Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

I’ve been at this about five years, only about five shows a year, invited back at State Street Ann Arbor every year. Looking to find my sweet spot, I check out fairs through my region.

Several fairs I have considered attending have a reproduction “edition” rule which states that “all reproductions must be numbered and signed.” This rule appears to apply to all 2D art.

I absolutely agree with this idea in media where printing is a variable or laborious process, such as wet-developed photography, intaglio, block printing, etc. For these media, signed, numbered editions are quite sensible ways to provide art to the collector. It’s fair to say the print IS THE ART SOLD.

But in oil painting, prints are a sideline for lower-budget buyers or where the original is in a private collection. Most of use “giclée,” in which a digital file is preserved, with NO limit to the number of “perfect” copies. The idea of a “limited edition” for such items is PURE MARKETING HOKUM, disingenuous, not to mention completely outmoded. Nobody’s going to pay a penny more because I didn’t print enough copies.

I have spent a lot of money (for me) on getting these reproductions of my paintings made. (See photo) Each costs me $60 and up. I only order one or two of these at a time. As you can see, the fact of and nature of each print is clearly printed on the canvas where it turns over on the back of the stretcher. I’ll NEVER make anywhere near 250 prints (let alone 500) of any one of my paintings.  The market doesn’t exist.  I sometimes order a couple of prints in smaller-than-original sizes from the same digital file. Is each different size another edition?

To add a signature over the signature embedded in the print would be silly. It would also be difficult, given the coated finish of these repros. To add a number would be simply disingenuous.

Anyway, I have written to fair organizers saying I'd like to enter their show and asking for clarification of this rule. I’ve explained what I do as above. What did I hear back?


So, friends, what do I do? What do you think?

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Why are you spending so much. All your reproductions should be printed on demand using a high end ink jet (giclee) printer.

The no limit reproductions of paintings have the same numbering issues that you have at shows that require reproductions be limited.

Limited or not. Just apply to the shows you want to.

Larry Berman

You mean apply to a show with these rules and then ignore them? Perhaps I didn't understand. My print costs include a high-res scan, image cleanup and stretching/mounting on frames. Sure, the scan is one-time but with only a few prints each it still costs. Let me know where I can get that cheaper. This is not "on-demand" because I want them in stock at the booth.

Scanning is OK but it's your choice to do it that way. I photograph art with a 36 megapixel camera which gives me 7500 pixels long dimension. I find it's better than scanning because I can control the lighting to show detail where a scan is direct lighting.

As for applying to shows, I do not want to give misleading information. But in over 30 years of doing shows with my own photography, I've never numbered and never been challenged except one show.

Larry Berman

Thanks, Larry. That's perspective a newbie like me needs. My canvas print supplier's scans were far sharper than I can get with my camera and I liked that as long as he was in business. I'll see what I can get with mine.

David, I don't see the logic behind wet-processed photographs needing to be numbered in editions, nor do I agree that numbering giclées represents them fraudulously. These arguments might never be solved, anyway, and considering your experience based upon what I viewed on your website, you are familiar with both sides of the argument. Your position opposes mine, and I've been both a tray processing photog, a maker of giclée photographs both on regular paper and on paper that I gild with 23k gold leaf as well as a maker of giclée repros for my wife's drawings and paintings.

Numbering and signing isn't all that's required of editions. These days painters are required to also issue a Certificate of Authenticity with each print reproduction unit. We could also view this practice as disingenuous, but it isn't. The details in the CoA mention everything about the artwork and the edition, etc. As sort of a guarantee that it is an authentic reproduction of the artist's original work. This isn't hokum, it's the facts. Even photographers print using the same machines as I do; those wide-format pigment ink printers from Canon and Epson, mostly.

It seems to me that by requiring photographers to sign and number editions, their process appears more to be one of reproduction rather than original print. Certainly, it's so easy to mass produce these giclées, but it's highly unlikely. And you know the reason why, because there's no market for that many! So it would be delusional thinking to dream of selling 10,000 copies or more or whatever constitutes fraud or whatever in your book.

I'm not selling our repros as original art, I'm selling them as repros of original art. The show system requires me to sign and number them. But I'm not about to do this for photographs, especially the one's I produce on hand-gilded paper. But I'm not going to do it for the normal black and whites or color photographic images I giclée print, either, unless I decide to issue a limited edition portfolio or something like that. Then I'll have to consider how I can maintain honesty and integrity to my collectors. I'm always going to go that route, anyway. I need these people to survive. So I'm not going hood-wink my way to the bank and stardom.

The shows have all latched onto this idea of numbering and signing. This is a newer concept, actually, not outmoded at all. It's now rampant where it used to barely exist!

By the way, you are a fine painter, but I'm especially intrigued by your Society for Creative Anachronism illustrations (almost illuminated manuscripts) as well as that awesome GOTHIC SPEAKER CABINET. WOOHOO!

Do you use karat gold leaf, or shell gold to illuminate these SCA pages?

My suggestion about getting answers from show organizers is to call them on the phone and speak with them.

Just to clarify: I believe that numbering MY giclées (I specified for oil paintings) would be disingenuous. I also said that in photos and print-oriented media the Print IS the Art. I would think that includes your special printing process on hand-gilded!!! paper.

My reference to outmoded edition policy goes back to the early-to-mid-20c when offset printing had not achieved anything like today’s quality. The artist would stand over the press and destroy defective prints, and then have the plates destroyed before witnesses when they could no longer print properly. We no longer have the need for that.

As for how far back photo print editions go, I could have sworn I saw a signed, numbered Ansel Adams in my eye doctor's office last year.

I have no problem with CoAs if somebody wants them. I never called that Hokum. That would be fine for a person like me who might never print more than five copies of any one painting. What I object to is being told my repros have be in editions. Signing and numbering is a consequence and a dressing-up in a costume that my work does not require nor should it be required to.

It follows that I agree with you in that you alone should have the right to decide what amounts to an “edition." It's the artist's decision that gives an edition any status at all, so the art fair should leave it to us. That's my entire point, aside from the fact that even a museum sponsoring an art fair wouldn't condescend to answer my question.

BTW, thank you for taking the time to check out my site and for your kind comments. I used what one supplier called "shell gold," basically gouache with fine bits of some yellow metal. They ARE intended to be illuminations, given as award scrolls to deserving people.

Second BTW: I too am a photographer as you may have noticed on my site.

CoA's are actually required by law. But who's checking, huh?

You did not see an Ansel Adams print that he numbered on the front so that it is seen. He didn't ever do that. He only numbered prints that were issued in his portfolios, also. But he numbered them on the back of the mounted prints. He dry mounted his prints that he issued in portfolio limited editions and signed them either in pen pencil directly below each image in small writing. Each portfolio had printed edition information accompanying it and each mount was numbered on the back to correspond with the number in the edition.

If you want to investigate this further, contact the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ. 

I used to teach photography, and I had a friend who was a photography collector and who would let me show parts of his collection to my students. He had a complete AA portfolio that I would show, plus Edward Weston and Paul strand and others.

I visited the Camera Obscura Gallery run by Hal Gould (R.I.P.) and he had so much photography in there it was absolutely amazing. Kertész, W. Eugene Smith, Edward Weston, etc. All the greats. These folks seldom if ever signed their prints on the front and certainly didn't number them. Why and why not? They didn't make very many of them. They were interested in developing new work. Ansel Adams represented the more commercial side of fine art photography and helped popularize the medium. But he didn't number his exhibition prints, at least not on the front of them like photogs seem to be doing these days at all these art fairs.

I agree with you completely that the art fairs should leave these edition decisions to us. Some might not want to issue editions, like me. I have no reason to mass produce an edition of photographs. The only reason we did editions for my wife's artworks is so that we could exhibit them at the art fairs. But the rule is ridiculous for photographers, really. It doesn't add value to them from my perspective, either. It's just that shows are looking at what other shows are doing and writing the rules into their rules no matter if it's right or wrong.

If you want to exhibit repros of your paintings, it might be in your best interest to number and sign.

Thanks for this information. As I said, I "could have sworn..." but perhaps what I saw was only a signature. It was dim in there and some time ago. Pencil, I thought, but I've never had much luck with pencil on photo emulsion.

I'm green with envy at your good fortune. 

I've never heard of a law about CoAs. State? Federal? As I said, it seems reasonable to me, but I had not heard of it recently enough to recall it. Please inform me further.

AA cut away the borders on his portfolio images, dry-mounted the prints on larger mat boards, and then signed the mount board just below the dry-mounted print. He stamped and numbered the backs of the mounts.

I first read about the law for CoA's in The Artist's Magazine back in the 1990's. Washington D.C. based attorney Joshua Kaufman has written about it since then as well, but I can't remember where I've seen his articles about this. He writes for Picture Framing Magazine some and teaches at West Coast Art & Frame Expo, but I don't think this is where I read it from him. And I think that all states have legislation regarding CoA's for limited editions. The interesting part of this that we should all heed is that CoA's are required online when selling limited editions. Some kind of statement regarding the authenticity and the details about the image are necessary and viewable on websites.

Since I don’t ever expect to do a limited edition, such a law is of less concern, but I think it would be good to know about ANY law that governs the making and selling of art.

I'd be obliged to anyone who can point to an example of such a law in Michigan or nearby states or the Federal government.
I also think it's worth a few words and thoughts. For instance, what constitutes "authenticity" of a print? For me, it is a matter of who made the print and was it authorized by the legal owner of the copyright. That would normally be the artist unless he/she has sold ALL rights.

In that sense a CoA can only speak for its own time: "As of the time of printing, that use of this image (printing and selling) was authorized by the copyright holder." I'd be willing to put such a statement on every print I make and/or sell. Such a statement would be the core of the print’s provenance.

Meanwhile, it's pretty strongly implied by the legend and copyright notice I print on the edge of the canvas.

I had to laugh when I read your initial post.  Marketing is in large... HOKUM.  I have a degree in it.  The Franklin and Danbury Mints, and Disney have perfected the concept.  

Very good Wendy.
Our capitalist nation is built on marketing. The consumer has, long past the point of purchasing based upon research, knowledge, quality etc. They are guided by marketing. Even when electing a president (oopes, now I'm going to get flamed).
Marketing can be the single most important and expensive cost in getting a product to the public.

I can create a product whereby one drop turns water into gasoline. However I will still be broke and the public will not use it without a reasonable way of marketing it.
This is unfortunate but a fact.
I wish this we're not true. I don't like it. It is very strong in the art world.
If I were to draw a wild picture with a lady having both her eyes on one side of her face, no one would buy it. Now market it with Picasso's name and it would fetch millions.


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