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Serving the Fine-Art Market

(February 2010) posted on Thu Mar 11, 2010

The fine-art printing market requires knowledge and skills the commercial wide-format market does not–here's what you need to know.

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By Jake Widman

Witbeck isn’t the only artist Pfeffer and Iolab work with who feels that way. “A lot of our artists are young, urban illustrators and painters who love the technology but are
using it to do a variety of renditions of their work on different materials,” Pfeffer explains.

“An artist might come in with an original painted with oil paints on a plywood panel and ask to make prints. We’ll show them a variety of materials, from bamboo fiber paper to aluminum. Some of our customers do editions on wood veneer of a black line-art illustration they did on white paper, or full-color illustrations printed on sheet aluminum.

They’re getting away from the idea of making it look exactly like the painting. It becomes a different animal altogether. We have more of that kind of work than we do traditional reproduction.”

For De Coyte, reproductions are almost a niche market. “We do exact reproductions, or ‘facsimiles,’” he says, “but generally only for historical paintings. Most of the time, we’re trying to make beautiful prints based on the original, according to the artist’s wishes.”

Perhaps Brown sums it up best: “Some artists want an exact reproduction—but some want the giclée to improve the art.”

Principle 6: Offer service after the sale
The job isn’t done when the artist is satisfied with the print. Or rather, it can be, but artists will ask for more, and the savvy shop will be prepared to give it to them. “Artists expect finishing services, such as stretching canvas,” Nielsen says. “We do some in house, but there’s a framer down the street.”

At Ditto, Fader even provides business advice. “We do more than say, ‘Here’s your print, good luck.’ We coach them in marketing their work, even down to how they should price it.”

Furthermore, unlike a lot of commercial jobs, a successful piece of art may be reprinted later. The shops we talk to archive their customers’ work themselves to make it easy to run off subsequent editions.

De Coyte describes Silicon Gallery’s approach: “The artist can have the files if they want them, but we archive everything ourselves, too. Sometimes, rather than a full print run, we suggest that artists try print on demand. Why make 50 prints if you’re not going to sell them all?”