Friday, December 30, 2011

Why I Don't Do Giclées

"Doe Mesa Afternoon" 9x12, oil 

It seems that many painters, as well as the galleries that represent them, are turning to giclée prints.

Well, a giclée print is little different from the poster you hung on your college dorm wall.  Sure, it's more (much more) expensive and made with archival inks.  But it's still just a printed reproduction.

They are not the same as monotypes, limited lithographic prints and the like, all of which are made through a printmaking process.  Wikipedia defines printmaking thus:  "Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints with an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting."  I don't care if the giclée is hand-embellished, numbered and printed on canvas - it's an expensive poster.

The point is this.  If you're thinking of buying something that will have monetary value down the road, it's not going to be giclée prints.  Those college dorm wall posters you had are worthless.  The only value they have is emotional and personal.  That poster I had of Van Gogh's sunflowers was a nice decorative piece but it's now worth about five bucks, new.

As an interesting aside, I just looked up Van Gogh sunflower prints on eBay.  The poster's buy-it-now price is $5.  A giclée version on canvas, framed, is $69.95.  Both of these are described as "rare" in the text.  But compare these with one of the original sunflower paintings, which sold in 1987 for around $39,000,000 and is today estimated to be worth about $89,000,000.

If you can't buy the original, you're better off buying an inexpensive offset print, not a giclée.  Giclées cheat the uninformed public, which is one reason why I don't do them.

In fact, I don't sell prints of any kind, other than on little notecards, because I feel my work is priced so inexpensively that almost anyone can afford it.  And wouldn't you rather have the original, anyway?  As a student, you can study it in a way you'd never be able to study a print.   As a buyer, you've got an investment that a print will never be.  Many of my sketches and demos are $100 and under - about the same as that giclée of Vincent's sunflowers - and my gallery pieces aren't that expensive, either.  (The painting at the top of the page is for sale.  I'll make you a deal - $100 +$10 shipping.)

I know the counter-arguments.  If you have one painting that you could have sold a hundred times, wouldn't it make sense to make prints?  Sounds good, but I think it devalues the original.   I've had patrons buy certain paintings precisely because I don't make prints of them.   Some artists will say prints increase the value of the original.  I don't think Van Gogh's original sunflower painting has a huge pricetag because of all those prints hanging up on dorm walls.  What are your thoughts?


Doug Runyan said...

You are 100% correct on this one, Michael. I'd rather sell an original for a small price and give the buyer something of true value than sell a print.

KV Abbott said...

Bravo Michael! I couldn't agree more. Although Deb and I have done some prints in the past we have come around to the same view.

I wish more artists thought this way.

Another problem with prints is they have flooded the market, bringing everything down. The uninformed public sees something that looks nice, but has no real understanding of what they are buying. As artists we all need to continue to educate the public.

We ran a frame shop for 26 years and could write a book on this topic. Some of the stories we could relate would seem humorous, but after some thought are quite sad. Artists flooding the market with giclees are actually shooting themselves in the foot in the long run.

alotter said...

Have to argue with you. First, some vintage posters do have value. Second, the advantage of giclee prints over lithographic prints is that the giclees do not degrade. To get the high quality of a giclee reproduction is not inexpensive. However, if the painting is worth, say $1,000, why not spend $100 on a giclee reproduction (from the consumer's point of view)? True, giclees are not "collectible" in the sense that they will increase in value over time (because more reproductions can always be created of same quality), but what if the beauty of a particular artwork calls out to you? I own a huge reproduction of a Van Gogh (Lilacs--from the Hermitage Museum), which cost me quite a bundle to frame. I enjoy it as much as if it were worth a million dollars. No, that's not the right way to put it--the price tag does not affect enjoyment, it only affects affordability.

From the artist's point of view, maybe it IS better to withhold your work from the giclee market. I wouldn't know, there not being what you could call a "market" for my works one way or another. But I suspect this is a false choice. Having some giclees around to showcase your best work can't hurt. (Maybe you should show them but refuse to sell them! Wouldn't that drive up the price!)

Larry Eifert said...

I enjoy your blog, but I couldn't agree less. This is a huge market, more vast than anyone can understand. What you're doing is to eliminate an entire cultural spectrum from buying your work. I've had young couples agonize over buying a cheap print- but it was all they could afford and meant the world to them. Decades later they contact me and ask about it. And by not broadening your market, you're left with a "paint one, sell one" life. What happens when you can't paint one? I sell across a broad market, from original canvases to giant wall murals, jigsaw puzzles, posters, cards, books, you name it. As long as it's tasteful, I'll do it. And I've had many people buy cheapies and come back for an original once they get the $. It all adds up to a wide audience of fans who return again and again, and make you more than what you began as. Walls fill up with original art - and then your customers dwindle. This is a lifelong life style, not a short term occupation.
Thanks for your good blogs. Keep'm coming.
Larry Eifert

Loretta said...

Thank you for saying it out loud. I feel similarly regarding making prints/giclee from my own work.

In the painting you posted for this message, did you notice the old man in the Rock? He has a white mustache and a very good viewpoint I think.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the financial side, without prints artists would not reach many people.

For example, this article shows a little painting. Ok, this is not printed on paper, but it is 'printed' in pixels on the web, reaching a huge audience, me for example.
Prints , no matter what technique, are not the original, but that is not the idea either.

Margo said...

I agree with you 100%. I personally would rather have one nice painting than 100 giclee's or other prints. I've tried to convince some of my artist friends of the same thing, but so far haven't had a lot of impact on, them even though they have stacks of the silly things collecting dust in their studio.

Jo Castillo said...

I agree as well. Thanks, Michael, for reinforcing my thoughts.

Gayle Faucette Wisbon said...

Well, I have to disagree. My opinion is that it depends on who you are creating your art for. If you only create for collectors who only buy originals, that's fine.

But there are many who are not interested in collecting or even owning an original. They just want to hang something attactive on their walls.

Yes, there are people who, in spite of all the jokes, want something that does match the couch! And there is nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. Art should be available to everyone, not just a select few who can afford it. To many, even $100 is a lot of money these days.

As artists, we do need to educate buyers on what a reproduction is versus a hand-pulled print. I know the difference, but not everybody does. But, sometimes I think we assume or just get lazy by saying "print" and I can see how that could be misleading.

I've had posters hanging in my home because I could never afford an original Georgia O'Keeffe or Diego Rivera. I've also purchased giclees of my own work to give as gifts. Depending on who the printer is, there is definitely a difference in quality between giclees and posters.

Princess Rashid said...

I think is also worth considering, what would Van Gogh and the like have done if giclees had been an available process for them.

Also, instead of driving down the price, I find that giclees drive up the price of my originals. Having different price points for people helps me pay the rent. Just saying...

But this is an interesting post. Thank you for sharing your perspective. As a printmaker also, I do think painters should definitely use the term poster or reproduction in describing the product so as not to confuse the public about multiple originals or monotypes.

Cindy Michaud said...

WOW! I'm late to the party...and I'll purchase said painting IF not already sold!! You took the words right out of my mouth but in much more eloquence...I so very much want people to enjoy real art made by real people with real texture and real smells...I'll do almost anything to get it into their hands and I think assuming someone is only a "print" kind of client is demeaning. Hear! Hear!

AND, please let me know if I may put a link to this blog of yours on my blog of this subject. Thanks,

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Wow, who would have thought I would stir up a hornet's nest? These are all excellent arguments, but for now, I'll stand firm.

I, too, like to put up something decorative, and we certainly have had our share of prints in our home. But these are offset prints, nothing valuable, and not precious except for their emotional value. (In each case, the frame cost more than the print!) I still would rather have a cheap print than an expensive giclee.

Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Enjoyed reading your blog / post Michael. I agree with you, though there are times I wonder if there is a way to only do it in moderation. I would rather sell an original with time payments, than to sell a print and never see the people again.

I do realize not everyone wants and original and we do live in a "throw away" kind of economy. I wanted to be able to say, "I don't do prints" and have enjoyed saying it. Telling buyers they will own the one and only of that image!

It is considered that if you sell prints, the market for your originals shrinks. Why would someone pay 5 times (or much more) more for the original. When it is on the wall, most times you cannot tell the difference if it is a good reproduction / print.

Just talking out loud here. I have posted a few of my painting on and offered them available as a print-on-demand. Nothing has sold. I am not sure I will continue this. So, am I talking out of both sides of my mouth here? Seems to be so. I guess I am on the fence. Thanks for all the comments and arguments both ways!

Lyn said...

Maybe giclees should not be priced so high - since they're "only" reproduction-prints. I was a patron of the arts for 30 years before actually becoming an artist myself (3-4 years ago). Much of that time, I did not have much money to spend on my love of artists' works and bought their "prints". Remembering the way I felt as a patron influences how I sell my own art now. I'm not sure if I am printing my print reproductions with archival inks or not (not sure of my color Epson printer inks), but I regularly offer for sale a few VERY affordable reproductions of my originals for those that want to own them, because they make them feel good, they remind them of a place they visited too, they like the colors or composition, or whatever.

Dave Casey said...

I do agree with you Mike, mostly from the standpoint that I think it does a disservice to the buyer of the original piece. I can't help but think that if you sell an original at $10,000 and then start selling copies at $200, it is going to impact the value of the original piece. I mean, does Scott Christensen sell giclees of his works? I don't think so.

The only way I would consider doing a giclee is if I were to paint a piece specifically for that purpose and then hold the original in my own collection. That way no collector of the original artwork is going to be impacted by the flood of copies that follow.

Mary Aslin said...

I agree with you on this. However, I do very limited giclees (no more than 5-10) and custom ordered.

Also, having gone through the process of making these limited giclees, I am amazed at the time it takes to color correct, choose the right surface, order, receive, check, sign, prepare a certificate of authenticity, and package....huge amount of time better spent on creating original paintings.

Karen Weihs said...

I feel prints do diminish the value of the original paintings from any great selling artist, however, I have from time to time done giclees for EXISTING clients who ask me to consider it because of a decorative need or just don't have the ability to pay full price for this particular project. It is interesting that the ones I have done gicless for have also bought my originals. What I am saying, if you make a deal up front, and use the giclee service for special clients, then everyone wins. I personally would never want to babysit giclee print sales or find venues to sell them. My galleries absolutely decline selling giclees and I respect them for it, and try to avoid it, but as I said there are exceptions.

Lori said...

I've been doing a lot of research with artists, collectors and gallery owners during the last year.

Remember the late 90's when everyone was buying up expensive offset reproductions? Unfortunately, many who bought up Bev Doolittle offset reproductions thought they would be worth something on the secondary market. In fact, print companies were implying that these prints would be worth something because they were limited.

In the current economy, the same thing is happening with original art. There was an art buying bubble that burst by 2010, and I know that many were buying expensive original works by living artists as an investment. BUT... when the housing market burst, many who had second homes were underwater on their mortgages.

These people decided it was time to place their collection for resale with galleries, and except for deceased artists and those who are at the very top of the price range, those works are not selling.

We are seeing the very same thing happen with original art that we saw with prints... they are not the investment for the most part that buyers thought they would be.

I'm friends with many popular artists, and although they are continuing to win awards, their sales have gone down.. way down... some to practically nothing in the last 18 months.

Which brings me to the point I'd like to make about both prints and original work: Don't buy something because you think it's a good investment, buy it because you love it... whether it be an affordable "poster", giclee or affordable original work of art.

I can't afford Schmid's originals, although I see him paint all the time, I am happy to buy an offset print of his work, but they do fade faster than giclees!

If your originals are wildly affordable, then there's no reason to produce giclees, but for the artist whose originals are out of reach for most, they can bring in some mildly passive income and at the same time let others enjoy having works of their art in their home.

It all boils down to how expensive your originals are. If you're originals are under $500, there's no reason to make prints.

I believe there is room for both markets - depending on the artist and their prices. There is a huge market out there for reproductions that are of masterful paintings - something that takes many hours to paint. Sometimes I want the image (as in a Clyde Aspevig painting), but I'll have to settle for a repro, or a book or catalog.

I do own a couple dozen orginal works by other artists, but most were bought for under $2000.

OK, I'm running a temp and have a cold, please forgive me for rambling, but I think there are viable markets in both areas and no hard line needs to be drawn. Heck, I'm even thinking of licensing some of my work in 2012, so I can get some passive income and not have to paint/sell, paint/sell...

Thanks Michael for this discussion. Fascinating.

Peter said...

If you are whipping off a painting in a day and selling it for $100, why would you get into doing giclee reproductions? It is cheaper and faster for you to produce a painting than a high quality fine art reproduction, but don't try to convince me that a $100 original painting done in a few hours has some sort of intrinsic value that makes it so much "better" than an archival reproduction of a $3,000 painting that took the artist a week or two of 8-hour days to complete.

At the other end of the spectrum, if your paintings are selling for $10,000, you probably don't need the extra income possible from selling reproductions, but if you are a somewhat better than average artist trying to make a living from your work and have this delusion that your original paintings are too sacred to be defiled by having them reproduced, then you are denying yourself an opportunity to possibly make that living from your work.

People buy quality reproductions for any number of reasons. The original may not be available, or it may be too expensive. They may not want to risk having original work in a vacation home which may be rented to strangers. They may want a larger size or the original may be too big to fit. The beauty of digital technology is that reproductions can be customized one print at a time.

Painters that abhor reproductions have lost sight of the fact that all they are doing is creating images. Whether that image is produced with actual paint on canvas or reproduced in ink on canvas doesn't matter. It is the same image created by the same artist. It is not some sort of sacred, magical, spiritual object that is somehow defiled by being reproduced. It's just a picture that is going to be hung on somebody's wall as part of the decor. Get over it.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

I and probably many other painters would disagree with you Peter on your statement: "Painters that abhor reproductions have lost sight of the fact that all they are doing is creating images. Whether that image is produced with actual paint on canvas or reproduced in ink on canvas doesn't matter."

An oil painting (or an acrylic painting) is a three-dimensional creation. Sure, it's an image, but the image has surface texture and brush strokes. One of the things I enjoy most about oil IS the fact that it can have texture. You can't reproduce that - not really - on a giclee or other print. Someday, perhaps someone will develop a sintering process to reproduce the texture. But we don't have that yet.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Again, more great arguments! It's interesting to see the different takes on the question. I like the idea of creating a very limited set of giclees, perhaps for customers who ask. Or maybe plain old offset prints, which would be more affordable.

Rick Delanty said...

Thank you for your post, Michael.
I have done the research and made the effort to self-publish twenty four giclees before I stopped printing them. I found that the ordering, color correction, enhancing for specific clients, framing (at the same prices for same-sized originals), etc., was just not worth the time and effort taken away from the creation of originals. During the past five years, I have only printed on demand (and only one up) of selected images for specific collectors who ask for this.I have not created any "editions" of giclees during the past six years.

Moreover, I also agree with you that an original painting is much more than an "image" of the painting, such as that produced photo-mechanically through its reproduction. The viewer and collector of an original is able to participate in a very sensory way in "experiencing" an original, through the elements of texture, scale, brushwork, and full-bodied unprinted color that a reproduction does not convey.If that were not the case, the market for originals would barely exist.

Thank you, Michael--it is so interesting to read the varied perspectives of both artists and collectors of art on this issue.


Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Rick! One thing I've learned about life is that living is a process of constant re-evaluation, especially in these times. I thank you all for your input.

Lori said...

John Geraghty, one of the country's well known collectors recently said in a magazine article that he and his wife own giclee prints. He said that when he misses out on getting the original of a painting he dearly loves that he buys the giclee.

As I said before, it doesn't make sense to have giclees made unless your orginals are quite a bit higher in price. I did do 2 sets of giclee prints in the late 90's, and a print dealer bought most of one set (outright at 50% discount).

Because giclees are so expensive to produce (and my prices are not way up there), I haven't done any giclee runs since.

However, I've been wanting to try an experiment, and hope I get time to implement it this year... doing iterations of one design... small unframed paintings, and selling them for $100 to $150 each, depending on the size.

I don't mind repetition, and I could easily see myself painting the same scene 10 or 20 times. I won't have to think as hard because It'll just be the same image, but I'll paint every single one. It could be a smaller version of a successful composition.

With hand pulled prints, the quality goes down over time, with iterations of originals (same image - painted by me), the quality will improve! But I won't charge more.

The reason why I've been thinking of doing this is because painting the same image saves me time, the buyer gets a real painting, and I don't have to deal with all the work and expense of having a giclee made.

If the image stops selling, I can stop painting it.

I realize that this process would drive some artists crazy, but for me.. it sounds like fun!

Has anyone else tried something similar?

George and Ruth said...

And so, Michael, how many Van Gogh originals do you own, or Monet, or Charles Russell? I produce art for my own satisfaction but also so others can enjoy it and not everyone can afford originals.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

For those of you interested, here's an interesting take on the subject from a different perspective. My photographer friend, Lisa Tyson Ennis, creates unique photographs the old-fashioned way, from film in a darkroom. The way she "handcrafts" each print was written about by well-known Washington Post columnist Frank Van Riper recently:

In it, Van Riper quotes Ansel Adams: “The negative is the score; the print is the performance.” One might argue that, for an original painting, that's what the buyer is getting - the performance.

Barry Howard said...

i fully agree...i feel better knowing that someone who buys my work owns a piece of art, rather than a picture of a piece of art...