Original Art or Reproductions or Both

Original Art or Reproductions or Both

Have you ever wondered what the best way to sell art is? I mean, is it original art or reproductions, or some combination?

If you have, you’re not alone. Most artists trying to make a living (or even just pay for art supplies) have asked themselves this question at one time or another. One reader asked it to me.

Is it better to sell reproductions and keep the original, or sell the original of an art piece? What would determine which route to go?

Original Art or Reproductions or Both

Reproductions used to be all the rage. Successful artists created great art, had reproductions made and sold the reproductions and sometimes the original. It was a good way to make good money on art. But it didn’t work for all art or for all artists.

I’ve had reproductions made two ways.

The Old Fashioned Way

Back in the 1990s, I sent an original colored pencil drawing to a printing company, they took a high-resolution photo of it, then printed a run of reproductions. Reproductions made this way are technically called lithographs and the process is lithography. It’s essentially the same method used to print books, magazines and newspapers.

Original Art or Reproductions - An image reproduced as a lithograph.
Park Pony, shown here, is the first original I reproduced professionally. It was reproduced as a lithograph. The lithographs were beautiful and very well done, but did not sell.

Printing this way is less expensive per copy because you run a lot of copies all at once. In general, the more copies you make, the less it costs per copy.

But I had to pay for the complete order up front and I had to manage the inventory. I still have most of it, though I may have sold enough to pay the cost of the order.

The Newer Way

In 2003, I took several images to a local photographer, who used a very high-resolution camera to photograph them, then was able to print reproductions to order as I needed them. This was definitely more expensive per copy, but I had no inventory and could order reproductions only as they sold.

This type of reproduction is often referred to as a giclee (zhe-clay) because it’s printed using ink jet printing and archival inks. It’s a great way to do on-demand reproductions and is actually quite reasonably priced once you get past the photography.

Original Art or Reproductions - An image reproduced as a giclee.
Morning Dreams is one of four oil paintings and two colored pencil pieces professionally photographed for reproduction as giclee reproductions.

These reproductions didn’t sell very well either, I ended up with was high-resolution digital images of those pieces. Pretty expensive digital files!

Why Reproductions Didn’t Work for Me

Not the Right Market

I’ve never had success with reproductions and decided a long time ago to stick with originals. That suited my business model, which was portrait painting. The people who bought portraits weren’t interested in reproductions. Why should they be? They had the original.

The people who purchase reproductions didn’t want pictures of other people’s horses. They wanted more generic images. Horses in landscapes, for example.

Or generic racing scenes or hunt scenes. I wasn’t doing that sort of thing, so the print market wasn’t a good fit for me.

Not the Right Art

It’s a great ego boost to have reproductions for sale, but it’s also a great responsibility. Unless you have a lot of money to spend (and how many of us do?) you need to be very careful about the images you choose to reproduce.

I’d really like to blame the market for the failure of my reproductions to sell, but the blame is all mine.

Park Pony (the lithograph) was a nice drawing, but a lousy reproduction. It just didn’t have enough mass market appeal and I would have been much better off to not have reproduced it.

Morning Dreams is a more generic image, the kind of image that has done well for some artists. But it’s not good enough. My technical skill was simply not at a level to justify reproducing the image, and I painted the painting on a short deadline, so it didn’t get the kind of attention I would have given a portrait. Those are two ingredients in a recipe for failure when it comes to selling reproductions.

Not the Right Marketing

In both examples cited above, I believed that all I had to do was get my artwork out there and people would buy it. Yes, I did a little marketing, but not at a level designed to generate interest or sales.

So sales were few and far between.

So How Do You Decide?

Even professional artists producing high-quality artwork on a regular basis sometimes produce images that don’t sell for one reason or another. So how do you decide what images to reproduce or if you should offer reproductions?

The second question is easier to answer than the first, so let’s tackle that first.

Should You or Shouldn’t You?

With modern technology, it’s very easy to reproduce images. Today’s cameras, scanners, and printers are good enough that any artist who wants to take the time can do reproductions of any of their drawings they want (or all of them.) If all you want is a website with loads of reproductions for sale, that’s up to you.

But in order to have more than just a website, you also need to market and the better your work, the easier marketing is.

What I suggest is that you wait to reproduce work, and that you spend that waiting time creating the best art you can. Yes, draw the subjects you most love drawing, but also keep in mind the things that appeal to other people.

Don’t rush into the market before you’re ready, like I did. That was so discouraging both times that I haven’t tried it since.

How to Select Images

After you have a body of work (maybe six to ten pieces,) start with the best one. If you’ve shown them around, either in person, on social media, or in other ways, pay attention to the images that get the most attention.

If you find that a particular image or type of image sells well as an original, then it’s worth trying as a reproduction.

And if you get people asking if a certain image is available as a reproduction, consider reproducing that image.

4 Comments

  1. Kim

    Yet another interesting and informative post Carrie that raises
    a lot of questions in reproducing a persons artwork.
    I completely understand your take on reproducing some of the beautiful work that you have created, only to not have it meet the intended market expectations as in your first example, it can get rather expensive in the early stages of the reproduction process
    which can be a detriment to future projects.
    Your 2nd example that mentions giclee is a good example of today’s technology that allows an artist to reproduce their work on a smaller scale at a much more affordable cost.
    Great post once again Carrie…thank you.

    Kim

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