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Artist in the Spotlight: Judy Whalen - The Furniture Artist's Artist.

Updated: Feb 9

Judy Whalen (formerly Anaya) has been running her very successful company, “Thrive Furniture Staging & More” since late 2016.

Currently based in California but on the move to Tennessee at some point this year, Judy has always had a passion for creativity. She was the girl in the neighbourhood who always had a palette of colour cards in her hand.

She was the girl you went to if you needed decorating advice. Judy was the girl who had “an eye” for making a room look truly beautiful, apparently without even thinking about it.

Judy started her career with a degree in Business and Hotel Management. This degree course included many design classes in which she excelled.

Since leaving University, Judy has been a Visual Merchandiser for Macy’s, spent several years working for Rebecca Hansen Groskreutz (of “Flipping Furniture for Profit” group), and managed two busy stores for an Annie Sloane paint stockist where she learned to paint furniture and teach painting classes.

In 2001 Judy started staging houses for Real Estate sales and fell in love with this kind of artistic creativity. Having honed her skills, she decided to concentrate on furniture staging because “staging makes magic with minimal budgets”, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I spent some time interviewing Judy for our “Artist in the Spotlight” series. She is incredibly interesting and inspirational, and I hope you enjoy reading the Questions and Answers below. Please note, any inaccuracies are entirely mine.

We started with some background questions covered above and then discussed some furniture staging specifics.

Q. ​Why are product images so important?

A. ​Because people shop, first and foremost, with their eyes. If something doesn’t look good, you’re unlikely to buy it, are you?

Q. ​What makes a good furniture product image?

A. ​A good furniture image will accurately represent the WHOLE piece. Buyers need to be able to see everything, in perspective, including the legs, arms, hardware and, just as importantly, a precise depiction of the colour.

Q.​ I’ve read that when shoppers see two similar products, they’ll go with the one that looks best almost every time. Is that true?

A. ​Yes, especially in our industry. A professional image gives buyers a sense of confidence in their purchase. And it gives sellers credibility that if a piece is staged and photographed professionally, then it has been renovated to the same high standards.

Q.​ What are the most common mistakes furniture artists make?

A.​ In a rush to get pieces to market, some pieces aren’t finished properly. Little things are neglected. “Wear and tear” might add interest, but where possible should be fixed. Another common problem is poor-quality photographs. Always take time to take great photos; making a living and profit from your hard work depends on being able to sell the piece through your images.

Q.​ Okay, so talk to me about the technical aspects of taking brilliant product images because those are often very simple fixes, right?

A. If you have an iPhone, turn HDR and Live off. These produce multiple images, which are then merged into one, and you do not get the best result. Another tip, obvious as it sounds, is to avoid shaking your hand when taking photos. This can produce blurred images. Try taking a photo with the camera/phone on a solid platform.

Bear in mind that many free apps only save 95% of images to JPEG. Meaning that's a 5% loss in quality, so alter the settings to save to 100% JPEG.

Free editing apps don't always save the best quality images. For example, “Easy Watermark” takes as much as 45% of quality away from the photo. Try Snapseed or PicMonkey instead.

Get a second pair of eyes to look at the photograph and tell you what they see first. You want them to see the furniture rather than the setting. This will give you an idea of what the buyer will see.

Q, ​What about backgrounds? You often recommend a plain white or black background – I’m guessing a busy background can be a nuisance, right?

A. In general, simplicity is best, especially if that is part of your branding. You don’t want anything competing with the furniture.

A white staging wall with the ability to attach a black sheet/ backdrop gives you the best of both worlds. Simplicity and drama.

Walls with lines like wood cladding or bricks look best if they are real and not fake backdrops and work best when the style aligns with your ‘brand’ and the style of furniture you most often create.

Any vertical or horizontal lines will require great photography skills so there is no distortion for the viewer.

But the best advice is…don't overthink. Focus on the furniture, not the wall.

I highly recommend a softbox lighting kit with LED lights for lighting. Amazon has lots available and often on offer. Most LED light boxes have three settings which help create the right mood for your piece.