Original New Orleans Art by Debbie Ainsworth

What is that Background You’re Using?

One question I keep getting from people who’ve seen photographs of my art is, what is that in the background? Some people have speculated that it might be a mural or even a glimpse into another room. So, this article is intended to clear up the mystery, but it’s a long story.

A couple of years ago I wanted to spruce up my work area, so I went to Kirkland’s and purchased a couple of paintings. And of course I got the most cheesy of the paintings, the kind with a switch and small bulbs strategically placed behind light fixtures in the art. I liked the subject matter, but once it was on my wall, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for. The colors are too muted. In fact, they seem almost faded as if this were an estate sale find rather than a brand new mass production painting.

The longer the Kirkland’s panting was on my wall, the more dissatisfied I became. Finally, I took it off of the wall and propped it up on top of my chest of drawers, where I draped it with objects I’ve received as gifts over the years … a gold fleur de lis, and a crystal owl. I keep other items up there as well. Among these is a hand painted round box, a really cool cast iron stove replica, an old wooden clock given to me by a friend, as well as various boxes that I’ve collected.

When I moved the Kirkland’s painting to my chest of drawers, I put my own painting on the wall. That was “NOLA Night.” From that point on, the Kirkland’s painting became a constant reminder of why I should do my own work. Instead of the dull, washed out color of Kirkland’s, my own paintings have bright, vivid colors. Instead of some generic scene of a European village, my work features specific scenes of New Orleans architecture that are deeply personal to me.

My initial thought when I opened my ArtByDArt Etsy Shop was to sell my hand painted Christmas Stockings. As a veteran of selling merchandise online, I know there is no substitute for good pictures of your wares. When I was selling items on Ebay, people often purchased my products even though they were a little more expensive than others simply because my pictures were better. So, I had to setup a makeshift photography studio. For the Christmas Stockings, I took a handmade tree skirt and wrapped it around the Kirkland’s painting, then placed a lot of holiday decorations around it.

In October of 2016, I decided to try to sell my own paintings, but again, I needed to take some pictures of my work. The first thing I did was look at the kinds of pictures other artists were using on Etsy. Most were either extreme close ups of the paintings, or pictures of their paintings in a mockup scene. (A mockup scene is a picture of a fake living room with a blank frame on the wall. You then use Photoshop to insert a picture of your painting into the frame.  Basically, it’s a fake.) I wanted my pictures to do three things, show off my paintings in a real and attractive setting, to be uniquely different from the images surrounding them, and to create a consistent theme that can act as an additional brand for my work … a person can look at an image and know by the setting that it’s an ArtByDArt painting.

My first thought was to just use a blank wall behind my artwork, but it was just too boring. Then I draped the Kirkland’s painting in various fabrics, but again, I thought the results were too dull. Now, while I’m working on a painting, I lean it up against the Kirkland’s one, so I can see it from my desk. I often like to mull over my art between painting sessions. I started to really like the way the Kirkland’s painting worked as a background. The colors are dull, but varied, which makes my own colors stand out.

So, how do I take the pictures of my paintings? Well, first I place my Art against the Kirkland’s painting, then I take a pair of small, vanity lamps and put each atop a pair of bookcases on either side of the chest of drawers to create the perfect lighting. Then I adjust the settings on my camera to take the best possible pictures in that environment. Last, I try to photograph my art at angles that will capture some of my personal items that I use as props. My hope was to create a unique and interesting background that enhances, but does not overshadow my art. Given the number of people who have asked about the background, I think I’ve succeeded.