This subject applies primarily to painters, but it can apply to other artists as well. The most basic overall application relates to magazine covers: interior design magazines, lawn and garden magazines, magazines for medical societies, architectural associations, and so on. Many of these publications welcome the opportunity to reproduce an image of a work of art, be it painting or sculpture, on their covers. Many others may have never done it before, but might open to suggestion. Have your dealers suggest it to them, or suggest it yourself.
The Kansas Medical Society has made a practice of this, as has the Missouri Medical Society, and both have reproduced images for my artists. I’ve arranged the same with scores of other publications, both major and minor. I rarely charge a copyright fee though, since I feel that the exposure is what’s most important, and I don’t care to complicate the deal with a demand for what is usually just a small amount of change.
Reproductions can also be used for certain types of corporate brochures, hotel brochures, restaurant menus, etc.
Example: It was just this sort of reproduction that launched Maxfield Parrish’s career. In his case, a candy manufacturer out of Cleveland asked permission to reproduce one of his paintings on their boxes. Parrish agreed to do this for a modest fee, the boxes were printed and distributed by the thousands, and within a year, he was signing a contract to distribute reproductions of his best originals. This in turn led to an increased demand for his originals, also increasing the prices he could get for them, and in the end gave him the leisure to finish his paintings in just the way he wanted. Since he tended to spend as much as a year on some of his more complex works, that leisure was critical.
Similarly for you, if you’re a painter, reproductions of originals can be a very lucrative, career-enhancing move. It can also be a flop, depending on how it’s managed, and who manages it. Normally it’s best if a gallery handles this, although the painter should be involved in every step of the reproduction process, especially the proofing.
How do you go about it?
First, you want to start with the strongest possible painting. After choosing an image that you and your dealer feel will sell well, you then have to choose the best reproduction process for your purposes. These choices generally are: offset color prints on archival paper (glorified posters), giclee prints on archival paper (extremely glorified posters), or just posters. I’ve dealt in the first two options for certain artists, and have overseen the production and distribution of these prints to various frame shops. Over time, the wholesaling of these works can pay quite well, but the main reason I do all this is to make my painters better known, and to sell more of their originals. This invariably occurs if the marketing of the prints is done competently.
If I cover the cost of production, then I pay the artist 20% of gross sales. If the artist covers the cost of production, then I keep 20% of each framed piece I sell assuming the artist or some frame shop did the framing, and they normally do since I can’t stand framing, and refuse to do it.
What? An art dealer who doesn’t frame? Man, I’ve got too much to do, and too many books to write, to bother with it. My assistants handle that, or I just have other galleries do it for me.
Apart from the types of prints listed above, there are also fine art prints: etchings, lithographs, mezzotints, aquatints, etc. For the artist skilled in any of these processes, these are a wonderful way to showcase your talents without charging the higher fees that originals necessarily command. It’s more difficult to mass-market these, since they tend to be more expensive, and since they usually don’t utilize much, if any, color. But then they’re not made for the mass market, and shouldn’t be viewed in that light. These types of prints are works of art unto themselves, and that is the only light in which they should be viewed.
Reproductions aren’t for everyone, but if you and your dealer feel you might carve a niche in that market, go ahead and pursue it. I advise you to start gradually though, working in small editions (100 to 300), and investing as little as possible. It’s better to test the market this way, than it is to invest heavily in prints, and find out, perhaps too late, that no matter how stunning they might be, you can’t even give them away. This happens more often than not; you don’t want to be one of the people it happens to.