My very first giclee was of this piece, Pythagoras QED and it’s just as well because the original is in the Fitzwilliam Contemporary Calligraphy Collection and I have have excellent photos of it, have had access to the image for magazine articles, have made greetings cards and still have a few giclées for sale.
What is great about giclées? Well, you can put beautiful affordable artwork in your home and you can’t (superficially) tell the difference between the print and the original. And if it was never going to be an investment, that’s fine too! So from the buyer’s point of view its fine!
So, what exactly is a giclée? It is just a French term for a high quality ink-jet print BUT, these prints are done using archival ink on 100% cotton paper, smooth or texture, and the result, when framed looks exactly like the original. (if there was no real gold or embossing on the original). Often it looks better as the colour can be contrasted slightly more. Apparently they won’t fade in 100 years. But if you spill water on one, it will dissolve the ink just as with your computer-printed stuff.
I sometimes even add real gold to my giclées to make them more special and worthwhile as with the Paythagoras one. A giclée is usually numbered as a limted edition. So here is the first ethical dilemma: You can legally make whatever size edition you like e.g. 900 and number them accordingly, and then you can change the size and make another edition! This doesn’t sound right to me! Moreover, you can print them in dribs and drabs, which is very cost effective, but there is a lot of good bookkeeping required not to muddle the numbers.
This is how you have one made: First of all get the artwork professionally photographed or scanned and colour corrected by a specialist digital printing company. It is usually scanned at at least 1200dpi, so that it can be enlarged without loss of quality. This can cost anything from £15 – £50.00. Colour correction can be really tricky especially when there are yellows involved. Also the printing is going to be limited by what colours are available e.g. you could never reproduce flourescent colours using CMYK printing pigments. They will then run some samples.
Costing of printing is done per square centimeter and you can save on mounts and the labour of mounting by having nice big white borders all round, but it will cost more. Otherwise you can have them beautifully mounted. You are supposed to sign them on the white border and number them there too e.g. 31/200 means that there is a limited edition of 200 and this is No.31. But they don’t have to be a limited edition – it just makes them more saleable.
And then of course you have to package – wrap them in cello bags – and market them and this is often not that easy. If you think that ‘calligraphy doesn’t sell’ try selling 100 pieces the same. The most popular giclees that I have had made are the Pythagoras one, the Rose window and the Sea Holly. I have learnt a lot about the market though. Obvious things like people don’t want to buy paintings of exotic flowers, they want their own favourite flowers. Just like in calligraphy everyone wants the poems that they learnt at school and which are ironically copyrighted 🙁
Now here is another dilemma. because of the labour and cost in reproducing them, mounting and packaging etc. you need to sell them for a reasonable amount. And then you find that this is often much the same price as printmakers charge for their lino-cuts and screen prints. This seems unfair to me! Have you any idea how much work goes into a lino-cut? A watercolour may take a day or two, a lino cut will take at least a week to make a smallish lino and then you have to print it.
And what is worse, because the public often don’t understand the difference between a digital print and a printmaker’s print, it has done a lot of damage to printmakers selling real etchings, screenprints, lino prints and woodcuts. The giclée has devalued these which is really sad. Of course, historically the printmaker’s print is worth more, but just as typographic designers, musicians and film-makers have their work pirated, so the giclée has hijacked the value of printmaking.
My final dilemma is this: It takes a lot of time going backwards and forwards getting giclées made, checking them and packaging them. Watercolours are relatively quick to produce and you can stay in your studio and preserve a sense of sanity without having to drive around and having done all of that you still have to market them. So, instead of being an artist suddenly you are a taxi-driver, production manager, factory worker (packaging) website manager updating your website, salesperson. Where’s the serenity in this?
I recently heard some sound advice: Don’t go the giclée route until you are famous and your work sells like hotcakes!
From now on, I’m going to take this advice!