Every once in a while I come across someone interested in purchasing one of my prints who is a little surprised at the price. I’ve heard similar stories from many of my photographer and fine art friends. I thought I would write up a quick article describing just what you are getting when you purchase a print from me. The purpose here is not to justify my prices; when it comes down to it, either you like an artist’s work enough to make it worth the purchase price, or you don’t. I’m not desperate to sell my work so I price it at a rate that I think is fair compensation for my creativity and skill. I take no offense if it’s not worth the same to someone else. This article is not geared towards knowledgeable art collectors as they are well aware of the things I’ll be discussing and more. I’m writing to the layman who genuinely may not understand the pricing difference between an artist’s original work and the framed reproductions you see in the retail store. I also want to show the care that I put into the presentation of my printed work and some of the details that may be taken for granted. The examples displayed in this article are actual pictures taken of one of my best selling prints, Fiddle In The Middle. The images below display different details of an actual framed piece (shown completed above) that I printed, assembled and finished personally.
When purchasing original artwork from an artist you simply cannot expect to pay the prices you see in the décor section of Target or Bed Bath and Beyond. Purchasing an original piece (or, in the case of photography, an original print) from an artist or art dealer is much different than purchasing a licensed (and often cheaply) mass-produced package from a retailer. While purchasing a photographic print, which can be reproduced infinitely, is certainly less expensive than purchasing an original painting, you should still expect to pay considerably more than Wal-Mart prices. What’s the difference? For starters, you have a signed original from the artist. Not only is that a great conversation piece for your cocktail parties, but it also shows that you have something more special than a generic, mass-produced print that your neighbors down the street might also have on their wall.
Case in point: The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso is one of my favorite paintings. I have a framed print of it hanging in my living room along with several original paintings and photographs created by myself and my wife. There have been many times when a guest is admiring the art on our walls and points to the Picasso, asking “Did you do this one?” When I inform them, “No, it is a print of a famous painting by Picasso” they almost always lose interest and move on to admiring one of our original pieces hanging nearby. Is it because I am a better artist than Picasso? Certainly not. It’s because an original piece of (good) artwork is typically much more interesting than looking at a reproduction that can be purchased by anyone for $30 at a department store or frame shop.
Moreover, if the artist has signed his or her work (even if only a reproduction) that also guarantees to you, the purchaser, that the artist approves of the quality of the piece. For example, you can look at five different prints of the Mona Lisa and see variations in color and contrast between each of them. Who knows which (if any of them) actually expresses the artist’s vision? When I sign my printed work I am, in effect, verifying that the colors, values, contrast, print quality, etc., all meet my personal standards and express my intended vision for that particular piece.
There are several other things to take into consideration when pricing artwork: the cost of materials and tools that went into creating the piece, the artists level of experience and/or notoriety, the popularity of a specific piece or the demand for that artists work in general, whether or not it is a limited edition, and more. I am not famous and my prints are all open editions so my prices are considerably lower than gallery prices. I do not plan to do limited edition prints unless forced to by a gallery because it really only promotes the illusion of scarcity, ensures larger commissions for the gallery, and makes the purchaser think that their purchase is somehow more special because it has a number on it. In reality most “limited edition” prints never actually sell out of the edition so the whole thing is silly and elitist in my opinion. Ansel Adams did not limit his editions and he did just fine for himself.
As of this writing, if you purchase one of my prints you can expect that it is personally printed by me. Why is that a good thing? Because I am a control freak and I won’t put my name on it until it meets my personal standards. I don’t care if the paper costs $4 per sheet. If it doesn’t meet my standard it is going in the rubbish bin. I’m not famous, and I’m not moving prints by the truckload, so I can currently afford to do this. If I catch a break and suddenly there is a considerable demand for my work then I’ll have to establish a working relationship with a print shop that I can trust… and even then I’ll still examine each print before I sign it. I print all of my images on archival quality professional inkjet papers. Now, when I say “inkjet” I know that some of you are picturing the desktop “photo” printer in your home office. Let me assure you that we are talking about much higher quality than that. I am printing using a professional grade large format printer that probably costs more than your computer. The quality and longevity are as good as you would get from any professional print shop. I am currently able to print up to 17″ x 26″ and my preferred paper stock is a heavyweight luster but others are available by request. I prefer luster over matte finish because it displays greater depth of color and contrast. I do not like smooth gloss paper because it reflects like a mirror and I find that very distracting to the photograph. The luster paper has the anti-reflective qualities of matte paper with the depth of color and contrast of gloss paper–the best of both worlds, so to speak.
If you decide to purchase your print framed (which I highly recommend), then the fun is just beginning. My preferred method of displaying my photographs is with a thick white beveled window mat and a simple modern frame. I like my mat and frame to be simple so that the artwork speaks for itself. I cut my mats by hand and sign my work both on the actual printed photograph (which is covered up by the mat), as well as on the mat (as shown above) so that the viewer knows they are looking at an original piece and not a store-bought reproduction.
For this particular photograph I’ve chosen a natural wooden frame (shown above) to complement the hues in the fiddles. I found this one at Aaron Brothers a little over a year ago and they keep stocking it so I keep going back for it every time I sell this particular print because I think they go so nicely together. However, the majority of my work typically ends up in a simple black frame with a thick white mat. Everyone has their own personal taste, but tastes and trends change so I encourage my collectors to go with something simple like this rather than worrying about matching the décor of their home. The nice thing about this aesthetic is that it will work with almost any style of décor and, more importantly, it has stood the test of time so it won’t look outdated in ten years.
I cover the back of the frame with paper (as shown above) to block dust from settling in behind the glass. It also adds a nice, clean finish to the package. Since the paper and mat board are acid free your print should display beautifully for years to come. As a hanging method I prefer side loops with hanging wire (as shown above) over sawtooth hangers. With sawtooth hangers you typically need one on each side to adequately support the weight of the frame. This means putting two holes in your wall and a much greater challenge when trying to level the frame on the wall. With hanging wire you only need one hole in the wall and you’ll find it much easier to level the frame when hanging (i.e., just slide the wire left and right along the nail/screw until it is level). Just make sure to properly anchor the hanging nail/screw in a stud or use a drywall anchor rated for at least 25 lbs.
As a last finishing touch I like to put rubber spacers on the bottom left and right corners of the back of the frame. This helps the frame to sit more parallel to the wall and also avoids scraping your paint. I’ve also found that the rubber grips the wall, making the frame less likely to shift out of level as the walls vibrate from closing doors, jets flying overhead, elephant stampede, etc.
Well, there you have it. I love making photographs but the real treat for me is to see the finished print in a clean, attractive display on the wall of someone who enjoys it.