Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fashion Illustration 101

A few years ago I was poking through a vintage Good Housekeeping magazine when I was completely caught off-guard by these Andy Warhol fashion illustrations!  I had no idea that Andy had started as a fashion illustrator, and, immediately and carefully set these aside.
I had no idea how to share these with the world, so, they sat protected in a manilla envelope for years.  Now that I have the perfect forum to show them, of course, there have been exhibits devoted to this early work, books written about the work and plenty of other blog posts out there!  I will still share here, however.

I began this blog gushing about Flair magazine, so, I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I am including some incredible fashion illustrations from Flair in this piece as well! 

Even the ads in flair are fantastic, like this fabulously illustrated ad for Crescendoe Gloves:

I have nothing against photography, but, boy did photography squash the illustration industry!  Early in the last century, the illustration was key to communicating current fashions to the world.  During the 1940's and 1950's, photography and illustration worked hand in hand at this task.  Heading into the 1960's, the photograph had overtaken the illustrator so that in magazines, you rarely see fashion illustration used anymore.  This is not the fault of the photographers or illustrators.  It is the fault of the magazines themselves.  Although illustration is an ideal medium - products can be styled to look as fantastic/slender/chic as possible - it traditionally cost more and took longer to produce, thus sending photography to the forefront.  Perhaps in this age of supermodel contract salaries, celebrity photographers and recession cut-backs, the fashion illustrator will have a resurgence?

Although not advertising fashion, this illustration is using fashion to advertise the product; Pepsi Cola.  Love the drawing and also the late 1950's woman-re-entering-the-workplace-with-style theme of this ad!


As I applied to art schools in 1983, my goal was to be a Fashion Illustrator.  I was hoping to attend the Fashion Illustration program at Parsons School of Design, but, instead, finances forced me to sulkily attend the School of Visual Arts Illustration Program.  Although I left as a sullen teen, I quickly realized how fortunate I was to be at SVA.   It was a fantastic school with outstanding faculty and I could not have been at a more exciting place in the mid-1980's!  I quickly abandoned my ideas about focusing on fashion, and instead started making collages.  I never lost my fascination with it, however, nor my love of drawing, and it was towards the end of my time at SVA that I was finally able to take Jack Potter's Fashion Illustration course.  Each day, as with all other drawing classes, began with a series of shorter poses (see above).  I don't think these drawings were successful beyond being a warm-up exercise in any other class except this one where they are exciting and fresh.

Can you tell, by the above drawings, that I was at SVA in the 1980's?  Longer poses and more comprehensive drawings  were often successful, but, for me, the looseness that Jack was able to bring out in his students was without comparison.  For me, that looseness was present in the faster drawings but sometimes was lost and overworked in the longer poses.  Jack only made marks on the page with a deliberate intention, and, he taught his students to use the same approach.   "Hairy" drawings were the death of you in that class!   Here are some wonderful recollections of decades of students lucky enough to study with Jack.

I would think I really had it going on until Jack would come along and in 3 seconds and a few seemingly casual strokes, would provide an example of amazing skill; like his sketch to the left of my own above.

Jack rarely added comprehensive drawings to the students' sketch books, and, I cannot recall how I managed to procure this masterpiece from him.  Perhaps I was whining about not "getting it?"  Perhaps he just liked what he started and kept going.  The latter is more likely; he was so good, he just could not help himself but create a masterpiece the moment his pencil hit the page.  For a look at some of Jack's commercial work, click here

I will make a couple of final comments about Jack and his integrity.  I cannot recall some of the details that those others recall (see link above) but, I do recall once being trapped on a stalled subway train for an hour on the way to class and arriving halfway through.  Although it was not my fault, and, there was no way I could have arrived on time, he made it clear he was disappointed in my tardiness and, I truly felt guilty.   Three hours with Jack each week was a privilege and I'd just squandered 90 minutes of it!  Jack was also very kind to his models.  He did not use the same models that other drawing instructors used.  Many of his models were clearly people down on their luck and those for whom an hourly stipend was likely key to their survival.  It would not surprise me to learn that Jack went the extra mile behind the scenes for these people in ways that only he and they will ever know.  He was able to merge pedagogy and social kindness seamlessly and with the benefits split equally and without conflict for each party in the room.  RIP Jack; you are missed by many.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fashion Your Seatbelts! - Where Do You Find That Stuff? - Part 3

If you are into vintage fashion, there is nothing that will get your heart pumping like seeing a sign like this on a gorgeous September morning.  Ok, I'll admit, the woman was nice enough to also put an ad in the paper, which my mom of course spied with her vintage radar glasses the night before!   We were headed there sign or not!

If this looks good to you, imagine what it looked like BEFORE I grabbed about 35 dresses, suits, and vintage lingerie pieces off of there!  (You thought I stopped to photograph before I shopped?  Are you crazy?)

The woman having the sale - we'll call her Ms. K. - owned a vintage clothing shop a few years back and was selling off much of her inventory at the yard sale.  This lemon chiffon above was gorgeous, but, had a stain that made it "iiffy" for resale.  Ms. K., however, helped me to find and select an amazing amount of goodies in terrific vintage condition!  She was the nicest person you could ever hope to find selling this stuff. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and, because I bought a giant mound of stuff, she gave me a good deal!  (She did not give it away mind you, she IS a business woman & she's no slouch!)

Here's a boring peek at some of the stuff all neatly packed up.  This will take me a while to inventory and photograph but I'm absolutely going to have a selection of it in Carmen & Ginger on Etsy very soon! Keep reading for some choice previews and gloating...

I found some hats at that sale, and, also at the following sale!  Don't they look cute all together?  (Hat stands and forms courtesy of Ms. K.!)

I think this was the first dress I touched when I arrived.  Mon Dieu!  How gorgeous!  Vintage deep plum rayon crepe with these amazing applied art nouveau pocket details - yes, POCKET details!  May date as early as the 1930's on this one....  (Please forgive the photos, is is dark and dreary in New England this morning!)

Carmen and Ginger will absolutely be having a Mad Men Fest again very soon! (I'll iron this suit first!)  This is one of several early 1960's jacket and skirt, or, jacket and shift dress wool suits found yesterday.  Plus a hot pink overcoat!  We'll post on here when that happens...likely in the next few weeks...

Is it my imagination, or did Katharine Hepburn wear this dress in "Bringing Up Baby?"  Tiny little silver sequin clusters are stitched onto a fine black netting that completely covers a pink silk body to the dress.  Holy cats!

While I was still reeling from my vintage clothing finds, my mom - uber-finder-of-great-stuff - stole this book right out from under my nose at a church sale!  Ok, well, maybe I was at that part of the table first and walked right by it...  Very hard to find, in fantastic condition and signed by the author, this book is a must have for the fashion historian.  She will be selling this at some point soon, perhaps in her Etsy shop.  (11.6.09 Update: Mom just listed this in her shop!  Click the photos above or here to see the listing!)

Hmnnnn....looks like Carmen and Ginger may need to do a two-dress destash from her own closet to justify keeping these two vintage rayon crepe beauties!  I do think they should be kept, don't you?  (PS: I will release a 1950's Black Grace Kelly Style Dancing Dress and a 1930's Floral Crepe Bias Cut Day Dress - both mint! - this note is for blog watchers as well as C&G's husband...)

One last one...vintage late 1960's thick wool knit shirt-dress in vintage citrus green.  Imagine walking into the office in this beauty!  At C&G very soon!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How To Photograph Vintage Objects for Etsy

I was so pleased a week or so ago when these boots made it into an Etsy Storque article!  They sold right away, and, brought some traffic to my shop.  Since I know no one in Etsy Admin, and have no special knowledge or connections, I can only attribute it to my photos. People often comment on how much they like the "look" of my shop - especially the photos.  I am grateful for the compliments, and, decided to try and share some of my own methods and strategies.  I have both studied and taught design for years, and, spend a great deal of time on my photos - two attributes you may not have the luxury of sharing! - however, I will do my best to get you off to a good start.

Since there are some good articles out there already on photographing jewelry and clothing, I am going to focus on vintage objects.  Objects are tough for vintage sellers.  They are often weird or boring shapes and sizes and trying to get them to look beautiful and engaging can be a challenge!  The photo above from tippleandsnack is a great example of creating something engaging from an item that, when fully closed is a rectangular block, and, when fully open is a 6' long straight line!  This image tells the story and looks good all at the same time!

For this piece I will focus on the following factors:

The First Photo
Photo Types
Photo Editing
Your Camera

Case Study - Vintage Crochet Cord 

The First Photo
The photo you use first in your listing is key.  It says not only what the object is but who you are.  Your Etsy "brand" is reflected in all of your first photos whenever someone clicks into your shop.  Remember, your first photo does not have to say it all - it just needs to get someone to click on the item.  The first photo is also the photo that will get you selected for treasuries, for Etsy Storque articles and to be featured on others' blogs and websites!  A good chunk of your attention should always be paid to your first photo.  The photo above from mousetrapvintage is a great example.  This photo was included in a treasury that made it to the front page just this past week.  You can see that great hat clearly, it has a nice textured but non-competing background, the fact that it is hanging on an antique chair says "vintage" while the casual placement helps set a mood and is in keeping with the "brand" of the shop.  A winner all the way!

Composition is an important consideration, especially for that first photo.  The fact that the list view images are square and the gallery images are rectangular poses a unique challenge!  Personally, I search by list, but, others might search by gallery and many of the Etsy features - treasuries, Storque articles - use the gallery format.  For this reason, when composing photos, I focus on the rectangle, and, try to keep most of the focal part of the image towards the center so it will be visible in the list view (square) as well.  The rectangle used by Etsy is at a ratio of about 4:5.  You can edit your first image to this proportion, or, use an image that will be cropped by Etsy and still work for you.  The image above from Le Petit Poulallier is a great example.  Although this print is larger than the section shown, this edit works well in both the rectangular view and the square view as the dogs' heads are visible in both.  She does not need to show the edges of the print, she just needs someone to say "Wow - that looks like my dog! - Click" or, "Wow - those dogs are beautiful! Click"  Each click is a visitor who can then read the details of the dimensions, condition, etc.  You just need to get to the "click!"  Composition is a topic for which I used to devote 12 weeks to teach at a basic level!  A web-site that will give you some good visual design basics of using line, shape, color, balance, negative space, rhythm, patterns, and other elements in your composition is here.

The topic of lighting is also vast.  Personally, I advocate for natural lighting.  Be wary of direct sunlight, however, which may be good in a few rare situations - if you intentionally want light to reflect off of something or shine through something - but for the most part you want indirect natural light.   I do not personally use a lightbox, but, there are many people who do with much success!  They are handy if you have limited clear space and need an area where you can create a clear, well-lighted space instantly and without taking up too much real estate in your home. There are many good tutorials on the web.  Here is a good tutorial for an inexpensive and handy option.   The picture above is one of my own that I was lucky enough to have selected by Etsy for a front page treasury.  This globe was a challenge as I wanted something plain behind it, but, I also wanted the lighting to show that great clear mid-century base.  I tried and tried to get something to work and finally went with this photo I snapped with the globe on a chair in my husband's office!  The dark of the chair behind the base combined with the strong light from the other side provided the perfect way to show off that hard-to-photo feature.  The orange curtain both complimented the blue of the globe and picked up the oranges within the globe while the strong but diffused lighting also picked up the texture of the topographic globe.  I can tell you this is the ONLY object I have ever shot in my husband's office but it just worked.

Photo Types
We have talked about the importance of the first photo to not only get people to click, but, to help you get selected for marketing opportunities, to set a mood, and support your "brand."  (like this great pair of shoes from jessjamesjake above - standing on that amp - what great composition and these otherwise "nice" shoes suddenly look "cool!")  You have five photos to work with in Etsy, and, personally, I usually use all of them.  Especially as a vintage seller, you want to show things from all sides and angles, and, let your buyers know of any wear or known damage to the item, so use those photos to not only look good, but, to tell the whole story.  Here is how I breakdown the priorites:
  1. The main photo is to look GOOD.  See details discussed previously with regard to considerations.
  2. The next photo, if you have the option, is also to look good.  I use this option especially if I have an item that looks really good photographed vertically, which cannot be used effectively as a first option.  I have often had bloggers feature one of my items in their post, and, select an alternative photo to the first horizontal photo.  It is also good for buyers, of course, to see another great shot!
  3. A shot where you can see ALL of something is important.  I am a strong advocate of cropping that first pic for visual interest, but, don't forget to show the whole of something, or, all the components of a multi-part listing.  Remember, these later photos do not have to be so beautiful, just in-focus and well-lit.  This is often the photo where you can also show the relative size of something.
  4. Varied angles are important for some items.  For instance, a flat print may need only one or two good clear shots of the front, but, if something has wear to the back, or, the construction of the back may be useful to understanding the age or condition of the piece, it is important to show that to your buyers.
  5. Details of important sections must be included.  Be sure to get details of manufacturer's marks, artist's signatures, and chips,  cracks, flakes, wear, or stains.  Textural details, tags, or plates are often useful to buyers as well.  Think about what you would want to see if you were considering the purchase.

Sometimes I only use 3 or 4 of my five-photo option, while, sometimes I feel like I need ten photos!  In this case, I often group together images into one image.  For instance, a number of details cropped and edited into one photo can still provide the info a buyer needs.  The photo from a recent antique sewing machine listing above is a good example of this.  I am lucky to have Photoshop to edit my photos, but, it is an option in most photo-editing software to combine images.  Just remember to resize the combined image to Etsy's recommended sizes so that they are not too large once merged.

Photo Editing
The photo above is a great example of a photo edit that works.   The name of the listing begins "An Apple For The Teacher..."  and tells you it is a brooch.  The fact that you only see the top if the brooch is enough.  You can see that it is an enameled red brooch with a goldtone stem and the words "Go to school" in the sheet music help to visual establish that this is a vintage piece while also supporting the playful brand of the seller, 23 Burton Avenue.  As a potential buyer, I know that if I click onto this item I will be able to see the full brooch and exact dimensions.  I also know that this seller is fun and clever and I want to see more!

Here is another great example of composition and editing from Find Me A Memory (my mom!).  She has these great vintage vocabulary cards that are interesting to collage artists, but, not too colorful.  She has therefore photographed them on top of some vintage graphics that she knows will appeal to the type of artist that would be interested in these cards.  Putting them in a fan shape in the center also works as that is what you see in the square view.  Can you see exactly what these cards look like in the first photo? No.  Does it matter? No.  These cards on their own are not so interesting, but, by showing them this way she speaks to the type of artist that would like them, puts them in a fun, vintage educational card context and supports the brand of her shop  - great job mom!

The primary edits I make to my photos are cropping and perhaps, lightening or darking (the digital equivalent of a burn or dodge).  None of these things actually changes the images themselves, just changes how the images are going to be presented.  Personally, I rarely edit the color or manipulate photos in any way.  You need to be careful about manipulation.  As an on-line seller, you want your items to look like they look. Make them look good for sure, but certainly do not deceive.  It's the Etsy equivalent of putting a 10 year old, or, 20 pounds lighter photo of yourself on a dating site - it's all well and good until you meet for coffee!  Be truthful, and, people will respect and trust you and your shop.  The only time I manipulate color is if I feel like the camera/lighting combo cannot capture the true color and by pumping it up a notch the photo actually looks MORE like the object.  Also, I sometimes will purposely oversaturate an image to the point where it is clear that I am manipulating it. The image below from EShipShop is a great example.  By making the first pic sepia she says "Vintage" but also shows the real colors of the camera in the listing.  Finally, there have been times when I realize a photo shows a spec of dust or piece of cat-hair or something that I simply flicked off after the photo, but, I do not want it to show.  (and am too lazy to reshoot the item!) This is the ONLY time I "erase" something, but, only if it is really gone from the item.  Never, NEVER erase something that is truly on the item.  This is a no no for sure!

Your Camera
Don't be afraid of your digital (or traditional) camera! I know many people have these great cameras and they say "Oh it does all sorts of things but I don't know all that stuff."  Take a few minutes and learn a few basics.  First, learn to not be afraid of the manual setting.  You wouldn't let other machines - your car, your microwave, your telephone - make decisions for you so why are you letting your camera make all the decisions?  These things are so savvy nowadays that even with a manual setting it is still taking care of all the hard stuff.  You use the manual setting to shut that flash OFF.  Also, you may want to use a higher ISO setting if your camera allows you to do that.  This will default to allowing more light into your camera so that you can effectively shoot in natural light in most indoor areas.  Finally, understand how to use your camera's macro function - in laymen's terms this means "closeup photos."  Here is a terrific site that will give you an  overview and links to detailed instructions on many aspects of getting the most out of your camera.

Case Study - Vintage Crochet Thread
I listed this thread in my shop the other day and decided to use it as a case study to help consistently illustrate the topics discussed above.   I picked this group of 6 balls of thread because it is an item that can look really interesting or really boring, very easily, depending on how it is photographed.  For starters, the balls stacked three across and two up make a perfect 4:5 rectangle, filling the frame with color and texture.

This same view can be cropped in even closer, allowing you to see the items, colors, and, textures, but abstracting it a bit more.

Also a good candidate for an "angle shot" which still shows almost all of the items being offered, but, at an interesting angle that adds movement and depth to the picture.  A more extreme variant of this shot, across the top of an item, is useful for shooting flat objects. (See photo of measure at beginning of post.)

Another fun abstraction is this overhead shot.  Not as immediately clear what you are looking at, but, visually engaging and a nice repeated colorful pattern.

Step a little further back, shoot against a white background and you have this "clean" look.  Personally, my taste is much too cluttered to pull this off for very long but there are several vintage sellers on Etsy who consistently use the "clean" white background to show off the beautiful forms of vintage objects and create a nice brand to their shop.

Sometimes having an even number of objects can be dull compositionally, by jumbling them up in this "contrived casual" arrangement you can see everything, it is a nice composition but the balance is less formal.  This helps create movement and a more "fun" effect.

Scattering objects on the floor is a variation of the above shot that I often use as a 3rd or 4th photo to make sure that the buyers can see all of the objects clearly.  Note the difference between the top and bottom photos. The top looks like 6 interesting objects while the bottom looks like one clump.  Which is more interesting?  In my opinion, the top photo could also work as a first photo, but, if the second were used the items would be small and uninteresting.

Here is something that can happen if you do not have a clear area in which to photograph.  The items are arranged nicely but all that stuff in the background is distracting.  Do you really want to show everyone your CD collection, curtain choice and laundry in the corner?  If this is you, think about that light box idea, or, just hang a sheet, piece of vintage cloth or prop up the back side of your kid's science fair poster.  It honestly doesn't matter if you shoot in your living room, back hall or bathroom; as long as you crop things out no one will know!

Previously I suggested the elimination of the flash and this is why.  In this natural light setting, the cord looks colorful and textural in the top shot, and, deer-in-headlights washed out in the second.  Which makes you want to click?

Likewise with incandescent lighting.  It warms everything and gives it a flat appearance.  My camera has a setting for indoor lighting, which I used for the bottom pic.  It does improve it, but, my vote is still with the natural light if it is an option for you.

Adding a flash to incandescent really is " no no!" (In my opinion, of course!)

...and please, PLEASE do not do this!  Nor would I advocate the use of a quarter beside an otherwise beautiful vintage brooch, a coke can, or   - heaven-forbid -  a beer bottle!  Relative size is good.  It often helps buyers to understand the size even more easily than typing "measures 6" tall."  Try to use something common and nice to look at however, like an apple, or, your own hand.  Or something vintage with texture that will not distract from your object.  Personally, I have a collection of vintage rulers that I use.  You do not need to do what I do, but, it is an alternative example.  And please, no matter what, do NOT use your measurement photo as your first photo!  (That is, unless you make it a completely beautiful and effective part of your listing, like this.)  No one needs to see a quarter beside your brooch to click on it.  And I will guarantee you will lose marketing opportunities if you make that choice.  If you must; keep it for the inside.

If you want to see my final choices (wise or not!) for this posting, click here.

I sincerely hope that you find this post helpful.  I encourage comments, with tips you have learned yourself and links to other photos that you think work great!  I do not pretend to have all the answers on this topic, these are just my suggestions.  Please keep comments positive  - we all know things we have seen that made us cringe!  Before and after shots of your own mistakes are fine, otherwise, let's try to learn from what others are doing RIGHT!




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