Taking the Fine-Art Plunge
Four companies embracing fine art and artists.
“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together,” said John Ruskin, the leading English art critic of the Victorian era.
Similarly, fine-art printing involves the hand, the head, and the heart as well, but also the scanner or camera, the printer, the media, the laminate, and the right team for the job.
If you have the tools and the team, and you’re looking for a way to expand your shop’s offerings, fine-art printing is an output niche to consider. It can develop into a lucrative specialty if you’re willing to master the craft, understand the subtleties of the artist’s eye, work the details, and realize that there may be speed-bumps along the way.
Some of these bumps might include: precise image capture; file manipulation; color matching and management; and, of course, output that has to meet (what can be unrealistic) customer expectations.
The four companies we profile here have managed to find ways to address and balance all of these challenges and others in some unique ways in their operations. As a result, they have succeeded in their embrace of fine-art printmaking and serving their respective clients.
Eye Buy Art: Art for the masses
Eye Buy Art’s (www.eyebuyart.com) strategy is to “reach large, uncontested markets with affordable editions, and to appeal to the sophisticated collector of emerging art,” says Emily McInnes, director of the Toronto-based business. “We want more people buying art.”
The carefully curated online art gallery represents emerging photographers from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. More than 50 artists regularly work with the company to have reproductions of their artwork created and then sold, and Eye Buy Art has shipped to 22 countries around the world and counting.
The buying customers at Eye Buy Art – the consumers purchasing its artists’ works – are “seeking a reliable source for emerging art, that want guidance on how to build a collection,” says McInnes, so the company is picky about the artists they choose – they have to be invited just to send in an application. “We look at photographers who have won the annual juried Flash Forward Competition, or who have been recommended to us by a team of insider curatorial advisors,” says McInnes. “This is an important aspect of what we do. We offer fine art that is affordable and that has a high degree of integrity and potential to increase in value. We do this by working with a jury of professionals in the field of art and photography who are at the leading edge of what they do – they are on the ground and in the know.”
Eye Buy Art does none of its own printing, instead choosing to serve as the liaison between artist and print provider. About two years ago, the company made a print-provider switch to Toronto Image Works (www.torontoimageworks.com), founded by photographer Edward Burtynsky. “I’m thrilled with my new printers – they are a great team of people who live and breathe the world of printing, who are very passionate about their work,” says McInnes. “I moved my business to Toronto Image Works because I needed to be 100-percent confident about the quality of work I was sending to our collectors worldwide. The printers at Toronto Images Works are masters, they are meticulous about their work, and I know I can rely on them to consistently deliver museum-quality prints.”
Eye Buy Art’s resultant prints are archival, chromogenic prints (C-prints), with a semi-matte finish, using Kodak Endura Premier Paper, and are processed through Toronto Image Works’ ZBE Chromira 5 x 50 processor. The artists are able to see an 11 x 14-inch proof of the reproduction before final output.
McInnes says most of the artwork is offered in five sizes with various available edition quantities: 8 x 10 inches (250 editions); 11 x 14 inches (150 editions); 16 x 20 inches (50 editions); 20 x 24 inches (25 editions); and 30 x 40 inches (five editions). “I'm starting to drop the smallest size of print on most of the new releases, however,” she says. “I set the editions – the idea being that as the dimensions increase there are fewer of that size available.” Eye Buy Art also provides the option of framing the photographs for the collectors.
The difficulty is not in the printing of fine-art, it’s finding the right audience that will connect with her business, says McInnes. “We have a pretty well-oiled machine at this stage. I have total confidence in my printers and I'm working with some of the best at what they do,” she says, also stating that they’ve never had a single return.
“The bigger challenge is finding audiences that will connect with us among the sea of imagery available over the Internet; and how to educate those audiences as to the value of a limited-edition, fine-art print that was created by an artist,” McInnes says. “There is a lot of work out there in the marketplace, and most of it isn’t good. We need to be a reliable source for people that want to collect work that has integrity and is created by serious artists who are in it for the long haul.”
Cape Ann Giclée: Fine art from A to Z
Cape Ann Giclée (cwww.apeanngiclée.com), a fine-art print shop that primarily serves the Boston, Massachusetts, area, is all about the image capture.
“When we capture a digital image, we want to be sure every brushstroke and nuance of the artwork is captured – otherwise they look flat and lifeless,” says co-owner Anna Baglaneas Eves, who established the business five years ago with her husband Jim Eves. They make sure the lights are balanced and the artwork is secure and square to the camera to ensure the first step in reproducing fine art is perfect.
“It’s great when someone comes in with a file and we realize it was done properly, [but] even better when they let us manage the image capture,” says Baglaneas Eves. “We begin from step one with them and do the digital image capture to our standards and specifications, meaning a high-resolution image capture, removing the artwork from the frame, making sure the studio is set up correctly with balanced lighting, using our color card, etc.”
When a client comes in with a digital file they had done somewhere else – perhaps by a photographer who says he used a professional camera, but instead used equipment with low-resolution – “we have to tell our client that it’s not going to get them an optimal print, both resolution-wise and color-wise,” she says. Generally, Cape Ann relies on its Sinar camera with a 4 x 5 digital back for capture.
The couple’s focus has always been on fine-art printing, “first for ourselves and then for our customers,” says Baglaneas Eves. Today, its clients range from artists wanting to reproduce their work and sell the prints, executors of well-known artists’ estates looking to have museum-quality authenticated giclées made, to photographers – both amateur and professional – who want to get the most from their images and want to be able to print on premium-quality media.
Artists trust the business, says Baglaneas Eves, because they are able to be a part of the printing process, reviewing the proofs, and seeing how the prints are done. “We don’t have a counter keeping them out or a back room they can’t go into,” she says.
For output, Cape Ann Giclée relies on its Epson Stylus Pro 9900 and 4900 printers, and the shop enjoys experimenting with new media for its artist clientele – and if the media works, making it part of its stock media. Cape Ann began with premium canvas, fine-art smooth (natural and bright white), fine-art watercolor (natural and bright white), photo papers in luster, matte, and gloss, and then moved to metallic papers, “especially the ones that have a pearlesence to them to recreate a silver gelatin look – especially in black and white prints,” says Baglaneas Eves.
When the shop came across an artist who didn’t want to reproduce her artwork, they offered metallic media. “She didn’t want to loose the iridescent quality of the paint, but she was thrilled with the results we gave her with the metallic canvas,” says Baglaneas Eves. “We see the printing process as an extension of the artistic process for our fine artists and photographers, so the more innovative and creative we are in the printing process and able to master the media available, the more options our clients have to bring their vision and creativity to the printing process.”
Beyond image capture and output, Cape Ann Giclée also provides prepress services, Photoshop and color-management services, varnishing and stretching of canvas prints, and mounting. In addition, the shop also archives files for artists. “Not only does this preserve the image, but allows us to ‘print on demand’ for our clients,” says Baglaneas Eves. “They let us know when a customer has purchased a print from them and we print it out for them – that way, they don’t have to carry a lot of costly inventory. We give them a CD or file of their work, as well, which has different sizes for the Web.”
“We also have a gallery space in our studio where we display and make available for sale the work of artists and photographers who print with us,” says Baglaneas Eves. “These are also our print studio samples. We think it makes more sense for potential clients to see samples of actual live jobs rather than some ‘photos.com’ images we downloaded and printed.”
Plus, the shop provides gallery shows for its customers: “We keep our costs reasonable for them by charging printing costs and a 15-percent gallery commission as opposed to a traditional gallery, where the commission is anywhere form 35 to 60 percent,” she says. Cape Ann Giclée is currently in the process of creating an e-commerce shopping cart for its website where its printing services will be available online and its artists’ works will be for sale.
“We have found that for artists and photographers, the biggest challenge they face is marketing their work and also the logistics of delivering the final product. If we help them in those areas, they sell more and we print more – and we have a loyal customer,” says Baglaneas Eves.
DNA 11: The science of art
You might have read about the company in Wired and Playboy magazines or even seen it on the TV show “CSI: New York”: it’s DNA 11 (www.dna11.com), the world’s most personalized art on canvas, as is claimed on the company website, where DNA from your cheek cell is turned into a work of art – DNA Art Portraits – you can hang in your living room.
DNA 11 was founded by Adrian Salamunovic and Nazim Ahmed, after they recognized that images of DNA sequencing looked like modern art. What started out as a chat between two guys in their condo has led to a multi-million dollar business specializing in wide-format printing of DNA and expanded into Fingerprint Portraits and Kiss Portraits. The company now has more than 50 employees and offices in Ottawa, Canada, and Las Vegas.
The DNA Art Portrait process begins with a simple cheek swab as part of the DNA collection kit that is sent to a customer’s home. Once the kit makes its way back to the lab at DNA 11 and goes through a scientific process to extract and separate the DNA, it’s time for image capture, design, and printing.
A high-power, biological-grade camera is used to capture an image of the DNA, according to their website, and the resultant digital file is sent to DNA 11’s designers, “who work on each image individually, digitally enhancing and customizing a unique DNA Portrait.”
The image file is output onto Breathing Color museum-grade, poly-cotton-blend canvas using DNA 11’s Canon imageProGraf iPF8300 printers (they have 10 of these machines at their disposal), with Lucia EX pigment inks. Finishing includes the addition of a Drytac laminate – “a protective coating, designed to safeguard it from scratches and scuffs, and make it even more resistant to UV damage” – and framing to the customer’s specific needs. The final art ranges in size from 8.5 x 10 to 36 x 54 and 24 x 72 inches.
“We own the entire manufacturing process, so everything is hand-stretched and framed and custom-cut box shipped from one of our two dedicated facilities,” says Salamunovic. While they previously outsourced the lab work, they now operate their own lab facility in Ottawa with a full-time staff.
DNA 11’s Fingerprint Portraits and Kiss Portraits utilize much of the same bio and print technology and processes. And, there’s now a new side of the business: Canvas Pop and Canvas Pop Ltd.
“We decided to expand our market share by doing something with Canvas Pop, which is more in the photo-reproduction/mobile photography business,” says Salamunovic. Canvas Pop Ltd. works with digital artists and mobile photographers to print smart-phone and digital-camera photos.
Salamunovic says instead of imitate, innovate: “Innovation is key,” he says. “We were the first company to introduce Instagram printing in large format, so rather than being everything to everyone, we decided to focus on Instagram very early on with a simple process, and we got a lot of exposure and press from that.”
Working with low-resolution images and figuring out how to make them look great in large format is what Salamunovic finds to be the biggest challenge, but it’s what has helped the company move from DNA art to smartphone photo reproduction. “The image output [with DNA art] is very low resolution and we had to find creative ways to work around that. It was that background working with low-res images that allowed us to make such a clean transition into mobile photography with Canvas Pop.”
At the end of the day, says Salamunovic, “printing is printing, no matter what printer you use. “What is going to differentiate you is your customer service, and for us that’s absolutely critical,” he says. “We want to impress the customer on day one, meaning when they hit our website, and we want to impress them when they open the box [of DNA Art] – the rest of it takes care of itself.”
Black Cat Studio: Exceeding expectations
After decades as a freelance photographer, Jay Daniel decided to incorporate his own company in 2004: Black Cat Studio (www.blackcatstudio.com), offering photography and print services to artists, collectors, galleries, estates, dealers, and publishers. He recently relocated the two-person shop to a 1500-square-foot building in Novato, California.
“Our services provide everything an artist needs to market themselves, and provide other products (like prints and cards) utilizing their artwork,” says Daniel. “We deal with people, not companies. We take walk-in business and, at this point, do not have a sales department.”
“We digitally photograph both 2D and 3D work, and I personally prep the files to a high-degree of color accuracy,” says Daniel, who utilizes the shop’s Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera for approximately 75 percent of its capture work and a 40-megapixel Hasselblad H4D-40 large-sensor medium-format camera for the rest. “We also scan film, which is becoming less and less of an income stream, and we also offer graphic design and file preparation for commercial or display printing.” For scanning, the company relies on its Imacon Flextight (now Hasselblad) vertical scanner, as well as a 12 x 18-inch Epson Expression 10000XL flatbed.
Black Cat Studio uses its Epson Stylus Pro 9900 and 7900 printer, which are about one-year-old, for output. “We still use an older Stylus Pro 9800, but it’s very slow, and so primarily use it for overflow work,” says Daniel.
Customer satisfaction and color accuracy are what Black Cat Studio finds to be the most difficult in fine-art reproduction, claims Daniel. “If our studio standards exceed our client’s expectations we will always have a happy client. But sometimes our client’s expectations are not easily attainable (or even apparent),” he says. “Having to explain why certain colors won’t reproduce is still something we do on a daily basis.”
Daniel compares color management to starting with an apple and ending with an orange – “there will always be differences between the original and the reproduction because of the process,” he says. “Most of my artist clients understand this and are forgiving as long as the differences don’t interfere with the original intention of the artwork. But there are always those clients who want to know why can’t it match, or worse, they say/think, ‘I heard giclée prints are identical to the original’ – which is a completely false belief.”
A worst-case example of color management gone wrong for Black Cat was when a client needed a reproduction of a painting of horses that was created in subtle, changing shades of red. “Half the colors were out of gamut,” says Daniels, “and so what we got was a big blob of red that didn't look anything like the original.”
The studio offers editioning to its clients with some success – in fact it was the first concept that Daniel started at Black Cat. “We tried to make it equal with fine-art lithography or serigraphy where all the prints in an edition were produced in the same run,” says Daniel. “We marketed giclée printing as a fine-art edition service that could begin from any painting or media the artists could provide, and generate a museum-quality limited- and numbered-edition. But it was more flexible in that the clients had a choice to order one or a few prints at a time, or the whole (100 to 1000) quantity of prints.”
And the company offers “Heirloom Services.” The studio found that many clients were bringing in old family paintings, photos, and sculptures after someone had passed away to be reproduced. So Daniel now offers “Heirloom Services,” where the studio digitizes the original, and digitally repairs, restores, and outputs it, creating several copies for each heir. These images can also be re-purposed into archivally printed visuals for the customer’s home or office.
“We had a project that involved three brothers warring over their deceased mother’s 12 paintings. Each had three or four originals, but wanted access to the others,” says Daniel. “So they agreed (through their lawyers no doubt) to individually bring in each of their collections so we could make two copies (prints on canvas, stretched) of each for the other brothers. I dealt with them all, but they didn’t have to deal with each other.”
Black Cat Studio doesn’t mount, stretch canvas, or frame prints of artist’s work, nor sell or market artwork. But Daniel and company does help them get to that process: “We support our clients with information like how to set retail prices for their prints, negotiating with galleries or wholesalers, price per piece calculations, and more,” he says.