To Giclée or Not to Giclée

Last year I ponied up some money and purchased an online web-hosting service for artists. The service provides easy to design webpages and technical and marketing support. I had my doubts as there had been, at the time, an outbreak of such services advertising to artists. I had an assumption that we had become the latest audience for the vultures. But, I found one service that I liked and thought would be helpful in providing a professional website that functioned well while providing some marketing direction.

Beginning any online endeavor always takes time learning the “language,” setting things up and finding ways to make the work quicker and simpler. Being on a computer at work during the day, I wasn't in a hurry to get home and spend hours more on the computer. I took several months to develop my website before launching it.

As I delved deeper into this community I started to wonder if it was the platform for me. Upfront, I am going to tell you that I am not unhappy with the service or the people who created it and provide technical and marketing support. They do a good job and their product is professional. I just think that their definition of art might be different than mine.

Examples of successful artists would float through their updates every month. These artists generally made art to sell as Giclée prints - fine art prints from a high-end computer printer with archival inks. Many of the artists are photographers. Those who were painters had a certain commercial quality to their work: paintings of well known people of history and celebrities, sports mascots, and the like. The people who run the service are continually encouraging artists to do more marketing and get themselves out there, especially in social media. Their advice is solid and I keep trying to do what I can.

I have always been ambivalent about fine art prints. Many years ago I bought a good printer and started offering my own prints. But, if it ever took off, I was not interested in doing any of the packaging and mailing. With this new web-host I do not have to deal with any of that. I work directly with a printer that ships the work. People buy my prints online and, after setting it up, I have nothing to do with the printing and mailing.

I have no problem with offering prints of my watercolor and gouache paintings, but I have always hesitated with my oil paintings. Watercolors and gouache are painted on paper and are a flat image, like a print. To me canvases are objects. They are three-dimensional in terms of their size and texture. I pour my energy into them to share my perspective and thoughts on life. My oil paintings explore my current art making methods as well as the history of making art. I have always felt, looking at a print of one of my oils, that it was lacking. The surface is different, the size, the impact, etc. For me, craftsmanship and the creation of a unique object is part of the expression. Prints, by their nature, cannot capture a unique object. As a result, I have only offered prints of oil paintings that I have sold, whose image is no longer available as a unique object.

This unease with fine art prints was reinvigorated as I have recently begun to play with Cezanne's still-lifes. Lately, I have been copying Cezanne's imagery and painting style while changing things up and talking about my own modern concerns. Since I can't take paintings home from the museum, the source of imagery is the internet. The more I research Cezanne's work online, the more concerned I am becoming about online art buying.

My research started with wanting to see an image of an original painting so I could find the size and make a canvas the same size. I Googled "Cezanne still life images" and lots of images popped up on my screen. I found some that I thought were interesting and suitable for my intentions. Most all of the images that came up were from online fine art print services that would, for a minimal price, print and frame an image of the painting for you on canvas or paper. I would note the title of the one I was interested in and search for an image from a museum that would list the original size. Prints can be had in many sizes, so the original size is not given.

Finding an original image wasn't as easy as it sounds. Many of the images from these print services are titled incorrectly. As an example, Cezanne's original from 1887, Still Life with Cherries and Peaches, is often titled Still Life with Plate of Cherries Starting at $16.95. In order to find the museum or collection that holds the painting you need to have the correct title. Cezanne titled all of his still life paintings Still Life with... You can't just make up a list of items in the painting and attribute it as the title. Thankfully, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had this painting in its collection and I found the correct title and size.

Still Life with Cherries and Peaches by Cezanne, 1887, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Many of Cezanne's images are only on the internet as an offering from these print services. Many of his works are in private collections and not shared online. If the print service does not have the rights to print the image, they have it hand-reproduced and offer the copied oil painting (with a slightly different title) as the print. If you were to buy one of these prints you are not getting the original colors, brushstrokes or even, sometimes, the complete image. Some of these services claim they have their reproducing artists ready to provide, from a blank canvas, a high-quality oil reproduction of the Cezanne painting you choose – available starting at $36.95.

Hand-reproduced copy of Cezanne's Still Life with Cherries and Peaches

An artist friend of mine stated “at least the people who want a hand-reproduced painting want an actual art object.” This person is no longer a friend of mine. This is not art. This is fabrication. Either these are a 3-D printing of a painting or someone is making these paintings at a greatly reduced price. I have my worries how someone paints that cheaply.

According to the Online Art Trade Report, which is released by Hiscox Ltd., in 2018 $4.64 billion of art was purchased online and it is projected to be $9.32 billion by 2024. Online art buying is becoming a big business as collectors get more comfortable with buying items only seen online. The same report shows that artists sell more art from gallery websites than their own websites. If you are not going to see the image in person you need to trust the seller. This is the role of online galleries, to assure that the art and its online image have integrity.

On the other hand, Eric Fischl, a blue-chip artist since the 1980's, announced that he was leaving his gallery and only going to sell his art from his website. A friend of mine from graduate school, Duane Kaiser, started the A-Painting-A-Day craze and sells originals almost daily from his website.

My concerns with my web-hosting situation continues. If more art is sold from gallery sites than from individual websites, should I continue with my hosting service or work harder with the galleries that represent my work? Do I have time to do both? Should I offer more prints of my oil paintings even though I am not comfortable with offering them? I am unsure what to do about these online art selling issues. But, I know what to do in my studio, so I addressed this issue through making paintings.

This piece is titled Hand-Painted Reproduction of a Hand-Reproduced Copy of Cezanne's Still Life with Plate of Cherries. As mentioned above, I came across an image of a hand-painted reproduction of Cezanne's Still Life with Cherries and Peaches and painted from the reproduction before finding an image of the original. The differences are interesting. I was not trying to match the reproduction exactly, as I do not have that kind of temperament. But, it is a hand-reproduction... of a hand-reproduction... of a mistitled Cezanne painting. I framed it in a gaudy frame so you knew it was Cezanne inspired.

This second painting is titled Oil Painting Made to be a Fine Art Print: Still Life with Circus Peanuts. I will only be offering this image as a fine art print. The original will never be for sale online or in a gallery.

I am sure that my online activities (and maybe my web-host) may change in the future but, for now, I am working through these issues the best way I know: I'm painting about them.


Feel free to comment or contact me about your online print experience.