Giclée prints


Dear Artist,

Questions these days seem to come in multiple editions. I have to tell you that this week artists are thinking about going into reproductions — Giclée prints in particular.


“Genius with the Alphabet”
1542 engraving
by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550)

Giclées are multiple edition prints that are made on big sophisticated photocopiers. Over the past year the quality of these products has improved. For those who want to know something about the Giclée phenomenon — permanence, technicalities, costs, etc., we’ve prepared an overview at “Giclée printmaking for artists.” The question artists have to ask themselves is what they are going to do with the prints. Some types of work lend themselves to the process, others not. Watercolors and flat acrylics look pretty good. Thick and juicy oils tend to look a bit phony. I’ve found that for fundraisers and other charitable works, the Giclée can be ideal. For those artists whose work is essentially decorative, the Giclée is a good way to extend the payback. Folks will always prefer originals, but for extended situations like hotel rooms — and dealing with the interior decorator crowd in general — Giclées can fill the bill. Commercially, they seem to fly better with certain subject matter. Figurative over landscape, for example. Specificities such as wildlife, nostalgia, transportation-art, etc., work well in print form, as they always have.


“Owl with Glasses and Books”
ca. 1625 engraving
by Cornelis Bloemaert (1603-1692)

It’s a two edged sword. On the one hand, by making these reproductions, artists may actually be thought less of. On the other hand they get their images out and around — perhaps building value for their originals. For slow artists, or those who put a large amount of painstaking detail in their work, it may be the only thing they can do to stay alive.

We live in remarkable times. Technology knows no bounds. Some of these giant photocopy machines put down dye-based inks, others, particulate pigments. Machines can make a million squirts a second — some work from as many as 400 different hues. I’m sure that just around the corner there’s an invention of some sort of heat-set puff-paint digital system that will load up a print with convincing impasto. Giclée watercolors currently take experts to tell the difference. Scary. But just as no machine, in spite of many patents pending, has yet been invented that gives a man a decent haircut, we will still continue to appreciate work that is thoughtfully done by hand.


“The Shell”
1650 etching
by Rembrandt (1606-1669)

Best regards,


PS: “Artists are immediately taken with the look and feel of the Giclée because of the use of archival stock and rich colours. Also, prints can be produced one at a time on demand in different sizes and substrates, eliminating the need for large capital outlays.” (Ron Ling, owner, ZheeClay Arts)

Esoterica: The “enhanced” Giclée is the three-dollar bill of the print business. This is where the artist (or her assistant) comes back in with a few juicy strokes to give it a “personal touch.” For some artists these have proven to be a one-way trip to the bank. While it’s conceivable that enhancing may become its own art form, this hybrid is a pretender and will probably never find a market among serious collectors.

This letter was originally published as “Giclée prints” on December 20, 2002.

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“We have art in order not to die of life.” (Albert Camus)

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