Monday, September 3, 2012

To Print Or Not To Print – That Is The Question

This is a long post and for that I apologize. I just got home last night from a lovely art Festival in Las Cruces. The grounds were lovely, surrounded by pecan orchards (or is it groves?). The venue was convenient for unloading and loading. Neighbor vendors were friendly and helpful. The music was live and wonderful. The Franciscan Friars were so very nice. The food was great. It was wonderful.
Plein Air Painters of Southern New Mexico
My paintings are those in gold frames on the left

Did I sell anything? No – not a thing. I am analyzing why not, and I think I have found several reasons why the lack of sales. Of the 5 artists that I showed with, only one sold a very small and not expensive painting and a few prints, which were extremely moderately priced. Was the quality of work good? Across the board, we hung very well together. The quality was excellent from each and every one of us. Our styles are all distinct and did not overlap to create a competitive situation, and the media we used was everywhere from oils, to pastels, acrylics to watercolor. We talked up each other’s work and pointed out evasive qualities to those viewing our work. Each piece was unique and personal. The reaction we had from passersby was extremely positive. People walked in with huge smiles on their faces and peered intently at our work. Comments were so very positive, but sales were dismal.
Bob in his part of our booth at the
Franciscan Art Festival, Las Cruces

I walked around and talked to artists who said they had made over a thousand dollars that weekend. I studied what they were doing. Their sales were a trail of ten to twenty dollar sales, with very few larger items being bought. The four large pieces that did sell at this festival, were the result of one artist having a following from years of exposure at this venue, to some with major reductions in price, to a very lucky stroke of luck in the last 20 minutes of the two day affair. So what were these artists actually selling? Small, cheap prints sold well, as did cards and folksy gourds and lots of little jewelry pieces. Everything was handmade, each booth unique and every artist was good. Anything that was over fifty dollars did not move easily.
So now I am asking myself – “Should I do prints?” My gut reaction is an overwhelming no. Why you ask? Well most of my work is plein air, studies providing information for larger works. They are the result of a moment in time, careful study and observation. I choose to not do prints for several reasons. I could do a legitimate series of copies even after a sale. But think of the art. Having a thousand copies devalues the original. Nobody will want to buy an original at whatever price, if a $35 print is to be found in hundreds of homes and businesses. Look at the can of worms Kincaid opened up by slightly retouching giclees (prints) and calling them original art. Think of the thousands of buyers who felt deceived when these practices were uncovered and the money they felt tricked out of. All those prints will not accrue in value. There are simply too many of them. They will become today’s Currier and Ives prints, found in every home and worth but a few pennies. And those of us that follow him are now required to be even more honest in our dealing with the public.
The cons to prints:
  • Too many exist, there is no ‘unique’ quality to the piece
  • The prints' existence devalue the original
  • Maintaining the inventory is a cost and is an energy and space drain
  • The effort to transport and display such wares makes the effort to show more heavy
  • Too many prints can cause an opportunity for others to copy an original and further devalue your work, thereby increasing competition for a finite market
  • Maintaining the reproduction quality is a job in itself

The pros to making and selling prints:
  • An artist can sell and resell his/her work
  • The artists can reach a market that cannot afford the work in its original form
  • Proliferation of an artist’s work can mean greater exposure

So what to do? I personally do not feel I want to make prints of my plein air paintings. Often the quality of the stroke is an integral part of the work. Some of the strokes stand out from the canvas. That is lost in reproduction. There is a quality to an original that simply cannot be reproduced. When I produce a studio work that is large enough to command a far greater price, I might consider making a print. I have done just a very few of my piece “Mother’s Love”, which is pencil and carries quite an impact.
Mother's Love
19x20 Colored Pencil _Available

 But to do a print of a plein air would destroy the uniqueness of the experience of the painting itself. I would rather sell one painting at a decent price (and mine are not overpriced) and have the owner realize that what they own cannot be bought at Walmart.
Historically, art is not created for the masses that cannot afford it. This is not elitism, it is fact. What we produce as artists is a select product. As such it requires a select client base. We can allow a payment plan or take credit cards that allow payment over time. We need to respect ourselves and our work. For if we do not, who will?

What are your views?
Fav quote:
A novice painter stays in their comfort zone, a professional painter takes leaps of faith and makes daring choices in every painting.
(Lou Maestas)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Louise - for a long time I wouldn't do prints for most of the reasons you quote. Also I sometimes create digital images that exist in their own right and in no other form and I felt it detracted from them, made the distinction between reproduction and 'original' digital image difficult to understand.

    Pastel, drawings, coloured pencil work and watercolour reproduces really well. I don't think oil paintings do for the reasons you mention. If there is any texture in the painting, then there are cast shadows and anyway the work loses something in that loss of texture.

    I also have a personal dislike of prints on canvas. Prints on heavy digital art papers like Hanemuhle (sp?) can look really good. I do find they sell. I have them printed by in archival inks, though I know a lot of people sell good inkjet prints. I worry about fading with those and the effect on reputation.

    Difficult choices