Strange Times: The COVID-19 Interruption

Here we all are, suddenly (well, comparatively suddenly) faced with social isolation as we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Am I the only work-at-home entrepreneur who finds it hard to settle down to work?  Most of my client work is on hold at the moment, but there are things I could (and should) be doing with my website, bookkeeping, filing…  Yet I sit down to my computer and feel totally without inspiration.

One thing I am doing:  I’m NOT beating myself up for not being more productive.  (Well, not much, anyway!)  Every day I make an effort, then when I run out of steam I just accept it and go into passive mode.  (Hey, today I actually wrote and posted a blog post!).

Other things I am doing:  I’m praying more.  I’m reading more.  I’m keeping in touch with family and friends (email, phone).  And I’m looking for ways to keep up a positive attitude:

  • Walking outside – I have the fortune to have a big open field with a view of the Annapolis River right outside my door
  • Listening to music, on CD or on YouTube
  • Watching comedies -from my “Dick Van Dyke” show collection to humourous videos on YouTube (check out JeanneRobertson for very funny – and clean – humour!)

We’ll get through this. 

Finally, let me share one of my videos with you:  Wordless Peace

Know Your (Copy)Rights

You may be a business owner, artist, musician, author, or crafter.  You probably use print ads, flyers, brochures, a website, and even YouTube videos.  Your products may include images, text, or music.

If you publish ANYTHING – from a print ad to a song to a full-length novel – you need to know about copyright.  

So what is “copyright”?  It’s pretty simple (in a way):  it’s the RIGHT to COPY any “intellectual property” or “original works of authorship”.  This includes literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic creations (and more).  “Only the owner of copyright, very often the creator of the work, is allowed to produce or reproduce the work in question or to permit anyone else to do so” (Canadian Intellectual Property Office, “A Guide To Copyright”).

A BASIC GUIDE TO COPYRIGHT

If you publish (or sell) anything containing copyrighted materials, you either must hold the copyright yourself, or have permission from the copyright holder. 

Copyrighted materials include photos, graphics, artwork, music (including lyrics), prose, poetry, and video.

  • If you took the photo yourself, created the artwork yourself, wrote the music yourself, or wrote the prose/poetry/lyrics yourself, then you are the copyright holder and there is no problem!  (WARNING:  this only applies if the source from which you created the work is not copyrighted.  For instance, if you took the music from a current radio hit and wrote your own lyrics to it, you are violating the copyright of the person who created the music).
  • Old family photos (of your own family, that is!) may be OK (this is one of those “grey” areas, and also tips into the area of protection of privacy when it’s the photo of a living person).  If the photo has never been published by anyone else and was taken before 1922, you are probably in the clear – but best to check with your country’s copyright authority.
  • You can use any public domain work freely.  Published materials older than a certain year (1924 in the US) is in the public domain (unless someone bought up the copyright – nothing is ever easy, is it?).  Also, the creator of a work has the right to declare that work to be in the public domain (in which case it should say so somewhere).
  • Your best source of you-can-use-it copyrighted materials is stock (also called royalty-free) images.  These are works where the copyright holder issues a license to use the work – in effect, you are “renting” some of the rights that belong to the copyright holder.  
    Some stock materials are free, other times the copyright holder requires a licensing fee.  Free or paid, the creator will most likely limit the uses for which the work is available.  For instance, some stock photos are only available for non-commercial (that is, personal or non-profit) use.  Always check the rights before using stock materials.  
  • Another good source is materials that have a Creative Commons license.  These items are made available for free use under certain conditions, stated in the license.  For instance, a Creative Commons BY license allows you to use the work freely as long as you “attribute” it (that is, say somewhere who actually created it).  (All of the free images available on the Dustwood Media website are available under a Creative Commons BY license).

A SPECIAL NOTE ON COMMERCIAL MUSIC: 

Remember that you cannot freely use commercial music (such as you would hear on the radio), even if you personally sing and play the instruments. You MUST pay to license commercial music, which is usually VERY expensive!

EXCEPTION:  many favourite Christmas carols and old church hymns are in the public domain.  You can look up public domain hymns on the Internet, or check the copyright information in any church hymnal (usually printed at the bottom of the page or right under the hymn title).

For more detailed information and useful links, see the Dustwood Media “Copyright And Creative Commons Licenses” page.

Lean On Me

Especially in North America, we hear a lot about how we are supposed to be independent and not need anyone else.

Lean on me:  my grandma and her family, 1930s.

This turns out not to be the case.

We need other people.  Other people need us.  Even in a one-person home business, we are dependent on others – our clients, our family, supportive friends, even the anonymous people who make available to us services like the Internet.

This video says it perfectly:

Think about who you depend on – and thank them.  Think about who depends on you – and encourage them.

Respect Your Art

A couple of words of wisdom to all aspiring visual artists out there – things I learned the hard way:

1) USE TOP-NOTCH MATERIALS.  When I was starting out, including when I was studying Fine Arts in university (more on that later), I used the cheapest materials I could find.  In fact, in art classes I was actually told to use large sheets of newsprint for my assignments.

Now, this isn’t a bad idea in a way, especially if you are in the early stages and aren’t turning out a lot of work that you feel is good enough to keep.  If you’re going to wind up filing away (or throwing away) a lot of early attempts at drawing/painting/pastels/whatever, you don’t want to waste a lot of money on materials.

On the other hand, when you get to the point that you are starting to turn out works that are a respectable quality, you will truly regret not using good materials.  Because cheap materials turn yellow or degrade in other ways – along with your work. 

I’m speaking from experience here.  I have a number of drawings I did fairly early in my art career that were really good drawings – but done on cheap paper.  I still have the drawings, but they are no longer good enough to exhibit because the ground has yellowed badly. 

Yellowing paper (drawing: “New Sprouts”)

(Note:  for smaller works, there is a work-around:  if it’s small enough to scan into your computer, you can use photo editing software like Corel Paintbrush Pro to correct the discolouring and fading, at least for digital prints.)

Sample of image drawn too close to edge.
Drawing is too close to edge of paper (drawing “Neighbour’s Horse”).

So, once you’re really starting to bloom, invest in good materials – and that means archive-quality materials. 

While you’re at it, be sure you’ve made provision for archival-quality STORAGE of your materials and your finished works as well.

2) PLAN AHEAD.  I have always had a very bad habit of just starting in on a drawing – only to find that the finished work was too close to the edge of the paper to properly mat and frame – or even to finish.  (Another thing that you can work around if the item is small enough to scan into the computer). 

I’ve learned to start my drawings by penciling in a margin around the page – at least 1″ in from all edges.  That way, even if I get close to the margins, there’s still enough room for matting and framing.  Even if you’re just doing casual sketches in a sketchbook, you want to be prepared in case you turn out something really stunning!

I’ve also learned to do a quick, very rough, very light sketch of the entire image to begin with.  With close attention to relative distances and proportions, this gets you off to a MUCH better start.  (Note that both of these apply whether you’re working in pencil, pen, oil paint, acrylic paint, or pastel – start with a light rough first.)

In other words, have enough respect for yourself and your art that you EXPECT to turn out works that are good enough to display, to cherish, and even to sell!

The Un-“Cloud”ed Day

Keeping your data – and your software – “in the cloud” is very big these days.  The big idea, of course, is that you can access the program and/or data from anywhere.  So handy!

First, a word about words.  “In the cloud” sounds so ethereal, somehow.  One tends to think of one’s programs and data floating around over one’s head in a fluffy white cloud.

The reality?  Data and programs stored “in the cloud” are actually stored on a hard drive somewhere.  Actually in a series of hard drives, connected by networking software.  Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia:

Cloud computing is a jargon term without a commonly accepted non-ambiguous scientific or technical definition. In science, cloud computing is a synonym for distributed computing over a network and means the ability to run a program on many connected computers at the same time. The popularity of the term can be attributed to its use in marketing to sell hosted services in the sense of application service provisioning that run client server software on a remote location.

…Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but as well as dynamically re-allocated as per demand… For example, a cloud computer facility which serves European users during European business hours with a specific application (e.g. email) while the same resources are getting reallocated and serve North American users during North America’s business hours with another application (e.g. web server).

…Proponents claim that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of infrastructure. Proponents also claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand

…Several deterrents to the widespread adoption of cloud computing remain. Among them, are: reliability, availability of services and data, security, complexity, costs, regulations and legal issues, performance, migration, reversion, the lack of standards, limited customization and issues of privacy.

(“Cloud Computing” article, Wikipedia [my emphasis])

So what’s the problem with storing your data and programs on some networked hard drive somewhere instead of on your own computer on your own desk?  Let’s focus on one:  “availability of services and data”.

A while ago, my Internet connection went down – a not-uncommon experience in small-town and rural areas.  I had no Internet connection for the entire morning – no access to email, no connection to social media sites, no direct access to my business website.

Frustrating?  You bet!

Did it keep me from doing any work?  NO – because MY programs and data are stored directly on my own computer (on which I am typing at this very moment).  If I had been using “cloud”-based data storage, and/or “cloud”-based software, I would have lost the whole morning’s productivity.

That day’s problems were caused by a problem with my ISP.  Maybe some hardware failed somewhere, or maybe someone drove into a power pole – no way of knowing (or predicting.  Or controlling).

That’s not the only potential source of trouble, either.  What about a technical problem with the cloud service provider?  A natural disaster or power outage affecting not your own area, but the area where your data happens to be stored?  Human error (or actual wrongdoing) on the part of one of the unseen, unknown people who are in charge of handling the whole system where YOUR data and programs are stored?

There are potential problems with keeping all your programs and data on your own hard drive, too, the biggest one being equipment failure.  (Which means you need to BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER REGULARLY – something which will be covered in another blog post!)

BUT – keeping everything on your own hard drive gives you much more direct control.  Some companies – ones that need to share data, or ones where the people travel extensively – may find the advantages of “cloud” computing outweigh the disadvantages.  For small businesses, entrepreneurs, churches, and other users limited to a few people and one (or at least one main) location, the advantages of keeping your business essentials under your own control have to be considered first.

Because – think about it – what is the life-span of a cloud?