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The Nature of Fine-Art Printing

(March 2007) posted on Thu Mar 15, 2007

Five print providers share their experiences working with fine art and artists.

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By Clare Baker

In tandem with the importance of the proofing process is the value of having a knowledgeable artist on staff. A successful printmaker should be able to speak to an artist, and as Karen Schlesinger explains, "If you’re targeting artists, you have to understand their needs, and I think [that’s] very difficult if you’re not an artist yourself." JD Jarvis expounds upon this idea: "Having a printer that knows what is required and is willing to do the work in order to get it as perfect as possible is essential...From my experience, I know where I’m going to need to adjust a specific area in order to bring it into acceptability, so it really requires a seasoned eye and some experience." Similarly, Jim Respess prides himself on building a reputation on his ability to reproduce the colors his clients want: "The proof is in the printing. The talent is to be able to look at the colors on the proof, look at the original artwork, and see what needs to be done."

While knowledgeable artists are certainly assets to a fine-art print shop, Kimberly Hoffman points out that a variety of skillsets are needed for a business to be successful. "I think it is very important to have a mixture of people in your studio." Juan Galindo, the shop owner and printmaker, has a very technology-driven background while Hoffman has a degree in graphic design, and another coworker is a skilled photographer. "We need all three of our full-time staff to make it work," she says.

The future of fine-art printmaking

Digital printing, still in its infancy compared to traditional printmaking, has come a long way over the years and is constantly evolving. This rapid growth and the popularity of the technology may have printmakers wondering where digital printing is headed and what that means for them.

The commercial viability of the technology and the subsequent advancements in printers, inks, and media have opened up a world of possibilities for the fine artist. "There really is no limitation for the artist now," says Jack Duganne. "Artists aren’t having to compromise their standards when they’re having prints made because they can get [the prints] exactly the way they want them. Duganne also sees the trend of artists personalizing their work after it is printed. "I see a need to humanize the work and get the hand of the artist back into [it]." Enhancing the image after it’s printed, he says, helps people who buy the art see the work of the artist rather than seeing it as just a reproduction.

The introduction of new printers is also sure to create a stir in the world of fine-art printing. "HP and Canon are coming out with commercial machines that are less expensive than the bigger machines out here," says Jim Respess. "So that’s good competition-it will raise the quality [of the marketplace]." He also anticipates the release of inks with more longevity and color gamut. One problem, though, that he foresees with the introduction of new inks is the change in color profiles. If a client asks for a reprint of a piece done a few years back, the print provider will essentially have to start from scratch in order to match it to the original reprint.

And with these advancements, as it has in the past, the role of print provider will continue to evolve. With the advancements in technology and more affordable prices, JD Jarvis acknowledges that artists may invest in this equipment for their own studios rather than outsourcing all of their work, however, he believes that the print provider will always play an important role in the reproduction of art, especially in artwork that was not originally done digitally.

Whatever direction these advancements push print providers in-whether it’s to become more innovative in their work or to offer a wider range of services or to further develop their expertise on the subject-it looks like the boundaries are few. "The future, as I see it, is just explosive," says Duganne, "There really is no limit to what can be done in terms of the quality of the work."

Clare Baker is assistant editor of The Big Picture magazine.