Estate Planning for Artists: A Glossary of Need-to-Know Terms

Dead artists leave two bodies, their own, and a body of work.” —Harriet Shorr, Artist

There’s no sugarcoating estate planning; it’s not easy to talk about and it’s no small feat, especially when you’re an artist. Makers leave behind a large, valuable, physical body of work that must be dealt with at their death.

As an artist, it’s imperative that you have a plan for your artworks so that you can control what happens to your assets and make sure you’re not leaving behind a big, convoluted mess for your loved ones to clean up, like properly sorting, storing, insuring and/or selling your works.

This post provides a list of key terms to help you navigate the ins-and-outs of estate planning.


Art Inventory

This should be a familiar term. An art inventory lists all of your works of art, their locations (studio, on loan, etc.), and descriptive information like dimensions, date, title, and medium. The inventory should also include installation and maintenance information, contracts, exhibition records, and intangible assets such as copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property.

Even if you don’t sell your artwork, a complete inventory of your work will help determine the monetary value of your artistic estate.


Attorney (aka Lawyer)

Estate planning for artists involves much more than just drafting a will. Ideally your attorney is someone you trust, is familiar with your work, and is knowledgeable about the art world along with the laws of trusts and estates.

Make your lawyer aware of your concerns whether they are avoiding estate taxes, providing income for your family, ensuring your work remains publicly accessible, etc.

Many states have a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts division, which provides legal assistance and education for artists. Here’s an example of New York’s VLA.


Attorney(s)-In-Fact

A privately appointed fiduciary who handles your legal and financial matters in the event you become incapacitated or disabled, either temporarily or permanently. It can be a family member, friend, or professional fiduciary. It does not have to be an attorney.

What’s a fiduciary? Read below for the definition.


Beneficiary

The person(s) receiving the benefits of the deceased’s property, aka the trust.


Codicil

Document that amends a will.


Cultural Executor

Aka Art Advisor. This person is a legally-appointed representative responsible for representing and carrying out the wishes of the deceased with regards to their cultural property (e.g. artwork). It is a more specific type of executor (definition below). The cultural executor is ideally someone familiar with both the testator’s body of work and the art market for the work. Who is the testator? You! The artist.


Estate Tax

Federal tax on property (cash, real estate, stock, or other assets) transferred from deceased persons to their heirs.


Executor

The fundamental duty of the executor is executing the estate. If there are assets to be sold, the executor has to sell them. If your estate is owed money by galleries and such, the executor must collect it. The executor also pays bills like funeral expenses and income or estate taxes, and files insurance claims. The executor follows the instructions in your will and distributes the property in accordance with your wishes. The executor also chooses an appraiser to appraise your art work.

When choosing your executor, choose someone who is knowledgeable about the art world and sympathetic to your work. Make this person aware of your priorities. And, don’t be afraid to have multiple executors; it alleviates a lot of pressure.

An executor’s job usually lasts 3 to 4 years, but may last considerably longer if there are assets to dispose of or manage, such as copyright interests.  

Your executor bears the burden of sorting, cataloging, caring for, and disposing of your work and other assets if you don’t organize it beforehand. Find an online artwork management system and start organizing your artwork!


Fiduciary

Somebody who is charged with legal duty to act on behalf of somebody else, like trustees and executors.


Roadmap

Craft a roadmap for your executors to follow. This is like a “how-to” for your will.


Testator

The person making the will (aka, you).


Trust

It’s not just for the 1%. A trust is a legal entity created for the benefit of the testator’s designated beneficiaries. It is a living and breathing document that can stay private.

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trust: You can change a revocable trust. You cannot amend an irrevocable trust once you set it up. So irrevocable trusts are rarely set up,  unless, you’re planning for Medicaid or life insurance.


Trustee

Privately appointed fiduciary who manages the assets in a trust. You can liken the Trustee to a CEO – (s)he runs the business, but does not own it.


Will

The document that states how you want your property to be disposed of at your death.

60% of people die without a will. If you pass away without a will, the State will govern how your property will be distributed. Generally, property goes to your family in this order: spouse & children > parents and sibling(s) > other relatives).


Stay tuned for more posts about estate planning!

How to Photograph Your Artwork: Professional Photos Without the Cost

Your artwork is done and ready to be sold or entered in a competition. Now, you just need to photograph it.

Did I just hear a big ugh?

Photographing your artwork can be a hassle, but it’s what makes or breaks a sale or call for entry.

Avoid images with uneven lighting, distracting glares and shadows, and incorrect colors. Start photographing your 2D* work like a professional with these easy and affordable best practices.

*3D artists, there’s helpful tips in this post for you – check ‘em out. A more focused post on 3D works is coming!


The Set Up: Position Your Artwork and Yourself

Arrange the artwork.

  • Remove matting to avoid shadows.  
  • Hang the artwork on a wall and make sure it’s level to prevent shadows.
  • If you have to lean the work against something, tilt the camera so that the edges of the work are square in the viewfinder; otherwise your work will be a trapezoid.
  • Photograph the work against a neutral color, like white. Colored or patterned backgrounds distract the viewer and reflect color onto your piece.

 

The “trapezoid effect” from not shooting the artwork straight-on.


Line-up your camera.

  • The camera should face the artwork head-on. Line the lens up with the center of the subject. Make sure the plane of the artwork is parallel to the back of the camera.

Get closer.

  • Fill the entire frame with your artwork to get the most out of your camera’s resolution.
  • BUT, do not fill the frame with a zoom or wide-angle lens. Both can distort images by zooming in closely.

Avoid glare and reflections.

  • Glass reflects light avoid reflections and glare by photographing your work before it’s framed. If you can’t, angle the camera to minimize glare.
  • If your work is oil or acrylic, photograph it before adding a glossy varnish.


Lighting: Portray Your Work in its Best Light

Indirect light is best when shooting indoors.

  • Shoot in a room with plenty of windows and natural light, or, use natural light fluorescent bulbs. Avoid direct light since it creates hot spots.

Use cheap materials to diffuse light.

  • Soften glare and the intensity of light by diffusing the light source. Place a white sheet over the light source whether that’s a window or standing light. Or, direct your light source at an angle against a white piece of foam core to “bounce” and soften light.

Wait for a cloudy day if shooting outdoors.

  • Why? Cloud cover acts as a giant diffuser. Your subject will be evenly lit.

But, be willing to embrace mid-day sunshine.

  • If you’re under a deadline and it’s sunny, photograph mid-day (between 10am and 2pm) when the sun is high in the sky and will not cast any shadows. Early morning, late afternoon and evening light casts a reddish light.

Beware of colored walls and objects.

  • Colored walls or large colored furniture reflected color(s) onto your art.

Avoid mixing light sources.

  • Different lightbulbs give off different colors. And, unblocked windows let in light that is brighter than your indoor light, which will cast blue colors onto your work.

Equipment: Easy-to-Use Gear for Professional-Looking Photos

Use a Tripod to avoid blurry photos.

  • If you don’t have a tripod, prop your camera on something solid like a shelf.
  • Don’t have anything that’s the right height? Use your body as a stabilizer. Stand or sit still; hold your elbows against your body; take a deep breath and release it before taking the picture.

Two cheap standing lights will do.

  • Tall “dorm lights”: like these are useful, cheap light sources. Put a light on either side of the work. Situate the lights between the camera and canvas. Point them at a 45-degree angle towards the work to eliminate shadows.

Borrow or buy an affordable DSLR.

  • DSLRs give you more control over the quality of the photo you’re taking than a point-and-shoot or smartphone.
  • Get the most out of your DSLR with the online photography class, Basics of Digital Photography. In 9 lessons you’ll become more familiar with your camera’s settings, learn the fundamentals of light and exposure, and much more. Click here to get the class for only $19.99 – that’s 66% off for CaFÉ  blog readers – with the coupon code DJADW5Z.**
  • TIP: Clean your lens! Dust on the glass will mess with your camera’s automatic focus. 

Camera Settings: Get the Most Out of Your Camera

Adjust White Balance.

  • When you take photos of your works do they come out too warm or blue-toned? That’s because your camera is improperly reading and capturing the color white. Fix this by adjusting your white balance – the setting your camera uses to determine what color is white depending on the temperature of the ambient light.
  • Set your white balance to “Cloudy” if you’re outside on a cloudy day. Set it to “Daylight” on a sunny day.
  • If you’re inside, set the white balance to match the kind of light you’re using, i.e. Fluorescent or Tungsten.

The same painting was photographed indoors with natural light using different white balance modes in-camera. 

Fluorescent white balance mode generates the most realistic colors in this instance.

Clockwise from top left: Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Shade.


Set the ISO to the lowest setting.

  • Setting ISO accurately will give you a clear, crisp photo. ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor; the higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor will be to light. Higher ISOs generates noise and grain in your image so it’s best to keep your ISO at 100. 

Use Aperture Priority mode (Av).

  • It’s recommended to set your aperture between f-8 and f-11. This will allow enough light to pass through the lens and guarantee your work will be in focus.

Make sure your flash is turned off!

  • It will create hot spots on your work.

Editing: Fix Common Mistakes and Perfect the Image

Correct color.

  • The goal is to get your whites white and your blacks black. If your light source was different from the color settings on your camera, you’ll have to change the temperature of the image.

Crop the image.

  • Crop so that your work fills the frame.

Resize the image.

  • Images for the web should be 72 dpi and images for print should be 300 dpi. The minimum image size for online jurying is typically 1920 pixels on the longest side. Check out this CaFÉ blog post featuring 5 free tools to resize your images.

 

Now it’s time to get shooting so you have professional-looking photos ready for your

CaFÉ portfolio page!

 

Paintings by Shaun McNiff.

 

**Terms & Conditions: Get 50% off the full retail price of the Craftsy class, Basics of Digital Photography. Limit one per customer. Cannot be combined with any other coupons. Expires August 19, 2017.

Don’t Miss Public Art Archive’s Independence Day Post!

“Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive.” – Victor Hugo

In honor of our nation’s independence day, WESTAF’s Public Art Archive posted an article showcasing 7 public artworks that celebrate freedom. The works range from historic prints to grand murals to massive sculptures. They depict the struggle for, the appreciation of, and the beauty that is our independence.

Here is a sneak peek:

  • A historic series crafted by a beloved American painter that refers to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms State of the Union address.
  • A 7,500-pound sculpture that features figurative representations of Oppression, Struggle, Sacrifice, Loss, Compassion, and Hope.
  • A work that represents the flight of a bird from captivity to the freedom of the sky along with our need to remember freedom every day.
  • A depiction of the values of our nation – a place where many nations came to find economic opportunity, secure hope for future generations, and above all, to enjoy freedom.
  • A lost mural from the days of the U.S. Government’s Work Projects Administration, Federal Art Program (WPA/FAP).
  • A group armed with 1930’s-style picket signs and 2000 flyers exercising their freedom of speech.
  • A work crafted by the community that honors civil rights leaders.

Read the article here!

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Interested in learning more about our nation’s public artworks? The Public Art Archive is a free, continually growing, online and mobile database of complete public artworks. It was launched in 2009 and now has over 10,000 public artworks. 

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Are you a practicing public artist or want to complete your first project? Check out CaFÉ’s list of public art calls for entry to find opportunities across the country and around the world. Narrow your search by checking “Public Art” under Call Type.

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In honor of our country’s historic right to freedom of speech, continue speaking out for the support of the arts! NEA’s Advocacy Toolkit is a helpful resource that empowers us all to serve as champions for the arts. The Toolkit includes talking points, social media tools, and ways to find, contact and visit with your local representatives. Stay connected!