Purchasing Art Online – Do you know what you’re getting?

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich, Photography, Prints, RLC Design 2 Comments

Years ago when I was the co-owner of a gallery here in Prescott Arizona I had a customer pop into the gallery with a complaint.  They had recently purchased one of my images on canvas.  “Everybody’s Hometown.”  It was a popular piece for quite a while, and this particular customer had come in several times to look at the large canvas before buying it.  I knew they liked it a lot.

What was the complaint?  It was a unique one.  The customer thought I had not given them the one on the wall.  They thought I must have printed a new one on canvas and gave them that one.  They said it didn’t look the same as the one in the gallery.  And that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment.  I explained to them that I didn’t switch prints on them (why would I do that).  The image looked different in their home because of lighting.  They didn’t buy that reason, so I asked them to bring the canvas back in to the gallery.

We re-hung the canvas in it’s original location, and the customer was blown away.  It looked the way they wanted it to.  What was different was the lighting in the gallery.  We had many lights, and directed them onto different pieces to accentuate the look of the art.  Where the customer had chosen to hang the canvas was in a darker room with no lighting directed at the canvas.  Of course it would look different.

Once I explained the issue the customer understood, added some lights in the room where the image was hung, and was once again happy with their purchase.

Why am I thinking of old gallery “war stories?”

Currently I’m working on a new project for a client out of state.  I’ve been imaging their paintings, and as I’ve worked on photographing and color correcting the images my gallery days popped to mind.  You see, art looks different depending on how it’s lit, what type of light you’re using, ambient light, and more.  If you use cool LED lights they’ll cast light that heads to the blue side of things.  Warm (yellow) incandescent lights make things look more yellow.  Light isn’t just light.  Sometimes it’s warm, sometimes it’s cool, and sometimes there just isn’t enough of it.

As I’ve been looking through the paintings I’ve been imaging I pay a lot of attention to the light I use while photographing.  And what that does to the final image.  And it brought the idea of selling art work online, and the expectations of customers who are purchasing online.

Viewing art online has always brought up issues in my mind.  What I see on my monitor isn’t necessarily what the art will look like on your wall.  If you have a bad monitor the colors might not display properly.  What looks super blue to you on a web page may be more green in person.  What looks dark on your screen may be much brighter in person (maybe your monitor brightness is set too low).  You never know.  What I can say is pretty simple.  Until you see the work in person, there will always be some variation from what you’ve seen on screen.  So if you’re purchasing art online, keep that in mind.  Nobody’s trying to fool you here, instead it’s just a matter of lighting, on screen lighting, and more.


Comments 2

  1. Do you still have a super wide printer? I remember reading your column many years ago when you had two of them, I think an HP and a Canon, and if I remember correctly, you were having problems. I really enjoyed those columns and equipment and techniques.

  2. Post

    Hi Phil! Good to hear from you!

    The HP died years ago, and the first Canon 8300 died in 2012. I ended up buying one more Canon, but then closed my business end of 2012 to go do consulting work and database work out in West Virginia. While I’m back in Arizona, I no longer print for anyone. It was very difficult staying afloat doing reproduction work for folks in Prescott. I’m still involved in photographic work for our web clients, but I’ve dialed it back on landscape work. Now I just do that for fun. 🙂

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