On the TechSide: An Interview with Barry Glustoff and Robin Zelizer of Digital Arts Studio

Nancy McCrary: Let’s start with you telling us a bit about your career and yourself. How long have you been a photographer, what were your beginnings in the industry, how long have you owned Digital Arts Studio and Fine Art Marketplace, and whatever else I”m not aware of? Let’s tell everyone who they’re listening to. 
Robin Zelizer/Barry Glustoff: We are Barry Glustoff and Robin Zelizer, owners of Digital Arts Studio in Atlanta GA.  Robin and I have worked together as a married couple since the late ’80’s in the art gallery and picture framing industries.  (Our combined  70+ years of experience includes positions with nationally known companies such as: The Great Frame Up, Thomas Kinkade Studios Signature Galleries, Marshall Fields’ Home Stores, and Crescent Cardboard, a world-wide manufacturer of framing products since 1901.  As long-time Certified Picture Framers, we support professional standards and practices in the handling and preservation of documents, original artwork, textiles, photography and memorabilia.)
In 2003, it was this love of artwork and photography, and the possibility of bringing together both quality framing and archival printing into a single art-services business, that brought us to ATL.
Digital Arts Studio incorporates custom picture framing with new technologies for fine art imaging, reproduction and printmaking, creating a “one-stop-shop” serving clients across the USA for over 16 years. Our base includes residential, hobbyist, professional and business customers throughout the South and beyond.  And whether restoring a damaged  family photo, preserving cherished mementos, or providing the means for artists and photographers to enjoy, promote and profit from their works, we are delighted to share in our clients’  happiness.
Ready-to-hang, gallery-wrapped stretched canvas prints as large as 4-1/2 feet by 8 feet are still a popular and cost effective medium and will last for at least 100+ years. We carry a wide selection of museum-grade, 100% cotton rag papers, which when paired with pigment inks ensure consistent quality and longevity of both fine art and photographic imagery. Japanese Washi fiber paper, mural wallcovering, plexiglass, aluminum, fabric and wood are available and also make for distinctive presentations. Conservation framing options include museum-quality mats, UV protective glazing,  and a comprehensive selection of wood and metal moulding styles suitable for both contemporary and traditional decor.
As sponsors of numerous art and photography groups, we are privileged to print and frame for many in Atlanta’s extraordinary Arts Community; on an almost daily basis, we’re fortunate to meet individuals creating breathtaking works of art. Often, a missing component in fine art and photography educational programs has been preparation for “making a living” from one’s passions and developed talents, including a lack of information on producing and selling museum-quality reproductions.  In partnering with our clients for their growth and success, we provide significant marketing guidance and resources whenever asked, to assist both with artistic follow-through and the development of a marketing plan.
Over time, the Studio’s location, in The West Midtown Design District, has “grown up” into a neighborhood around us, combining original warehouse environments with new housing, restaurants and enterprises… We are truly grateful that our uniquely talented staff has grown as well:  all artists and/or photographers by training, these skilled and creative imaging specialists and picture framers continue to inform us as owner/operators, improving the content and caliber of our services.
NM: No other art medium has changed the way photography in the last 30 years due to the digital revolution. For a couple of those decades it caused quite a division in our tribe. Those who elevated film to a lofty position, it being the historically “correct” and respected method; and those who embraced digital for its convenience and economics – and more recently its value. What were your thoughts during the digital revolution and how did it change your business model during that time? 
RZ/BG: The longevity of Giclée (AKA archival pigment) prints has the ability to elevate and “validate” Fine Art Photography as a collectible art medium worthy of the same value and considerations as fine art lithographs, serigraphs, etc.  In retrospect, it was somewhat foolhardy to assume that color photographs of any subject matter could command the same price from a collector due to the rapid and eventual deterioration of traditional color prints. Ciba or Ilfachrome prints provided better longevity but their “plasticity” appearance never came close to the appeal of a signed, numbered fine art print on cotton rag watercolor papers.
It’s not a giant leap to think that Ansel Adams, Picasso, Monet and many others would have embraced and utilized to the fullest whatever means available to them in their quest to create. At Digital Arts Studio we’ve sympathized with seasoned and expert photographers in our earliest days who — due to the.immediate needs of their clients — suddenly had to embrace a digital workflow. I’ve often described it as trying to get on a bus while going 65 miles an hour! We initially encountered and assisted professional photographers who didn’t know how to get their shots off their new cameras, let alone post-process them successfully. Thankfully for them and the industry, that has subsided over time. Nowadays, it’s often the  novice with an iPhone utilizing a bunch of apps who needs professional guidance.
I personally consider a digital image to be “art” when it actually has been printed as a tangible piece that can be held and/or displayed. I imagine at some point, as technology and society evolve, that may no longer hold true. Even today you can purchase a smart TV that includes a decorative frame and an endless accessible library of digitized images to be selected for viewing on your wall.
NM: Cameras have become ubiquitous as photography has become less expensive due to digital  DSLRs, with most American homes having more than one. Has photography gotten better with this prolific change, or are we all just taking more photos of our dinner?! 
RZ/BG: Even with film cameras, it’s never been about the equipment one uses to take a photograph. Whether post processing in a darkroom or on a laptop, it’s always been about the vision and imagery.
Inspiration is all around us; art is timeless and universal, where everyone’s interpretation and opinion has equal value. And having a creative outlet has become an increasingly vital pastime adding richness and balance  to our busy lives.
 
NM: Your storefront in Atlanta, Digital Arts Studio, is known in this region as being a reputable and professional printer, as well as framer. Getting back to “everyone being a photographer” – if I’m sending you an image electronically to be made into a 16×20 print what is it you’d like me to know beforehand? And what digital services should a printer be able to offer these days to help new photographers?
 RZ/BG: Archival pigment print (Giclée) quality and clarity will surprise and be more than acceptable to most people. We deal with photographer skill levels from the iPhone novice to the most experienced professionals, each of whom possesses a very different grasp of the many factors that contribute to photo quality. Much depends on the expectations and degree of  understanding a client may have. Although ideal resolution is commonly understood to be 300 ppi, the desired print size is just as important. Images 16×20 or larger can often be printed as low as 140 ppi. There are many factors to image quality and here are some simplified explanations:
It is usually better to use whatever data your camera provides than artificially resizing via software to increase the number of pixels.  A 12 MegaPIXEL iPhone camera can only capture about 30 megaBYTES of data, resulting in a maximum image size of about 12×18 at 300 ppi. If the focus, exposure, etc are all ok, we can easily double that to a 24×36 image by dropping the resolution to 150 ppi! This doesn’t change or reduce the original file data, just sort of rearranges the pixels at a different physical size.
There is much confusion in understanding the related terminology (for a more detailed explanation, go to: https://www.digitalartsstudio.net/blog/). Megabytes (Mb) is the total amount of data captured in an image. Pixels are a measure of computer data. Megapixels (MP) relates to how much data a particular camera is able to capture. PPI is the number of pixels per inch of any image —300 ppi is usually considered the necessary quality for the human eye to see a sharp, clear image. DPI is how many dots per inch a printer can place on a substrate. A 300 ppi image when sent to the printer is then converted to be printed as dots; today’s high-end pigment ink printers are capable of resolution of 2880 x 1440 DPI. As our specialists do understand these variables, and more, you may trust us to review and advise.
A true print service provider will let a client know if their file was insufficient for the desired size and be able to present solutions and alternatives.  At our physical location, clients have the option to preview their image for clarity as well as to consider other enhancements or editing. Online clients can also indicate they’d like us to edit, and then spell out any concerns.  We try to offer complete fulfillment, including personalized framing solutions, direct shipping and marketing advice. Having a physical location where samples can be seen and touched, weekend hours for people with day-jobs, and staff to make recommendations and offer advice, creates an environment where understanding the process and the opportunities can be seen first-hand.
We certainly don’t want clients to ever be disappointed with the results. Expectations can’t always be achieved and are very subjective.  Having a well calibrated stationary monitor, correctly set for many variables such as color temperature, color space,  ambient light, etc will still only offer a screen preview that’s “pretty close”.  There’s a big difference between projected light and reflected light when viewing an actual print. Today’s higher-end monitors can display many colors that simply can’t be reproduced currently by any combination of equipment, ink and substrate.  We have always suggested  a small “hard copy” proof print which we feel is the most accurate way for anyone to judge for themselves, and allow for adjustments if necessary.
NM: With digital, I seldom ever know if the image on my screen began its life anywhere near what I’m looking at. What are your thoughts on technical manipulation? And, does the standard line “everybody used to do that in the darkroom, so why not?” still apply? Has digitizing a photo grown past what anyone can do in a darkroom? 
 RZ/BG: To the photo “purist” who believes any photograph should only represent reality and not be altered in any way, I remind that image “enhancement” has been done since the early days of photography.  Darkroom skills and techniques have been used to produce an “altered” image since day one.  The best cameras are still far less superior to the human eye, and often do not do justice to the setting or surroundings that the photographer envisioned.The available tools at any time can help an artist better express their vision. Paint, graphite, watercolors, pastels, brushes and cameras are all tools to an artist. None of these come with a warning label to stick to a literal rendition of a subject. Few people have ever asked or cared about the brand of canvas or paint used by Monet or Picasso, or questioned Ansel Adams’ favorite brand of film. If I’ve taken the original photo, I have every right to “manipulate” in any way I see fit to better express my vision of the subject matter.
This really boils down to the question, “What is Art?” And I’m not going to touch that one!
Fine Art Photography may best be described by the intent or concept behind the image. If there is none, it just might only be a snapshot. Often, the people who influence what is and what’s not to be seen are the gallery owners and photo competition jurists and judges. They have their own well-developed ideas as to what should be considered photographic art. I never really cared about what others thought of my “paintography” images as long as I was satisfied with the end result. After studying photography in college, I  spent the next 27 years buying, selling and framing many thousands of original works, classic art reproductions, contemporary limited edition lithographs, serigraphs, and more. When I compose through the viewfinder, I’m often “seeing” something similar to a painting or drawing, that’s been created by others. Having no ability to use a brush or draw a straight line, I use my available tools to transform my photograph into a “paintograph”. Thankfully I do not make my living by only selling my artwork but it is very satisfying when someone admires and/or buys a print not knowing, asking or caring what it “started out” as!
NM: What is the definition of a fine art photographer in your opinion?
RZ/BG: There are artists in all sub-sets of photography who are absolutely pursuing excellence in their craft or profession.  However, consumers wishing to display art that resonates meaningfully, either for home or work, very often will not choose to purchase someone else’s portrait/event/social commentary/product or wedding photos if they lack personal significance.  (And of course, there are always exceptions to all of these cases.)
IMHO, a fine art photographer is no different than any other fine artist in their pursuit to focus on, illustrate, and bring attention to whatever they consider worthy or necessary to share with the rest of the world.  Vision, aptitude, equipment, opportunity, print quality and so much more – – it all comes in to play.  Abstract photographs shouldn’t be treated any differently than an abstract drawing or painting.  Wildlife, still life, scenic, figurative art and social commentary are all the same “fair game” subject matter for fine art expression, whether created with a pencil, brush,DSLR or software.
A fact that isn’t as well known is that now with archival pigment printing, a photographic image may be considered a collectible art form in a  manner similar to lithographs, serigraphs and other forms of replication.  The term Giclée has been misused and misunderstood by both artists and their potential clients.  In this instance, a photographic print is NOT a reproduction of anything else; instead, it is a multiple copy of the photographer’s final vision of their subject.  As with any collectible, it should have “museum-quality” longevity, be signed by the artist, and preferably be accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.  This, along with an artist’s statement, provides a better understanding of motivation, and can lead to a greater appreciation of the work.
NM: You beganDigital Arts Studio  as a “fine art giclée printmaking facility” where you digitize other mediums of fine art and produce giclée prints on cotton rag papers or canvas. Tell us about the need for such a facility and what your experiences have taught you. 
RZ/BG: The most critical step in reproducing paintings on canvas, watercolors, pastels, mixed media, drawings and collages is in creating the original digital file. For reference, the human eye is a 576 megapixel “camera”, whereas the newest iPhone is only 12, and the latest Nikon or Canon is still under 50 megapixels. We use a rare BetterLight scan camera with an effective resolution of over 200 megapixels. Specialized lighting filters any glare from reflections of light, paint or varnish to capture the texture (impasto) of brushstrokes on painted canvas. Even when side by side, it’s extremely hard to distinguish an original watercolor or pastel from its replication.
This print technology originated in the early 90’s but its purpose was never initially intended for fine art printing. A company named Scitex developed a printer (The Iris 3047) to run a single 44″ x 36″ sheet of paper to produce a proof for larger traditional print runs. Its adaptation to print photographs on fine art paper is attributed to Graham Nash, (of Crosby, Stills, and Nash fame) as he was also a photographer and someone who could afford to alter and void the warranty on a $150K printer! Later, Nash went on to become a spokesperson for Epson, and Nash Editions still operates today.
Artists quickly saw the possibilities of “self publishing” by making inexpensive small or even single print runs. Previously, artists competed to sell their reproduction rights to companies that supplied the fine art gallery, décor and picture framing industries. At that time, huge up-front production and inventory costs prohibited most from doing this on their own. It took relatively few years to improve the technology, develop longer-lasting inks with a wide color range, and refine fine art and photo papers that are now optimized for this process. We are one of the few service providers in the country to be certified by both Hahnemuhle and Canson papers, mills that have been producing 100% archival cotton rag fiber papers for over 400 years! It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that for us,”a perfect storm” of equipment cost, quality, and longevity made offering artists AFFORDABLE museum-quality prints a viable business opportunity.
Fine Art Marketplace is a website we host on behalf of our clients who wish an inexpensive e-commerce platform to facilitate the sale and order fulfillment of their fine art reproductions. It’s the responsibility of every artist to develop, nurture, entice and communicate with their collector “Fan base”. It doesn’t really matter which website you’re selling from as most people are “buying the artist” as well as their art, and the transaction of selecting and ordering online is pretty similar across the board.
With any new small business start-up, the risks and challenges of developing, promoting and sustaining a unique venture are considerable. But having a belief in oneself and confidence in the validity of what you’re trying to accomplish outweighs the anxiety of failure. As it’s been said, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Robin and I can honestly say that our love for what we do drives us still! With our entire staff, we champion the successes of the artists with whom we’ve worked. And along the way, we all have been honored to develop and maintain close, long-term relationships with hundreds of wonderful clients.
NM: Would you share with us some standard advice you give emerging photographers these days?  
To study as many aspects of marketing as possible! Whatever niche in the wide world of photography you land in or pursue, it is equally important to understand who the target audience is for your “product tor services”.
We work with a LOT of very talented artists and photographers who produce amazing works of art that will perhaps never be seen or sold. The advent of social media and the internet have caused a seismic shift in the way products and services are promoted and purchased. For the first time in history, more art was sold online than in galleries, frame shops and furniture stores. Potential buyers can view a huge and accessible global resource of artwork of all types. I cannot stress enough that marketing is every bit as important as learning the technical side of using a brush or a camera.
For some artists, it might be difficult to disengage from the intellectual and emotional attachments of creative expression and to look instead at their art as “product(s)” to be sold. It depends on whether you’d like to make all or part of a living from your art, or wait only to be discovered decades after you’ve left this world!! Formulate both short and long time-frame game plans. Make a commitment and establish a set time-period (weekly or monthly) to review and evaluate your results. Goal-setting is an important step in establishing a “plan of attack”. Like any other product, it will take significant time, some expense and effort to establish yourself and become a prosperous artist! You created your art, now create your success!
To do a virtual tour of the studio, or to see samples please go to fineartmarketplace.com and/or www.digitalartsstudio.net ”

Digital Arts Studio

Address
1082-B Huff Road
Atlanta, GA 30318

Phone: 404.352.9779
Fax: 404.352.9655
Toll Free: 866.352.9779

Email: info@digitalartsstudio.net

Hours:
Monday – Friday: 9 am – 6 pm
Sat: 10 am – 5 pm

Follow Nancy McCrary:
Nancy is the Publisher and Founding Editor of South x Southeast photomagazine. She is also the Director of South x Southeast photoworkshops, and Shopkeeper for SxSEshop.com, the online store for original photographic works of art. She resides on her farm in Georgia with 4 hounds and a one-eyed cat where she shoots only pictures.
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