Friday, May 9, 2008, 04:54 PMIn 1956 Joseph Mertle, a well known expert on photomechanical printing, joined the Printing and Publishing Division of 3M Company. Although he was only at 3M for a few short years, he left behind his extensive collection of books and samples of historic printing and photographic processes. Mertle was an obsessive collector and his collection had long outgrown his home. Eventually the Mertle Collection was also too big, and probably a bit outdated, for 3M. Therefore the whole collection was given to the University of Minnesota Libraries.
On two occasions I accompanied 3M executives to visit the collection. Although there was talk of an exhibition of some of the work, nothing ever materialized. Fortunately, by the time 3M Printing and Publishing was spun off into Imation it was obvious that the collection would have a prominent place in the new Elmer Andersen Library for Special Collections and Rare Books. This was particularly appropriate since Elmer Andersen was himself a newspaper publisher (along with being a former Minnesota Governor, businessman, and University of Minnesota Regent) and a very important collector of rare books.
On my visits to the collection I was aware that there was a copy of William Henry Fox Talbot's 1844 Pencil of Nature, the first book to use photographic prints and one of the first examples of the process of photography (there are only about 15 copies known to still exist). But not wanting to handle it any more than necessary I did not really study it as closely as I should have. It took Peter Martin, photographer and University of Minnesota faculty member, to remember that he had seen a paper negative that was slipped into the book in an old envelope. He recently decided to put some effort into researching the negative and we agreed to scan it.
I decided it would be best to scan it as a color image since that would give more options in converting it to black and white. The original is only about 6X7 inches, so I scanned it at 2000 pixels per inch on our Scitex scanner to see the detail and in case we needed a larger print. The detail is so astonishing for a negative on paper that we made a 20X21 inch print for the University of Minnesota Library. But with such a stunning image I will make a larger version in the future—40X44 inches.
Talbot expert Larry J Schaaf has confirmed that it was probably made by Talbot’s one-time valet, Nicolaas Henneman, who worked very closely with Talbot. In 1843 he left Talbot’s service and set up a photographic works in Reading England to print his own and Talbot's images. According to Schaaf the photo is of Coley Avenue in Reading and was almost certainly taken by Henneman. However, the negative was owned by Talbot. It was taken sometime between 1843 and 1848.
I scanned the image as a black and white negative, color negative (transparency) and color (reflected) print. The color negative image is perhaps the most interesting since the scanner, looking for the normal orange masking and instead finding the yellowing of the paper, produced a rich sepia brown with a cyan-blue area in the sky. It may not be what Talbot and Henneman had in mind, but then they would have never guessed it could be enlarged and printed with archival pigment ink either.
Here is what the print looks like:
(Click on the image to see a larger view)
For more on the Mertle Collection see: special.lib.umn.edu/rare/mertle
For more on Talbot see: foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk
Thursday, April 24, 2008, 04:39 PMWe had the great pleasure to work recently on the Guatemalan Textiles Trunk Show and Sale in Minneapolis. Curated by Mary Anne Wise, a well known textile artist from nearby Stockholm Wisconsin, the proceeds will benefit Friendship Bridge’s credit and education programs in Guatemala. The program serves over 17,000 women throughout rural Guatemala with micro-loans and other assistance.
We provided the photography and prep of the digital images for the catalog. The catalog is available at the show or here online as a pdf: Guatemala Textile Catalog in PDF format
The show runs Friday and Saturday April 24th & 25th at Stephanie Odegard’s showroom in downtown Minneapolis, and it looks wonderful! There are literally hundreds of beautiful pieces available for purchase. We could not help but buy one for ourselves, and help a great program in the process.
Click on the image to see larger.
For more information see Mary Anne Wise’s site at: www.maryannewise.com
Odegard’s is at: Odegard, Inc. 210 North Second Street Suite 100 Minneapolis, MN 55401 www.odegardinc.com
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 02:53 PMWhen we first moved to the Red Wing area eight years ago one of the first artists we met was Marge Vogel. Marge had been Red Wing’s first art teacher in the 1930’s. But back then you could not be married and teach public school, so Marge decided to devote herself to promoting the arts and creativity in other ways. Over 50 years ago she founded the Red Wing Arts Association She is still an active member of the association and serves on the Board of Directors. She also remained an active artist, and when there was a suggestion of there being a show of her work a few years ago she responded that she was too busy.
Marge is still pretty busy, but at least she found time to work with the Red Wing Art Association to do a show of her work in the Depot gallery in Red Wing. The show contains an amazing collection of work, covering her 75 years as an artist. We helped put together a section of her work as the art director on the 1933 University of Minnesota yearbook. But that was just the beginning of her tremendous output as an artist, involvement in the community, and her never ending career as an educator and leader in the visual arts. The show is a real treat to see her work, from watercolor, to printmaking to ceramics—including plates designed, but unfortunately never produced for the Red Wing Pottery company. But to see a list of her community involvement is truly awe inspiring.
We were also pleased to make a limited edition Giclee print in two sizes for the Art Association. It is available at the Depot Gallery.
Click to see larger
Mar 27 – May 11 “The Marjorie Gray Vogel Exhibition” www.redwingartsassociation.org
Sunday, March 16, 2008, 03:05 PMWe have been hearing from a lot of artists lately who have had their Giclee printer either go out of business, or cut back on quality and service. It is probably in part, a sign of the economy. But unfortunately it is also the nature of the Giclee business. When we started printing 5 years ago there were four Giclee printers in our area; we are now the only one left.
Part of the blame lies with the manufacturers that produce products touted to make this type of printing an easy process. Let me assure you it ain’t. Even the best Epson, HP and Cannon printers are fussy machines. They need to be run nearly every day and require constant attention. So called easy solutions to color matching—RIPS (the software that moves the image from the computer to the printer) and color profiles (the files that help define and translate the colors of the image to the colors of the ink) are at best only a rough start to matching color for Giclee printing.
With a normal photograph there is a lot of room for interpretation. Green grass may be anywhere from yellow-green to blue-green. A blue sky could be a pale cyan to a vivid rich magenta-blue. Since a photograph is almost never compared to the original it is usually “close enough.” Even within critical colors like skin-tone there is room for error. That is not the case with duplicating fine art. No software solution will provide push-button instant color matching. For most Giclee prints I run 3 to 5 tests on a swatch of an image to get a sense of the color. Even after that, the first full size print will rarely be a perfect match. I often need to adjust an individual color. Sometimes masks are made to color correct in a specific area of an image. So before an artist even sees a Giclee print, I have run a number of tests and at least one, two or more full size prints. LexJet, a major supplier of Giclee material (we use their canvas) recently offered a color seminar for the wide-format print community. Although the seminar promised perfect color the first time for photographers, they stated that “5 or more proof prints are the norm to color match art for Giclee.” It is a commitment in time and materials that many Giclee printers discover is too much to make. So they get out of the business, leaving artists with half printed editions and no files.
Here are some tips on finding a good Giclee printer:
1) Look for someone who specializes in Giclee. Many of the printers going out of business are wedding photographers, frame shops, galleries or sign printers that are doing Giclee on the side. If a company does not make working for artists their number one priority, you can not expect top-notch quality or service.
2) A good Giclee print company will have constantly invested in new equipment. In the five years we have been in the Giclee business we have gone through three generations of Epson printers to take advantage of improvements in quality. Someone running a six year old HP or other wide printer (probably designed for signage originally) can not come close to matching the quality of today’s top of the line printers designed for fine art.
3) Look for an artist to do your printing. First of all, another artist will understand fine art media and know how to handle fragile art like pastels, chalk and charcoal. But more importantly, they will want your art to be reproduced as well as they expect their own art printed.
4) Color matching is a learned skill. Make sure you are dealing with someone who has spent a minimum of five years (ten or more is better) matching color. This may include experience in color photography printing, or working in the traditional print field in prepress, as well as Giclee printing.
5) The best Giclee printers use the best inks and materials. For papers we believe that Hahnemuhle and Crane, both long established manufacturers of fine papers, are the best. For ink, tests have shown Epson to be the best for color quality and longevity.
Remember Giclee printing is an art. As Norman Sanders, a printer, photographer and author of the book Photographing for Publication used to say: “There is a reason printing is called the Graphics Arts; it is an art—not a science.“
What do you do if your printer does go out of business, or you are unhappy with their quality? Get your files. Although there are no set standards for giving scans to artists (we do provide copies of files if requested) there is no question that if a company can not produce the quality you require, or goes out of business, that you should get your files. Be aware that they probably will not print exactly the same on a different machine. But if you have a good print or the original to match, the files can probably be used by another company to produce new prints that will be every bit as good as your originals.
Saturday, February 9, 2008, 03:40 PMOne question we frequently get is how to best digitize a work of art, such as a drawing or painting, for making Giclee prints. There is a lot of confusion and some misinformation. So lets look at each of the options: digital cameras, drum scanning, film cameras and flatbed scanning.
Digital cameras are wonderful for making images that can be easily brought into Photoshop, used online and used for printing on a desktop printer. The problem for Giclee printing is that the file needs to be 300 dpi at the size of the final image. For example a 16X20 Giclee print needs to be 16X300 and 20X300. In other words the image file needs to be 4800 pixels by 6000 pixels. This is 28.8 million pixels, or the equivalent of a 28 megapixel camera. Since most digital cameras are in the 6 to 12 megapixel range, digital cameras fall way short. Or another way of looking at it is that a 16X20 Giclee print requires at minimum a 80 megabyte file. Again digital cameras fail to provide the needed quality.
Another problem with digital cameras is that they do not record all of the colors for each point of pixel. One half of the pixels are green, one fourth are red, and one fourth are blue. To make the final image the camera guesses the appropriate color. Normally this process works quite well for typical camera subjects like portraits and landscapes, however for reproducing artwork the demands are much greater. Every point needs to fully measured; something digital cameras can not do. Add to that the problems of even lighting, getting the artwork squared up and not distorted, and the fact that most camera lenses are multi-purpose and not specifically designed for flat art. Unfortunately we commonly hear from artists who have just paid a lot of money for a series of digital photographs of their work. Digital camera photos of artwork can be used for submission to shows, to make slides, postcards or greeting cards, but not Giclee prints of existing art. (Note printing digital photographs is a whole different issue I will address in the future.)
The drum scanner is often seen as the holy grail of scanning. These were developed for the printing industry over 20 years ago. They are the best scanners for printing, but again not often appropriate for Giclee. First of all, the artwork must be wrapped around a glass drum. This is not possible with art on board or stretched canvas. Second, the drum is rotated at a very high speed. This can be a problem for fragile art such as charcoal or pastel. Finally, many of the older drum scanners are optimized for CMYK print—in other words offset poster prints. Again not the best for Giclee. Scitex, who basically invented digital imaging says that the very best flatbed scanners are every bit as good as drum scanners. This may be debatable for 35mm film, but not for originals on paper. It should be noted that to get the best quality from a drum scanner, the film is coated with oil and slapped on to the drum. Something not appropriate for art on paper or canvas.
A third approach is to photograph the original art with film. 35mm is great for slides of art work, but even the best professionally - shot slides in our experience can not be made into Giclee prints that are very big. How big it will go depends a lot on the original art, the quality of the slide, and the artists tolerance. I have had some that can not go to 8X10 and others that look OK (not great like the original, but OK) at 16X20. A good 4X5 film of an art piece can of course go bigger, but here again there are a lot of variables, but being removed a generation it can never be as good as a scan.
But, there are times that film must be used to capture art for Giclee printing. This is because the original is too big to scan (normally over 4X6 feet or so). Or because the original is un-scanable; for example it is mounted to the wall as a mural. We did a project recently where we made a Giclee print of a painting that was done by Eric Cornett from Faux Pas Studio for the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis. The original is a mural in the entryway to the club. Not just any photographer can properly photograph art however. There are only a handful of specialists in the Midwest and most work in art museums. We turned to Jerry Mathiason who works for museums, galleries and artists and specializes in fine art photography. From his 4X5 film we scanned Eric’s painting on our high-end Scitex scanner producing a 43X58 inch 300 dpi image—650 megabytes. First we made a test proof that was brought to the Calhoun Club and matched to the original. We then printed two sizes of the work on canvas. Needless to say the artist was very happy. www.fauxpasstudio.com
Finally let’s look at flatbed scanners. To get the resolution, sharpness and quality needed to most closely match an original it is the best way to digitize an art work. The art lays flat, the light is even, the CCD captures all the colors at every point and the lens is superb for capturing the detail. We are convinced that this is normally the only way to capture art for Giclee printing. But in those rare cases where it can not be scanned, it is best to turn to an expert for photography and scanning the film on a high-end professional scanner.
Here are the results:
Image Copyright by Eric Cornett - Faux Pas Studio. All rights reserved.