Legend has it that the term “giclée” was coined by musician/painter Graham Nash in the early nineties. The story goes, Nash plucked the word out of a French dictionary to give some “class” to his fine-art output from the (then) new Iris printer, intended for pre-press proofing of commercial art. The term (from the French verb gicler, to spray) has hung around so long that even the French are using it, however grudgingly.
The term today has several uses. It is tossed out casually as a term for any computer print made with an inkjet printer. This is just plain wrong, but not worth fretting over. Less innocently, it is used by the swine-hustlers of roadside art to represent their pressed canvas texture paper copies of Van Goghs and Renoirs as well as the cheezy polyester prints at big framing stores. The term's only legitimate use is by serious art people for the process (and its set of standards) that replaced lithography as the mode du jour for fine art reproduction.
The giclée process has opened the door to profitible art reproduction for many artists, previously denied entry by the enormous front-end costs of doing an offset litho edition. Now, after some modest set-up charges and copying fees, prints can be made on demand with little lead time, eliminating storage issues, handling damage, and having thousands of dollars tied up in a pile of paper over in the corner. In terms of commanding value, Gicées are hung in many of the worlds finest museums as well as serious homes and restaurants. Many people who can’t afford an original piece often buy a near-identical signed giclée, knowing that it will grow in value, albeit on a smaller scale. We belong to one of the professional societies ( Tru Giclée) that is devoted to maintaining the quality (and therefore the value) of prints with the giclée appellation. On the down-side, there is a growing fear that digital masters might become mis-used. An article in the Los Angeles Times recently told the story of a successful Sonoma County artist being shocked to hear that his works were being offered as giclees on Ebay without his knowing how they got there.
How much can I charge for a giclée of one of my works?
There are a number of factors, but the rule of thumb for an established artist is that a full-sized limited-edition, signed giclee will bring about 20-30% of the price of an original. By established, I mean anyone who regularly sells their work in galleries, or other serious venues including web sites. Such an artist has a pretty good idea of the current worth of his/her work in the art market place, so a ballpark price for signed giclées should be easy to arrive at. Then, this ballpark price might be checked by looking at reproductions of other artists of similar stature and genre. (NOTE: do not use ebay art auction for any guide in pricing for reasons that will be discussed). Now that we have a price target, what about profitability? While much less expensive than the traditional giclée process has relatively uniform fixed costs, i.e. the canvas or watercolor media plus the ink, stretching costs, etc are the same no matter how much the piece sells for, and the prices amongst legitimate printmakers are pretty consistent. So if it were a pure business decision, it should be pretty easy to decide if it makes financial sense, right? No, not really...
Does giclée make any kind of sense for me?
The commercial viability of an artist's work, as mentioned above, is only one factor. Equally important is his or her growth potential both in stature and price. Then there are sometimes emotional reasons for an artist to make giclées that fly in the face of fiscal sanity (unflatteringly called "vanity" printings in the business). In short, this is a complex question. To try to answer it, I offer here a few thumbnail sketches of some of artists that we see and the advice we give them.
A sweet grandmother type who does pleasant Monet-like oils of children at play. She belongs to the local artist group and has sold a painting here and there for about the cost of the materials. She wants us to print giclees of some of her more successful pieces to give to (quite a few) relatives. Both the artist and I recognize that is not an economic issue. I would tend to advise her that it would be about the same price to paint another original, but I know better. She clearly feels that she nailed these and might never do it again. We prepared a quote here for the cost of making single prints of a half-dozen paintings (not the economical path). She just smiles and shrugs. It's just like the Visa commercial where to her, the joy of her presenting these to her family will be priceless.
A solid amateur painter sells original watercolors at local Art Walks for a hundred bucks or so. He is told by people (other than his family) who know a bit about art that his work is wildly under-priced and will some day fly out of the big galleries at many times this price. He is aware that the reproduction process would cost more for a reproduction of his work (at least the first one) then he is currently getting for the original. But he wonders if he should invest in copying these works he’s selling (and will never see again) on the speculation that he can later print giclees as his prices improve. What to do? As a general comment, if the artist is truly good, he will continue to improve, and might look back at these works as immature and never want to look at them again. On the other hand, he may be in a zone (i.e. “period”) that is quite good and which will be appreciated long after he has moved on to other things. My recommendation is to at least get them copied by us, or another high-quality art repro house. Most places like ours will give big breaks to an artist like this who comes in with a dozen promising paintings bringing the per painting price down to peanuts, partly out of our love of art, partly as in an investment in the future. But he should only consider doing these in bulk, and storing the DVDs with the files in a safe place. Note here that these files, though unprinted as giclées, make first-rate portfolio pieces.
This woman does good photo-realistic pieces with a touch of humor. Her acrylic paintings of 30” x 30” would be expected to bring $2500 in a beach gallery near here where she is regularly hung. A signed, numbered giclee artist’s proof would be priced around $650. The print (adding 2” for the sides, is 34” x 34”) would cost $104 plus 10’ of stretcher bars and stretching costing $60, totaling $164.
Recommendation: It's obivous that this produces a profit for the artist of nearly $500. The catch is that she sells it out of her home studio or on line and NOT the gallery, where they would take 40-50% of the price. I recommended to her (because she has a LOT of pieces that we've copied and NOT printed) to only keep prints around of her two or three hottest pieces to demonstrate quality and that she keep a portfolio (in one of those slick Pina Zingaro Machina binders) with 11 x 14s of all she has available. We can print on demand as she sells them and have them to her client inside of ten days or so.
This next guy is my favorite. He's spent 15 years as one of Hollywoods celebrity tatooists, putting amazing pictures delts, pecs, and butts of musicians and actors that anybody under forty has heard of. He got this idea in his head to start doing story-paintings on canvas based on either well-known movies, song lyrics, or in the case of the more notorious, lifestyle. As an artist with very mature chops, he figured out how to paint acrylics on the fly, and got good quick. He came to us after going to some of the bigger Hollywood art repro places who, it seems, didn't take him seriously when he laid out his planned marketing approach, which goes as follows: His agent (from the music biz, NOT the art biz) got him into the big music award shows (The Grammies, etc) where he actually gave away the originals to the artis represented in the songs.
There is an artist a few doors down from our studio that paints gorgeous landscapes and gets over $15K for any painting he sells through one of several galleries that carry his works, usually where they park large boats. His giclee artist proofs (in the 40” x 60” range) bring around $3000 each, plus frame, which is always another grand. His solution to the giclee demand was to let us to the copy work only, and set up his own printing set-up (for around $25k) that could spit out prints as needed. Good for him.
Recommendation: Have some champagne.