Heidi Guerard of Heidi Hope Photography is internationally recognized for her colorful, soft and whimsical portrait photography. Often referred to as a “baby whisperer”, Heidi’s most celebrated work is creating artistic portraits of babies from their first days of life through their first days of school.
Tell us how you got started with creating backdrops.
The first backdrop I painted was for my middle daughter's first birthday cake smash session. I was actually a painter long before I was a photographer, and I wanted to create something completely unique and special for her. I had no idea it would become such a signature look for my brand!
From the very inception of my business I always intuitively understood that if I could set myself apart from what my local competition was doing, I could attract more customers and stand out as a brand. Over the years I've continually asked myself "how can I incorporate my unique skills or strengths into my work in a way that's never been seen?" As the sets at my studio became more elaborate, I began to wonder how I could continue to innovate with this avenue and my BFA in Art Education to stand out.
When I began teaching other photographers about five years ago, I realized that many photographers were struggling to get noticed and looking for ways to differentiate themselves. I began selling my backdrop painting reproductions as a way to help inspire creative work that could help set businesses apart. I want my backdrops to help photographers tell their unique story in a beautiful way.
What was the process of creating these backdrops like? Where do you get your inspiration and how long does it take?
I'm constantly inspired by the world around me. Inspiration comes easy, what's hard is finding the time to execute all of the ideas. I organize my ideas in Evernote and visually on Pinterest. I like to paint themes that I know will be popular with my own clients. I look at fashion and interior design trends and First Birthday party trends.
Once I decide on a theme, I tack up large pieces of canvas and get to work. The typical backdrop takes 8 -10 hours to paint, but some take upwards of 30 hours if I feel they need edits or refinement. I'm more of a messy creative than an analytical type, so I like to work without planning things out too much and revise things as I go. I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea or something to add! Oftentimes a painting will turn out nothing like the idea that I started with!
We understand how it feels to be knocked off by a low-cost copycat… It’s the worst. What was your initial reaction to finding out that you were being copied?
The first painting that was stolen was the one I painted for my daughter and images of her were also being used to sell the designs on websites based in other countries. That was around three years ago. I initially felt violated, and felt that my daughter had been violated too. As a mother, I felt I had failed to protect her and the first thing I wanted was all of her images removed from the stores they were in. Now many of my paintings are being reproduced illegally and I get that same sick feeling each time I see a new one. As a small business owner, obviously the counterfeits affect the amount of money I am able to make to support my family, but even more than the lost revenue bothers me, being stolen from feels hurtful. An artist creates from their soul. When it is stolen, it can feel heart breaking. It is challenging to continue to pour yourself into your work and share it openly when it leaves you so vulnerable.
What actions did you take once your initial reaction to copycats passed?
We have gone through the Trademark process for Heidi Hope Photography and Photographer Rising and have copyright registered all of my paintings. We also have a legal team working on our behalf to get the stolen paintings removed from stores. One of the greatest frustrations is that shops in other countries often close and re-open within days under a different name. Right now my paintings can be found all over Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Wish and Pinterest as well as in many independent online backdrop stores and pop up Facebook groups. I even get served Facebook ads for the counterfeits!
Because all of my backdrops are manufactured in the United States and I often see the counterfeits being sold for 1/5th of what it costs me to produce a single drop, it is impossible to compete with China on price or keep up with the high volume of counterfeits being sold. The problem just keeps getting bigger and it feels nearly impossible to take on as a small business. For that reason, I think it is so important that we, as artists, help educate each other and watch out for theft. We can choose to shop with the small businesses that are reputable and spread the word about shops that sell stolen goods.
How can other creatives support you and your cause?
As a community of artists we can support each other by being on the lookout for theft and sharing when we find it. You can notify the creators/owners of the original designs. You can say something when you see sites featuring stolen work being promoted in groups and online. Typically if a site steals from one artist, much of what they are selling and the images they are using to promote their products are stolen too. Most consumers simply don't know that what they are buying is illegal. Many photographers are outraged to discover they spent their hard earned money on a low-quality knock-off.
I understand what that feels like because just a few months ago it happened to me! I thought I was purchasing a cute shirt from a little boutique in a Facebook ad. One month later I received a package from China with a shirt in it that was nothing like what I thought I bought. It was a terrible quality of material,similar to a vinyl tablecloth, and not even wearable. There were no return instructions and when I finally hunted down the product listing for what I bought, there were fake 5 star reviews under the listing and no way for me to leave a review of my own. It was a total waste of $40 and I felt terrible that I had been duped into giving my money to an illegitimate business! I have learned to pause and do my research before scooping up those deals that seem too good to be true.
Counterfeiting and false advertising with stolen images is certainly a growing problem with online sales across many industries. Speaking up and raising awareness is the first step in protecting each other. Also, doing your homework before buying and choosing to only spend your money with legitimate businesses can go a long way in helping.
As for my paintings, the only place they are legally being sold is on my website and each comes with a certificate of authenticity. I also help photographers to resell the certified backdrops to make a return on their investment in our Facebook Swap and Resell group. We're thrilled to be offering my paintings for rent as well, so that they are more accessible to photographers with a smaller backdrop budget! Learn more about our rental program here.
Last week I logged onto Pinterest and searched my name and most of what I saw were ads for my stolen paintings being sold illegally. That is not the legacy I want as an artist. I want my paintings to inspire creativity and to help other photographers build their brand and see greater business success. I want them to tell a story, that life is beautiful and wonder can be found everywhere. I want children to remember their childhood as magic. That is why I began painting backdrops. And for that reason, I guess I'll never stop painting.
Since 2009, Heidi has been creating modern portraits for her clients out of her Rhode Island studio and has first hand knowledge of managing a creative team and building a profitable business from the ground up. The Heidi Hope Photography studio is currently one of the top preforming retail studios in the country. Her work has been published in The Baby Guide, Click Magazine, Mozi Magazine, and Chic Magazine.