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What is the difference between original prints and reproductions?

Let’s start with the low hanging fruit. Defining what qualifies as a reproduction is pretty straightforward. There is an original and from that there are replicas. You start with an original painting. It is photographed and then printed using a technology called 4-colour lithography. When you look closely, you can see the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots that combine to form the image. I’m oversimplifying the process here but you get the idea. It’s the same way that most everything in the commercial world, like magazines, and posters etc. are printed. In the end you’ve got a photographic reproduction of an original artwork.

There is much confusion surrounding the concept of an original print and the difference between that and a reproduction. When people come and see my work they see mostly paintings but also several editions of silkscreen prints. I often find myself having to explain that the prints are not a reproduction of an original. It strikes me as particularly odd given that silkscreen printing is one of the least likely methods that one would use to reproduce an image with any kind of fidelity.

The pervasive use of the word ‘print’ doesn’t help.

Many popular artists in the 1980s started to market ‘limited edition reproductions’ of their work. I particularly recall Robert Bateman, a very commercially successful wildlife artist in Canada who did just that. Each print was indeed signed and numbered. The editions were very large, often in the hundreds and even over the 1,000 mark. The editions were so large in number that it was frankly misleading to refer to them as limited at all. Artists like Bateman, and there were many, made loads of money for themselves and their dealers. 

To confuse the buying public even more, the images were printed on top quality, archival (acid-free) paper – the same sort of paper that a legitimate artist/print-maker would use. That is where the similarity ended. The printing was done on large, industrial grade printing presses. These were really high-quality reproductions but reproductions nonetheless. This practice, more than anything else, did huge harm to the market for original, limited edition prints.

Also, online art sites like Saatchionline.com sell digital prints that are reproductions of artists’ work. To the best of my knowledge there is no limit to the quantity they might produce of any given image. That sort of ‘print’ is a reproduction of an original and completely different than an original print that is part of a signed and numbered limited edition. ‘Giclee’ refers to a kind of inkjet digital reproduction. I don’t know much about them except that a lot of artists are using them to make money. These are really just a poster. They may be nice to look at but they have no intrinsic value.

How can a print be an original?

I recently reached out to the folks at Open Studio in Toronto to get their take on how to explain it all. Open Studio is an awesome place where artists can access printmaking equipment and workspace to make original prints. We’re talking about printing techniques like lithography, intaglio (e.g. etching), woodcut, and serigraphy as well as a few others. They also offer classes and workshops to artists and school groups. That’s not all they do but you get the picture. Anyway, they were nice enough to offer me their explanation:

“An original print is an image that has been conceived by the artist as a print and executed solely as a print, usually in a numbered edition, and signed by the artist. Each print in the edition is an original, printed from a plate, stone, screen, block or other matrix created for that purpose.”

It may be difficult for people to get their head around the idea of a print actually being an original. Essentially the original exists in multiple and that’s a little confusing, especially for the uninitiated. After all, there are usually a number of pretty much identical pieces of art on paper. That is what is called an ‘edition’. 

I suppose this means I have to briefly try and explain what the term ‘edition’ refers to. For the sake of discussion, let’s say there are a hundred identical impressions. Each one will be numbered sequentially (in this case 1/100 – 100/100), and signed. The total number in the set is 100. That’s the edition.

I like to make editions of silkscreen prints. There may be 50 or so in the edition and each would be pretty much identical to the others. Unlike commercial/industrial printing methods using machines, there are minor inconsistencies in any hand-done printing methods. After all, I’m using my two hands and as much as I try for consistency and precision, I am no machine.

Each colour is a separate printing. I typically do 2 colours because it suits the kind of images I like to make. I do a base colour printing and then follow that up with a black printing. The sheets of paper are hung separately and have to dry after each colour is applied.

It’s not all about the money, but it’s not, not about the money.

Selling limited edition prints can be a good way for artists to make their work more available to a wider audience. It’s a volume thing. Because they exist in multiple they are a much more economical option for purchase. A painting by any particular artist might be for sale for thousands and out of reach for many people. However, a limited-edition print by the same artist could be had for much, much less. It’s way easier for most people (to rationalize) a purchase decision to shell out a few bucks for a print instead of the bigger ticket items. Obviously, you have to sell many to make it financially worthwhile but it is often easier to sell a lot of prints versus a single painting. I sell most of my serigraphs for $75 and the number of multiples in each edition is relatively small, usually 50 – 75.

It’s also nice that people who like your work but aren’t in a position to spend a lot can walk away with a piece. It’s also a great way for people to start collecting quality, original work on a budget.

Anyway, I hope that I’ve made your understanding of this better and not worse. Thanks for reading. – L/C

Acknowledgment: Open Studio — one of Canada’s leading contemporary printmaking centres—offers affordable printmaking facilities for artists, and exhibitions, education programs and artwork sales for the general public.’

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Help me, I’m trapped somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd dimension.

I’ve started to make things in what I like to call ‘2.5 D’. Sometimes I take a picture that is already painted, cut it apart and then reconstruct it in various levels.

I’ve attached a quick video that demonstrates the cutting and another for the rebuilding.

Other times I begin with the drawing on board, cut out and around the shapes using a scroll saw. After that I paint the images on the separate parts, and then build the final piece. This is definitely the least scary of the two options. Either way the final effect is pretty much the same.

Anyway, that’s it for today. It may be the shortest blog post ever but it came with pictures so I must get points for that, right? – L/C

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Tim Hortons Holds Canada Together

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I drove from Calgary, Alberta to Knowlton, Quebec. It’s a long way geographically as well as culturally. One province feels completely isolated and hard done by and the other is Quebec, but I digress. The journey presents an opportunity to empty one’s mind but maintain enough focus so as to keep the wheels between the lines. For the record, it’s a drive we’ve done before and one that I don’t mind doing ­– just not too often.

We currently have houses in both places but hopefully not for much longer. Prior to leaving on our journey we had a few weeks of intensive fix-up and clean-up to do. Our Calgary house is for sale and our intention is to be in Knowlton full time. Fingers crossed.

The SUV was packed tight and deep with all manner of stuff. I had a bunch of new paintings that were mostly unframed and a couple of boxes containing 4 new silkscreen print editions. There was also a circular saw and various other tools intended for various projects in and around the Knowlton house. We also had clothes and shoes and a cooler and pots and pans and on and on and so forth. Lots and lots of stuff that took up the entire back of the car with the back seats folded down.

The silkscreen prints were done in advance of the 2020 Tour Des Arts. That event was also impetus for getting new paintings done. Of course, because of COVID 19 the tour has been cancelled for this year but something in me felt the need to proceed as though it is still happening. It was a case of bringing it all or sticking it into storage back in Calgary. Also, I hold hope that some us will still be able to put together some kind of show in lieu of the tour. We shall see.

Driving Cross Country During a Pandemic

Yes, we drove across a goodly portion of the country during a pandemic. While I realize this may not ingratiate us to many, I can assure everyone that precautions were taken seriously. During the rare times we left the car, we wore masks. Motels were not a problem and each seemed glad to see us. Rates were definitely lower than what is typical. CAA card also came in handy for discounts. Staff seemed to be very cautious of sanitation and cleanliness. Front desks were protected by plastic barriers, etc.

Tim Hortons We Salute You

I take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to this pre-eminent Canadian institution. Of the many franchises dotting the route, all but one location we stopped at had open bathroom facilities. Coffee, lunch, and bathroom breaks all happened at Tim Hortons. Timbits are also an excellent amuse bouche on a long drive. Tim Hortons holds this country together in good times and bad.

Loving and Leaving Alberta

This is the part of the trip that seems easiest. After the final check and packing is done you head off on the adventure with a sense of relief that you are finally on your way. Heading east of Calgary offers little in the way of anything to look at other than bald ass prairie. Occasionally, I would search the landscape for a suitable tree from which to hang myself were I to ever find myself domiciled in these parts. I never found one.

The Province That’s Easy to Draw

Saskatchewan is mostly, although not entirely, flat and an easy drive. It has a few gently rolling parts to occasionally relieve the monotony but requires little real effort in terms of driving. In fact, half asleep is not a bad way to do it. I’m pretty sure that I drove most of it with the little finger of my left hand while the car was set to cruise control. They call it ‘Land of the living skies’ by default. It’s a good part of the drive to let your thoughts wander where they may.

Manitoba

Brandon was our first stop and we took up in a Super8 just barely off the highway. Manitoba has terrible highway and road conditions. Bumpy, rutty, and generally terrible.

Ontariariario

The one thing I know for sure is that Ontario is very long indeed and the most taxing part to drive. The Trans-Canada, as it is called, is really a bunch of cobbled together secondary highways once you get into Northern Ontario. Highway 17, which you are on for a good part of the way is mostly two lanes with intermittent sections with passing lanes. These are helpful for sure and likely prevent a lot of accidents. The route tends to be very twisty-turny so the driving required in Northern Ontario is far more active than say Saskatchewan is. We budgeted and spent two days to get through Ontario in order to avoid driving at night. Best not to hit a moose.

There are some very beautiful parts of the drive through Ontario. The fact that we took two days allowed us to stop occasionally and breathe some of it in. Big stretches of Northern Ontario have very little in the way of services like gas and lodging, so you need a bit of a strategy.

We went into Thunder Bay to stay the first night. The city itself is a little off of the Trans-Canada but it is surprisingly beautiful and vey well-kept. We stayed in a funky hotel that had previously been the courthouse. Funnily enough there were 3 cars (out of a total of 10) in the parking lot that had Alberta plates. Apparently, we were not the only Albertans defying recommendations not to travel. In the morning we took the short trip down to the waterfront and recharged a little before resuming our big drive. From there, we were on to our next big stop in Sault-Ste-Marie.

By the ‘Soo’ we were starting to get a little crusty. By this point your mindset is bordering on a dream-state so you have to keep your wits. Ontario was not finished with us yet and we were determined to get this done and be in Knowlton by day’s end. We made a brief stop in Ottawa to have a socially-distanced visit with our daughter on the front steps of her place. Gas, coffee, Timbits, and off we headed to our final destination which at this stage was 2.5 hours away.

We did finally arrive in Knowlton late in the evening while it was still light enough for us to glimpse the yard-work and general clean-up that was in store. The general condition of the house and yard is much improved but by no means are we finished. I haven’t had the time or energy leftover to do any painting. It’s hot and humid here right now. Hopefully I can get to that point next week. Everything is a journey, right?

In closing I just want to say that I haven’t had a Timbit since getting here. However, there is a Tim Hortons within about 2 kilometers. It’s still too soon, but one day. You see, it really is the glue. – L/C

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Should you date your artwork?

It’s a matter of personal preference and choice, of course. I do sign my work but prefer not to put a date on it. I feel as though it is somehow limiting to the work and to myself as an artist. Perhaps it is completely irrational to think this way but we are talking about art here.

Yes, a date on artwork indicates the year in which it was completed. Perhaps ‘completed’ is the key word here. I suppose that for some artists it is a declaration to themselves and others that the work they are putting a date on (and presumably signing) is now finished. The creator may have even worked on this particular piece over multiple years and at this pivotal moment, the process has definitively and finally concluded.

Past its best-before date
It’s how other people may perceive the date on a piece of art that worries me. It can feel like a best before date on a tub of sour cream. It’s no longer desirable of fit for human consumption. It’s been abandoned at the back of the refrigerator (possibly next to a jar of heritage cocktail onions) for far too long. Metaphorically speaking, it has gone off.

I always imagine someone looking at a piece of work for sale in a gallery and seeing a date that is a few or even several years in the past. Maybe it would make them see it as some kind of unwanted leftover and therefor think less of it. ‘After all this time is still hasn’t sold,’ they muse, ‘why should I want it?’ They may otherwise really love it and be interested in purchasing it but the date can sow seeds of doubt. Should it really matter that the paint is still fresh?

Experience has taught me that for most people, purchasing art is an impulse buy. Their rational selves are trying really hard to convince their irrational selves not do this. Why give them another reason to talk themselves out of it?

I have few doubts that a good argument to the contrary could be made – just not by me. Some may see it as an important part of the archiving process or as a means to track the progression of their work. It’s all good.

You should catalogue your art

Everyone says you should and that it is the professional thing to do. I can’t argue with that and I can argue with most things. After all, it’s helpful to the people you leave behind after you kick the bucket and your work is actually worth something. Seriously though, keeping track of my work has never been a strong suit but I now see it as a priority.

Cataloguing your work is a great way to keep track of many more pertinent details than just date-of-completion. In fact, this blog post has given me the push that I needed to get finally get around to doing my own. Recording dimensions, materials used (media), if it’s been sold, and to whom is a good start. A brief description that includes any relevant information is also good. A picture is key.

Some out there suggest using a program like excel and assigning what a number to everything. There are few things that I like less than a spreadsheet so this idea holds no appeal for me. Also, wouldn’t you have to have a separate visual record that is numbered to match the one in the spreadsheet?

I am using Adobe InDesign, a page layout program that I am very familiar with. This way I can have a photograph for each with a corresponding block of text with as much information as I need. I can easily add as many pages as I need and the document can be updated and expanded on an ongoing basis.

This way, the fact that I prefer not to date a specific work is compensated for by having a permanent record that includes the necessary details for each work but also my entire output. Of course, whether you decide to date your work or not is up to.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. – L/C

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How do I photograph artwork?

Here are the basics that I will expand upon further.
• Use a tripod.
• Use a digital camera with manual settings.
• Line up the middle of your camera with the middle of the piece you are shooting.
• Make sure that the amount of light is even across the artwork.
• The area behind the camera should be dark to avoid reflection.
• Shoot inside with photo lights if you can
• Do it on an overcast day if shooting outside
• Remember to take some close-ups along with the wide shots.

Specifically, I am referring to photographing two-dimensional artwork. Most of my art is rectangular so, for the purposes of discussion, I will stick with that. If the format of the artwork is an unconventional (non-rectangular) shape, the same principles still apply but may not be quite as critical. Rectangular artwork is especially tricky because of distortion caused either by the lens or the relative positions of the lens and subject. If your setup is wrong you will end up with slightly wonky shapes and that can be really frustrating.

How Do I position the Camera?
For best results, the camera needs be on a tripod. The tripod not only keeps the camera rock-steady, it maintains the same position. You’ll also need a tape measure and maybe even a plum-bob if you like. It’s virtually impossible to get a good result doing hand held photography. The middle of the lens has to be in line (or as close as possible) with the middle of the artwork that you are photographing. This is true both horizontally and vertically. For example, if the middle of the painting is 4 feet off the floor then so too does the middle of your camera lens. You really need a tape measure to achieve this. Being precise with your set up is the only way to avoid distortion in your images.

Getting everything lined up horizontally is another key part of the equation. It can be little tricky but I would recommend finding the horizontal middle of the art and aligning it with a line or seam in a hardwood or tiled floor. This is where the plumb-bob can be helpful. If not, a pen at the end of a string also works. Then you can line up the camera to the line on the floor.

I always have a roll of masking tape and a Sharpy handy so that I can use to make temporary marks on the wall or floor.

The camera needs to be perpendicular to the surface of the artwork. This can be made easier by the use of a spirit level. Otherwise, you can do it with a careful eye and some trial and error. I definitely prefer having a vertical wall or an easel that is set completely upright. It’s just easier to match two straight up-and-down planes than it is to match two odd angles.

It’s worth noting that the degree of difficulty in avoiding distortion and thereby ending up with wonky (skewed) shapes increases with size. So larger pieces make careful setup even more essential to success.

Use a Camera with Manual Settings
I won’t go into really technical detail about exposures here but the problem with shooting on automatic means that the camera is left to do a lot of guess work. There are many factors that can throw it off.  For example, the lightness or darkness of the artwork can hamper the camera’s ability to make an accurate white balance reading. The colour balance can really get out of whack and that is a problem when photographing art.

A camera with manual settings allows you to ‘bracket’ your exposures. Bracketing simply means taking multiple shots with different camera settings. I use the preview on the back of my camera to tell me when my exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed combination) are about right. I know from experience the image on my preview tends to be a little deceiving so I take that into account. Once I am happy enough with what I am seeing in the preview, I take two more shots with different exposure combinations. I prefer to keep the same aperture setting and vary the shutter speed. I take one shot with a shutter speed that is one setting faster and another that is one setting slower. Keeping a constant shutter speed and varying the aperture setting will also work.

One more thing – if your camera has the capability, shoot in RAW mode. This way you have the most range to adjust things like exposure, colour balance, and contrast after the fact.

How Do I Light Artwork?
You basically have the options of shooting indoors with artificial light or outdoors with natural light. Some people suggest a combination whereby you shoot the art work on a wall that is beside a window that is letting light in. In my opinion, this is just plain wrong. There is no way that you can get an even amount of light across the surface of the piece that you are shooting. This is essential to capturing an accurate record of the artwork. In other words, you have to have the same amount of light hitting the entire surface, top to bottom and side to side. Fudging things in photo-manipulation software after the fact will not be able to solve this. But I digress.

Shooting with Artificial Light
You need two photo lights that are set at a 45-degree angle to the subject. They need to be an equal distance from the art and also aimed at the middle of the painting. My paintings tend to have a glossy surface so getting this right is particularly critical. Otherwise you can easily end up with hot spots on the image caused by the surface reflecting the light back at the lens.

I have a pair that I bought on Amazon. Each is a soft-box on stand that holds 4 led bulbs and have two intensity settings, full and half. I forget how much I paid but it wasn’t a lot. They aren’t professional grade by any means but they do the job well enough. The bulbs I put in them are LED balanced to simulate ‘daylight.’ LED bulbs create very little heat and use minimal energy so are a great option. You can leave them on a long time without worrying.

You need to eliminate any extraneous light sources. Obviously, shooting after dark will take care of any light coming in from a window. Just turn off all other sources of light in the room and you should be all set. Control is key and you really don’t want to mix natural light and artificial lights because your camera settings will only work for one or the other.

Whether shooting indoors or out you don’t want to have any source of light coming from behind the camera. You can avoid a lot of pesky reflections this way.

Using Natural Light
You can also shoot artwork out-of-doors using natural light. This certainly eliminates the work involved in setting up your lighting but it can present some other complicating factors like wind, rain, and changes in the amount of light available from one moment to the next. I also find that setting up the artwork or even finding a good place to do that makes it more difficult than in a controlled studio or interior setting, which is generally my preference. However, shooting outdoors can be a great choice if the conditions are right. AVOID SHOOTING IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. It is virtually impossible to avoid hot spots of reflected light. Shooting in shade or much better yet, overcast but bright conditions will yield much better results. The light is much more even, and diffuse in overcast conditions. This makes it much easier to have even lighting across the surface of the two-dimensional artwork. You can still get variation of light intensity from one side of the artwork to the other. I find it a good idea to have the work facing toward the brightest part of the sky.

It’s Time for Your Close-up
Once you have your wide shots done I strongly suggest taking some detail shots of the artwork. You’ve got your lighting all set up and your camera at the ready so why not take some close-up shots that can show details and what the surface or texture is like. I take the camera off of the tripod for this and do it hand-held rather than zooming in. You get better image quality this way. These close-up shots are particularly valuable when posting your artwork online. Sites like saatchiart.com and Etsy.com typically require that you have detail shots in addition to the main shot of the artwork. After all, showing or seeing online comes with a few disadvantages when compared to an in-person gallery situation. This is one way to help overcome that.

Wrap-up
Photographing artwork can be challenging but it is possible to do it yourself and get good results. I hope what I have written here will be a help to some of you. Bye for now. – L/C