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

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

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.

Portray colours accurately to avoid disappointment, and don’t forget to select a font that matches your style and is easy to read.

Q. ​What about props? Props can be great and can add to the lifestyle aspect of your images and help the customer visualise the furniture in their home, but would you say that too many props steal from your product, not add to it?

A.​ Well, not necessarily. “Heavy” staging, when well done in a cohesive manner, can help tell a story and lead the buyer’s eye back to the piece. Providing everything is in proportion. Multiple props can be as dramatic as a single item.

But it’s a balancing act, so it's helpful to have somebody with expertise helping and advising.

Q. ​How important is it to plan the colours of props and accessories to use?

A.​ Choose wisely and keep in mind the colour of the piece.

A top tip would be to have items on top that match the hardware and make it pop.

Any accent colours of the piece can give you great ideas for the colour of props.

Try not to overwhelm your piece. Again, it’s a balancing act, which is why it's helpful to have an expert by your side.

Q.​ A little photo editing can go a long way, yet it can be time-consuming. Do you offer an editing service?

A.​ Yes, many Furniture Artists in my group would rather spend their time on their furniture than editing their pictures; it gives them more time doing what they love best. This service is offered in the orientation group

That was pretty much the end of the question and answers session, so we both hope you find some helpful tips there.

What became very clear to me during our chat is just how passionate Judy is about her work, the importance of professional staging and the positive impact it can have on sales.

“Staging is an art form” is one thing that Judy mentioned a couple of times. And having spent time talking to Judy, I completely agree.

Let’s face it, it’s not as simple as finishing a piece, standing it in front of a wall, sticking a lamp on top, taking a couple of photos, and hoping for the best.

Yes, that might eventually net you a sale for, say, £150, but is that really all your hard work is worth? Take the time to properly present your creations and reap the rewards financially!

Now, think about that same piece being photographed against a simple, complementary background, with the beautifully restyled highlights you’ve worked so hard on, shown off to their best by effective lighting and the right props, complete with an accurate depiction of the colour and proportion, all helping your buyer visualise YOUR piece in their home. You’ll be selling pieces for triple that amount.

The other passion that shone through repeatedly in my discussions with Judy is her commitment to her clients.

She loves collaborating with them and slowly, carefully, and quietly (often without them knowing) creating a branding for them that gives them a defined look.

She helps them match their furniture staging to their artwork and their personalities and shows them how to make money doing what they love. It’s what gets her out of bed in the morning.

We’re lucky to have her as a consultant in our membership, and I’m sure those of you who have already used her skills will agree.

You can contact Judy via the Facebook community - The Furniture Artist’s Collective.

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