers specialize in producing puzzles for different speciality markets such as colleges, museums, children, teens, or mystery while others cater to the general retail market. In order to find out what type of images each manufacturer puts on their puzzles, you need to check out their websites and call them for their art submission guidelines if they are not listed.

Jigsaw Puzzle Manufacturers List
Buffalo Games
Ceaco
Elms Puzzles (wooden puzzles)
Great American Puzzle Factory
Heritage Puzzle
Masterpiece Puzzles
Mega Brands
Melissa and Doug
Pressman
Ravensburger
Springbok
Stave Puzzles (wooden puzzles)
SunsOut
TDC Games
The Lang Company
White Mountain Puzzles Inc

If you would like to share information about other jigsaw puzzle manufacturers or comment about this article, please click on the comment section below and type your comment.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Photoshop Tip: Four Methods to Extract Images/Icons from Scanned Art

There are times when an artist needs to extract an image from a scanned painting in order to use it on other backgrounds, as an icon for patterns, or in combination with other images from other scanned paintings. In Photoshop, there are many ways to extract image(s) from art or remove backgrounds from the image(s). You can use one or a combination of several methods to get the best results depending on how detailed the image. Below is a short description from Adobe Photoshop's help menu and a link to youtube.com tutorial videos showing how images can be extracted or isolated by using the magic wand & quick selection tools, the color range command, the masking layer method, and the extract filter method.


Magic Wand / Quick Selection Tools
"The Magic Wand tool lets you select a consistently colored area (for example, a red flower) without having to trace its outline. You specify the color range, or tolerance, for the Magic Wand tool’s selection, based on similarity to the pixel you click. You can use the Quick Selection tool to quickly “paint” a selection using an adjustable round brush tip. As you drag, the selection expands outward and automatically finds and follows defined edges in the image."* This is the method most artists are familiar with and use. For simple and mostly straight lined images these tools work very well but for detailed curvy images the outer edges of the images tend to be "jaggy" and needs editing. The magic wand and quick selections tools are in the tools menu. Watch "Photoshop Tutorial - 9 - Magic Wand and Quick Selection Tools" on how to use the magic wand and quick selection tools.

Color Range Command
"The Color Range command selects a specified color or color range within an existing selection or an entire image."* This method takes more time to use than using the magic wand or quick selection tools but it does a better job of extracting detailed images. The color range command is in the select pull down menus. Watch "Photoshop Tutorial: Removing Background from Image Tutorial" on using the color range command.

Masking Layer Method
"You can add a mask to a layer and use the mask to hide portions of the layer and reveal the layers below. Masking layers is a valuable compositing technique for combining multiple photos into a single image or for making local color and tonal corrections."* This method does not extract an image or remove a background permanently and it can be continually edited. This is an easy method to use (similar to the color range command) but can be time consuming. The draw back is that files can get very large if many masked layered images are used in the same file. I do not recommend it to mask icons for patterns. The mask command is in the layer pull down menu. Watch "Basic Masking in Photoshop" on how to mask layers.

Extract Filter Method
"The Extract filter provides a sophisticated way to isolate a foreground object and erase its background on a layer. Even objects with wispy, intricate, or undefinable edges may be clipped from their backgrounds with a minimum of manual work."* I must admit that I haven't used this method and in fact I just discovered it while researching for this article. But I am really excited about trying it because it looks like the best method in extracting art especially if the image has lots of detail on the outer edges such as animal hair. The extract command is in the filter pull down menu. Read Adobe's tutorial "Extract an object from its background" and watch the video "Photoshop Background Extraction - using extract tool" on using the extract filter method.

* description from Photoshop's help menu

Make sure that you look at the comments to see other methods in extracting images!

If you would like to share information about other methods in extracting images or comments about this article please click on the below comment button.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

6 Tips in Writing Winning Query Letters to Manufacturers that License Art

The purpose in writing query (also called Cover) letters is to market your art and also to build relationships with manufacturers. Including the right information in query letters starts those relationships and makes sure that the letter is read. Note: The following discussion also applies to writing query letters to art licensing agencies.


The six tips in writing a good query letter are:
1. research each manufacturer
2. personalize the letter
3. describe your past licensing success (if any)
4. tell the manufacturer the next step
5. attach/include art example(s)
6. have an attention getting subject line (if e-mail)

Research
To write a winning query letter you should first do your homework. Become familiar with the manufacturer and the products they produces (or the type of art the agency represents) by looking at their website. This will help you determine if the manufacturer is the right fit for your art. It will also let them know that you are targeting their company and aren't just sending out e-mail/"snail mail" blasts to hundreds of companies when you mention specific information pertaining to them. Studies show that you get better results by writing individualized query letters than generic letters.

Also, if at all possible, find out the name and contact information for the person handling licensing (art director, licensing director, etc.). The query will be more personalized if you address the art director by name and you'll thus have a better chance in getting a response from that company. The contact information may be on the companies website but most often you will have to call to get that information. Company receptionists tend to be very accommodating and will give you the name and contact number for the art director. Sometimes you'll even be able to speak to the art director yourself. Hint: If that happens, take the opportunity to start a dialog and ask her/him what kind of art they are looking for, how to get their artist guidelines, how they would like art submitted (email jpg, on CD, printed, etc.), and how often they like art submitted. Also ask if they send out periodic design directions (cattle-calls) to artists if you are interested in participating in that type of program. See "Thoughts on Doing CattleCalls - Should You?

If you gasped, when I said that you might end up talking to art directors, don't worry. Even though art directors are really busy, they often are willing to answer questions if you are brief and to-the-point. When you do a "cold" call, have a short "elevator speech" ready about who you are (artist that licenses your xxx art) and why you are calling (to find out xxx). Have the list of questions handy so that you can refer to them when talking to the art director. I surely was outside my comfort zone when I first started calling manufacturers but it got easier the more I did. And when you run into that rare grumpy art director, remember to just chalk it up to experience and move on.

Personalize
Write and address the letter to the person in charge of licensing if at all possible. The letter should be short - three to five paragraphs max. If it is too long, it won't be read. Start the letter by mentioning something about the products the manufacturer produces and why you think your art is right for them. For instance, you could say something like "While browsing your website, I noticed that you have some products with cat but no kitten designs. Cat and especially kitten art is very popular with consumers as I am sure you are aware. Attached is a tearsheet of one of my adorable kitten art collections that is sure to grab consumers attention. More kitten and many other art themes are available on my website at www.xxxxxx.com." Note: Make sure that you include the password to your site if it is password protected. Also it is a good idea to list all your contact information at the bottom of your e-mail or letter.

Licensing Success
Next describe your success in licensing your art (if any) but don't make it too long. Make sure that you mention your art that has been licensed to other manufacturers. This generally sparks interest because manufacturers want to license art from artists that has a proven track record.

Next Step
Just writing one query letter to a manufacturer is usually not enough. You must continue to write letters showcasing different and new art. So wrap up the letter by stating that you will contact them again (by phone, by e-mail, by snail mail) and also when (in a week, a two weeks, a month). And then make sure you do it. Follow up is a must!

Note: Before, I had an agent (took over contacting manufacturers) my method was to write the initial query letter by e-mail and followed up by sending hardcopies* of tearsheets with an enclosed cover sheet a week later. In the cover sheet I reminded the art director that I had contact her/him by e-mail the previous week. Then a week later I'd write another e-mail asking if she/he received my art and had a chance to review it. If I did not get a response, I would send another e-mail once a month for several months. After that I assumed that they were not interested. However, depending on how badly I wanted to get a deal with that particular manufacturer, I would periodically send additional query letters.

*Sending hardcopies to manufacturers can get you deals. Art directors like to post art on their office walls. Your art may not be needed at the time you send it but if it ends up on the art directors wall it has a better chance in being noticed when a need arises for your type of art style and subject matter.

Art Example(s)
Attach at least one example of your art to the e-mail and make sure your contact information is on EACH piece of art sent. Rather than attaching single pieces of art to the e-mail, I like to create one tearsheet that is specific to the product(s) the manufacturer produces. Read "Marketing your Art with Tearsheets" to see examples. If you are sending a query letter through the mail, you may want to include five or six tearsheets. Sending postcards with your art on them is another way to get your art noticed.

Subject Line in E-mail
Art directors receive hundreds of e-mails a day. To make sure that yours is opened, write a clear and concise subject line stating what it is about. The subject line should be professional but it helps if it is also intriguing. But if you write an intriguing subject line, make sure that you explain and expand on it in the letter.
For instance, it could say:
"adorable kitten art available for your products, " or
"numerous themes with color of the year (turquoise) art available," or
"see huge collections of popular Christmas art themes including Santa & snowmen"

Note:  Make sure that your read the comments posted below for additional tips that have been shared by others.

Any suggests or comments that you would like to share about this article would be greatly appreciated. Click on the comment section below.