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Archive for November, 2008

A Moon Calendar for Zazzle

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Moon Calendar 2009
Moon Views Calendar 2009

Last night I made my first, second, and third products to sell on Zazzle. For those not familiar with Zazzle, it is a print on demand / product on demand online service that allows people to create products to sell for which they then receive a commission. My first two products were different sized versions of a calendar composed of images of the Moon. The third product was a mouse pad featuring the image used for the calendar cover.

The Moon Calendars and Mouse pad

The two calendar products I created are:

The source images that I used to create these calendars came from the Apollo Image Atlas at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (http://www.lpi.usra.edu). I first contacted the Lunar and Planetary Institute to make sure that there were no copyright problems. I took this precaution because while these were NASA images, they were being distributed on a non-NASA site.

Assured that there were no copyright concerns, I then selected a number of Apollo images of the Moon that appealed to me. For each of these images I carried out the following steps using Photoshop to produce the final image:

  • cropped and scaled the image to its final size
  • cleaned up image imperfections, the background sky and painted out the reseau marks
  • applied a series of filters to the image in order to produce the painted effect I was after
  • retouched the final image where necessary
  • added curves and hue/saturation adjustment layers with masks to achieve the desired contrast and coloration

Once I had created the two calendars, it was a very simple matter to resize one of the lunar images to create a Moon Mouse Pad.

Choosing Between CafePress and Zazzle

Zazzle’s main competitor is CafePress (www.cafepress.com). Another competitor with respect to certain print products is LuLu (www.lulu.com). In order to decide which of these three services to do business with I examined several criteria. First I looked at how these sites ranked on services like alexa.com and quantcast.com. Their numbers showed that CafePress was the most popular, followed by Zazzle with Lulu a distant third. I also looked at the variety of products offered. Both Zazzle and CafePress have a much larger selection of products than Lulu. One product unique to Zazzle is the ability to produce your own U.S. postage stamps. However, in terms of total product offerings, it looks like CafePress offers a slightly larger selection of products. I then looked at the tools available to content creators and their ability to customize their product pages. While Zazzle offers certain customization options for free, you must pay for that same capability on CafePress. As luck would have it, one of the customizations available from Zazzle was that of an Earth rise over the Moon. Finally I googled to find out what others had to say about CafePress and Zazzle. With respect to those pages that I actually visited, it seemed that Zazzle came out ahead of CafePress.

The Product Production Process

I immediately encountered a problem with content creation. Basically I couldn’t. Zazzle content creation relies on Flash and my system was fairly current having Firefox 2 and Flash 8 installed. Upgrading Flash to version 9 did not fix the problem. Upgrading to Firefox 3 did solve the problem. One thing I do not like about the process though is that you can upload no more than five images at a time. Each upload box is limited to one file and the system stops at five input boxes. The smart way to have done this would have been to have one entry box that could hold multiple file names so that you only have to browse your file system one time to select the files you want.

Marketing

Marketing of products is in my opinion the greatest challenge faced by content creators. As of this writing there are a total of 2,470 calendars for sale on Zazzle. Also as of this writing, Zazzle states that there are over 9 million products. Clearly in order to succeed on Zazzle, not only must you offer a variety of quality products but you must market those products outside of Zazzle. For example, blogging about your products is one method of promotion.

Summation

The process of setting up shop and creating product to sell took more time than I thought. And of course there is now the additional commitment of marketing the products. I expect that I will be spending a fair amount of time reading Zazzle documentation and browsing the forums in search of the knowledge that will help me to improve my gallery’s effectiveness. In the meantime you can help out by visiting my Artsnova Zazzle gallery and buying a product or three.

Postscript

If you are in the Chicago area, I’ll be speaking at the Morton Grove Library Sunday Nov. 30 about Space Solar Power. For details see Chicago Society for Space Studies 2008 Holiday Party and Space Solar Power Presentation.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Windycon Brief

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Sea Dream - Seahorse by Liz Harper
Sea Dream – Seahorse by Liz Harper

I spent this weekend in the company of the Windycon Science Fiction convention and confess to having had a good time. In addition to participating in two panels and making a presentation, I also entered six giclee prints in the art show. Of these only half are included in my online gallery:

With respect to programming, in my The 2008 Windycon Science Fiction Convention post I wrote about the panels and presentations I was giving. Personally, the most satisfying was the panel on which Artist Guest of Honor David Mattingly and I engaged in a wide ranging discussion of digital art. Unfortunately our third panelist – science fiction author Roland Green – had to miss the convention due to illness. David offered many insights on his transition from a traditional to a digital artist. I particularly liked that he simultaneously identified the digital "undo button" as being both the artist’s greatest friend and worst enemy.

I also attended a number of panels. Given that the theme of the year’s convention was military science fiction, the bulk of the programming addressed that topic. However, there was ample non-military SF programming. One of the most fascinating was that given by friend and physicist Bill Higgins. His talk How Antimatter Becomes a Plaything of Science discussed the history of antimatter, aka contraterrene, in both science and science fiction. A one page essay written by Bill on the subject appears in the September 2008 issue of Symmetry Magazine – a joint publication of Fermilab and SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center).

Back to the art show, Friday night there was a wine and cheese reception so that convention goers could meet and talk to the artists. While talking to a couple people, I put down my plate of brie and bread and glass of wine in front of my display. Perhaps because I was under the influence of the wine, I grabbed a bid sheet, wrote in the title of Unfinished – Still Life and my name as the artist, arranged/positioned the food and drink and attached the bid sheet to the plate – making it appear that my food and drink were actually a part of the show. What was great is that this did create a fair amount of buzz and folks were coming over to take pictures of it (something I unfortunately did not do.)

Unfortunately none of my six prints sold. I attribute this in part to the fact that my large framed pieces were at the high end of the bid scale vs the many, smaller unframed prints and originals available from other artists. Perversely, the one item I entered into the auction that did sell was, yes you guessed it, Unfinished – Still Life.

The highlight of the art show was the exhibit by David Mattingly of his work with lenticular 3D. Each print is actually the result of creating multiple viewpoints of the same scene, cutting each into small strips, assembling and finally overlaying with a carefully aligned lenticular screen. For more see David Mattingly’s page on depth-view prints

Browsing through the art show there were two other artists whose work caught my eye. One was Todd Johnson, a member of the General Technics group. Todd’s display consisted of a number of Shockfossils – a term of Todd’s creation. These Shockfossils are a form of Lichtenberg figures – created by zapping blocks of acrylic with millions of electron volts and then creating a fracture point through which the trapped electrons escape. See below the video that Todd created illustrating the process of freeing the electrons.

The other artist whose work caught my eye was Liz "Galindorf" Harper. Liz uses polymer clay to hand-sculpt figures and then uses metallic pigments powders applied by hand to color the piece. The colored sculptures are then placed in a shadow box on top of a black velvet backing. The effect is quite striking. I have used a photograph of Liz’s Sea Dream – Seahorse to illustrate this post.
You can see more of Liz’s work at her Astral Dreamers web site.

Now sit back and enjoy Todd’s video about the creation of Lichtenberg figures.

Video: Todd Johnson creating Lichtenberg figure at lunchtime at Fermilab

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The 2008 Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, November 13th, 2008
Windycon Astronaut
See You At Windycon

This weekend I’ll be battling my way around the Windycon Science Fiction convention. Windycon, one of the country’s larger science fiction conventions, opens Friday Nov 14 and continues through Sunday Nov 16. The theme for this the 35th Windycon is military science fiction and features topics like “Child Soldiers“, “Evolving War“, “Strategy, Tactics, Logistics: What Are They and Why Do I Need to Know?“, and “Mistakes That Go Boom” – to name just a very few. This year the convention will be held at the brand new Westin Lombard – Yorktown Center in Lombard, IL.

Following is my Windycon programming schedule.

Digital Art: Artist Meets Technology Cypress B, Friday 6:00pm:
The panelists will discuss the whats and whys of digital art. The emphasis will be on science fiction digital art: otherworldly planetscapes, three-dimensional aliens, and colors you never saw under our yellow sun. In addition to myself, the other panelists are David Mattingly, Windycon’s Artist Guest of Honor, and science fiction author Roland Green.
Interstellar Warfare: How exactly do you do it Walnut, Saturday 2:00pm:
This panel’s description reads: Interstellar warfare is the blood and bones of military SF, but how do you run a war in space? Given the physical limits of communication, how does a general direct a war? And what are we fighting over anyway? Planets? Wormholes? The Horsehead Nebulae? Join our panelists as they discuss this basic topic. At last year’s Windycon I participated in a panel that discussed the subject of planetary and interstellar governments and the issues that such a system would face. So you could say that last year’s panel was on how to bureaucratize the galaxy and this year’s panel is on how to destroy it. The other panelists are M. D’Ambrosio, R. Garfinkle, J.L. Nye, and M. Shepherd-Moscoe.
Selling Space With Space Art Ballroom AB, Sunday Noon:
The actual title of my presentation is “Using Art to Promote Space Exploration“. My talk includes an overview of the history of space art and how space art has been used, and can continue to be used, to promote space exploration. I developed this presentation specifically for the International Space Development Conference which was held in Washington DC earlier this year.

If you’re curious, you can read about my participation in Windycon 2007 and Windycon 2006.

See you at Windycon. Jim

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