Monday, September 28, 2009

A Small Part of a Larger Equation

Hydrangeas ©Dianne Poinski - Part of the first set of "published" images.

In a classic “being in the right place at the right time” scenario, I was given the opportunity to have my images considered for possible release as prints and posters by a major art publisher. This happened at one of the first art festivals I attended outside my local area.

It has been ten years since I signed my first contract and I have mixed feelings about the experience. When first approached, I was thrilled. I also naively thought fame and fortune would be coming next. Even though I was just starting out on the art festival circuit, I was already seeking ways to minimize the amount of shows I would have to do.

At the first meeting with the publisher I remember feeling a bit concerned about my “artistic freedom” as they described the “trends in the industry” and other information meant to guide me in choosing my subject matter. I reasoned that this was no different than being a commercial photographer and chose to treat the publisher as my “client”. I also learned that images should be submitted, and are usually sold as sets. A set can be a pair of related images, but usually four is the preferred number.

The first set of photographs I submitted were accepted and I was told they would be released in a few months. I waited patiently for my first royalty check and when it arrived, tore it open to find a check for $5.75! Not what I had envisioned. Eventually the royalty checks grew larger as more images were released, but never came close to being an amount I could rely on as a steady stream of income.

Soon after that first check arrived, I had the surreal experience of being in Linens & Things, shopping for a clothes hamper, when I came upon something that looked vaguely familiar. Those were my photographs! Framed and hanging in a major retail outlet! I would go on to experience this in Cost Plus and Bombay Company as well.

After the novelty of that wore off, I continued to work hard at producing images for possible publication. This became more difficult each time I set out to shoot. I started to get resentful - feeling like I had “sold out”.

The requirement that images be made in “sets” proved to be my greatest challenge. I would get excited about a shot I made, and then remember that I needed a “mate” to go with it. This usually felt forced and the resulting image never satisfied me like the first one did.

Just like everything else, the print publishing industry has suffered greatly in the current economy. I have not submitted anything to my publisher in over a year. I have a few images from Paris that I made a small effort to create a series with, but once again, one photograph always appears to be the strong one, while the others feel like a stretch. From a marketing standpoint, even if I wasn’t working with publishers, it’s a good idea to create images that can be grouped together - but I resist it for some reason.

I don’t regret working with publishers and will continue to send images when I feel they are appropriate. I know that there are some artists that have a strong opinion about this subject, but for me, it’s been a fairly positive experience. I still retain all rights to the original and it is returned to me to sell as I wish. It’s also nice to get monthly checks - even if they are sometimes small. Having my images made into prints and posters is a small part of the larger equation of getting my work out into the world. After ten years I am wiser and more realistic, but also grateful for any opportunity that makes it possible for me to continue making art.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Empty Chairs & Quiet Paths"

Morning Fog ©Dianne Poinski

People often react to my work by saying they find it “calming” or “peaceful”. I graciously respond with “thank you” because my intention is to create images that evoke this kind of reaction and I am always thrilled when I hear I have accomplished that goal. I didn’t make a conscious decision to photograph this way, it just evolved.

It took me awhile to realize that a common thread among many of my images were scenes of empty chairs, quiet paths, and places one can imagine visiting when life gets a little too chaotic. It’s not a coincidence - because this is what I need. I need solitude, peace, and time away from fear and worry. By creating these images, I get to experience some of what I crave.

I have talked about this before, but I don’t function well when I am feeling overwhelmed - and it’s seems like that is a word I use often. Part of it is just the nature of being self employed. I have so many ideas and thoughts swirling around my head with nobody to tell me which direction to go in. For example, right now I am excited about a new class I am teaching in a couple of weeks. Then there are the new images I want to work on and the e-book I have been trying to finish for the last few months.

I am also under the false impression that in order to be successful as an artist you have to always be working. ”This is a tough business and there is no room for slackers.” When these beliefs take center stage in my head, you can usually find me drinking triple lattes with a to-do list 5 pages long. This sort of living and thinking is self destructive and not sustainable.

Autumn Stairs ©Dianne Poinski

What should I do when I start feeling this way? Maybe I accept the ebbs and flows of my energy and creativity and instead of feeling stressed out; focus on how grateful I am to be in this situation. When the ideas stop, that’s when I really need to worry.

In the meantime, I can celebrate all the wonderful experiences and opportunities I have, and when overwhelm begins to creep in, grab one of my black and white images, put on my iPod and start coloring. It works almost every time.

Solitude ©Dianne Poinski

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Boat

When I was in Paris this summer I went to Monet’s Garden for inspiration and history. I did not go with the intention to get any serious photography done. I assumed there would be too many visitors to the garden to make that possible. This was also a place where I knew I would not be able to use a tripod, so I grabbed just my camera bag and hoped for the best.

My infrared image of the boat in the pond was one of those “shoot from the hip, shoot fast and get out of the way” photographs. Once I got home and started editing images I knew this was one I wanted to work on.

I liked it, but I was disappointed in it too. The composition was not great – the boat should not have been in the middle of the frame. Also, in one of the shots, the boat is too close to the edge and in the other one, the top of the image was overexposed.

I made the decision to print and color the closely cropped one.

It was okay, but the boat seemed to get lost in the image.

So I printed another one and
made the boat much lighter so I could add more color.

My eyes kept going to the upper trees and not the boat, so once again I planned to make another print and this time darken the trees a bit.

While I was discussing this with Merle (an amazing artist with a studio down the hall – check out her website - I realized that if the trees were the problem, why not just crop them out. We started using scraps of paper to see what that would look like and soon I decided that this image could be a square! I was very excited! Also, because I was cropping the trees out, I could use the image that had more room to the right of the boat. Two problems solved!

Bateau à Giverny ©2009 Dianne Poinski

This experience taught me quite a few things. First - perseverance. I was almost ready to give up on this image, but I don’t like to admit defeat until I have exhausted all my options. Second, I am so grateful to have people to brainstorm with. It’s one of the reasons I wanted a studio outside of my home and around other artists. I may have reached this conclusion on my own but there is something about having another set of eyes and someone who can listen while you think “out loud”, that makes it not only easier, but more fun.

Within a day, I had another one printed and after coloring it, had it scanned by Sacramento Giclee. By 6:00 Friday evening, before our weekend open studio, the original was framed and on the wall and limited editions prints were in the print racks.

I was very happy with the finished product and it seemed to be well received all weekend. Good thing I did not give up………………..

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Studio & The Capitol Area Studio Tour

In celebration of the Open Studio Tour this weekend and Second Saturday, I am recycling an older post about my studio. This is one of my earliest posts so there is a good chance most of you have not read it. (To be honest - I am also crazy busy getting ready for this weekend so I am cheating a bit - but recycling is good - right?)

Anyway, for those of you in the area I hope you can stop by this weekend. More information about the Capitol Area Studio Tour can be found on their website - as well as on my website -

Original post from March 2008:

I finally got around to getting a couple of shots of my studio. I

love this space. I moved into this studio last November. I had a smaller space with my friend Lori Emmington who is taking a break while she completes her Masters degree. She is also a full time high school art teacher - not sure how she does it!

The light during the day is amazing. The downside to this amazing light is the heat that comes through the windows when it starts to get warmer. I am debating on whether or not to get shades for the summer. I really don't want to. A new vent for the air conditioning should be installed soon - maybe I will wait and see how that works before I decide on the shades.

Another advantage to having this studio is that I get to participate in Sacramento's Second Saturday every month. The galleries in town, including the Art Foundry Gallery downstairs, hold their opening receptions on this night. It's quite an event. Every month all of the studios upstairs are open for people to visit, enjoy and possibly purchase art.

The studio is where I do the actual hand-coloring of my photographs. That is all I do when I am there. There are no distractions like I had when I worked out of my studio at home. No email to check, no laundry to fold, no dishwasher to empty - you get the idea. I just put on my Ipod, start coloring and completely lose track of time. I love it!

If you live in the Sacramento area or passing through, let me know. Second Saturdays are very enjoyable, but visiting the studio when you can actually watch the process of hand-coloring can be fun too. Visitors are always welcome!

1021 R Street Downtown Sacramento


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Missing Sausalito

The Sausalito Art Festival takes place every year during the Labor Day weekend. This year was the first year in four that I didn’t have a booth there.

All year long, weekends that I traditionally would have been at a show, came and went with my only thought being one of relief and confidence in my decision to take a year off. That didn’t happen this past weekend.

The Sausalito Art Festival is ranked among the top festivals in the country for a lot of reasons. It’s a beautiful show in a beautiful setting and people line up to get in. The entertainment is usually top notch and the Sausalito Art Festival is famous for taking care of their artists. In other words, it’s a very pleasant and usually very profitable weekend.

On Friday, which is set-up day, I found myself wishing I was there. Thinking about the other artists setting up, and missing the sense of excitement and anticipation you get before a show. Keep in mind I had a great weekend planned, which is one of the reasons why my thoughts surprised me. I began reflecting about this past year and started to think about my plans for 2010.

It is actually time for me to at least give some thought as to what to do next year. Applications should be arriving in my inbox and my mailbox soon.

Taking a year off was an experiment and it went very well. Sure, my income is significantly lower this year but the important thing is, so are my expenses. I am not exhausted and burned out and I actually created new work this summer – something unheard of for the last 10 years!

So how do I proceed? Slowly – that’s how. One decision I have already made as result of my experience this weekend, is that I will apply to Sausalito next year. There is a certain amount of stress attached to that decision because it is a difficult show to get into and photography is one of the most competitive categories. Just because you get in one year is not a guarantee you will get in the next. Waiting for that acceptance letter (now the acceptance email) can be torture.

So with that decision - I will apply and try to let go of the outcome. My intention is be there next year but I won’t invite everyone to my pity party if I don’t get in.

There is at least one more show I will apply to if for no other reason than to hang on to my primo location. I have had the same spot for the last 6 or 7 years and I asked the promoter if I skipped 2009, could I have my spot back the following year? He said “of course” but I don’t think he would have the same reaction if I skipped a second year.

So that’s where I am today. I don’t need to rush into anything and I am free to change my mind at anytime. Stay tuned.....................

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bridge 58 - The Story I Almost Forgot!

©1999 Dianne Poinski

This is a guest post by my daughter Nichole Poinski. After my last post she reminded me of this story about "Bridge 58". You can check out her blog at

Thanks Nichole!

Four years ago this month, I started the Early Fall Start program at the University of Washington. For four hours a day, I would sit in a basement classroom in the library, and with a small group of eight others, discuss the works of Emily Bronte. I could not think of anything I could like more. My love of escapism and literary theory bled into my social life, or lack thereof. I was not one to "party", nor did I enjoy the recycling of Chapelle Show jokes in actual conversation. I was a nerd, and I embraced it.

When the Autumn Quarter began, I met a girl who I had met only once during Early Fall Start, and had been in my roommate's class. She and I had registered for the same Freshman Interest Group, and would be taking all of our classes together that Fall. We connected and clicked. Her social butterfly tendencies balanced my bookish shut-in status, and I was sad to hear that she would be moving out of the dorm building we shared for Early Fall Start and into one across campus.

One day, as she and the rest of campus unloaded boxes and bags into the crawlspaces the University tried to pass off as dorms, she called me and asked me what my mother's name was. "Um, Dianne." I replied. "Is she a photographer?" She asked. Confused as to what this had anything to do with, I said, "Yes, yes she is." "I have a photograph of hers in my dorm room." I couldn't believe it, so I jetted to see for myself. Sure enough, "Bridge 58" was tackied to the concrete wall. She had purchased the print from my mother at a show in the Bay Area when she was a sophomore in high school.

It was this moment that told me I was where I needed to be. Two states away, my mother's imagery had found me. A year later, my friend and I moved in together, and decorated our student apartment with more of my mother's prints. We still live together, my mother's prints gracing our walls. Over the years, we've perfected the timing for telling the story aloud, and can almost feel the moment when the listener experiences the same serendipity we did, that moment of awe and gratitude that made the world seem at once so small yet so full of possibility.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


They say that “a picture is worth a thousand words” but I think some people want a few words added to their pictures.

Last month during our Second Saturday Open Studio, someone stopped by to look at one of my new images from Paris. Since the trip was fresh in my mind, I had stories to tell regarding this particular piece. After they decided to purchase the photograph, they asked if I could write up the story I told and send it to them - which I did a couple of days later.

I began to think of other images I have that also have background stories attached to them. This is especially true for the photographs taken while traveling.

My image “Shrewley Tunnel” was taken in a village outside of Warwick during our trip to England 10 years ago. On our first day there I came upon a towpath that went under a train track and along a canal. I had my camera with me and as I came through the tunnel, I saw a lovely view. I set up my tripod, attached the camera and discovered that my batteries were dead. I usually carry batteries in my camera bag, but I had gone out with just the camera. It was ok. Since I was staying fairly close, I figured I would just try again the next day.

When I arrived for my “do over” I was met with a beautifully lit scene with a completely different feel from the day before. I believe that if I had been able to get the shot earlier, I would not have come back and captured the image that I did. “Shrewley Tunnel” has been one of my most popular images and the first to sell out as an original hand-colored piece.

©1999 Dianne Poinski

I tell this story quite a bit so some of you may have already heard it, but I thought it was worth repeating.

Transportation issues contributed to another image made the same day. That morning, we picked up a rental car and barely put 15 miles on it before we took it back. I knew it would be challenging to drive on the wrong side of the street while sitting on the wrong side of the car, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. Wanting to be responsible parents, we returned the car. There went my vision of traveling along the English countryside, stopping along the way to photograph quaint villages and beautiful landscapes.

Instead, we walked over to the tunnel, where with fresh batteries I made my photograph. Then, because we had nowhere to go and no way to get there, we spent most of the day walking down the towpath, enjoying the beautiful day and stopping every once in awhile so I could take a few photographs. “Bridge 58” was made a little ways down the path from “Shrewley Tunnel” and would have been missed if we had been driving around in a car.

©1999 Dianne Poinski

Art does not come out of perfectly executed plans and every once in awhile I have to be reminded of that. England proved to be fertile territory for that lesson and I will always be grateful.