Mark Lakey, owner and president of Art Warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn., strives to be in the “top two percentile” of his trade, and judging by the quality of the photographic and graphic reproductions shown here, Art Warehouse is there.
Lakey’s work is more than simply reproduction; it’s art and science. He’s meticulous about maintaining the fidelity of the original image and enhancing subpar images so that they meet his high requirements for the printed and finished product.
Lakey had both situations in front of him recently for two separate but similar and related projects: One for the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau and its Visitors Center, and another for Rock City Gardens, a local landmark and favorite spot where visitors from all over enjoy the scenery and rock formations.
Both projects were printed with an Epson GS6000 solvent inkjet printer on Photo Tex PSA Fabric – Solvent Printers from LexJet. Printing and installing the images was a cinch. Lakey chose Photo Tex because the customers wanted something they could tear down and easily replace if they wanted to try a different wall mural or remodel in the near future.
“That’s probably the greatest advantage of the Photo Tex material. All they have to do is have the contractor clean up the wall a little bit, and it’s done. From their perspective they have the freedom to decide if they want it up to leave it up for as long as they want. They love the possibilities it opens up. Particularly in the case of the Visitors Bureau, if our skyline changes in the next couple of years they can put up an updated mural that reflects those changes,” says Lakey.
Lakey adds that he offered to clear coat the murals, but the clients preferred the matte finish because you can view it from any angle in any lighting situation with zero glare. That worked for Lakey too, since he’s a self-described “matte finish freak” whose favorite photo paper is LexJet’s Premium Archival Matte.
The real challenge was in pre-production and processing the images for printing. In the first instance, at the Visitors Center, he had an amazing image with which to work, courtesy of local photographer Lawson Whitaker. Whitaker’s capture of the Chattanooga skyline was right on, but the challenge was the sheer size of the file and the final output size, about 17 ft. x 13 ft. in four panels.
“Each file presents its own algorithm to make it that large. It starts with a proper workflow to be as good as it can be. That workflow can change so it’s not written in stone,” explains Lakey. “Typically, I’ll either de-noise it or instead of doing a line sharpening I’ll do a radial sharpening to separate the shadows and highlights a bit, and run it through either PhotoZoom Pro or Genuine Fractals. Data is data. If you don’t have it then you try to make it as close as you can so you don’t see over-Photoshopping. I don’t want to make it into something it’s not.”
The other image for Rock City Gardens was much more of a challenge and required a lot more work to the file to make it just right. The image was originally taken in the ‘70s then drum-scanned, and it wasn’t a great drum scan to begin with, says Lakey.
“Scanners are great, but just like a camera lens, they have a sweet spot. You can hit below it or above it and not have a good photo. It’s all about knowing your equipment so you hit that sweet spot, but they did not hit the sweet spot,” explains Lakey.
Lakey and the graphic artist on the project spent most of their time on the signature portion of the image, the waterfall area called Lover’s Leap. It’s the piece that’s used in all of Rock City Garden’s marketing and basically works as a brand.
“In Photoshop I did a color selection of that particular section. I used Nik Software’s sharpening tool and Photoshop’s sharpening tools. Depending on what the file has in it, I’ll either go into unsharp mask and do more of a radial sharpening, and then go back into Nik with a line sharpening. Then I’ll do a color selection on parts of the photo I think have the most noise and do a Noise Ninja process on that,” says Lakey.