Prints that Win: Now and Then

Photo Printed on Sunset Fibre Elite

One of the great things about being a photographer has to be the interesting people you meet along the way. For this LexJet Sunset Award-winning print at the recent North Carolina Professional Photographers Association print competition, Randy McNeilly met Bonnie and Clyde.

Well, not really, but the old photo he used as a background for a profile portrait of a couple celebrating their 75th (!) wedding anniversary is a reasonable facsimile of the infamous pair. The pair McNeilly photographed, while not nearly as infamous, had tales to tell that even their daughter, who was there for the session, didn’t know about.

One of those nuggets was that the couple eloped some 75 years ago and had the photo McNeilly used as the background for the portrait snapped the day of their elopement as they leaned against an automobile of the day.

“We had a good laugh about them looking like Bonnie and Clyde in that photo. They brought that photo in the same day as the portrait session and that’s when I started developing the idea,” says McNeilly. “I photographed them separately with a Hasselblad medium-format digital camera and I did minimal retouching because I didn’t want to take any character out of the portraits. I created a composite of the two portraits, and used Nik filters and textured overlays to add some grunge to the background.”

The creative juxtaposition of the couple, which McNeilly titled Now and Then, certainly got the judges’ attention. McNeilly printed the image on LexJet Sunset Fibre Elite on his Epson Stylus Pro 9900 through ImagePrint RIP software.

“I use Fibre Elite a lot and I’ve been a long-time fan of it. I really like the non-gimmicky look of it; it looks like the old days when I printed black-and-white photos on fibre paper. It renders this image particularly well and seems to have a wider color gamut,” says McNeilly.

For more information about Randy McNeilly and his print making, check out this previous blog post.

Prints that Win: Sugar and Spice

Award winning photography and printingFor the second year in a row Audrey Wancket’s classical portrait photography won a LexJet Sunset Award for Best Color Printed Image at the recent PPA Northcentral District competition.

The winning portrait, called Sugar and Spice, is not an outlier; it is representative of the high-quality work Wancket produces daily for her clients.

Situated on 11 acres and built into a barn, Wancket’s studio in Spring Grove, Ill., next to the Wisconsin border, also includes a two-acre wildflower garden perfect for outdoor sessions. The indoor sessions are where Wancket truly shines, bringing the ethos of outdoor lighting into the studio.

“The key to my studio photography is the strength and direction of the light. Natural light comes from one side, and I turn the subjects’ faces slightly into that light,” explains Wancket. “And, it depends on who you’re photographing: you put the light on the side where you’re lighting less of their face and other people the broad side of their face, depending on the shape of their face. You use the light to shape them so they look best.”

For Sugar and Spice, Wancket aimed to capture the different personalities of the twins in the portrait, to stunning effect. She captured the twins with a Phase One medium-format digital camera and retouched the image in Photoshop.

The other important aspect of Wancket’s studio photography is setting the scene with painted backgrounds and subtle personal touches that Wancket adds to the scene, like flowers and antique furniture.

“I have 144 backgrounds with four new ones on the way. I get bored easily and I don’t want my clients to have the same piece of art on their wall. I used to paint my own backgrounds, but I’ve found painters around the country who have helped bring my idea to a canvas,” explains Wancket.

Though Wancket prints much of her own work, primarily black-and-white photos for clients and her own photographic artwork, she had a friend print for the Northcentral competition.

“I get all my paper and canvas that I print from LexJet, which is where I also got my printers and the ImagePrint RIP. I love LexJet; they know their stuff,” she adds.

The Next Dimension of Fine Art Reproduction at Bellevue Fine Art

Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction got its start as a way to solve a problem. For the company’s owner, Scott Moore, the problem was finding a way to reproduce his watercolor and pen-and-ink fine art. The solution was to do it himself, perfect the process and provide the service to artists and photographers in the Seattle/Bellevue area of Washington.

Spraying and coating canvas“At the time I was traveling a lot internationally and I tried places that did giclee printing in Japan, China, Canada and Paris. I wasn’t getting the color I wanted, and with the pen-and-ink I wasn’t getting the extreme detail I needed. Using my own artwork as a beta test I ended up making my own reproductions, and the more I looked around the more I saw that the Seattle area needed a business like this. There was a need for it, and there still is,” says Moore.

Moore opened the doors of Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction in April 2007, starting with a BetterLight scan-back system to scan and capture artwork, two Epson Stylus Pro 9800s and a software RIP for processing the files for print.

Fine art and photography reproductionSince that time, Moore has updated his BetterLight System, upgraded to two Epson Stylus Pro 9900s, moved his RIP workflow to ImagePrint and most recently added a 24″ x 36″ laser engraver table. Moore says that about 90 percent of his business is fine-art reproduction; the other 10 percent is photo reproduction.

Moore serves a narrow niche, but is expanding the options and opportunities of his client base. Moore sees himself as far more than simply an art reproduction company; his job is to help his clients find a wider market for their work.

Laser etching fine art“We look at each artist’s artwork as intellectual property that can be productized in different ways, from limited edition prints to cutting vector designs of their work into various materials,” explains Moore. “We want to take people’s existing assets and help them do interesting things with them.”

What that has translated to with the addition of the laser engraver is products like etching artwork into leather for purses, cutting patterns into Masonite that the artist then paints and has Bellevue Fine Art reproduce, die-cutting Photo Tex Repositionable Fabric for walls and other surfaces, and even etching urns for a local funeral home.

Reproducing fine art on canvasThe addition of the laser engraver is a perfect fit for Moore’s customer service philosophy. As he puts it: “Providing good service is more than calling back and being on the ball. We’re very well connected with the art community so we provide a lot of services to people you wouldn’t normally think of, like gallery introductions, suggestions on where to show their work, and advice on ways to display and sell their work. Service is a lot more than giving someone a cup of coffee while they wait for their print. We try to be connected and active in the art world so we can complement our services in other ways, such as introductions and industry knowledge. It’s symbiotic; the more we do for them to help them be successful the more they come back to us because they are successful. Service is all about that ecosystem around the artist; anything I can do to help them be successful makes me more successful.”

Of course it’s all for naught if Moore isn’t producing the output to the exacting needs of his client base, which is why he keeps up with the latest workflow and printing technology and spends additional time educating his clients and setting expectations.

Scanning artwork with the BetterLight system“When we evolved to the Epson 9900s we also went with the ImagePrint RIP. If you’re in the business of printing art all day long, you don’t want to think about how to get it out the other end. When you drag and drop those images into the interface and select the correct profile, that’s all you have to think about. It makes our workflow that much faster; anyone who values their time should be willing to spend their money on that,” explains Moore. “Printing is just like painting. One of the successful traits of painter is knowing when you’re done. You could re-do it forever, but you’ll probably be the only one to notice. When you’re trying to reproduce a masterpiece for sale you have to strike a balance. We’re working with aqueous inks, where the originals are sometimes made with ground gems or minerals, creating iridescents, fluorescents and metallics. The challenge is helping them understand the limitations of the technology and how to best utilize it. Some people don’t want the reproduction unless it’s perfect. The prints are as close as we can get them, but if it’s that important, buy the original, which is why an original costs so much more. There’s only one perfect copy of an original, and that’s the original. We spend a lot of time setting expectations, and we won’t just write an order and take their money unless we think they will be happy with it.”

Toward that end, Moore employs a variety of inkjet materials from LexJet, including Sunset and Hahnemuhle brand fine art and photo papers. Moore says the material choice is usually based on what comes closest to replicating the original. For instance, he’ll typically use Sunset Textured Fine Art Paper for watercolor art, Hahnemuhle Bamboo for “warmer” originals, and FineArt Baryta for acrylic originals.

“My personal favorites are Sunset Fibre Elite, Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, LexJet Premium Archival Matte and Hahnemuhle FineArt papers. Sunset Fibre Elite for black-and-white printing is stellar; it looks and feels a lot like the old metal halide papers. It’s a special, unique paper that, when placed next to other photo papers, really stands out; the color jumps out at you,” says Moore. “Our staple papers are Sunset Photo eSatin and Premium Archival Matte, which we use for proofing as well.”

Producing fine art in multiple=Though Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction has only been in business for about five years, the company is attracting and retaining business beyond its borders, especially from those looking for high-quality scanning services.

“We’ve invested heavily in making sure our image scanning and output is the best it can be. We pick quality materials and equipment, and we don’t worry about cost that much. How we do that and compete in today’s world is that we’ve captured a niche that is high margin and low volume. We’ll take the jobs other printers don’t want; we’ll do 10 watercolors, for instance, that a commercial print company would prefer not to bother with,” says Moore. “So rather than compete with larger print shops, we actually complement them. There are a number of print shops in the area that come to us for scanning, and they do things we don’t do, so we have a good complementary business with our would-be competition in the area.”

Big Prints for Big Time Artists

Printing Russel James' photographyWhen you work print magic for some of the biggest names in photography and fine art you might as well print big, which is exactly what Stephen Kerner does. Kerner, owner of Stone River Giclee in Woodstock, N.Y., has been printing giant reproductions on canvas for renowned photographers Russell James and Catherine Sebastian (who’s also the wife of former The Lovin’ Spoonful front man John Sebastian).

Those are but two examples of a long list of prestigious clients for whom Kerner prints, which also includes the Dali Lama, Harvard Press and the New York Cultural Society. Kerner reproduces the drawings and Thangkas (Tibetan religious paintings) from the Dali Lama’s monastery on LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth. “They use real gold paint, so it’s very difficult to get that color, but we can hit it with our ImagePrint RIP on the Epson printer,” says Kerner.

As the exclusive printer for New York Cultural Society’s endowment for all of its modern fine art painting, Kerner reproduces the work of legendary painters like Edwin Church and Jackson Pollock. Kerner either captures the original work in his studio or he’s supplied with transparencies, but sometimes he has to capture the work at the museum. “I go with a laptop and a camera and do all the color correcting in front of the original paintings. I photograph them, take color swatches, come back, put them all together and calibrate the printer with the color profiles,” he explains.

But it’s not just printing that recommends Kerner to this exclusive clientele; it’s an innate sense of color and artistic aesthetic that Kerner brings to his work.

Stephen Kerner in his studio
Master printer Stephen Kerner, Stone River Giclee, Woodstock, N.Y.

Kerner started printing about 20 years ago when the first Iris printers appeared on the scene. He didn’t pick up printing to start a business, but was propelled into it through a need to reproduce his own fine art. Kerner’s fine art is displayed in 14 museums across the country and printing his own work so he could control the process to his tight specifications helped him gain a foothold for his paintings.

In those 20 years, Kerner has gone through the entire digital print evolution. It’s an evolution that has reached a “pinnacle,” he says, thanks to incredible improvements in inkjet technology. Kerner’s workhorse is the Epson 11880 he picked up from LexJet. The 64-inch printer, along with the ImagePrint RIP, help Kerner produce remarkable pieces of art writ large. As an example, Russell James, most well known for his fascinating celebrity photography, has embarked on a series called Nomad Two Worlds, which highlights indigenous peoples from around the world.

Print studio
Stephen Kerner's studio, Stone River Giclee.

Kerner explains: “They’ll send me a RAW file and then I do all the retouching and reformatting to their specifications. It’s quite a process because they’re printed out as large as 12 feet long. After I retouch it and prepare it, I print it out using LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas and the ImagePrint software. Once the images are printed, we pack them in tubes that then go to the artist, an aboriginal artist who embellishes it with their own native motif in paint. I then take that embellished work and print them as limited editions up to 14 feet long. Russell likes to go big with his work. He could have picked anybody, but he picked us because of the quality of our work and the canvas we get from LexJet.”