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Drawing a Fine-Art Crowd

Tips from six shops on working with fine artists and their art.

Print shops successfully working with fine artists have been able to master not only the skills and technologies necessary to create nearly identical duplicates of their clients’ artwork, but they’ve also aced the test when it comes to attracting clientele seeking out a “fine-art friendly” print provider.

What are fine artists looking for in a print shop? While this will vary, of course, with the individual artist, it’s safe to say that the following attributes can go a long way when it comes to drawing a fine-art crowd:
• A passion for working with fine art and artists;
• A shop that will strive to understand the artist client’s expectations;
• Knowledge from the print provider, to steer the artist to the best media, inks, and technologies to reproduce the work;
• Attention to detail in all phases of the work, from capture to output and finishing – fine artists are probably much more intimately familiar with every aspect of their artwork than commercial clients are with their files; and
• Consistency, when it comes to color particularly, from original to print, and from print to print.

We spoke with six print shops catering to fine artists, asking them to address not only the above points, but also their marketing strategies and their expectations when it comes to the market.

Bellevue Fine Art: fostering a relationship
After traveling the world as an international business consultant, Scott Moore, owner of Seattle-based Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction (bellevuefineart.com) realized that what Seattle really needed was a print shop that specialized in fine-art reproduction, high-end scanning, and color correction.

“As with many new businesses, I set out to solve my own problem. I’m an artist, and was looking for printers that could reproduce my artwork.”

Today, Bellevue dedicates 100 percent of its resources and technologies to fine-art printing and scanning. The shop’s clientele consists of about 80 percent artists, 10 percent professional photographers, and 10 percent average consumers such as art collectors and people seeking photo restoration or personal printing.

“It’s hard to throw away all that good banner business and commercial jobs that naturally come our way because we do large-format printing. But it has served both us and our clientele well to specialize in fine art, and to do it well,” says Moore.

To combat the loss of other sales as he focuses shop services on the fine-art market, Moore forges mutually beneficial relationships with local print shops – by passing on sales leads to local shops; those print providers, in return, pass on giclée printing and scanning jobs to Bellevue.

Bellevue also markets to fine artists directly, as well as to galleries and publishing companies. As another marketing initiative, it has developed an online gallery, which will soon offer a Web-to-print capability. And, in conjunction with the Web-to-print pilot program, Moore selectively chooses artists to “sponsor” by undertaking the scanning and publishing of their work at no charge.

“The more successful our artists are, the more successful we will be, and so we try and foster that relationship and work with artists to create value from their investment,” explains Moore.

To ensure the clients receive the best results possible, Moore has invested in some high-end technologies. For instance, the shop uses a Betterlight Super 8K scanning back: “The Betterlight scanning system is second to none, and we’ve spent a lot of time learning to use it well, includ¬ing attending their training,” says Moore.

For the scanning of photographs, the shop uses an Epson 4870 Photo Scanner; it also offers image-editing services along with photo restoration.

Hard proofing of every piece is done onto LexJet archival matte or semi-matte paper; the final 8 x 10-inch proof also serves as a portfolio piece for many artists. Moore attributes successful proofing to working closely with the artists themselves. “Sometimes it’s not just a formality, it’s a joint effort, and it’s their art, not ours. We want their input.It’s especially helpful when the artist knows their pigments and what went into the painting,” he says.

Along with print proofing, the shop also offers screen¬match (aka “soft”) proofing, a more affordable option that can be used when exact color matching isn’t critical or if the original is not available. The soft proof is done on the shop’s Sony Artisan monitor under controlled lighting conditions. Although some clients may request to proof from their home monitors, the shop strongly advises against it. “We can’t assume that people will have calibrated monitors, so sending PDFs isn’t helpful except for the layout review and graphics that contain text.”

For final output, Bellevue strictly uses the Epson line of printers (Stylus Pro 4880, 9800, and 9900 models), along with Epson UltraChrome K3 and UltraChrome HDR inks. “We would rather not mix printer manufacturers, for better or worse. Consistency is key, and we have consistent, predictable color workflow.”

As for finishing, Bellevue services include canvas stretching and lamination with Clearstar Clearshield Gloss, Breathing Color Glamour II Gloss, and Neschen UltraCoat Gloss for extended protection.

Moore admits that in the end, there are always limitations to what the shop can produce: “We get some artists that insist on absolute perfection that is beyond the technology or human ability. Sometimes we do have to insist that we just can’t do better, or we can’t put in more time for something that will realistically only be printed a few times.”

Avalon Color: targeting artists as clients
During the mid 1990s, Dennis Johnson, owner of Avalon Color (avaloncolor.com), realized his knack for fine-art printing while exploring reproductions of his own work. To develop an initial client base, Johnson offered to create giclées of local painters’ work in a one-time-only, free-of-charge deal. These prints then served as samples for other clients. “I used the experience and copies of the work to show artists what I could really do – it opened a lot of doors to new clients.” Today, fine-art printing constitutes 30 per¬cent of the New Hampshire-based company’s revenue.

Another factor in attracting fine-art clientele, John¬son says, was his shop’s presence at local art shows. By attending the shows, he was able to target artists whose work would reproduce well. “I’d mainly go after watercolor paintings and avoid anything too weird, like fluorescent oil colors that are often impossible to accurately duplicate. In a way, I shopped for clients.”

To capture artwork, Avalon utilizes a Nikon D2x digital SLR camera and a 5000K lighting setup customized to realize every detail of the projects. Once the shots are taken, GretagMacbeth ColorChecker custom color profiles are created for each to provide the client with several options. All paper is profiled using an X-rite i1io automated scanning table.

Although some clients come to Avalon with their work already digitally captured, most seek a more professional look. “Very rarely some [clients] try and photograph their artwork themselves but are unhappy with the results,” says Johnson. For the rare clients who come to the shop with slides or transparencies, Avalon uses its Howtek 4500 drum scanner.

The majority of Avalon’s fine-art clients want exact replicas of their original work, which can pose a challenge, “I get their expectations upfront before the job starts. If it’s a watercolor reproduction, I can usually make an exact replica; for oil paintings, I explain the printer’s color gamut in relation to oil pigments – how it is smaller– so there’s no confusion.” Because of the complications with oil paintings, Avalon generally produces three to four rounds of internal proofs, typically creating these with its Epson printer on the media of the client’s choice. Also available is an online proofing gallery, which has been successful with photography clientele, reports Johnson.

For final output, the shop turns to its Epson Stylus Pro 7800 and 9800 printers because of their color capabilities, says Johnson. Avalon has other output options as well: It utilizes a Xerox 700 digital press to create 7 x 7-inch fine-art cards, and it also owns a Noritsu minilab, which it uses for Kodak prints up to 12 x 12 feet.

The current economy has made it difficult for Avalon to increase its fine-art sales. “I would like to [increase my sales], but in this economy, art is more of a luxury item,” admits Johnson. To offset the loss in fine-art clients, Avalon has really stepped up its commercial printing: “Even though the commercial print industry suffered from the economy, it didn’t nearly do so as much as the fine-art market. Now a large percentage of our business comes from commercial short-run printing.”

The LightRoom: pride in media
The LightRoom (lightroom.com) in Berkeley, California, is a fine-art and photography print shop that began using Iris printers during the late 1990s in addition to the Cibachrome printing it has been doing since 1975.

Currently, fine-art printing constitutes 50 percent of the company’s sales, and it deals primarily with local artists. To continue increasing its fine-art clientele, LightRoom recently created a blog, “LightRumors,” which offers discussions on the latest trends in printing, art, and photography. The shop also offers a 10-percent discount to all new clients.

Many of its clients come to The LightRoom seeking an identical replica of their artwork, says shop owner Robert Reiter. The artists often have the intention of continuing to work on the final print – the end result being a mixed- media piece, he points out. For example, artist Arthur Stern takes the printed version of his work and adds abstract pencil and pastel drawings, and even pieces of dichroic glass from his stained-glass studio. Other clients commonly add brushstrokes to canvas prints for added depth, or emboss the original pieces with metallic foils.

The LightRoom takes pride in providing artists with a multitude of media solutions, stocking more than 17 media options. “I show them samples, discuss things like the effect of texture vs. smooth; matte vs. reflective surfaces, particularly in terms of color gamuts and saturation; the choices in paper color, and the addition of optical brighteners
– their benefits and drawbacks,” says Reiter.

Once the media has been agreed upon, the shop uses its Canon imageProGraf iPF8300 to hard proof as well as to create the final print. The shop also offers LightJet printing on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, but this option is rarely utilized, says Reiter.

Along with changes in printer choice, by the way, LightRoom is also steering away from the term “giclée,” says Reiter. “The word is not descriptive of the process and still has negative connotations to some galleries and museums who were burned by the poor archival properties of early giclée printing when it was done with dye-based ink. And, no one pronounces it right!”

For digital capture, the shop outsources its work to a local photographer who uses a Canon EOS 5d Mark II digital SLR and stitches multiple frames into ultra-high resolution files using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3. All subsequent file adjustments are then done in-house using Photoshop on an NEC 3090 WQXi monitor, which is also used for soft proofing. For film scanning, the shop uses its Imacon Flextight 848 scanner (the brand is now produced by Hasselblad).

Hanson Digital: immediately closer go the goal
San Francisco-based print provider Hanson Digital opened in 2003 to serve as a support system for the stressful reproduction process artists face because of the subjective nature of fine-art digital printing, says shop owner Mark Hanson.

Now, in 2011, fine-art reproduction constitutes 70 to 80 percent of the shop’s business. Within the fine-art clientele, about 60 percent are photographers, while the others tend to be more traditional fine-art clients including painters. Additional Hanson work comprises commercial clients such as design firms, advertising agencies, architectural firms, and larger companies looking to enhance and/or reproduce photographs and artwork. Along with capture and printing services, the shop offers image preparation – including color work, sharpening, and creating printer-specific profiles. The shop has also ventured into Web design and custom-designed Web portfolios for its artistic clients.

To attract fine-art clientele, Hanson advertises through various artist organizations and depends on word-of-mouth marketing and online search engines. Attracting clients, however, is only half the battle when offering fine-art printing. Fine-art clients, Hanson admits, can often require more work and attention than, say, your typical banner or vehicle-graphics clients.

“Artists, of course, know their work very intimately and are usually very attached to certain aspects of their artwork. It’s important for us to listen and ask questions to not only prevent excessive rounds of work and proofing, but to get closer to their goal right out of the gate.”

To ensure the highest-quality capture, the shop uses a Screen 1045ai drum scanner, which can accommodate original transparencies or reflective art up to 11 x 17 inches, and fluid mounts all film for protection during the scanning. For larger and rigid-media jobs, Hanson shoots a 4 x 5-inch reproduction-grade transparency and then proceeds to drum scan.

The difficult and sometimes tedious proofing process requires patience and honesty, admits Hanson, who provides clients with 7- to 8-inch swatch detail proofs. If one swatch isn’t adequate, the shop will create several.

Hanson utilizes the 8-color Epson Stylus Pro 11880 printer with Epson UltraChrome inks for all fine-art output for prints up to 64-inches wide. The shop also houses an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 that has been converted to a carbon-based black-and-white printer.

Beyond printing, the shop offers laminating and mounting services. In-house laminating options include the addition of brush strokes to create a look more similar to the original; the shop first coats the piece with a liquid laminate, and then adds brushstrokes within the laminate.

The key to successful fine-art printing is balance, Hanson suggests: “My advice is finding a perfect balance of give and take – providing enough service and advice without letting the client run on and on with unnecessary rounds of work. Or if they are that particular, we are willing to go the extra mile and do the work necessary to achieve the anticipated results; they just need to know early on that in order to meet those expectations, additional billable rounds of proofing may be involved.”

Indian Hill Imageworks: artists working for artists
“Speed is not our motto. Quality and attention to detail is,” says Stephen Schaub, owner of Vermont-based Indian Hill Imageworks (indianhillimageworks.com). The shop has focused solely on fine-art printing, whether photography or painting reproductions, since 2000. Along with being 100-percent concentrated on fine-art printing, the shop considers itself a pioneer for all that is new in the fine-art digital printing market, paying particular attention to specialty papers.

“Everything about our approach is different, from uncoated printing on ultra-thin 10gsm Japanese Gampi paper, to 640gsm full-bleed prints on handmade Arches sheets, to our inventory of hundreds of coated and uncoated papers– all of which make us a destination for artists looking for something new.”

With Indian Hill’s niche in offering such a wide variety of fine-art papers, assisting clients in the media- choice process can be particularly challenging. And the shop offers custom ICC profiles tailored to the specific needs of the particular artists and for all of the media they might be interested in using. Although the process can be time consuming, Indian Hill believes this is what sets the shop apart and keeps clients coming back.

Indian Hill takes on all steps of the printmaking process in-house. Capture is done on either a Microtek i900 flatbed or an Imacon (now Hasselblad) Flextight scanner. When working with a client directly, the shop relies solely on soft proofs via its Eizo monitor, unless a hard copy is requested, which is usually only when the chosen paper has properties that can affect the final output.

Indian Hill utilizes two printers for final output: the 12-color d’Vinci Hi Fi Jet Fine Art Printing System for more-demanding papers, and the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 for work less than 44-inches wide. The d’Vinci system mates a 54-inch Roland Hi Fi Jet printer with the ErgoSoft StudioPrint RIP and an ErgoSoft ColorGPS profiler.

Although the shop has also worked with publishing companies to gain clients, it finds that building relationships directly with the artists is the most beneficial and rewarding route to take. Another tool used to attract new customers is the shop’s course offerings. The shop provides one-on-one instruction for photography and printing through its mentor program, which can be in person or virtually thorough Skype.

According to Schaub, Indian Hill’s philosophy is quality over quantity. The husband-and wife-owned company prints small volumes, but focuses on attention to detail and one-on-one attention, which Schaub believes is enough to attract fine-art clientele: “We are artists working for artists.”

Lizza Studios: early adoption pays off
Beginning as a company offering desktop publishing and graphic design, Pennsylvania-based Lizza Studios (lizzastudios.com) purchased a Betterlight digital scanning
back, which put it on the map as a high-quality film scanning shop.

“I was chasing a market that still wanted high-quality scans, but wanted to go digital,” says owner Bob Lizza. “At that time, I started to get one or two fine-art clients a week and decided to purchase a ColorSpan printer, which was very archaic, but it was still enough for me to enter the world of wide format.”

After about three years of experimenting with wide-format technology, Lizza found that there was a large enough market to pursue giclèe printing and became one of the first adopters of the Cruse CS285ST Digital Fine Art Scanner with a 60 x 90-inch scanning bed. Because of the scanner’s faster speed and efficiency, says Lizza, the shop’s profit margin grew substantially and backlog was eliminated thanks to not only the investment in upgraded technology, but the shop’s new dedication to better serving the fine-art community.

The risk Lizza took by being an early adopter of the Cruse paid off dramatically, he says. The shop, a restored roller rink, began attracting national and international attention. “Cruse used us as the demo location, which brought in people from all over the world and attracted so much publicity.”

The shop is primarily dedicated to serving fine-art clients, but, says Lizza, “Because of the economy, we take whatever we get. We don’t actively seek commercial clients, but we certainly don’t turn them away.” Another large portion of the business is dedicated to commercial “décor” scanning. The shop scans large materials such as onyx stone, which is far too fragile to be used for purposes such as tabletops or counters; so Lizza scans the material to then be used to create mock onyx, strong enough for a wider range of uses. Other materials scanned include wood and exotic veneers.

“Our staff is small. I am the only production person, which means we must only chase after jobs that earn the largest profit margin. For us, that’s scanning.”

Today, the shop has put the ColorSpan printer out to pasture, and now utilizes Epson printers, including several Stylus Pro 11880s and a Stylus Pro GS6000. For fine art, the shop strictly prints with aqueous inks, and turns to the GS6000 for outdoor banners and wallpaper projects.

Lizza’s key to success in fine art printing? “A staff with a real passion for the art of fine-art reproduction.”
 

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