Monday, October 6, 2014

Tell God Your Plans

There's a funny saying out there.  It goes, "The best way to make God laugh?  Tell him your plans."

We all have ideas on what direction our life is going to take us, and then, things unexpectedly change.  I started this Blog only hoping to share a few fun art tips and info about being a commercial artist.  This was never meant to be a place for me to share personal information, or talk about "deep" subjects.  However, for once, I'm going to share a little bit of personal information, publicly, in hopes it can help someone else out there.

2013 was a pretty miserable year for me.  I lost two friends to cancer.  One was my dear friend Brett.  We had a very unique friendship going on since 1999.  The guy drove me completely crazy sometimes.  Yet he could also be generous, thoughtful, and loyal, and in the end, those were the traits I chose to care about.  It turns out you can accept someone exactly for who they are, as they are, and love them anyway.  I never would have learned that lesson without him.  He passed about a year ago, in August of 2013.
Brett (on left, in white t-shirt) in typical "party on" pose.
The other loss was Ann, only a few months later.   Ann was a strong and vibrant woman who valiantly fought breast cancer for years.  She was a true inspiration.  A teacher, a horse lover, who embraced life and embodied the spirit of the word "survivor".  She will be dearly missed by a wide circle of friends.
Ann on her favorite place - atop a horse.
A trail ride we took together in Hawaii, 2012.
Ann did everything right, lived her life well.  That is the horror of cancer.  It often does not matter how you live your life.  It is not a punishment that only happens to "bad" people.  While of course there are some risk factors that can hurry things along, at the end of the day it seems very random who is struck by cancer, and who is not?

I knew I was clinically depressed for most of 2013.  I have had issues with depression before, so I knew I was not in any kind of "danger zone" (as in, I was not suicidal) and this was mourning a bad situation.  I did not seek treatment.  Yet I spent most of the year wading around in a bit of a daze, not really feeling the same vigor that I'd felt before these losses.

So I thought for certain 2014 was destined to be better.

The first ominous sign of 2014 was the loss of my wonderful companion Amigo, at age 15, in January 2014.  Best dog I'd ever had.  I thought to myself, OK, this is getting ridiculous.  My life is starting to sound like a country western song here.
I entered Amigo in a dog show in Tucson once, just for fun!
He was such a great dog.  Loved him so much.
Definitely time for some fun.  I headed out end of February for Breyer's "Big Easy Bash".  I got to dress up for a fancy dinner, won a fabulous Raffle model off the table, and did I mention there was free wine at the bar?  I had a blast!
A rare chance to wear something besides paint clothes.
The event was followed up with me looking way less glamorous the rest of the week, as I painted in the Breyer factory.  Dirty as factory painting is, it still has that "Willy Wonka" dreamlike feeling.  (You mean I can paint any Breyer any color that I want?!?)  A few of the creations that I did turned out really great.  I can't share the colors or ideas yet, but I can say that a couple ideas are being looked at for possible Breyerfest 2015 special runs.
Painting at the factory in NJ.  Models in progress edited out. ;) 
We also had some meetings at Breyer, lots of fun projects were discussed, which led to one of the busiest years I've had for commercial work!  It has been nonstop, for months.  Sculpting, painting, brainstorming new ideas.

I came home from my trip back there, excited about all the work that laid ahead for this year.  Then, my mom announced that while I was out of town that week, they had found a lump.  She had a biopsy scheduled.  Wait - what?  Well, when I left, she'd had this rash, and suddenly, in just the week while I was gone, a lymph node in her neck had ballooned several times original size.  She went in for surgery.  A few weeks later, we had the answer.

Now, my own Mom had cancer.
Me with my Mom in Hawaii, in 2011.
This is where things are going to veer in a non-art related tangent, so what I'm going to do is make a new post, later, about dealing with the cancer and its treatment.  And hobby friends, this post hopefully won't ever be anything you'll want or need to read about in depth, because if you do, then it would mean you or someone you care about are dealing with cancer, which I wouldn't wish upon anybody.  (Let me save those details for a special post.  Most of you here for the plastic horses will probably want to skip.)

All of May and June were filled with uncertainty as my Mom underwent chemotherapy and radiation.  Again, I will elaborate on this more, for those who are interested, in a different post.  During this whole process, I was also trying to keep up with one of the busiest commercial work years I've ever had.  This is where your skills as an artist are really tested.  It's easy to be creative when you're in the mood and inspired.  But when your mind is swirling with uncertainty it's a real challenge.

There were bumps along the way.  At times, my work was coming along excruciatingly slow, due to stress and sleepless nights, and an inability to focus.  My mom had her ups and downs.   While she was exceptionally strong throughout, she was hospitalized at the end of her chemo treatments, as her body was finding it all just a bit much to deal with.  And it's not over, she is still suffering from side effects, some of which are permanent.

However, here's a bit of good news.  Her 90 day scan came out clear, and she and my stepfather celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary at the end of September.  The simple renewal of vows was held at the same resort where they met so many years ago.  The ceremony was beautiful.  The same pastor who had married them the first time around is still here in Phoenix and was able to do the renewal.  Held at sunset on a balcony overlooking the pool, surrounded by family and close friends.  It was wonderful.  
(This is where there should be a photo of my parents at the ceremony.)
I don't know how my parents feel about me posting?
But, I made cupcakes so here's a pic of those instead!
Life is not a storybook, and we can't ever predict the future.  However, if you closed the cover at that moment, you could definitely say this story had a happy ending.  I may have lost two friends to cancer last year, but today, my Mom is a survivor.  And for now, that's good enough.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Prepping A Resin - Illustrated

Before any model can be painted, first it must be prepped.

Models in various stages of prepping.
Prepping is the fine art of readying a resin or plastic model horse for painting.  Seems simple, but a poorly prepped horse could have a bad seam line, distracting from an otherwise good paint job.  Or even worse, a badly prepped model may have issues with paint not sticking to the horse itself!

Because of these possible issues, and the time involved in prepping a horse correctly, many painters now ask for models to be prepped for them.  This has resulted in a nice side gig for "preppers" who work exclusively on readying models for custom painting.  The fee for prep of a model horse is usually very reasonable, considering the work involved.  Often, preppers only charge $30-$40 to prep a model.  However, the postage and insurance cost added in, going both ways, can make the total bill daunting, before an artist adds a drop of paint.  And then of course there is always the question "Is it good enough?"  Every prepper is human, and is sure to miss a spot here or there.  How do you know their standards are as high as your own?

There is a solution to this dilemma.  Learn the art of prepping.

Not only will you save money, you will know that the model has been prepped to YOUR satisfaction, because you will have seen exactly what it looks like before paint has been added.  If you have a closet full of unpainted resins, the amount of money saved can really add up.  Furthermore, once you learn how to prep, you can offer the service to other model horse fans.  Some painters will even swap prep work by others, for a paint job in exchange! 

Hobby preppers are always in strong demand, and prepping can be a great way to support your hobby.  After you have prepped your own models, ask for feedback from the painting artists and other collectors.  If they say the model was truly ready for paint, you're on the right track!  Then, I'd suggest starting by taking prep orders from locals first.  That way, if you miss a spot while you are learning, it's easy for them to pass the model back and forth for corrections.  Once you have prepped several models without complaint, from local customers, then you know that you're ready to take on outside orders. 

There is a very good guide on the Rio Rondo web site.  EVERYTHING HERE is from that guide!!!

Go to the bottom of the Home page where it says "General Info" and click.  Then, look on the left, for "How To Brochures".  Click there.  Scroll to the bottom where it says:

This is what you need to print out.  The only suggestion I have to change it, is personally, I do not recommend an X-acto knife for prep work, just too dangerous.  Please use Carbide Scrapers instead. 

All I am showing you here is the info on this sheet, but with some photos of the process.  This is how I prep models, but others may have different (better) techniques so keep an open mind.  Ask around to see what others do.

To start, I wash all models in hot, soapy water.  Make it as hot as you can.  TOO hot to comfortably soak your hands in is good.  Mold release is sometimes used in resin casting.  It is hard to get off a casting, and if left on, it will cause paint to lift and chip off unless it is totally removed!  So, soak them in HOT soapy water to get started.

Next, I pull out a model and make a paste of Ajax or Comet and water.  Douse an old toothbrush with this paste.  The idea is to rough up the surface of the model, on a microscopic level, to give it added "tooth" and to help remove the mold release.  I can't stress how important this first step is.

When you pick up the model out of the water, make sure you feel all areas.  Are there spots where it feels especially "slimy"?  This could be mold release.  You want the model to feel "grippy" when you finally rinse it off.  

Scrub a Traditional model with the Ajax or Comet abrasive paste for 5-10 minutes.  Seriously, THAT LONG.  And make sure you scrub in all the odd places, especially in the mane, the tail, and in the grooves of the face. Don't forget the legs!  Then dip it back in the hot, soapy water.  Feel like doing it twice?  Go for it! 

Next, rinse the model really well in clean running water and let it air dry completely.  Now, get used to this "clean and air dry" step, because you are going to do this a LOT.  I have tried using paper towels and regular towels, but nothing gives a lint-free finish like air drying.  However, if you do not let the model dry completely, what will happen is you'll get drops of water in the nostrils, inside the ears, and in the hair.

If you don't wait for the model to be REALLY DRY the primer will lift and it will be a horrible mess like this:

Water caught in the crevices caused primer to lift.  Be Patient!  Let it dry.
Primer can't stick to water.  If you don't wait for the horse to get totally dry, you will get hidden spots where the primer will just flake right off the horse.  That's because it was never actually touching the horse, it was sitting on top of a hidden bit of water.  Usually, this happens in "pocket" areas like inside the nostrils, inside the ears, between the hind legs, or in grooves of the mane and tail.  Do not get impatient!  You absolutely MUST wait this out.

For best results, do a little on each horse, every day, and rinse the models off and let them dry overnight.  This is why often prep will take me about a week, and why I work in large "batches" of models.  For best results, it is good to do a few hours of prep work each day, leaving plenty of air-dry time and making sure you look at the model with "fresh eyes" each session to catch all the stray seam lines.

After the initial cleaning, it is time to start removing seam lines.  Carbide scrapers are best, if you can't afford the entire set, three main ones will come in most handy.  Rounded like the end of a Popsicle stick, (CSO4 is my favorite but CSO1 also works) this levels seams like super-effective sandpaper.  A pointy ended tip, (CSO2) works great for tight areas.  Last one looks like a pencil lead worn out on the side, see pics above. (CSO3b)  

There are more designs available, but I generally use these three most often for prep work.  Price will run $35-$55 for scrapers, depending on if you get a few or the entire set.  Now it's time to use them!

Use your larger carbide scrapers to glide across larger seams.  For the inside of mane hairs, use the tip that looks like a pencil lead that is worn out on one side.  (CSO3b) This tip is great for cleaning out seam lines that run through manes and tails.  Also use little bits of fine sandpaper folded in half to help get in mane grooves.  Don't over-sand at this point.  Be thorough, but remember this is just stage one.  Getting too aggressive now will result in more work later.  

Don't forget to use a really BRIGHT lamp when working, otherwise you will miss a lot of seams!  A cheap clip on lamp from a hardware store and a bright bulb is fine.  When you are all done with the seams (or you think you are) wash again in hot soapy water, and let air-dry overnight.

The next day, it's time to add a layer of primer.  Use gray so you can see the seams better.  Prepare to be shocked!  Flaws are really hard to spot in white resin, but when you add gray primer, suddenly all the problems pop out at you.  Go as light as you can with the primer while still covering well enough to see the seams.

At this point you will probably be wondering what to do with all the uneven or recessed seams.  This is where, if you were to just sand them even, you might risk ruining the detail.  What you need is Spot Putty.  It is reddish in color, a paste in a tube, and sold in the auto body section of stores.  For larger areas, I will smear it on a large seam and smooth with a piece of paper towel.  For small areas, I use a little sculpting tool to smear it on small seams.  Do not get it on your hands, it's not good for you and it's also hard to wash off. 

When the paste is dry, sand smooth.  Now your seams should actually be fixed.  However, some models may have "pin holes" which are the most annoying of all prep issues.  Pin holes are too small to let primer cover them.  What you need to do is dab Gesso on a fine paint brush, dot it on top of the pin hole, then smear it into the pin hole with your finger.  (Gesso is non-toxic so feel free to use your hands if you need to.)

For larger areas, you can even brush on a layer of Gesso, making sure you dab the Gesso and really scrub it into the pin holes.  Often, pin holes can not be simply painted over, you need to really smear the paint into the holes.  (This step may take two or three tries to fill all of them in.)

Above:  What "pin holes" look like.

Below:  How to fix them with Gesso.

When you are done, mist very lightly with gray primer.  At this stage, the model is now prepped, but I generally find I missed a few small spots.  Fix these while you can.  Wash in hot soapy water (yet again) and let air dry.  After the model is totally dry, I do a final light coat of white primer, so the paint will cover more easily.

There, you've prepped a model!  It's a bit dusty, and kind of boring work but you'll make painters happy everywhere you go now, and if you want to get really good, you can even help out other collectors, and maybe, even make a few dollars prepping models on the side.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Two New Ornaments for 2012

One of the "regular" projects that I do commercially is the annual "Beautiful Breeds" Ornaments.


The Holiday line is one of the often-overlooked areas of Breyer's product line to collectors.  I actually had no idea HOW overlooked until I began to look online for any information about it!  While it is covered wholly in Breyer printed collector's guides, (books) the online articles on Breyer's various holiday items are pretty sparse.  So, it might surprise you to find out that we are coming on to 10 years of my "Beautiful Breeds" ornaments line for Breyer!

Breyer started their annual Christmas line in 1999.  As the line was getting established, they asked me if I had any ideas for products?  They already had the Stirrup ornament (features a mini version of their annual Holiday horse) and a lovely Carousel horse line that I believe, early on Kathleen Moody had some part in.  My only idea was pretty basic.  Well, how about just a horse?  With really minimal decoration.  (I know, shocking, suggesting a horse ornament to Breyer.  Ha ha ha!)

Luckily for me, they liked the idea anyway, and that led to the first of the series, which was an unfortunately proportioned Arabian that came out in 2003.  Thankfully, collectors proved to be a forgiving bunch and bought them anyway.  (Small scales are my weak point, I have trouble sculpting little horses.)  A photo of the first ornament in the series (Arabian, 2003) as well as a few other ones in the line can be seen on this page:

Many breeds followed and I have to admit, they are kind of hit or miss.  Some flowed.  Other sculpts fought me the whole way.  My favorites in the line, however, were the Appaloosa, Mustang, and this year's Peruvian Paso.  (The Saddlebred and Friesian and Quarter Horse are also pretty cute.)

The best part of all is how it makes my Holiday shopping so easy, as everyone gets the same thing every single year.  Ornaments!!!

Photo by Breyer
Here's a list of the past horse ornaments that I've done.  A few had detail work by Jane Lunger (the Appaloosa and Andalusian - she did the beautifully detailed tack on those) while the more "basic" ones were sculpted 100% by myself.

2003 - Arabian
2004 - Friesian
2005 - Saddlebred
2006 - Quarter Horse
2007 - Appaloosa
2008 - Clydesdale
2009 - Andalusian
2010 - Welsh Pony
2011 - Mustang
2012 - Peruvian Paso
2013 - Coming Soon!

I have no idea how many years this series will continue, but with the sheer number of horse breeds in the world, there are a lot of possibilities!  Hopefully, Breyer will continue to find my work acceptable for this line.  (I am the first to admit smaller scales are my weakest link.)

This year, I was also selected for the their "Signature Series" ornament, which is a newer idea.  It's a blown glass ornament, with decals on it featuring artwork (2-D) by various Breyer artists.  Past artists have been Kathleen Moody, Sue Sifton, and Sheryl Leisure, who did some lovely painting of Hess molds (as Chris Hess, iconic Breyer sculptor has passed away so naturally he's not able to paint his own sculptures for this ornament.)

So, I set about doing acrylic paintings of my own sculptures.  Which, I have to admit, artistically seems a bit . . redundant.  Ha ha.  On the tail of "Luna" the wolfie Web special, here I get a second chance to go about doing 2-D art as commercial project, in the same year.  Very fun.  I think the paintings turned out great, and was totally happy with the work.  It came out clean and tidy, but I "pushed" the colors on the art and added a bit of blues, purples, etc. to the horses.  I think it's important to make work seem painterly today, being as Photoshop and digital art are so pervasive.   (If it's done by hand, I think it should actually look painted.)

Still, I honestly wasn't expecting much.  I mean, the idea didn't sound that exciting.  A painting of a Breyer on a glass ball?  Okay.  Here is the promo photo, courtesy Breyer:

Photo by Breyer
However, when the ornaments arrived and I actually opened them, I was blown away!  It was really gorgeous in person.  Rich translucent red, slightly frosted, and when the lights glowed through the glass the effect was lovely.  The photos online don't do it justice, but I guess it's hard to convey the see-through effect..  Here's my own picture, showing the artwork on the opposite side of the ornament.  (This view is  not shown online.)

Now, how I wish I could do something like this glass ornament, but featuring some of the "other" 2-D art I've done in recent years.  Like these little paintings that I've done as rosette centers for various Live shows through the years:

I love these little rosette paintings.  I've done about several of these and they are lots of fun to create.  But, that's for another Blog entry!  And, that will need to wait because I'm already up to my ears with new commercial projects so looks like there will be more future products featuring my artwork in 2013.  Yay!  So, back to the studio with me.  Look for updates in 2013 whenever I have a chance.

Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Luna" - A Wolfie Web Special

A lot of times I'll be working on projects here in the studio, and I'm unable to share what they are because it's "top secret".  Usually, it's just a realistic paint prototype, (read: yet another brown horse) or the annual "Beautiful Breeds" ornament, or some other little thing.  But, every now and then, I get to try  something totally new!
Breyer's Web Special, "Luna".  Photo copyright Breyer.
I've had the opportunity to work on two unique projects this year that are outside of my norm.  One is still under wraps, but the other was just revealed today!  This is Breyer's latest Web special.  It features artwork of wolves running on the side, and the coolest part is when you turn the lights off, the wolves glow in the dark.
Glowing effect on "Luna".  Photo copyright Breyer.
This concept was my creation, and I'm so grateful that Breyer was willing to give it a shot when I proposed the idea to them.  I have always been fascinated by anything glow in the dark.  When Breyer released their "Merry Widow" model years ago, that featured a glowing spider web on the side of a horse, I thought it was fantastic!  I couldn't believe the brightness of the glow that was actually part of the plastic itself.  So bright and vivid! The only problem?  Black widow spiders really freak me out.  Especially when they show up in your studio now and then.  (True story.)

Breyer soon followed up with "Cryptic" another amazing Halloween horse who was lightly painted to look like stone, but when the lights turned off, he revealed a glowing skeleton.  Now, this guy I couldn't pass up.  It's a stone horse during the day, and an anatomy lesson at night!

However, as a fanatic of all things glowing, I know that glow does not have to mean "creepy".  I don't want to save my glowy stuff for Halloween!  There are lots of gorgeous glowing things out there that we can enjoy year round.  And one of my loves is wolves.  As a teen, I used to draw them a lot, almost as much as horses.  Sadly, you'll just have to take my word on this, because most of my early drawings have been lost through various moves, and most of it has disappeared.  This is all I could find that featured wolves:

Cartoony "animation style" wolf sketch from around 1992.

Wolf design notepad from printing class, 1990.
I had this idea of running wolves on the side of a horse, and with some of Breyer's newer technology using decals, maybe, just maybe, it could actually work?  The idea was that the horse would have paint in all the areas *except* where the decal art lies, so only the wolf scene itself would glow.  At night, the horse would disappear, and only the running wolves would remain.

For the art, I decided to go with one of my old faves: scratchboard.  It's crisp, sharp, and reproduces beautifully.  Now, as I started the sketch, my original vision had to be modified.  Initially, I had wanted BIG wolves running in a pack, wrapping all along the side of the horse I chose - the dynamic "Ruffian" model.  There was just one thing I hadn't figured on.  The intense, bulging muscles and deep detail on this mold.  When I laid my first drawings on the side of the horse, the art became distorted.  (Aha, so THIS is why there is no muscle detail on the "Trail of Painted Ponies" horses.  Duly noted!)  

I wasn't about to give up, however.  I had a vision of wolves on Ruffian, and gosh darn it, that is what I was going to make.  I had to adjust things somewhat, and try to find the few smooth areas on her body and build the scene in "parts".  At this point I came up with the idea of breaking up the artwork into segments.  The wolves looked lonely isolated all by themselves on the barrel, so I added bits of scenery here and there on the neck and body of the horse.

The original art, oversize.
Reduced size photocopies to check for any distortion.
Make the drawings fit the "smooth" areas of the horse.
At that point, I had my scratchboard black and white.  And we were ready to go with a black and white horse, if I wanted to stop there.  But, it just didn't seem to really look "finished" to me.  Sorry, I need some color!  Back to the drawing board . . .

I made photocopies of the wolves on heavy cardstock, and misted color over with my airbrush.  It still kept a lot of the crisp detail of the scratchboard, but it did add a little interest, with a muted hint of color:

Last, I had to tie this new tinted art into the body of the horse.  Hmm.  What to do?  Brown earth with green trees?  Eh, I've done enough brown horses already.  Let's have some fun!

First, I cut out my colored wolf photocopies to mimic the finished decals:

Then I did a quick, impressionistic scene on the side, painted in midnight blues and purples, that kind of tied the wolves into their environment. To mimic the finished result, I took photocopies of the art and taped them to the horse, so we could get a rough idea of how it might look when finished.  Much better!

Rough prototype of glowing Wolf concept.

Looks good even from different angles!

When I made the art blend with the sculpture, the wolves have a 3-d effect.  

There is so much more I would have loved to do with this paint job, and I am excited about all the possibilities this kind of technique might offer for the future.  However, at this point, I had worked on this paint job alone (including 2-D art) for over two weeks.  And we honestly didn't even know how this would go in production.  Could this even be done?  It was time to wrap things up and see.

When I was sent word that the concept was going to actually work in production, I was so excited!  Sometimes these fun ideas have to stay just "ideas" and many concepts never make it to collector's hands due to unexpected problems.

I'm so glad this one actually worked, and I truly hope you are just as happy with the results as I am.  At last, a glowing model for any time!  I will display this one proudly on my shelf, 365 days per year.  The spot for this beauty in my living room has been cleared off, and is ready.  I can't wait to see it in person.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in Photography - Part One

For the longest time, I've really been struggling to capture my paint jobs correctly in photos.  I hear the same comments over and over from clients and customers.  "This looks even nicer in person!"

On one hand, this is fabulous, because one of the worst things I've heard (behind the scenes, from friends) is when they purchase a model by Artist XYZ and they get the package open, and are sorely disappointed.  "It looked so much better in the photos!

Eeeeek.  That's NOT the reaction that I want people to have when they unpack something I've painted.  So having people be pleasantly surprised when they get something from me is good to hear.

On the other hand, not capturing my paintwork correctly means I'm basically underselling my work.  Even worse, however, is when I can't get the camera to record the correct shade.  That's much more serious.  Here's a great example.  The horse I want you to look at in these photos is the red chestnut Affiity.  That's the reddest horse in the middle of this row.  This is all the SAME horse, remember, in the series of photos.

Here she is on a shot taken from a distance, in a row of models, shown in-progress.  This is very accurate as to her "true" color:

She's in the middle of the group.  Now this week, I worked on building a new light tent.  Here she is in a close-up in studio lights.  Unfortunately, this really seemed to wash out her dark tones, and it doesn't capture the "richness" of her color at all.  Compare the photo below to the photo of her in the line-up above.

Taking the tent outside, I plopped it down in bright sunlight, to see what that would do.  I thought maybe the ultra bright diffuse sunlight would capture her true color.  Instead, it blasts her back with white reflections:

So then I took her to the front of my house.  Usually this north-facing light in the shade takes lovely "true color" photos.

It kind-of worked.  Look at her face in this photo.  Especially the gray around the eyes and muzzle.  It really captures the shading nicely.  However, there is a really distracting blue-sky reflection along her back and neck.  I use a lot of metallic paint in my undercoats, so my paint jobs do reflect a lot of light.  This is why they seem to change color so much depending on the lighting.

Let's see this again with another model.  Here's a "group photo" with Valor, who is the dark chestnut guy standing in front here:

Okay, looks great.  You cans see he's kind of a dark brown "cocoa" color with some lighter golden brown highlights. This photo was snapped with my four or five year old "point and shoot" camera, from a distance of a few feet away.

Now I took a photo of my new light tent.  When I took this photo from across the room, you can clearly see INSIDE the box, that the horse in there looks the same as the horse above.  A nice, deep rich, dark shade of cocoa brown.

But, when I come in close, the camera washes out the color again, and now the darkest tones along the top of the horse are lost, and he pales out and loses the dark shading and "crispness" seen in the quickie candid shot of him just standing on the counter!

Once again, taking an accurate shot of any of my paint jobs evades me.  Sigh!

I've called this post "Part One" because I'm not giving up on this yet.  Next step will be to hopefully upgrade to a slightly better camera.  I can't afford one of those super-high end DSLR pro cameras, nor would I want to drag one around for everyday photo taking, but now I'm looking at something the next step up beyond a point-and-shoot.  Something with a little bit of manual override, so I can get more control of what's going on here.

I'll post again later, when I make the upgrade to the next model.  A friend of mine, Paula Anderson, is a professional photographer and has sent me some great advice.  Apparently, for the best shots, I need to be able to adjust a bit more than what the basic point-and-shoot models allow.  I'm adding a link to Paula's site because I really appreciate her taking the time to share her advice with me!

For now, I'm researching a couple of models.  The Nikon Coolpix P310 has caught my eye, seems it has some ability for user control but runs about $350 right now which should be in my budget.  I'm also seeing a lot of good reviews for the Canon Powershot S100.  I still have a bit of a bias towards Nikon products from the "old days" when I toted around a beat-up ancient Nikon SLR camera for years.  But I have to get over that and consider all the options, being as digital cameras are a different animal altogether.  (More like a computer with a lens, anymore.)

One of the things that I find puzzling is the addition of a GPS in a lot of the newest cameras?  I guess if you get lost hiking the back country on a photo safari, maybe your camera can help you find civilization, but for the most part that falls into the category of totally unnecessary gizmos that have nothing to do with better photography.  Unless there is something that I'm missing here . . .

Look for updates in a later post.  Going to try and resolve this somehow, in the next few months.  


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shipping One of a Kind Art

I was over on one of the model horse hobby boards this morning, reading an absolute horror story.  A person on there had shipped a horse resin via UPS.  Someone had clearly opened the box, and unwrapped the horse partially, stuffed it back in the box and hastily taped it back up again.  (Clearly, it was some jerk who saw that the box was insured for $800 and then was let down when it was a model horse, not something easily pawned for crack.)  So when the owner tried to file a claim against this act of vandalism, she was given all kinds of grief, because UPS "does not insure one of a kind items or art."

However, let it be said, they are MORE THAN HAPPY to take your money to insure said items!  And they certainly will neglect to tell you this caveat while you're handing over your cash.  It's only after they have given the boxes to a herd of rampaging elephants to play soccer with that they will mention that art or collectibles are not covered.

This photo of a white peacock that landed on my neighbor's barn at sunset is unrelated to this blog post.
(I just hate blog posts with no pictures.)
This is why I use our good old U.S. Postal Service.  Okay, they can also be annoying sometimes, making your life difficult when you try to file a claim.  Or not?  It really depends on the employee you file with, and what kind of day they are having, ha ha ha.  Because here's the weird thing about all of these companies, they have no actual "rules" about how to pack or what to pack, so they are all kind of flying by the seat of their pants and just don't want to admit it.

( I still don't have any pictures related to the topic so here's a flat bunny.)
But the trusty US Post does their best, as seen in these "experiments" where people try to mess with them by shipping odd items - just to see what they will do:

I wrote an article for JAH with more info on this subject, where studies by Consumer Reports compared prices.  Like they did, I packed up several boxes of models, weighed them, and compared FedEx, UPS, and good old Post Office.  The Post Office was cheapest, despite this pervasive view that UPS is the least expensive service.  (Do note, on large boxes, you need to plan ahead to get good prices, as Priority Mail charges out the wazoo on large boxes, so go with Parcel Post and save major bucks.  Just know it's going to take a week to get there.)

In another article by Popular Mechanics, sensors were put inside of boxes which were shipped via FedEx, UPS, and United States Postal Service, and the USPS won for the best handling (and least dropping or shaking of items.)

But, here's another cool service, and an extra "bonus" for you guys.  I didn't have enough room to write this on the original JAH article.  There is an often neglected FOURTH mailing option that is terribly under-used yet so fabulous!  It's "Registered Mail" from the United States Postal Service, and here's the cool part - it's designed specifically for sending rare, valuable, and precious items.

And, ironically, in SOME cases, it's the cheapest way to ship!  Really!

This blog needed even more photos so here's a yellow dog with blue eyes.
Years ago, I went into the Post Office, where I was trying to ship an original sculpture to a mold maker.  I'm pretty chatty with my Post Office employees, so when I went to insure it for $2,000, he asked what it was.  I explained it was an original clay horse and I was super nervous about it getting lost in the mail.  If it broke, it could get fixed, but if it was lost, it was gone forever.

He explained to me that Registered Mail is checked every step of the way, and is even kept in a locked cabinet at night.  It's way more secure than anything else.  PLUS - it's cheaper than straight insurance, if the item you're sending is worth a high amount.  It was designed as a secure way to ship things like gemstones, gold, collectible coins, anything that is rare and precious.  (Which would include our precious art ponies.)

Registered Mail won't save you money on a $500 shipment, it will cost more.  But for your $10 or $12 fee, you'll get total peace of mind.

But, if you're sending that OOAK custom resin out that sold for $1500+, it's seriously time to explore Registered Mail!  Not only will your model get luxury treatment, it actually can be cheaper than straight old insurance on a Priority Mail box.  Seriously, it's awesome!  No wonder this is the shipping industry's best-kept secret.  So go forth and use the heck outta Registered Mail on all your high-dollar items!

Read the price comparison at the end of this Ebay guide about it:

Important Note:  To send items via Registered Mail, you are going to need BROWN PAPER TAPE.  That's the old-fashioned kind of tape, that you literally wet the back of to apply.  My tongue was so dry after sealing that box.  (Oh, just kidding, use a sponge to wet it.)

I go ahead and tape with regular packing tape first, and then put this on all openings.  The reason that you *must* do this on all packages sent Registered Mail is this makes a tamper-proof seal.

Pack well, like you normally would, then seal all edges with this tape.  They will stamp the paper tape at the office, so they can PROVE that no one ever opened your box during transit.  The package will take a bit longer to arrive, because it is logged in every step of the way.  Every original sculpture that I've sent via Registered Mail has arrived safe and sound on the other side.

I know it's a bit more work and effort, but it's certainly nice to know such an option exists for shipping art!

Happy shipping!

PS.  Remember when shipping models, to give at least two inches around all sides, and to give the box a really good shake before shipping.  If anything shifts or rattles, add more packing material.  Most damage is caused by the model moving around inside the box.  (Obviously, this rule does not apply when total morons rip open your box in transit.)

(I still have no photos related to this blog post so please enjoy this picture of newborn baby turkeys.)