Monday, March 5, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Giclee Prints


If you are a fine artist, you know that one of the elephants in the room that comes with the profession is the question of whether or not to make prints.  Why it's an elephant in the room, I'm not quite sure.  I thought we were in this business to make a living and to bring our artwork to an appreciative audience no matter their art spending budget, and yet it seems that somehow prints are a taboo for 99% of artists.  Some phrases I have heard over the years:

"Prints devalue the original work."
"Prints are tacky."
"Prints turn artwork into a commodity."
"Prints don't have any value themselves so I feel weird selling them."
"Wahhh."

 I'm further alarmed to have experienced this attitude from galleries.  I'm not sure who started it--the artists or the galleries or some other invested party--but it certainly couldn't have been art-buyers, who would love to have affordable art or a print of a painting that they missed their chance on.  It also probably wasn't the framers or the printers or the people who coordinate art fairs or PayPal with their 2.9% plus $0.30 per online sale.

Let's break this down.



"Prints devalue the original work."
If prints devalue original work, I would like to know how much Daniel Greene and Duffy Sheridan's work would go for if they weren't selling prints.  Because I know right now that Daniel Greene has broken the six figure barrier.  Has selling prints hurt the value of his work?  What about Kinkade?  Painter of Bud Light aside, people do value his work in spite of the fact that he pisses out prints like ninety proof urine.  If prints, and for that matter coffee mugs, purses, and posters, devalue original artwork, then perhaps someone should let the Louvre know that they don't need full-time security guards watching their now-worthless Mona Lisa.



"Prints are tacky."
Are we just saying this because for most of us our exposure to prints is limited to the atrocities on hotel walls?  Because I haven't seen an amazing work of art suddenly become tacky just because it was hanging on some layperson's wall in a discount IKEA frame.  I don't care if it's a poster hanging in some dorm room wall, I will always stop to take a good look at Klimt's "Kiss."  I will then turn around and spend an equal amount of time looking at the Johnny Depp poster on the opposing wall.


"Prints turn artwork into a commodity."
Wrong.  There is still only one original.  The original is a collector's item.  The prints are the commodity, and this is a good thing.  Commodities are things that people can sell to make an income so that they can continue doing what they're doing.  You know what's really funny about painting as a business?  It is pathetically limited in scope when it comes to generating money.  Actually, that isn't funny.  It's sad.  Let's look at some other, more business-minded art forms:
  • Sculpture: Did you know that sculptors make editions of their pieces so that they can sell a number of them and make more money?
  • Music: And did you know that musicians sell CDs and perform the same songs over and over again in concert?  Did the second live concert devalue the first one?
  • Dance: Like musicians, dancers perform the same piece night after night to new and appreciative audiences so that everyone who wants to can have the experience.
  • Literary art forms: Finally, did you know that if a writer sells a million of the same book, the book's perceived value increases?
No other modes of art are limited in their commercial success by their own unavailability, only by the demand of the market.  When a painter paints a painting, only one person buys that painting, and then the artist is out of inventory again.  Meanwhile, EVERY other art form is allowed to keep up with market demand by printing more CDs, books, DVDs or what have you.  Why are painters dumped with a double standard?


"Prints don't have any value themselves so I feel weird selling them."
You know what else is printed and definitely has value?  Money.  So if you feel this way then the entire capitalist paradigm flew right over your head.  You're probably also too embarrassed to raise your prices annually or charge friends of friends your full rate.  By the way, since every opportunity is a learning opportunity, this is Canadian currency and the man pictured is our king.


 The reason I'm tossing the elephant out of the room is because I'm ready to supplement my income with print sales.  Dave and I have been operating under this mysterious and oppressive standard for a while now and there's just no sense to it.  I have had gallery owners flat out tell me I could not sell prints.  That was another way of saying that I was not allowed to pay rent on a studio or luxuriate in New Traditions canvas panels.  Are the nay-sayers of prints aware of how little artists earn?

I am now making prints of my "Vanitas" painting available.  The original will also be available for sale at Principle Gallery in one month, but in the meantime you can buy a very affordable, high-quality print.  By placing an order for one you enable me to continue making a living at art and enjoy a reproduction of one of my more popular paintings.  Besides, artists don't get good benefits and I really need to see the dentist.

15 comments:

  1. I think you mean giclee "reproductions" or "editions"?

    Isn't it expensive to have giclees made in the first place? And then, what if you don't sell enough to cover the initial investment? How can you know there's enough of a demand? Hopefully your prints will sell like hotcakes.

    Another thing.. I get the "it looks just like a photo" a lot because people usually only see my paintings online, in real life I think my paintings are a different experience, which would be lost in print form.

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    1. Ok, we (and by we I mean Kate) have figured out it's best to pre-sell a bunch before even running the edition. The other hard lesson is knowing which of your works is a "hit" and stands the most chance of a lot of sales. You are in a tough spot because a photo (which flattens an image) of high realism can cause it to look photographic. We get the same thing as well. Next time someone says "It looks like a photo", bend down like you are picking up a penny. Then, wham, uppercut to the groin. I guarantee they won't say it again. If that doesn't work, sometimes its best to sell a print after the original has been seen. Bottom line is that no copy is as good as the original. We have all seen "Multiplicity."

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    2. Obviously there should be some experience to viewing the original that viewing photos and reproductions just can't match. Why buy the original then? But if it's a good painting compositionally, colour-wise, subject-wise, etc, then people will appreciate the reproduction too.

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    3. I didn't see Multiplicity because Michael Keaton will always be Batman to me.

      I totally ripped off your blog and asked about prints on Facebook, and got a smackload of different responses.

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  2. Great points you've made here. I've always thought of making prints, but have been brain washed to thinking that was a bad idea. Thanks for breaking it down for us and showing the obvious pros and positive aspects of print world. cheers!!

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  3. Kate this is a really good post. I have had a gallery tell me pint blank that they would not represent me if I sold prints,and a previous gallery owner told me that I should sell in multiple price points to be democratic. Democratic, my ass, easy for him to say when he only had to sell the work, not spend days and weeks on it. I resolved the multiple price points by doing paintings in a variety of sizes and selling drawings as well. I will be curious to see how your prints do. I was thinking my painting "The Bribe" would make an awesome iPad cover! Is that going too far? What I have learned from all this time in the business is that artists need to protect themselves with multiple income streams.I think you deserve to be fabulously wealthy, Dave deserves to be kept in style!

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    1. Terry, you are a wealth of professional information and ideas. I don't think an iPad cover is too far, but then again, this past year has completely reframed money for me. I just don't know where this idea that prints are bad comes from. GRRR!!

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  4. You are right, I think the time has come for that to change. Probably the idea comes because the profit is for the artist and not the dealer. With new archival inks it should be less of an issue with artists. We know they won't outlast an original, or replace an original and don't expect them to. Changing the galleries minds may take a little longer.

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  5. Excellent post. I really love this blog! Informative as it is entertaining! Thank you both.

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  6. Very thought-provoking. Some negotiating is probably at hand.

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  7. 2 points: of course sell prints. Its not like making a living as an artist is easy... also you fucking made the picture, so get full value from your efforts. Second point: "Giclee" is just an arty-smarty term used to separate dumb old ladies from their cash (and artists from their profit)to keep you feeling good about the costs. Its just an ink-jet print... no different than your Epson can do. You can buy your own 13X19 printer and "fine art" papers and make your own.

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    1. Dude, you're so right on both points. No one even calls them giclees anymore, but I think it's hilarious to hear people pronounce the word.

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  8. JEEE....KLAYYY Madame Stone. Avec un croissant?

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  9. I know a fine art printing company who does among other things fin art giclee open and numbered editions with great success. His equipment includes a machine made in Israel (with 12-color jets, which at the time I toured the facility was top of the line). I had made some home jobs before exploring this option and IMHO what I saw is superior over other popular types such as (Iris)printing said to fade in 2 years. This company claims to only use inks that are tested for permanency and all giclees include a final varnishing as desired if printed on canvas-like surface instead of paper. Even with paper they were gorgdeous with deckled edges and intaglio plate marks on acid free luxurious papers. I have hired them to make giclees and when proofing, I hold the original beside of the proof for identical matching. And he tweaks it to perfection. There is some merit to the hiring a company specializing in this over trying to do it at home with a 4-color jet job. This compnay has entered industry competitions and placed for consecutive years in top prizes judged by knowledgeable peers in the fine art printing sector from across the US. Also this co is family run by three generations of award winning technicians. I'm am far from a top eschalon client but I am out of their area and if I call they go out of their way to dedicate a day to perfecting my setup, proofing and supplying a few printed to perfection for framing and sales prep, same day!

    As for selection, I would suggest to post works on Fine Art America or similar site with a lot of browsers, where you can see public votes/hit activity on regular basis, to get good idea of which images have appeal in which demographic. Thanks for expressing these facts and opinions about prints. This prejudice is long overdue for a re-shaping. Juat as with originals you have different qualities of printers, surfaces, add-on services, like direct distribution and instant ordering. Gone are the days you had stacks of unsold prints with no way to recoup the investment if you chose a dud or skills changed for the better and item was strategically removed from the market. The art market has different levels of 'appreciators' and the neophyte who plasters an oversized poster in the dorm room has an evolution --let them get in the food chain wiht what taste and budget they have at the time they make their decision. I love it when original sell but I see giclee as a big business card getting the art name out there to a few more than occurred yesterday. We have to get the work out and get some notariety--so why not with giclees?

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  10. mahalos for a rational approach instead of a knee-jerk reaction - i went through the same sequence of thought and agree with you 100% - joined Fine Art America where no inventory is necessary (print on demand) and just had my first sale.

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