Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
I am a painter with good gallery representation. There seems to be public interest in the work I make and I am sometimes asked about prints or reproductions. As a printmaker, I don’t like the idea of “limited edition” art prints that blur the line between hand-pulled work and technically limitless reproductions, but I’ve always been a fan of the accessibility of posters and the 9″ x 12″ reproductions you can buy in museum gift shops. I’m not so successful I can afford to print off and give away a big run of such things. Is there a middle ground in publishing reproductions? Something where non-collector fans could spend $10 – 50 on a picture? I’d rather like to send a nice .tif to anyone who asks and suggest they print it out on their own computer. For $5 I could mail them a sticker with my actual signature.
This is the Art Police! Put the mouse down and step away from the computer!
While I appreciate the spirit of your generosity, I beg you to abandon the idea of sending .tif files of your work to your admirers. For one thing, you can’t control what the recipient of such a file would do with it once it’s in her possession. She might blow it up or crop it, change the colors, or run it through some ghastly Photoshop filter. There’s also the issue of the subsequent printing, since a home-use HP or Epson isn’t calibrated for color or quality in the same way that a printing house has control of their giclee printers. In the end, who knows what might happen to your image: it could end up re-sized, re-colored, and smudgy—and then it would bear a sticker with your name on the bottom. I won’t arrest you this time, but consider this an Official Warning.
Anyone asking about prints or reproductions either wants a painting that’s already sold or they’re looking for a low-cost way of collecting your work. Notice that I said low cost and not free. There are all sorts of middle-ground options available that make your work more accessible to the entry-level buyer—because a “non-collector fan” is just a collector waiting to happen, right? So let’s review your options.
If you have a high-quality digital file made from a completed painting, and if you work with a good printer, there’s nothing wrong with making giclee prints. Since you control both the file and the edition size, the way to get around the “technically limitless” character of giclees is to print all the editions at one time and then destroy the digital file. And if you don’t want to go the full giclee route, you could make a limited edition of prints that you hand color (so, your edition size might be ten, “each unique”).
Another way to make a low-cost printed edition would be to scan a work from your studio and have it hosted on a print-on-demand site like fineartamerica.com. Though I personally can’t vouch for the quality, it seems like an option worth exploring, as they will print, frame, mat, package, and ship it for you (and send you a check at the end of the month). The site is kind of cheesy, but you’d have an immediate way of meeting entry-level collectors’ desires—just give them the URL where your work resides and let them do the clicking. Likewise, you could put together a small book of your work and have it printed-on-demand through a site like Lulu or Blurb. There are a few permutations of this idea that you could explore, and you’ll find more information about printing art on demand, along with reviews of the businesses that provide such services, here.
For future reference, Jen Bekman’s 20×200 is a website offering a curated selection of low-cost prints by artists. The opportunity to submit unsolicited work is not available right now, but you can be notified of future open calls for work by entering your information on this form. The wonderful thing about 20×200 is that it also markets the work for you, reaching beyond the collectors you already have and getting the work into new hands, so it’s worth it to sign up.
Whatever option you choose, you need to have an in-depth conversation with your galleries about this issue. They might be interested in giving you the financial backing to create a run of really high quality reproductions, or if you really want to stay traditional, they might help find access to equipment and facilities for more established printing methods like screenprinting or etching. Those that don’t ask don’t receive, so determine exactly what you’d like to do and approach them with a plan. The worst that happens is a no, but it’s in their interest to help you get your work out into the world and increase your collector base, so it’s quite possible that the answer might be yes. Good luck!