“I get their expectations upfront before the job starts."
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 percent of the New Hampshire-based company’s revenue.
Another factor in attracting fine-art clientele, Johnson 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.”
After art-show networking established a solid reputation for Avalon, the shop began relying almost solely on word-of-mouth marketing and promotional discounts. “I provide excellent quality at a price struggling artists can afford. I offer a discount if an artist chooses to reproduce three or more prints at the same time,” Johnson remarks on more ways he brings in customers.
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 Xrite 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 proofing before it gets it right. The shop also creates proofs using its Epson printer on the media of the client’s choice. Also available is an online proofing gallery, which has been successful with the 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.
From the moment a client walks in for digital capture to the moment they walk away with the final project takes about a week. The experience, Johnson admits, is not much different with a fine-art client, than its others: “Just like with any client, I spell out the procedure from capture to print to them before starting. They aren’t anymore or less involved in the process, most leave everything to me.”
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.”