Traditional printing methods have had to contend with the advent of digital print media in the last decade and a half. As a former serigrapher, I survived the headiest years of the “giclée” invasion, so I figured it might be worthwhile to document my experience.
During the 90’s and early 2000’s I produced scores of limited edition, fine art serigraphs for dozens of prominent artists, including French artists, Michel Delacroix and André Bourrié. This involved the laborious hand-process of replicating an original painting like a puzzle, layer upon layer, color field over color field.
I achieved success producing fine art serigraphs, both as a partner in a Fine Art Serigraphy printing house and as an independent contractor working out of other printing houses. Fine art publishers and artists specifically demanded my hand, and I was able to build a career through my unique, strategic application of the process.
Serigraphy is an expensive and lengthy process, and each screen (color) used to create a print adds to the cost. Prints I created typically took 40-65 screens (depending on the complexity of the art) and a few months to produce. Needless to say, both the printing house and publisher (and/or artist) demanded the lowest number screens possible to keep production costs down and accelerate production time. Making this system profitable relied completely on the strategic eye and skilled hand of the “chromist”, or color separator. Keeping costs down wasn’t in and of itself the only challenge; the print had to “sing” as it’s own medium, and not just a reproduction, or else it wouldn’t sell and the art publisher would be in the hole.
In the late 90’s digital print media began to take hold. Giclée (Iris) print technology began to offer fine art publishers new alternatives to the costly serigraphy medium. Although the giclée product was vastly inferior to the richness and texture of serigraphy, it offered publishers one key benefit: print on demand. Publishers no longer had to gamble on shelling out top money for an entire edition that might not sell, and instead could quickly produce prints as people bought them. Also, because of the vastly reduced investment, publishers now could sell the prints at a more affordable price to consumers.
The problem art publishers and galleries encountered with giclée’s, though, is that consumers couldn’t see much difference between giclée’s and cheap, four-color process posters, and still preferred the look of serigraphs. But now that Pandora’s box had been opened, they no longer wanted to pay the hefty price for a serigraph.
Art publishers came up with a new solution: over-printing giclée prints (or lithographs) with layers of serigraphy printing. By doing this, they could half the number of colors required to produce a serigraph-looking print, and also add texture through varied degrees of ink opacity. This approach was dishonest, as the hybrid prints were passed off as 100% original serigraphs. Furthermore, they only superficially held the richness of an original serigraph.
The practice of producing digital/serigraph hybrids prompted some Fine Art Publishers, like Axelle Fine Arts of New York, to promote themselves as “No Giclée” dealers. But over time, as digital print technology improved, even those publishers succumbed to dealing giclée prints, albeit specified and priced as such.
While many serigraphy printing houses fought and fell to the advances of digital print media, I was able to maintain a high level of serigraphy production through my unique approach to the medium. To a degree I accredit much of this technique from working directly with artist André Bourrié on a few of his prints. Because his artwork is composed of broken color a literal translation of each miniscule color fragment would be an epic undertaking, if not impossible. In that sense, a literal print reproduction would be better achieved through digital translation.
Bourrié understood that reproductions of his paintings needed to stand on their own, so the color separating approach to his prints began with a free-form explosion of broken, exaggerated color. Each subsequent layer of color contrasted the previous in value and temperature, and became slightly more refined until the final print layers more closely emulated the original. A few semi-opaque overall final layers knocked back all of the colors and served the purpose of tying the composition together. In this way, the magic of his art was preserved.
The Bourrié approach to reproductive printmaking proved to be a magic formula, and I applied and modified it in varied degrees to other artist’s works. Specifically, I utilized broad-coverage, contrasting color temperature and ink opacity techniques to “trick” the eye into seeing more color, and thereby reduce the number of screens required to energize the print. To this day the prints I produced in this manner command attention, and a high value.
In 2013 I am immersed in digital media, where I continue to apply new creative approaches to conventional methods. The challenge here is to produce material that stands the test of time in a medium that constantly changes.