Let’s print again, like we did last summer

Epson printer ink costs more, gram for gram, than gold. Seriously. Actually not. Today’s gold price is £23.38 per gram. Epson ink is £21 for 17 grams (17ml cartridges). I’ve heard the ink/gold comparison many times and always assumed it was true, it certainly sounded plausible. Whatever, printer ink in 17ml cartridges is ruinously expensive. When I had a proper job and did photography as a hobby I could afford a regular fix. Now, I have to justify it from sales. I’ve been fortunate to have made a few (literally, just a few) sales recently. I also got some birthday money yesterday (the big 5-0). So I’ve splashed out on a full set and I can do another print run to replenish stock. I might have enough left over to do some personal prints of work in progress, though I doubt it.

South Pennines scenery

This is fairly typical south Pennines scenery, south of Skipton. The long and very tough grass is always a sign of very wet ground but it’s also tough enough to stop you sinking too far in. The stone in the wall says this is a gritstone area. There are basically two kinds of landscape in the pennines – gritstone and limestone. Each has a distinctive look, leading to the names given to these areas in the Derbyshire Peak District – the Dark Peak (gritstone) and White Peak (limestone).

Pentax K20D
South Pennines near Carleton, south of Skipton

Photography is easy, framing is hard

I’ve done a lot of damage to my framed photos, the ones I take to the markets to sell. Only small damage in each case (tiny marks) but noticeable and to a big proportion of the stock.

I’ve always used custom-made mounts and frames. I like to make the mounts myself. It’s very satisfying and it’s part of offering a hand-made product. Framing is more specialist so I’ve always bought the frame in.

To make the perfect mount, you measure up and determine the optimum mat dimensions (the mat is the top part of the mount, the mount is the bottom part of the mount, with the print sandwiched in-between). The mat dimensions basically means the widths of each side. So for an 18″x12″ picture size the mat size might be 8cm on the top and sides and 9cm on the bottom. It’s common for the bottom to be heavier to compensate for an optical illusion that makes the bottom side seem narrower than it is.

You definitely don’t want the sides to be a different width than the top and you want the bottom to be just the right amount heavier than the other three sides. In short, you want symmetry and harmony.

If all your pictures were the same size and shape (aspect ratio) then all your mounts would also be the same size and shape. However, I have pictures taken on APS-C sensors (3/2 aspect), micro-4/3 (4/3 aspect) and 35mm scanned slide film. This last is nominally 3/2 aspect but due to the slide mount plus the scanning process each one is actually slightly different, though generally close to 3/2. But then you get pictures that have been cropped slightly (for “artistic” reasons) and which will be any arbitrary aspect ratio.

Finally, there are portrait (vertical) shots and landscape (horizontal) ones. They have nominally the same aspect ratio but if you make the mat bottom side thicker this makes a difference so that the mounts for portrait and landscape shots of otherwise identically-sized images will end up different sizes (think: the “bottom” of a portrait shot is a short side, for a landscape shot it’s a long side.)

So I make each mount myself, measuring each picture individually, all in the cause of aesthetic perfection. The end result is there’s a big variety of sizes and shapes and few (possibly none) of them will fit into any ready-made frame that you might buy at a shop. This is a shame because custom-made frames are expensive (£30+ for the cheapest moulding for a typical 18″x12″ image size). It also means I can’t tell my customers they can just buy any cheap frame from Ikea.

To fit into a standard frame you have two choices. First, make the sides of the mat a different size than the top/bottom – which looks naff. Or, second, make the mat crop some of the image area. This is likely to be a significant crop which is likely to be artistically unacceptable.

It’s made both easier and harder because there’s really no such thing as a standard-sized frame. There are just sizes that are more or less commonly available. This makes it harder because you can’t just work out which size to target and then get your preferred style in that size. It makes it easier because with a lot of variety of sizes, you can perhaps find a frame style that comes in a size that’s a closer match to what you need.

I have two types of frame at the moment. Wood and aluminium. A typical wood frame has the picture and the backing board held in place with special tiny “nails”, the type you’ll be familiar with from buying ready-made frames to put holiday photos in. You bend back the little metal tabs to remove the back. It then has a sticky paper tape stuck all round the back to seal the gap. These aren’t really designed to be taken apart on a regular basis.

My aluminium frames, on the other hand, are put together with machine screws and no tape. They come apart and go back together again very nicely. I’ve taken advantage of this, swapping prints between frames to make a sale at a market.

It would therefore be nice that any ready-made frames also allow such flexibility. But it also suggests another option. If I make an effort to standardise aspect ratio (which is easier with the digital shots) then I can standardise the mount size and order a small number of custom-made aluminium frames in these sizes. I’ll get the flexibility to change which photos are framed and be able to re-use frames more easily.

I’m still working through this. Feels like swimming through treacle.

After the deluge… our latest art market outing

Richard (www.richardjwalls.com) and I had our second outing sharing a stall at the saturday Artsmix market in Leeds yesterday. We were both fired up to exceed last month’s vast income. Very nice weather, which is always encouraging. Even more encouraging was a lady buying one of Richard’s prints while he was still away parking his car. That was it for the morning though, some interest and nice comments but no more sales. However…that had been the case last month so I wasn’t downhearted (yet).

As hoped the afternoon became busier and we sold more. We tried various sales techniques – talk to the customer, ignore the customer, reduce the prices, take the price tickets off, but sales still seem to be random events with no link between type of customer, price, subject matter, or anything.

There are some pictures (for both of us) that definitely draw interest. They don’t necessarily sell but they bring customers to the stall. We’re definitely getting a feel for what customers like to look at but getting them to buy them is something else entirely.

Had a good chat with this gentleman about photography but he didn’t want to buy anything. That’s part of the fun, though. Thanks to Richard for the photo.

We were feeling pretty good by about 4:30, a successful day and there was a late rush of people (also expected from last month’s experience) and then it happened. The skies darkened. The rain started. The lightning flashed, the thunder clapped. We piled the stock into the middle of the stall away from the rain and mostly got away with it, just the odd spot of water.

During the first downpour.

Fifteen minutes later and the sun was out. We dried everything off and laid it all out again. Still looking threatening though. In my mind I was remembering weather maps I’d seen the day before showing some very bad weather. Sure enough we started feeling a few drops. Then another stallholder started to yelp as a gust of wind caught them. I immediately put all the pictures flat on the stall – wind is (I thought) our worst enemy, it blows the pictures off their easels. I thought it was time to pack up, and started piling everything onto the stall again, but the deluge had now started. I couldn’t pack anything away without exposing it to the rain so I just had to leave it under cover and hope for the best. At first it was OK. The rain was coming straight down and the stall cover was doing its job. But the rain got heavier, and heavier. Then it turned to hail. Quarter-inch diameter hail. I’ve never seen such a downpour. It was still coming straight down but it was bouncing off the street and onto the stall. I could see everything getting very wet but there was nothing to be done. Half an hour later and it was over (or at least, just turned to more normal light showers). The stock had taken a battering, I could see water damage to a number of framed prints. All we could do was pack it away and take it home. It’s now scattered all round the house, drying. I’ll take a look tomorrow and see what the damage is.

Taken by Richard from our hiding place during the deluge.
There had been a slight late-afternoon rush but everyone disappeared as soon as the rain started.

Thanks to Richard for the photos, like the bad photographer I am I had forgotten to take my camera 😦

I’ll be rich tomorrow

I’ll be showing at the Artsmix market tomorrow (the 22nd), at Albion Place in Leeds, with my good friend Richard. Since the last one, when we both exceeded our (minimal) expectations of sales, I’m now convinced that tomorrow will be the start of a new full time career as a rich and famous photographer. If you want to help Richard and I get rich, please come and see our pictures in Leeds tomorrow.

Not climbing at Heptonstall

“It was supposed to be dry!” – the usual protest when friends meet up for climbing on a wet evening. It had rained in the afternoon and it was raining now. Heptonstall gritstone isn’t Skye gabbro and rain doesn’t agree with it much.

However, bearded Chris had asked me last week for some tuition to help him start lead climbing. Despite being a hard-man boulderer he’d never done any leading so I thought we’d do some top-roping and I’d get Chris to set up the belays as though he’d just led the route.

We started on The Mitre (severe). The belay for this is easy, two handy trees some way back. I showed Chris the basic principles of finding the line of pull, finding pieces in opposition, how to sling the trees, the difference between D-shape and HMS-shape karabiners, and then the standard pattern of tieing on. I got him to tie on to the end of the rope (as though he’d just led) then clip into each krab and back to a clove-hitch on his harness to end up with two independent loops. Then how to work out the best way to sit at the stance.

As we were doing this, original Chris arrived so we used him as a guinea pig and bearded Chris brought him up the route. Then they swapped. I was enjoying the teacher-role and not enjoying the rain so I didn’t bother.

Then we moved to Badge Climb (VDiff), chosen because it’s got a trickier belay setup. I showed Chris how to judge the line of pull on this route, which is less straightforward, then how to find nuts in the cracks some way back. We used three pieces with two of them equalised into a single point.

Next Pocket Wall (MVS), which is harder again (both to climb and to anchor). This time we used four pieces but they didn’t all get stressed equally. We designed it to allow for a pull in two different directions, because of the way the climber moves around near the top.

Original Chris wanted to practice Mille Feuille (MVS) to finish, so that’s what we did, repeating the belay setup we’d used for the Mitre earlier.

It did dry off a little as the evening wore on and there was a good fiery sunset. We’ll see if Chris fancies an actual lead next time. Got to go and dry out my gear now.