Brian Nissen is a visual artist, painter and sculptor based in New York City. He also works in Mexico City and Barcelona. In this post, he talks about using the new HP Designjet Z6200 photo printer and HP Fine Art Paper to create, exhibit, and sell his Codices, limited-edition books with facsimiles of his gouache artwork based on pre-Columbian codices. His story shows some of the limitless possibilities for using digital printing to create more portable, visually engaging traveling exhibitions of photographs and art.
Most of us who work with photographic fine-art prints, painted images, or fine-art reproduction have some level of concern about fraud and unauthorized copying of our work or the work of the artists who hire us to make prints for them. Similarly, galleries, publishers, and collectors of fine photo and art prints often want assurance that the reproduction and sale of the piece has been approved by the artist who created it.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how a written Certificate of Authenticity can add real value to prints that are ready for exhibition or sale. Now, there is a new, additional step you can take to verify the ownership and authenticity of each print—particularly open editions. It’s called the ARTtrust solution and it can be used to verify the history and authenticity of a protected work.
Developed in collaboration between HP and Prooftag™, the ARTtrust solution is an integrated, self-certification system that includes completely unique ID tags, online registration, and serialized membership cards.
It is under full control of each artist and provides an individual identity to any Digital Fine Art Collection Print produced on an HP Designjet Z printer using HP Vivera Pigment inks. It can be used with whatever media type you choose.
A core part of the system is a unique "bubble tag", a translucent polymer identity marker that contains a totally unique, random pattern of bubbles that cannot be duplicated. Differences between bubble tags can be easily seen. The bubble tag has an archival-based adhesive, so it can be affixed to a print.
Bubble tages are provided in color-coded sets of three: one for the print, one for the Certificate of Authenticity, and the third for the artist's or printmakers records.
There are four steps involved in using the solution: registration, "artist's enablement", activation, and verification.
Registration: After registering on the ARTtrust website, you’ll receive a personal identification card with a unique, embedded Bubble Tag. You will need this ARTtag ID card to activate and control all of the tags associated with your work.
Artist Enablement: Acquire the tag sets from the ARTtrust website.
Activation: To activate the tags, you must register all three tags in the set on the ARTtrust website, along with information about what printer and media you used, etc. You can upload an image of the artwork if you like. Attach the tags to the artwork/print, the Certificate of Authenticity, and your own printmaking records.
Verification: Anyone who is interested in buying or exhibiting a print may now visit the ARTtrust website, view the bubble tag for verification, and review additional details about the print (e.g. availability, pricing, etc.). If the print has been output on HP media, the prospective buyer can also get information about the predicted archival life of the print. This can be a significant selling point to collectors, curators, and others.
Once a valid record is created, a buyer or collector can easily inspect the origin, history, and authenticity of a print via the web or mobile phone. One can even visually compare the bubble pattern registered online against the tag attached to the the print.
The ARTtrust solution can bring a new level of security and peace of mind to sellers and buyers of fine art prints. The bubble-tag-based system has been used to verify the authenticity of other valuables, including fine wines and perfumes.
I see this as a tool for both artist and printmaker; artists may elect to manage their tag system, registration, and editions independently. Or they may leave it to the printmaker, who could also purchase a system and administer it on behalf of, or in collaboration with, the artist.
In any case, ARTtrust can protect the value of an edition by guarding against unauthorized use or copying of a printed piece.
As one of the photographers/printmakers who played a role in the development of the HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon, I receive a steady stream of questions about digital fine art reproduction. Some people ask about the type of technical equipment and photographic proficiency required. Others are more concerned about the feasibility of getting into digital fine-art reproduction as a business. All of these questions are valid, and I will address many of them on a new post on this blog next week.
But if you’re seriously interested in entering the digital fine-art reproduction business, I would encourage you to attend one of the seminars I will be presenting in the New York and Washington, DC area in early June.
You may be surprised to see how much things have changed. A few years ago, the level of financial investment and technical skill required for digital fine-art reproduction was daunting. Now, the technology and software have advanced to the point that digital fine-art reproduction is no longer strictly an enterprise for a small elite.
The HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon helps make it more practical for more museums, galleries, artists, art publishers, and curators to convert more of the artwork in their collections into digital files and print them out in various sizes and formats as desired.
Applications for fine art reproduction include (but aren’t limited to): the creation of limited-edition reproductions of watercolor paintings, drawings or sketches for sale or exhibitions; the restoration and archiving of national collections of artworks; and reproductions of private art collections for family estates and heirlooms.
Once the art has been digitally captured and archived, the files can also be used to create various types of promotions for gallery exhibits as well as posters and other items to be sold in museum or resort-area gift shops.
Many museums, galleries, and art publishers may choose to establish their own in-house art-reproduction facilities. But many opportunities also exist in digital fine-art reproduction for enterprising photographers and print-service providers who want to diversify their businesses.
If you attend one of my seminars, I will show you exactly how the HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon works. First, I’ll talk about how to prepare your studio for image capture using the Nikon D3/D3x, then I will demonstrate how the HP Artist Software solution embedded in the Ergosoft StudioPrint RIP controls color, exposure, illumination, density and media selection. You will also see how the printing process is managed with the Designjet Z3200.
Best of all you’ll be able to see for yourself how the quality of the Designjet reproduction compares to the original captured with the HP Artist Software solution for Nikon. I think you’ll be amazed to see how much less labor-intensive and less expensive is has become to produce gallery or exhibition-quality prints.
In the seminar, I’ll also explain why I firmly believe most start-ups should be able to achieve the transition from break-even to profitability within a year. I’ve spent a lot of time doing profit/loss calculations for different reproduction scenarios and will be happy to share my findings with you. We will also review methods for recruiting artists or organizations as new customers, and show how you can help coach your clients to effectively market their art reproductions at reasonable cost. You’ll also receive access to a downloadable portfolio of supporting technical papers, how-to guides, and other documents. (For a preview, visit the HP Artist Solution for Nikon directory on my website.)
The first three seminars are scheduled for: Monday, June 1 at B&H Photo in New York, Tuesday, June 2 at Adorama Photo in New York; and Wednesday, June 4 at Mac Business Solutions in Gaithersburg, MD (serving the Washington DC Metro area). If you can’t attend any of these first three seminars, but might be interested in attending seminars in other cities, please let me know.
And if you’re still not sure whether Digital Fine Art Reproduction is an opportunity that makes sense for you, check this blog next week when I’ll be posting answers to the most frequently asked questions about the still-expanding field of Digital Fine Art Reproduction.
The HP Artist Solution for Fine Art Reproduction represents a potential business opportunity that should not be overlooked.
The technology was developed by a collaboration between HP, Nikon, and Ergosoft, a company that makes StudioPrint print-management software for high-end fine-art and photographic printing. The HP Artist Solution for Digital Fine Art Reproduction is a combination of hardware and software that greatly streamlines the workflow in fine art reproduction, reduces technical requirements for the operator, and provides an opportunity for users to improve their cash flow and profitability.
Photographers, galleries, and others can add this system to their toolbox and attract new customers from the fine art photography and art communities.
If I don’t have a chance to give you a demo personally at PMA next week, take a few moments to read my detailed review of the system on the HP Graphic Arts site. Plus, I’ve posted additional content, videos of artist interviews, and profitability analysis information on my own website (www.davidsaffir.com).
I’ve also written several blog posts that provide more details about how the HP Artist Solution works, why the fine art reproduction business is such a good opportunity for professional photographers, what it takes to get started in the fine-art reproduction business, how to find customers, and how to build relationships with artists.
If you have any further questions about the HP Artist Solution, submit them here and I will address them in a future post
If you are considering using your photography equipment and skills to get into the business of fine-art reproduction, keep in mind that the viability and profitability of your new venture will depend partly on how skillful you are at building personal relationships and a sense of trust. In fact, your interpersonal skills may matter even more than your technical prowess.
To show you what I mean, let’s review each stage of the process of helping an artist create a sellable edition of his or her works.
Image quality, of course, is critical. The initial photographic capture of the original and the subsequent prints must meet the standards and expectations of the artists’ targeted customers. The standards may vary depending on whether the artist is seeking to appeal to:
-Individual consumers who buy prints at art fairs or gift shops;
-Interior designers of residential or commercial office space;
-Gallery owners, exhibition judges, and art dealers; or
-Museum curators, and private art collectors.
Some artists seeking reproductions will have definite ideas of exactly what they want. Some may be wary if they have been disappointed by the work of previous printmakers. However, for many artists this may be the first time they have ever hired someone to digitally reproduce their work. They will look to you for guidance.
That’s why establishing effective communications and a personal rapport between you and artist should be at the heart of your business model. To efficiently achieve the results that the artist wants, you need to gain their trust and come to a mutual understanding with regards to their artistic goals.
Most of my new business comes from word-of-mouth referrals from past and current customers. This gives me a head start in earning the trust of each new client, because artists tend to trust the recommendations of their peers. From my experience, word-of-mouth marketing is far more effective in bringing in new business than advertising or postcard mailings.
The next most important step in the process is the initial meeting. How well you handle this step sets the stage for later success.
The Initial Consultation
Most artists are interested in reproducing their originals because it gives them much greater freedom in showing and selling their work. They don’t have to permanently give up or take risks with the original, and they can price the reproductions at a level that makes them more accessible to their potential audience or customers.
When they come to you, many artists will have already begun to visualize what they want. In their minds, they know what success will look like. The more clearly you can coax them to express that vision, the more easily you will meet their expectations. Some good questions to ask:
-Do you expect the reproduction to look exactly like the original?
-What media type do you want to print on?
- Are there adjustments or improvements that you would like to see?
- Are you planning to hold an exhibition? If so, what are the viewing conditions?
-Have you selected pieces you want to reproduce and/or show?
-Are you planning an open or closed edition? What size?
-Will the work be framed, or unframed?
Initially, many artists believe that the reproduction can, and should, be indistinguishable from the original. Although this is possible, it is often difficult to accomplish at reasonable expense. Paper type, base paper tone, texture, color, and density all have to be duplicated.
For the initial consultation, I keep a portfolio of other artists’ completed work on hand. These examples often prove to be useful tools in initial discussions with new clients. Typically a new artist enjoys exploring creative options such as choosing a new media type or considering a different treatment of the original. In all but a very small minority of cases, the artist will elect to make a few changes when their original is reproduced as a print.
It is also important that the artist have realistic expectations about selling their work. Making prints doesn’t guarantee anything. They’ll have to show and market their work, which takes time and effort.
Photographing the Artwork
In many cases, we’ll start with one or two pieces. This keeps communication simpler. And because the scope of the project is smaller, it is more manageable. Starting small can help build comfort levels and trust.
The artist will usually leave the artwork with me. Along with their initial order, I ask them to sign a liability release. Although any photographer would be diligent about protecting original artwork, no one can guarantee perfect safety. A moderate deposit helps keep things professional, and ensures commitment.
At this stage, we will have reached an initial agreement on artistic goals. Then, I’ll photograph the work and create a test print for the artist’s review.
The Test Print
I’ll make the test prints using the initial guidelines and goals we’ve agreed on. Usually we require only one test print, but sometimes an artist will want to see test prints on different media types. If they have had their work reproduced in the past, we may view one of these copies together, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and fit with current goals and expectations.
When the artist views the test print, we’ll look at a number of attributes, such as color, density, detail and feel.
If the test prints are OK, the artist will sign off on a final order, which I’ll then complete for them. I usually retain the original until final delivery, mostly to give me an additional reference point.
Today’s color-management and digital printing technology allows us to make small batches of prints that will look consistent no matter when they were printed. So to begin with, we typically make anywhere from two to five prints of each original. This keeps initial costs down and leaves the door open to make additional prints as an edition sells. We know that we can return in weeks or months and make a few more prints that will be accurate reproductions.
When the artist arrives to pick up a final print, I try to present the print to them in a realistic viewing environment. The print is on an easel under lighting similar to the planned display environment. I don’t normally show the original side-by-side with the reproduction at the outset. Instead, I prefer that the printed piece be given a chance to stand, or fall, on its own.
Later, we’ll look at the original and the print together. Because the artist has already seen a test print, it is rare for either of us to see any surprises at this stage.
Sometimes we will discuss framing and presentation. Some print service providers offer framing services, but I do not. I usually refer the artist to a dedicated frame shop that I know will do a good job at reasonable cost.
Frequently, discussions will include transportation, storage, pricing, edition size, signing work, and the like. The discussion with each artist is different.
Most important, I think, is that each artist enjoys the experience of feeling unique—that their work matters, and that they have my undivided attention while we are working together. The personal touch makes a big difference.
Down the road, I hope they’ll do two things: return to have additional prints made, and talk to their friends and colleagues about working with me.
Educate Your Customers
A parting thought? It makes sense for photographers in this business to invest some time in educating potential customers. One good way to do this is to make succinct presentations to local artists’ associations, classes, and clubs.
If one of your satisfied customers is already in the group, so much the better. But when you make your presentation, avoid the “infomercial” approach. Instead, talk about the process in a way that demonstrates your understating of the technical challenges of accuracy and color fidelity, your ability to offer creative options, and your respect for their artistic goals. Help educate artists about the process and what is realistic to expect, and over time your business will grow and flourish