What makes art sell? Why are some artists making millions of dollars while others struggling to afford paint brushes? While there are many factors involved in the prosperity of one artist to another, by far the most critical is the aesthetic appeal the artwork itself. Simply put, the more visually appealing a particular work of art is, the better it will sell. Whether art is being shown as originals or prints, in a gallery or at an art show, the consumer is primarily influenced by the visual appeal of their prospective purchase and subsequently, its perceived value.
Publishers, printmakers, framers, gallery owners, and of course the artists themselves all (directly or indirectly) profit from art sales. Collectively they share a common goal of selling art; while individually they strive to create a rich environment for art sales to take place, at the greatest possible rate. The artist creates the most visually appealing rendition of their art possible so consumers will be drawn to it, the publisher prints the best possible catalogue to increase exposure and prestige; framer matches the art with a frame that becomes an visual extension of the painting, and the printmaker produces the most vibrant, accurate, and sellable print possible through equipment selection, experience, and talent. While each of these players is involved in the overall sell-ability of art, the purpose of this article is to focus on the printmaker and his/her influence on the visual appeal of a fine art reproduction.
As a printmaker there are an overwhelming amount of variables involved in reproducing a sellable print. Aside from experience, knowledge, and raw talent, which are extremely important, a profitable printmaker learns to intelligently blend controllable variables with uncontrollable variables to reproduce the best possible prints. Controllable variables are aspects of the process that can be objectively defined in absolutes values. For example, a printmaker can determine the absolute highest black density (DMAX) or widest color gamut that a particular substrate or ink is able to achieve, thus creating the most visually appealing print. These data are measurable facts, not a matter of opinion. Uncontrollable variables are also a key contributing factor in creating the visual appeal and sale-ability of an art reproduction. Unlike the controllable variables, these rely primarily on subjective opinions such as media weight, thickness, white-point, texture, and substrate type. While many artists have preconceived preferences, the most successful printmakers are those who influence this process with personal experience and industry knowledge of market trends. Mark Leftoff, President of Gallery Street (www.gallerystreet.com) in Atlanta, GA provides some recommendation on how to add as some objectivity to this process.
“First, select a media type and finish that, based upon the history of successful art pieces, will best suit a particular image. We typically recommend canvas first because with a higher perceived value to the end consumer, it can be sold at a higher price or in greater volume which in turn creates more financial reward for our customers. If a customer prefers to use matte fine art paper, we may even print some small swatches on different media in order to find a fit for their image that we all believe will result in the most success. We encourage our customers to test market these samples by getting some opinions from a handful of their own customers who will be buying the art. We believe that by including more professionals in the process we can minimize risk and more accurately assess the marketability of every print. It is in this manner that we work alongside our customers and together make educated business decisions on how to select the best media for every print job.”
The most successful printmakers typically select a standard “in house” media based upon objective testing and industry experience. Most have chosen a smooth paper, a velvet finish paper, a heavily textured paper, and a canvas or two. A couple of different weights and finish are usually offered as well. This enables them to accurately match the proper media type, texture and weight, with a particular image to maximize sell-ability. It is also important for the artist to offer a couple of different options to their prospective art buyers/gallery owners to determine the most sellable option. When selecting which brand of media to permanently offer to their artists, these decisions are based upon controllable variables or hard facts such as determining which substrate produces the best colors, the best blacks, shows the best detail, and will last the longest.
“By far the most important considerations in using any given fine art media on the market are color and longevity. This means that above all, our media must be measurably superior in achieving the widest color gamut and highest Dmax possible. In this business, color can make you or break you. This guarantees MFA Talon Graphics that the paper we are using produces the best color on our reproductions. Then we must consider how long the color will last without fading or yellowing. MFA Talon Graphics chooses fine art media from a ‘quality in, quality out’ perspective. This is how we continually deliver on our promise to our customers,” says Teddy Blah (Head Printmaker at MFA Talon Graphics of El Segundo, CA).
While many printmakers may wrestle with the decision of which media to stock, or learn through a process of trial and error, the most profitable and experienced printmakers understand one important fact – art sells based upon how it looks. Those who offer a wide range of high-performance substrates and have the industry knowledge and market experience to suggest which substrate is most suitable or sellable with a particular image will be the most profitable. By offering substandard media or selecting the wrong substrate for a particular image, not only are you devaluing your own quality and expertise as a printmaker, but also that of the artists themselves. This will inevitably result in the loss of printing business to a competitor. With the exponential growth of the printmaking industry, every competitive advantage must be pursued to ensure the prosperity of your small business. Therefore, the key to success as a fine art printmaker is to produce the most visually appealing, archival, and sellable prints possible.
About Breathing Color, Inc.
Breathing Color, Inc. is a leading designer and supplier of digital inkjet media and post-print protective coatings. Breathing Color is focused on the art and photographic markets with products that maximize color and longevity. Breathing Color’s customers benefit from the highest quality at competitive prices by buying direct.