The most beautiful, fresh and detailed artwork in the world won't get far if isn't shared with others. A huge (huge) part of having a successful fine art business is sending that work out into the world. It can be super scary - trust me, I know. Everytime I finish a work and then upload it online I feel like I'm just a big jump off a scary cliff. What if it gets harshly critiqued? What if (almost worse) it is completely ignored? Or what if it even gets stolen? One quick search of Etsy and you can see how often one person's original idea "inspires" a dozen other copycat shops. It can hurt, and leave you feeling really vulnerable. And... you need to get past that.
No venture becomes successful without risk, and putting your work out into the world is worth it. There are ways to help prevent, for instance, your fine art images being stolen - that's a future blog post. Getting your work out into the world and in front of future clients, art galleries, or collaborators is the goal; it's how you can build a community around your work and begin to earn both a little money and a lot of joy with your business.
Today, we're going to talk about how to style your artwork in photos to make a big impact online; particularly, using the ever-popular flatlay.
Flatlays are ubiquitous on Instagram. Sometimes it feels like half the images you see are items intentionally laid out in a casual-but-specific way, somehow always on someone's white linen sheets with a mug of coffee. While that sounds a little jaded, there is a reason you see flatlay style photos so often! They are just pleasing to the eye, while showing products in an appealing scene. A flatlay photo can appear cozy, modern, expensive, outdoorsy... it's easy to create a "vibe". Showcasing your artwork in a way that stops someone scrolling right past it in their feed, or clicking on your profile to learn more, is absolutely what we are going for here. So, let's get started!
Choose Your Background
No need to have that same white linen sheet as everyone else! There are so, so many options for backgrounds; think texture, colors, and pattern. Determine the feeling you want to convey, and what will look flattering with your artwork. If you need some ideas, feel free to scroll through your own Instagram feed and check out what stands out to you in other's work... but don't try to copy it exactly! You can be original and have some fun with it; it's okay to choose what you know works well with your audience, but it's also okay to be a little different too.
The backdrops I use the most often are the blush pink, pine, and marble ones I made myself. You can read all about how I DIYed these backdrop boards, and come up with your own spin on them. If you don't have room to store wood boards, or want to have a lot of different options on hand, go for paper! You can see above a few different big pieces of decorative paper I keep on hand, just for this purpose. All of these came from local stationary shops, which often have an amazing supply with lots of textures, patterns, etc. for just a couple of bucks each. I keep them folded in half, and tucked into a portfolio where I keep finished artwork too.
If your work is smaller enough, 12"x12" scrapbook papers are super affordable and so readily available! I have some tucked into the clear, plastic box in the above photo, too (you can see the mustard-colored paper in the corner). These are sold for less than a $1 at pretty much any craft store, and are so easy to store away.
Use Cool Props
The props are my favorite part! My biggest tip is, don't rush out and spend a bunch of money buying props. Slowly collect them as you see things that are cheap, interesting, and would compliment your artwork. I've built my collection over time, and am always on the lockout for little things less than $1 to add.
A few ideas to get started include:
- Faux flowers & plants. You can see my collection of those above; I try to have all sorts of options around, but my favorite is definitely the faux succulent you see in so many photos. I love the pussywillow too, because it feels a little different. This is a great opportunity to highlight or compliment a particular color in your artwork.
- Attractive desktop items. Think magnifying glasses, paper weights, ornate scissors, and more. Honestly, I love the Target Dollar Spot for these!
- Natural items. I found some little dried starfish at Michaels for less than $1 a few years ago, but I've seen a lot of people use pinecones, fall leaves, acorns, and dried flowers. Some of this is probably free in your own yard or neighborhood, depending on the season!
FYI, this post contains some affiliate links below, which means I make a small commission if you purchase an item using one. I would never recommend something I don't think is great, though. Thank you for supporting danielle & co.!
At the bottom of the post I've linked a few options on Amazon, just in case you need more inspiration that is actually currently available for purchase.
I use a clear, plastic 12"x12" scapbooking box to hold mine (like this one, for about $5), so it can also hold smaller papers for backdrops along with all of the little items I keep on hand for styling photos. I can tuck it away easily on a shelf, it keeps everything tidy.
Use What You Have
If you're an artist, I know you have a bunch of supplies around. This is my absolute favorite things to style photos with (as you'll see throughout this post!) because it is so relevant to my work. Also, art supplies are just beautiful. Paints, pens, brushes... I love them all, and think they are all worthy of being shown off.
I usually choose what art supplies to include by first choosing the ones most related to that particular artwork (is it watercolor, pen and ink, or calligraphy), then out of those which ones are the most attractive, and after that I narrow it down by what I haven't already used recently. You want to create a cohesive look to your work, but keep it feeling fresh, too!
Below you can see how I styled some calligraphy practice with a nib and holder, along with this little metal box used to store nibs (I've seen many calligraphers use that tin in their photos, because it's just adorable! It's available online at Paper & Ink art supplies) along with this little pink flowers I found in the clearance section at Joann Fabrics for about a dollar.
To the right, I grabbed my favorite faux succulent stems and a couple of the micron pens I actually used to create the peony & fern drawings. I think it's important to use at least two different types of elements in photos; if you're using art supplies, also throw in something natural to add interest and create a scene.
Add Something Natural
Nothing makes a room feel cozy and decorated like adding a plant, and the same is true for photographing your work! Natural items create a sense of life, and are just... naturally appealing.
There are so many options, too, so finding something that suits your work is easy! Find any craft store and walk through the faux and dried flower sections, and but also the aisle where they store moss, stones, tiny feathered birds, and seashells. Don't forget to search for a 40-50% off coupon on your phone, too, if you're in a Michaels or Joann Fabrics because we are also all about doing this on a budget, right?
Make It Relevant
While creating a cohesive look to your social media accounts (or "grid" as I've heard the cool kids on Instagram call it) is helpful, evolving with the seasons, holidays, and your own interests keeps things from getting boring, for your viewers and for you. It's also an easy way to use things you have around your house, too.
Above on the left, I styled this photo with a gold patterned paper I found at a local stationary store, and these bottle-brush trees from the Target Dollar Spot for $1 each (our local store is still selling them as of this week, November 2017!).
On the right, I added a little velvet pumpkin also from Target for $1 (okay, yeah, I spend too much time and money at Target, I get it). I was using the bottle brush trees and pumpkin in the middle of my kitchen table, so grabbing them only took a second and didn't cost a thing!
Add Some Action
This is my absolute favorite thing to see in other people's photos, and something I'm pushing myself to do more. I love to see some action! A hand painting, a person at work in their studio, even a cup of coffee makes the photo feel a little more recent and alive.
I really optimistically believe that Instagram is moving away from perfection, and more toward authenticity. Which brings up an interesting point. Isn't all of this styling sort of staged? Yes, it is. It is all about balance, though. There is nothing wrong with treating your business account as a business and not a personal account, which means showing your products in a professional and attractive way. Your audience likely follows you because they are also interested in you, so don't be afraid to show yourself! Even if it's just your hand at work, it makes your account feel more personal, authentic, and encourages engagement.
You know what, though? Maybe don't use that photo of your face to market on Pinterest, though - photos of people don't do as well. This Buffer blog post explains that photos without human faces are repinned 23% more often. Weird, huh? I think of it this way: people go to Instagram for inspiration, and Pinterest to shop.
Take A Great Photo
Lighting: I have a whole blog post coming up soon on how to achieve natural, bright lighting without buying a bunch of expensive equipment, but in the meantime let's just say lighting is key! Listing and marketing images that have dim or yellow lighting are not going to be viewed as professional, and will decrease your credibility in the eyes of viewers. Using some LED lightbulbs in "daylight", setting up your photo shoot outdoors on a slightly overcast day or next to a window, and using a $1 white foam board as a reflector are all some basic ways to improve your lighting.
Height: To get a photo from above, you need to be, you know, above the layout. I typically set up on my kitchen table and then use a little wood kitchen-stool to get up high enough, but I've also just set things up on the floor, too! (Not when my kids are around, though, for obvious reasons.)
Take quality photos: This one is easier than you think it might be. While big bloggers and stores use fancy DSLR cameras to photography their products, when you're just starting out you probably don't need to. As you can see above, I use my iPhone 7 for almost all of the photos I take, and when I think it might not take large enough images, I use a point & shoot that goes up to 16 megapixels. While I wouldn't recommend using these to digitize your artwork for reprint, for listing images and social media posts it is just fine. If your cell phone doesn't take high enough quality photos, a decent little point & shoot can be found on sale for around $100 if you're willing to shop around. This Canon PowerShot on Amazon has good reviews and 20 megapixels.
Arrange the items in an interesting way. You can lay the items out in a casual way, so it feels like you just finished painting and happened to snap a shot of the work, or you can get a little more formal and lay items out in a grid or line. Check out my Photography Tips Pinterest board to see some different options.
Edit the photos. I edit a lot of mine in Photoshop CC, but if you don't have access to that there are some great free photo editors online. When I don't use Photoshop, I actually use the app A Color Story which is free and the basic filters & tools are surprisingly robust. I've shared my favorite photo & video editing apps, too, so check that out!
I hope all of these tips has helped you take your own awesome flatlay photos!
Do you keep a little collection of props to stage photos? What are your favorite things to use? Please share in the comments!