Hand-embellished works offer collectors, dealers new options: the market for hand-touched prints available for a fraction of the cost of originals grows as the economy weakens

Hand-embellished works offer collectors, dealers new options: the market for hand-touched prints available for a fraction of the cost of originals grows as the economy weakens – news

Alice C. Gibson

The fastest-selling works in many galleries today are canvas limited editions that have the added element of hand embellishing in one manner or another. Why? Partly because they look beautiful and immediately attract the attention of customers, said dealers who sell them. But also, dealers noted, because buying a work that has been personally hand-embellished by the original artist puts collectors one step closer to creation.

It’s not a new idea, said Bob Chase of Chase Art in Chicago. “The concept of embellishment is certainly moving to the forefront of the market, but it has a long history in the forms of hand-painted etchings and artist remarques–small pencil drawings in the bottom margin of a print relating to the subject matter of the print,” he noted.

Many of today’s artists are adding embellishments of various kinds to graphics printed both on paper and on canvas with beautiful results, and dealers said they are very popular with customers.

Hand-embellished works printed on canvas have been especially accepted. That is because they look so much like original oil paintings that many people can’t tell the difference at first glance, said Barry Davis of Progressive Art Media in Encino, Calif. When customers are informed that the work is, indeed, a print that has been hand-embellished, they see it as a step up from a print, but one they can have at less cost than the original.

Roy Saper of Saper Galleries in Lansing, Mich., said he likes hand-embellished graphics because the techniques allow artists and publishers to “take limited editions in a whole new direction. When the artist embellishes his work, he has made it unique to a degree,” Saper said. He said many of the editions he buys these days come hand-embellished.

“In this day and age, most of the artists are adding hand embellishment to their works,” said Butch Miller of The Framing Fox Art Gallery in Lebanon, N.J.

Chase, whose company publishes the work of Mackenzie Thorpe, agreed that hand-embellished works offer value to the collector. “As the economy slows, I think that dealers are finding hand-embellished graphics to be a vital product for those collectors who are `hedging’ on originals but don’t want to buy `just a graphic.’ Hand-embellished works offer something unique, but at a more affordable price,” he said.

Artist Csaba Markus said he hand-embellishes every graphic in every edition. “People want something that is high in quality,” he said. “They don’t want to buy simply printed paper.” Markus said Americans, particularly, also want to buy paintings from “known” artists. However, it’s generally impossible for an artist to supply so many originals. A hand-embellished work is a “compromise between the original and a print,” he said.

Elliot Burns of Soho Editions said he has been presenting hand-embellished canvases since 1988 when Howard Behrens began to add paint to his serigraphs. “Initially, there was tremendous resistance and skepticism among the dealers,” Burns said, “but the reception of the buying public won everyone over.”

Burns said hand-embellished prints on canvas are a good compromise between serigraphs and original. “The collector gets a print with much of the nuance and immediacy of an oil painting,” he said. “Once they get a taste of the paint, it’s hard to go back to a piece of paper under glass.”

Most clients can’t afford the high-ticket items that original paintings often become, said Davis. Yet “they like getting the look of the original.” And when the artist has done the work himself, the work takes another leap forward. “People feel like they’re getting more from the artist,” Davis added.

Whose Hand Is It?

Most dealers agree that it is an open secret in the business that not all hand-embellished works are “artist embellished.” In many cases, embellishers, highlighters or “finishers” are employed to add the final touches.

Taya Lucero of Media Arts Group, which publishes the works of Thomas Kinkade, said her company employs artists to add highlights to canvas prints and is forthright about the fact that the highlighting is not done by the artist. “Each highlighter is a trained artisan who has learned to highlight the paintings using the same technique each published artist paints.”

Highlighters, Lucero said, do not embellish the artworks by adding additional objects or elements. “They simply magnify by layering paint onto the existing objects to bring forth their beauty,” she noted.

Sometimes hand-embellished canvas works are so well done and so beautiful that it does not matter who has finished it, said Saper. But it is important that the customer understands the difference, and publishers do not always tell you, he said. “You have to ask. You have to know so you can accurately reflect that to customers.”

Davis of Progressive Art Media agreed, adding that precisely because hand-embellished canvases do look so much like original works, it is important to inform customers that the work is a hand-embellished print and who has done the embellishing. “I go out of my way to educate my clients. I think, down the road, they appreciate and remember that you took the time to tell them,” he said.

Lucero also said her company is “very clear” in communicating the history of each reproduction it publishes.

When the artist has actually done the embellishing, Saper said, customers are impressed. “When the artist has done the work himself or herself, it gives customers an additional incentive to step up to the hand-embellished work,” Saper said.

Tom Jones of the Sanford Gallery in Sanford, Fla., agreed. “Customers feel if the artist has done something extra to it, they are getting something more.” He said customers are looking for “something with a bit more character in it.” And, he said, the more the artist does, the better it is. “Some people do minimal work–just dab at it,” he said. “And some do none of their own. Lots of people can’t quite step up to it.”

Davis agreed. “Some artists `embellish’ by just putting a few highlights here and there–a few–like in three places. For that little bit of embellishing, they add $300 to $500 to the piece,” he said.

Daniel Winn of Masterpiece Publishing, whose company publishes the works of four artists who all do their own embellishing, said he believes the originating artist also should be the finisher. “When his or her signature is on it, his or her own brush strokes should be on it,” Winn said. “[Then customers] feel like they have something special that the artist has touched.”

While it is important that the artist does the work, Winn said, the real value of hand embellishing is that it makes the work look better and gives “dimension and depth” to printed works.

Getting in Deep

It is that dimension and depth that often attracts customers, dealers and publishers agree. Lucero said the highlighting done by artisans to the works published by Media Arts Group “brings out the beauty, adding depth and bringing the works to life.”

There is a broad spectrum of techniques used in hand-embellishing, from simple highlighting to the addition of thick layers of paint or additional elements in the images. Some graphics become unique multi-media works with the addition of collage elements–paper or items glued onto the face of the print–or the addition of gold or silver leaf. In some cases, the artist may scratch or splatter paint, add crayon or brush strokes or apply additional paint with a palette knife.

Markus said all these techniques give the artists more options and more ways to make each print a unique work. “I want every print to be a little bit different–every print is an original piece,” Markus said.

He said it is important that the print itself be of high quality. “Some do hand embellishing because they have done cheap printing, and it looks bad. They put paint over it to hide bad printing,” he said. “I don’t cut corners–we have a beautiful print to start with, and I still will hand-embellish it.”

Chase said Thorpe combines hand embellishing with an age-old old technique–the remarque. Thorpe sometimes will take a portion of an edition and finish it by hand, adding new elements in the image or in the margin of the piece. “He is extending the creative process,” Chase said, and “adding new concepts and ideas that transform the work.”

These techniques have lead to consecutive sell-out editions for Thorpe for the last three years, Chase said.

And, added Jones, they also have increased the secondary market value of the works. “The secondary market for Thorpe’s works have gone through the roof,” Jones said. “Some prices are almost as high as the originals.”

Other artists, such as Alexandru Darida, published by Masterpiece Publishing, use heavy texture, making hand-embellished works much like the originals, said Chase. “Darida is interesting because his originals have so much texture–they are almost three-dimensional. Alex personally embellishes the (printed) works and adds the same texture technique to each hand-embellished graphic,” Chase said.

Winn of Masterpiece Publishing, said making the prints look so much like the originals is not an accident. He said his artists are doing very small editions of hand-embellished prints primarily to help build an audience for their originals. Editions of 75 to 175 pieces means the artists can do their own embellishing and show off their own techniques. “We want people to get to know them so their originals will be worth more,” Winn said.

The Bottom Line

Dealers say edition sizes of artist-embellished works are generally low and so is the price difference between those that are embellished and regular prints. Both of these conditions make hand-embellished works attractive to buyers.

“There is not a significant price difference between embellished works and regular canvas editions,” said Saper. Even when the artist has done the embellishing himself, the cost increase is generally between $500 and $1,000.

“If it’s available with or without embellishing, I would recommend the hand-embellished work–and I would like to have it done by the artist,” Saper said.

Chase said most of the Thorpe remarques sell for about $400 more than those in the edition without remarques. Davis said most of the embellished pieces he sells are about $300 more than regular editions.

Davis said, however, it is important how well the hand-embellishing work is done. “You can’t just dot a few spots,” he said. Doing their own embellishing and doing extensive and consistent work is more time-consuming for an artist, he said, but noted that these elements will make a difference in sales. “It makes a difference to clients–they have better eyes than we give them credit for,” Davis said.

High quality in the pieces is the ultimate attraction for customers, said Miller, and artists are making every effort to provide it. “Buyers are looking for better quality; the better a piece presents itself, the better it is received, and the better it sells. Artists are simply trying to do something better,” he noted.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group