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BookSmithStudio.com | Nikki Smith Book & Visual Artist

Handmade books and various art explorations

Archive for the ‘Techniques and Tutorials’ Category

Creative business card display for artists: Slinky-powered!

April 2nd, 2014 by Nikki Smith

Shhh…don’t tell my kiddos, but they’ve just lost a slinky!

Slinky: a creative business card holder!

I love my MiniCards by Moo.com (a box of 100 cards each with their own design: perfect for showcasing my artwork), and now I have a wonderful, creative, artistic way to display them! Yay!

I’m putting this in practice at the Wylde Women Art Show in downtown Bryan, Texas, less than 24 hours away. If you’re in the Bryan/College Station area, stop in to say hello to the artists, enjoy the artwork and live belly-dancing performances.  I can’t wait!  The opening reception is Thursday, April 3rd from 6:30-8:30pm at Square One Gallery in Bryan, TX, or stop in for First Friday from 6pm to 9pm.  I’ll also be at The Arts Center this Saturday from noon to 1:30pm for the opening reception of the Brazos Valley Art League Member Show.  I would love to meet fellow artists and art lovers in the area.  🙂

P.S. If you need creative business cards to show off your artistic talent, I highly recommend Moo.com. Sharin’ the love: follow this link for 10% off your first order. Then raid the toy box for a slinky – I won’t tell the kids if you don’t! 😉

A Musical Affair: paper necklace tutorial

March 9th, 2013 by Nikki Smith

I’m lovin’ the paper necklaces that my friend Andreea and I made on our art date last week. The concept is as simple as can be (though it requires some patience) and the resulting jewelry is stunningly elegant, lean-in-for-a-closer-look, touchable and oh so fun!

We were inspired by a project by Jason Thompson in his book, “Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book.” (I highly recommend it!)  Of course, we put our own spin on the project and learned some tricks and tips along the way.  If you would like to make a similar necklace for yourself, here’s how:

Total project time: 2 to 4 hours.


Paper — Fun ideas include: sheet music, a recycled book, old maps, colorful magazines, text in foreign languages, an illustrated children’s book, etc.

Paper punches —  A hole punch and a circle punch or other fun, simple shape.  I used a double-heart paper punch instead of two punches.  While not identical, this is the closest I could find online:

Necklace — chain, wire, leather, etc.

Optional — beads for spacers, glue, paintbrush, wooden skewer & cork (for holding punched paper)

Creating the Necklace:

Tip: Determine how many pages your punch can cut through at once.  I started out punching these shapes one at a time (yikes!) and it would have taken me days to complete if I hadn’t realized this simple time saving trick.  My friend was able to cut six sheets of paper at a time with her newer punches, while the double-heart punch I used could cut about four sheets at a time.

If you are using a punch that already has a hole in the middle (as I did with the double heart punch shown above) then line up your papers and start punching.  Otherwise, begin by using the small hole punch to make the holes for the centers of your paper shapes.  Next, turn your circle or shape punch upside down so you can see through it and line up the punch so that the inner hole is as close as possible to the center of the final shape.

Punch, punch, punch and punch some more…  (Turn on some tunes!)

Bonus Tip:  My hands got tired and sore after a few hours but I was determined to keep going.  Then it dawned on me that I could also punch on a hard floor using my foot and the heel of my shoe rather than the palm of my hand.  This won’t work with every style of punch, but it sure helped my hands feel better.  🙂

Optional:  I placed my cut paper shapes on a wooden skewer with a piece of cork at the end for easy storage while I continued punching.

Now for the fun part!  There are a few ways to proceed from here, depending on what style you like best…

Version 1:  String your paper shapes onto the necklace and try it on. The paper shapes will tend to lie flush with each other, perpendicular to your skin.

Version 2:  Use beads (or even paper beads) to space the necklace out.

Version 3:  This is my own variation, which I love!  To make the papers overlap nicely so that details can be seen all along the necklace (as shown in the photos here), you will need to glue a few small clusters of paper shapes together and space them around the necklace.  I took groups of four to six hearts and threaded them on to my wire necklace, gently overlapping them.  I applied a small amount of glue (I used ModgePodge) with a paint brush to where the papers overlapped and then let the set dry on the wire.  You can see one of these clusters in the lower-right corner of the photo below.  I made about eight of these clusters and spaced them around the necklace.  All other hearts are loose, individual papers.  The clusters have the effect of forcing the other papers to lay at an angle and overlap.  Beautiful, and so touchable!

I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial!  I believe this is the third sheet-music necklace I’ve made, each in a completely different style.  One was a charming little booklace (mini-book on a necklace) as featured on CraftGawker, and another was based on a tear-drop shaped piece of vintage sheet music coated with ice resin for a transparent look.  I’m passionate about music, and I love expressing this passion in my artwork, especially in such a touchable form!  How have you incorporated music in your artwork?

Video Tutorial: Windows Live Movie Maker for artists – Showcase your artwork!

December 28th, 2012 by Nikki Smith

The following step-by-step video tutorial is designed for artists who want to create a video slideshow of their artwork, complete with music soundtrack.  You can then share your video on YouTube, your blog, or social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus and more.  The (free) software used in this video is Windows Live Movie Maker.

This tutorial is a companion to my “Getting Technical: Video Simplified” article in the current Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.  I hope you enjoy it!

Handy Links:

Sources of Legal Music:

You can also view a sample artwork showcase video created in Windows Live Movie Maker below:

P.S.  Did you create a video showcase of your artwork?  Please share a link in the comments below — I’d love to see what you have created!

FineArtAmerica.com / Pixels.com – 8 Tips for Artists on Getting Discovered

May 12th, 2012 by Nikki Smith

Artist tips for getting discovered on Pixels.com and FineArtAmerica.com

With over 5.4 million pieces of artwork on FineArtAmerica.com and Pixels.com, the trick is to avoid being lost in the sea of art.  Here are some great ways to stand out from the crowd and get your artwork seen on FineArtAmerica.com / Pixels.com.

1. Use tags effectively

FAA allows up to 500 characters of tags, comma-separated.  Use them!  Enter relevant keywords for your artwork including variations.  Here are some brainstorming tips (first shared by Andy Smy) to get you started:

Literal – e.g. “boy, girl, children, beach, sun, sand, sky, car, shadow”.
Attributes – e.g. “happy, smiling, walking, blue, young, old”.
Location – be specific, e.g. “The White House, Washington DC, USA”; or generic, e.g. “office, school, home”.
Interaction – e.g. “chasing, playing, moving, touching, shouting, flying”.
Concepts – e.g. “heat, power, happiness, strength, humour, teamwork, tranquility etc”.
Broad subjects – e.g. “lifestyle, travel, sport and business”.
Techniques – e.g. “predominant colours or shapes, black and white, grainy, blurred, digital manipulation”.
Standpoint – e.g. side view, rear view, from above, from below
Environment – e.g. spring, summer, autumn, fall, winter, sunset, sunrise, indoor, outdoor, interior, exterior
Composition – e.g. close up, macro, extreme close up, low angled, full length, cut-out, isolated
Minimalism – e.g. nobody, empty
Redundant – e.g. shots, pictures, images, macros
Pose – e.g. looking at camera, smiling, angry, standing, lying, sitting, walking, facing front
Human – e.g. one man, three women, crowd, queue, group, people, person
Qualifiers – e.g. large, big, small, multi-generational, black, white, Caucasian
Abstract – e.g. odd, unusual, concept, quirky, funny, humour/humor
Decades – e.g. 1940s, 1950s, 1960s
Nationality – e.g. european, dutch, british, english, american

To which I would add:

Variations – typos, plural/singular, alternate spellings (color vs colour), two words vs. hyphenated (high-res, high res)

2.  Consider Niches

There are thousands and thousands of flower images.  It is far easier to be discovered under a search term with less competition…

3.  Participate in groups

Submit your images to groups where they are relevant.  Be sure to follow group guidelines — many limit your submissions to one image per day.  The groups are run by volunteers who spend considerable time managing image submissions, promoting the group and answering questions.  Be courteous and considerate of their time.

Also consider joining one of the many groups focused on promoting your artwork.  These groups have active memberships and valuable information in the discussions tab.  Here are a few I would recommend:

4.  Enter contests

This is a fun, low-pressure way to gain exposure for your artwork among your peers, and potentially comments, favs and votes on your image.  Plus, if you win it give you something to blog about!  🙂  You can also create a gallery within your FAA account for any Award Winning Artwork.

There are three types of contests in terms of how voting is handled: Juried, FAA Only (only members can vote), and General Public (anyone with a FaceBook account can vote).  Juried and FAA Only contests will tend to have the best images ranking the highest.  General Public contests can sometimes morph into popularity contests as a few participants will solicit votes on their FaceBook account (a practice that is frowned upon by many).  I choose not to solicit votes because it doesn’t feel right for me personally.  Whatever your opinion on the subject, be sure to abide by the rules of each contest.

5.  Comment on artwork

When you leave thoughtful, heart-felt comments on other artist’s images, they are likely to return the favor.  Consider voting for and favoriting artwork that you love.  Votes on images will help raise their rank in the internal search results.  When you see “v/f” in a comment, that is short for “voted” and “favorite.”  The images you comment on will also appear in your activity stream, and as you follow other artists (and as they follow you) it becomes a method of shared discovery.

6.  Sponsor pages

If you are on page 23 or page 78 of the search results, how many people will see your work?  Fine Art America / Pixels ranks search results by evaluating several criteria including sales, votes, comments, tags/keywords, etc.  It takes time (and a measure of good fortune) to improve your ranking.  They also reward artists for “sponsoring pages” by showing their artwork on the third row of the first page of results.  Yes, that’s right.  You can skip right to the front page of a keyword search by linking to that page from your blog or website.  For example, by having the below links in this post I am sponsoring each of these search terms and my artwork will appear in rotation on the third row with other artists sponsoring the same pages:

Ummm…overkill? LOL!

Here’s how (it’s easy):

  • Log-in to FineArtAmerica.com / Pixels.com
  • Search for artwork by using the keyword(s) of your choice.
  • Look above the third row of artwork.  There will be a link to “Sponsor this page” – click it.
  • Follow the directions!  FAA will provide you a snippet of code to place on your website or blog to link to that page.
  • Once you’ve added the link on your website, enter your URL in the box provided on the “Sponsor this page” form and press submit.  That’s it!

7.  Limited Time Promotions

This is a tool behind the scenes.  FAA has a special section on the website for limited time promotions.  There, you will be one of a few hundred images rather than one in 5.4 million.  Promotions run for no more than a week and you can offer between 1 and 25 canvas prints at a discounted rate you set.   You choose from one of several standard sizes and then choose your mark-up.  FAA will give you a special link that you can use in your marketing efforts.

8.  Promoting Elsewhere

Above all, remember that Fine Art America does not market your artwork for you – that’s your job!  They do provide an excellent print-on-demand service, but it is up to you to bring the traffic.

I hope this list has been helpful!

Guitar Siren by Nikki Smith

Guitar Siren by Nikki Smith
#17 on the Best Sellers

P.S. When I first published this post in May of 2012, there were 2.7 million pieces of art. Now there are over 5.4 million! My “Guitar Siren” (pictured at left) is currently number 17 on the Best Sellers page, so it is possible to get discovered with the right image and a little luck and effort!

Tutorial: The making of a Wee Planet…

October 16th, 2011 by Nikki Smith

As promised, here is a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of a wee planet:
(UPDATE:  Stay tuned for a special giveaway at the bottom of this post!)

If you’d like to try this at home, first read this important safety message (sanctioned by your mother) about taking photos in silly places like the middle of the street or pastures:

Please borrow a friend as a spotter for the day and use appropriate safety precautions.  (Side note: Sometimes I wonder about all of the legal disclaimers in our culture: professional driver on a closed course; do not try this at home; warning – coffee is hot… A neighbor child promised he wouldn’t sue me as he asked my permission to pogo down the steps in our sidewalk earlier this summer – sheesh!  I know I’m getting way off topic…Just be responsible and use your best judgement.) 

STEP 1: Scout a location. TIP:  The cleanest & easiest planets have something fairly uniform in the top and bottom third of the photo – sky above and grass or water, etc., below.  

The ideal time for taking photos is usually (a) the middle of the day when the sun is above you, the lighting is even everywhere and the shadows are minimal, (b) an overcast day can work for the same reasons, or (c) at dawn or dusk, give or take twenty minutes.

STEP 2: Stand in the middle of your scene (watch for traffic!) and slowly turn in a circle taking photos all the way around.  We’re after a 360 degree panorama of the location, showing sky above everything (take an extra layer of photos if there is a tall tree or building.)  

STEP 3:  Stitch the photos together to create a 360 degree panorama.  Many photo editing software programs will have tools to help line-up and blend your images where they overlap.  TIP:  The horizon should be level in your photo and the left and right edges should line-up.  If not, your planet will have a big crack or cliff edge in it!

STEP 4:  Leave it as-is or get creative and accentuate the image.  You can either do this digitally with the filters and tools in your photo editing program or print out your panorama and enhance it by hand with your own art supplies.  TIP:  One suggestion is to print in black and white and artificially color your image.  When complete, scan or photograph your finished image.

Below is the final version of my panorama photo.  I replaced an overcast gray sky with a cloudy summer sky, added some green leaves to a winter-bare tree, exaggerated the height of the buildings and made the colors pop a bit for an artistic feel.

STEP 5:  There are several ways to convert your finished panorama to a wee planet.  One of the easiest methods is by using the Polar Coordinates filter in PhotoShop.  To do so, first rotate your panorama 180 degrees so that it is upside down.  Next, adjust the image size so that the height and width are the same – your image will now be stretched out.

Finally, apply the Polar Coordinates filter (Rectangular to Polar) to your image.  Ta-da!  Finally, clean-up and add any finishing touches to your planet.

 Here is my “before” wee planet:

And here is the final version of Wee Planet Downtown Bryan, with all of the little artistic touches that make it sing:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak behind the scenes!  I absolutely love this art form and plan to do a series of “local” planets in the near future…

P.S.  Have you used this technique to make a wee planet of your own?  Leave a link in the comments – I’d love to see your creations! 

P.P.S.  Do you have a great 360 panorama photo you think would make a lovely planet?  Read about my Open Call for Panoramas!

If you live near Bryan/College Station, Texas, be sure to check out the November 6th Sunday edition of The Eagle.  I am honored that they will be featuring my Wee Planet artwork in the paper.  So to celebrate, I’m giving away an 8″ x 8″ glossy print of a local Wee Planet!  (See my Wee Planet gallery here.)  To enter, simply leave a comment on this post.  (Or Share, Digg, Tweet or Like it and let me know.)  Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win!  I’ll announce the winner at the end of the month.  (And if there are a lot of entries, I’ll add an extra planet print or two…)

Credits: All downtown Bryan photos and wee planets copyright by Nikki Smith.  My good friends Ralph and Susan Brussard provided the source panorama for the volcano planet above from their trip to the Tongariro Volcanoes.  Thanks also to the following kind souls for sharing their cow and car photos with a Creative Commons Attribution license: “A Cow” by Stuart Alldred / SocialRobot and “Retro / Vintage / Car” by Andrew / CubaGallery.  For every Creative Commons photo I use, I am uploading one of my own to share with the community.  See my Creative Commons photo collection here.