Thursday, December 3, 2009

Should I make and sell prints of my art?

I'm NOT on the table, I'm in the bowl.

I left off last night with the question, Should I make and sell prints of my art? I am going to go after that question from a business and not an ethical viewpoint. I don't feel that they are a good way to grow your career and income today, so I can for now avoid the ethics questions. There are fine painters who have done prints and I don't mean do imply that that is unethical, although if people are being deceived into believing these prints have a high investment value rather than being affordable reproductions of real art, I do have a problem with that. I would never support fooling people about what they are being sold.

I have done lithographic prints and I have done giclees. I still have mixed feelings about it. I currently show no prints and I am not interested in doing that. When I owned my own gallery it made some sense. I was in a tourist town and people wanted to buy something of mine. My cheapest painting in those days was about 950.00 dollars for an 11 by 14 so I had prints that I sold. They kept the family in groceries, literally. There were many times we lived on print sales until the next painting sold. I also sold about a zillion greeting cards.

I had lithographic prints and giclees too for a couple of hundred dollars framed, I had about two images of Rockport Harbor that we sold in a frame under glass for about 300.00 dollars.Whenever I sold one I always told people "this is a reproduction of a painting and not an original work of art. It has no investment value and is just a decorative item. Since the prints weren't sold any where else other than my gallery I had control over their presentation and I was comfortable with that.

I no longer have a retail shop and I don't want to market prints. It is simply to much work for too little return. When I had my gallery, I had to be there anyway..... I certainly don't want to do trade shows like art expo, advertise in Decor magazine or cold call frame shops! The number of units you have to sell to make anything is staggering. For some of you selling the occasional on demand giclee for a couple of hundred bucks seems like a great idea, but it is tough to market and sell enough to support a family if you don't already have a store. Some of you have read this blog long enough to remember a post I did breaking out the amount of art it is necessary to sell to keep a family of four afloat. I have always thought it was one of my best posts it is here.

So I guess my advice would be... that even if you can sell a few to your friends and family, unless you have a retail outlet that you own or are perhaps doing outdoor shows, marketing prints is probably not time well spent.You may sell a few but I don't see them as a logical addition to most painters marketing. This is more true now than it used to be. Twenty years ago the market for prints was stronger. I think the excesses of the market taught many people to buy real art. So I think the market for original paintings is expanding and the market for prints is contracting. They are not the future, at least not the great landrush sure fire way to an art career. I don't feel for most of us it is the way to build a career of sustainable sales.

Let me tell you a story to show how bad the print thing once was. Back in the late seventies after I had trained with R. H. Ives Gammell I moved back to my home state of Minnesota
. I thought I would make a living there. Wildlife art was everything. There was no interest in anything I did at all. In fact it was hard to sell paintings. People wanted to buy prints, they figured if it was good enough to make a print out of ,it must be pretty good. That it was a print was actually verifying to them. I was pretty young, wet behind the ears and literally hungry. I had to sell to eat.

I for a period of time was making paintings in acrylic on paper and leaving a white border around their edge. I signed them in pencil in the white border at the bottom and matted and framed them under glass. I tried to make my paintings look like prints! I remembered what Frank Zappa said "its not getting any smarter out there, you've got to come to grips with stupidity and make it work for you!"

After a a few months I quit doing that because it wasn't making any difference. A landscape was nothing more than a stage for an animal to pose upon, and my paintings lacked the main actor. The artists out there weren't selling art, they were selling animals.Ultimately I realized I was beating my head against the wall and I moved to Rockport to open my first gallery. That was 1983.


Deborah Paris said...

So..what's the kitty's name?

Stapleton Kearns said...

The cat is named Toast.

billspaintingmn said...

Frank was right. There's a ton of
dumb out there!
And at the end of the day, I have to answer to my Lord.
If "We" possess a God given talent, then take that extra step & find out how to prosper from it.
Stape, is my perspective off?

Tim said...

Godgiven? Man, you're lucky! Ive got to work my ass off every day, and cry myself to sleep every night!

Now that Ive opened my own gallery, this is a very relevant post for me. I too am in a small town (well by American standards its probably more a village. about 5.000 people here) In the summer though, its tourist heaven, and that number quadruples.

I would assume that selling prints would devalue the original somehow. The person buying the original I would assume want to be the sole owner, not having to tell everyone at dinner "thats the original you know"

Greeting cards is innteresting, altough since i print up a load of cards formy openings, i would find it hard within myself to charge them 2 bucks a card for what io essentially give out for free. Still, there might be something in it. I could print up a series of say 15 cards (whatever themed show Im having at the time) A5 size and sell them in a bundle/nice box for 30 bucks.

Good post and food for thought! said...

I think there are many people visiting he craft show scene very happy to buy reproductions and decorate their homes.OK.

But it's getting tough out there; because there are artists who paint thinly (without brush texture) and reproduce their paintings on canvas, indistinguishable from their original except for price ($60-70)this really blurs the lines. I heard or someone printing their photo images on canvas and calling them "Paintings". Oh the heart ache.

willek said...

That kitty is soooo CUTE!!!

See, Stape. Put a kitty or a kid in your blog and no one pays any attention to anything else.

But. I think I am going to make some note cards of my better animal pictures... for shows.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think of painting as a profession and you should prosper from it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Its God's ass , he is just lending it to you. Some day he will call for it back. Be ready.
I am going to base tonight's post on answering your questions as they are good ones.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are also companies, at least there used to be who marketed very cheap low quality giclees on canvas and the idea was that you touched them up in paint and signed them. There are people who imagine that cheating others is the way to get ahead. Generally that is a failing approach as the others are pretty smart and they communicate with one another. It is a business model that instead of building clientele, destroys it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I actually am going to post a kid picture soon. I want to continue the bio and there are kids involved.