These unusual times


Dear Artist,

Canadian artist Justin Beckett wrote, “I have been thinking of making some prints of my work lately, due to these unusual times — to make a more affordable option for people, and to give a bit more income to myself. I was thinking of making some smaller prints to get my work out there a bit more, and also making some medium sized prints on high quality paper. I would only make some of my work available as prints. I have seen more artists doing this these days, even artists with gallery representation that are fairly well known, but there are others that are not doing it. I am early in my career and don’t want to make the wrong move. Is it a good idea to make prints available, or should I stick to only originals? Please stop me now if I should not make any prints. Why do some artists make prints versus and others do not? Does it make originals less valuable if you do make prints?”

Low Pomt, Thunderwater Lake, Acrylic on canvas 24 X 36 inches, by Justin Beckett

Low Point, Thunderwater Lake
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 inches,
by Justin Beckett (b. 1986)

The question of whether or not to make reproductions of your original paintings depends entirely on what your goals are. Here are a few questions to consider before hitting “print”:

What are my long-range goals and my dream destination for my paintings?

Who would I like to see engaging with my work?

Do I have a limited inventory of originals? Is my process one that would make reproductions helpful in satisfying demand?

Have there been tangible inquiries for more affordable versions of my work?

Is there a print house, graphics collaborator or affordable art advisory that could help reach new audiences?

Glacier Patterns, Bugaboos Acrylic on canvas 24 x 36 inches by Justin Beckett

Glacier Patterns, Bugaboos
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 inches
by Justin Beckett

Do I view reproductions as a kind of advertising or exposure vehicle for my originals, as a supplementary revenue stream or as an in tandem, whole new product?

Is this a permanent strategy or a limited thing?

What is the platform I’m planning on selling through?

What can a reproduction do that an original can’t?

What can an original do that a reproduction can’t?



Bow Lake Towards Bow Glacier Acrylic on canvas 12 x 16 inches by Justin Beckett

Bow Lake, Towards Bow Glacier
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches
by Justin Beckett

PS: “A country where flowers are priced so as to make them a luxury has yet to learn the first principles of civilization.” (Chinese proverb)

Esoterica: In the first week of the pandemic, an artist told me of a gallery contacting its artists to let them know that they would immediately begin offering a 30% discount to clients. Soon enough, those clients asked for fire sale prices from other dealers, and a quiet race to the bottom began. It seemed to me that such a response threw more than just the artists into jeopardy. While our ecosystem is precarious on the best of days, like many systems, it becomes ever more vulnerable when stressed. My experience has been to try to stay the course on whatever your goals are for your work — be they accessibility, exposure and a broad scope of collectors or the pursuit of the creation of the rare and special. It’s okay to want to try to find new ways to reach new audiences and to offer enthusiasts an affordable piece of joy. Being open to a pivot, for survival, is part of your creativity. Just know why you’re doing it and try to make it the most beautiful, authentic and exciting thing you can.

Justin Beckett in the Bugaboos, 2013

Justin Beckett in the Bugaboos, 2013

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  1. It does not bode well when you answer a question with another question! It’s a thorny issue.

    I’m curious myself. It’s pretty easy to link your website to on demand publishers like art of where or Printful. So far I’ve resisted. As a plein air painter, I’m fairly prolific and I’d like to keep the focus on originals. But I have had instances where people missed out on buying a specific original and want a print for whatever reason. In that case, I may do a single print.

    • Carole Sisto on

      I am glad that your question about producing reproductions of your work was met with more questions. You really need to think this through before you start producing them. And they should be priced accordingly. Please remember these are reproductions and should not be called prints.

  2. I have recently gone back to prints now that we starting all over because the people who buy originals have money and probably wouldn’t buy a print anyway the others who only have a little discretionary money don’t have any money anymore so why deprive them of some joy and provides me with a little cash. I’ve given up on being an art snob these are hard times and not likely to get better any day soon……

  3. I was a printmaker for 30 years spending huge amounts of time creating etchings and hand printing them. I think the introduction of reproductions has hurt the art market for originals and has devalued the originals. I resented being put in the category of “prints”. I am now doing acrylic paintings and I have a gallery. I won’t sell reproductions or carry artists who have them. There are other ways to make art affordable – think of your target audience. Do smaller paintings, work on gallery-wrapped canvas. Spend less on framing. We are not in the big box store market. There are buyers who want something special on their walls.

    • If there was a “Like” button I’d push it for this commentary, understanding all of the other arguments for prints and the business of prints .

    • Cindy Ricksgers on

      I’ve spent my life, it seems, correcting misconceptions about prints. As an artist who works in the print-making media: etching, lithography,and collagraphy, I’ve gone to referring to my work as “original prints” rather than try to clear up the difference between my product, and the basically good quality copies of paintings that are also referred to as prints. Reproduction is certainly a more accurate term.

    • I absolutely agree with your response. People will spend hundreds of dollars for the equivalent of a poster to match their decor and don’t understand the difference between a reproduction and an original piece of art. I really hate to see people wasting money on expensive reproductions that have no real value. If they have limited funds it would be better to purchase inexpensive posters. With the rise of big box store reproductions many people have become confused about what constitutes art. As long as they know what they are getting and don’t spend very much it can be an inexpensive way of getting an image that they love.

  4. Thank you for referring to them as reproductions. I agree with Hope Barton’s comment. I used to be a printmaker, but the general public does not understand the concept of an original print (a print in a distinct medium, such as serigraphy, etching, lithography), hand-pulled (usually by the artist, or under the artist’s close direction), in very small editions. With the advent of giclee reproduction, prints lost their unique status. A reproduction of a painting, produced by pushing a button on a printer, is no more a piece of original art than an Ikea poster.

  5. If you’re interested in seeing your work on every motel wall then reproduce away

    If you’re interested in a “print” then I recommend that you learn to make a Lino or woodcut using your original painting as the source

    Then it has your hand and sensibility in it

    I guess to me the question is quantity or quality?

  6. I like the Chinese proverb. Active creativity can be a business, and run by business principles. It is all in how we want to use the blank space in front of us. I always enjoy seeing the Canadian Group of Seven living through young painters. Thanks, Sara

  7. The new print processes are amazing and you can print as many as you need. Your paintings will look just like your original and you can embellish for a few extra dollars if the client wants you to. I say go for it! You have nothing to lose and as fast as life goes by, you should share your work with all who love what you do for what ever they can afford.

    On the other hand. I get very upset when I see “inexpensive reproductions of FAMOUS Artists” for sale next to my originals in my galleries. I think, well why would they buy my original if they can buy “that” to hang on their wall for cheap and no one in their family or friends will know the difference.. Then I remember why I paint. I love it. Maybe I would let my galleries make the prints. maybe. Not sure about that either. Let them sell what they can. Repros or Originals, some people know the best, and they are the ones who usually end up getting it, no matter cost. I am looking for those quality consumers and I encourage my galleries to do the same.

  8. Having been at this for many years, I have a lot of paintings, etchings, lithographs and artist’s books in my bag. I also teach a lot of workshops. I have some reproductions of some of my paintings, and have made printed versions of some of my artisti’s books. These are sold primarily to students in my workshops. I am very careful to use the word reproduction instead of print, as they mean different things. My Epson or my commercial printer can knock many reproductions out in minutes, whereas an original print takes skill and time, and usually involves simpler equipment.
    I was in a rent-a-booth gallery recently where an artist had a smaller reproduction hanging next to an original painting. It cost less, but not a lot less. I wrote a comment in his guest book that doing this was not a good idea. The general public doesn’t know the difference, really, and he was ripping off anyone who was willing to pay that much for it. When I went back, I noticed the reproduction was missing. Did he sell it or get my message. I’ll never know.

  9. What if you offered a limited edition of prints so that your originals wouldn’t be devalued? For example, you could choose 5 paintings that you haven’t sold or placed in galleries yet and create prints from those ones. That way if a client or art collector purchases an original painting they wouldn’t feel that everyone could have access to it. Another product idea could be to create a small book or post card of the paintings instead of prints. Thoughts?

  10. Gabriella E Morrison on

    I would rather buy a bar of soap than any reproduction in times of turmoil and insecurity about the future as we are experiencing right now!

  11. Back when I was an art student I was blessed to have made a trip to Europe and bought 2 art prints… poster style prices I could afford. I treasured them for years and still hope others can always buy inexpensive reproductions of art, mine also in the same way. Love that students and others can have this art on their walls!

    Many years later into my painting life, I sold prints of my paintings too, for a time. Great quality as I made them. But eventually I realized it took me so long to make color corrected quality reproduction prints on my large format Epson that I could be spending painting originals in the studio that it was time to stop going in that direction.

    I also used some local printers to make prints and realized they could not replicate my colors without lots of time… too expensive. So I surely don’t trust far away online print on demand services now to do one’s art justice as I painted it.

    It’s okay to sell your low cost art prints of course, to friends and family, community, anyone out there really who loves your art. It’s also a marketing tool, sales numbers on Etsy? etc. Just not a big income stream…

    In answer to your question, you might experiment with making some fine art style prints. If you want to try to find the reproduction technique or service. I would caution you to not let this current social and financial environment pressure you into making this choice. Your own art work and process is personal to you so follow that for yourself! And a print will not replicate your painting texture if that is your style.

    I am now only selling original art. This decision after my 40 years in my art career, trying many avenues of selling work and deciding to make art and find other ways to reach out to collectors.

    Good luck!

  12. Thank you Sara, and everyone for the responses to my questions regarding making prints or not. Please keep the comments coming. After reading all of the responses, you have helped solidify my original thoughts about sticking with originals only and I am now leaning towards staying away from prints at this time.

    I also want to clarify that I was thinking about a very small amount of prints of some of my work being made, possibly giclee prints, but not mass produced, I would have had a small amount professionally printed and distributed myself. As I am going to stay away from prints now, is something such as making a art postcard considered the same type of thing for marketing purposes? I guess too, the reason prints came to mind is I saw some top galleries and artists making prints of their work and thought, is this something I should be doing too, why is it that they have entered the print market? Maybe it is because they are somewhat well known that they can now offer prints without care?

    Karen Taylor, I really like what you said in regards to wasting time correcting prints when you could be spending that time painting in the studio, which I think I might just do instead! Hope Barton, I like the idea of making some smaller paintings rather than prints, to make some more affordable options for different types of collectors.


  13. I’ve been offering professionally reproduced giclee prints of my originals for several years using local printers who have equipment that costs in the thousands, resulting in copies that match my originals 100% because the technician is an artist in the process themselves. I

    There have been clients who purchased a print who return later to buy the original when it is still available. I learned how to price the prints vs. the originals years ago from a well known Sanibel Island artist who keystoned his work.

    My perspective is that if the client sees the original is so much higher than the print it makes the decision that much easier for them to see what budget level they can afford.

    In the beginning I ordered several prints of each image but that really cuts into your profits if they don’t all sell. Today because the turn around time is no more than a week for large scale giclees on canvas or a few days for prints on archival watercolor paper , ordering can be done the day of the purchase.

    I worked with a licensing agent who told me not to do Limited Editions as they would not be free for licensing if I had any future requests for licensing. So all my prints are Open Editions just in case.

  14. As a print artist, maybe I have a different slant on this. I got into print via giclee printing my own artwork. They were not reproductions, they were digital originals. Found the process of explaining way to exhausting. Got some good advice about looking at my process and discovered letterpress. A perfect process for my work. Digital print has nothing going for it to make your work special, a vehicle for your particular touch. Getting your own giclee printer is tempting, but if you don’t print every five days you risk at least a clean cycle (wasting expensive ink at $1200 per refill), or possibly ruining the head (almost the cost of the printer). As others have pointed out, where do you want to spend your time? I fell in love with the old machinery, don’t mind what it demands of me to keep it running. But the Epson, I gadly put it into recycling. What we do in our creative pursuits should fit with the doing.

    The shopping center giclee galleries are successful because of their salespeople, and a ready supply of gullible customers. Do you have those, or would you even want those?

  15. Although it has been said repeatedly, I want all artists to honour the difference between a print and a reproduction. Let us all show respect for the art of printmaking and not use that word for a reproduction. And therefore, no reproduction should have an edition. Unfortunately, artists like Robert Bateman confused and mislead the public with his numbered editions of his reproductions. In the art world, the words reproduction and print should not be interchangeable. Let us all do our best to educate ourselves and the public about the difference.

  16. We spend our lives working for someone or some company since youth. It’s hard to earn a living as an artist yet I chose not to make prints and giclees.
    Do to being able and plan what I wanted from all my years of college, training and practice, as a 70 year old(!), I chose to keep my choice to originals only. Prints bring in quick , easy money, but if someone connects with an original and their hard earned money rewards me, the satisfaction is enormous. It validates the art’s worth to that individual.

  17. I have been a selling artist for many many years. Over the years I have observed fellow artists jumping into the reproduction market with their art as if it was the next tier of success above painting an original piece of art. It baffled me then, there didn’t seem to be a demand for their originals, why spend copious amounts of money on making a reproduction of a painting that wasn’t going to sell. I heard their stories of having prints in the basement in large numbers that might wallpaper a room. It seemed to me to be a brain manipulation fed by others who they themselves believed having reproductions done of their artwork meant they have “made it”. I recall people asking me why I don’t do reproductions. I said many reasons, one was that I am more focused on making good paintings, two was I doubt my husband would be on board with the cost of making reproductions of mediocre art work done by an artist who needed to spend more time “in her room”. However, I have observed really good professional artists recently going into making reproductions of their work as a means of income when their originals are either sold or way too expensive for most middle class art lovers. It is a complicated wonder for many artists, and a personal decision they are free to consider for themselves. Just not for me.

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