As Important as the Intended Artwork Is Selecting the Right Print Studio or Foundry

Art is often a solitary pursuit but, sometimes, even the most reclusive artists must seek out the help and services of others. Artists who make graphic prints or sculpture editions usually look to print studios or foundries to provide the expensive equipment and technical know-how. They are brought together by the desire to create works of art, but this is also a business relationship that needs to be negotiated carefully.

The decision on which foundry or print studio to use is complicated by issues of location, price, the right fit of services and the media available. No less important is the quality of the work, turnaround time and a foundry's or studio's ability to keep promises made to artists, and this can be ascertained by asking others who have worked with them in the past. Both fine art foundries and studios have one or more people on staff whose job is to work directly with artists, communicating their direction and changes to staff; these people should be accessible, helpful, organized and enthusiastic. This relationship is likely to make the difference between a positive and negative experience.

Print Studios.
The relationship with a print studio begins with a conversation, concerning what the artist wants to do and the various services that the studio can offer to turn a concept into an edition. The physical size of the print, the size (including proofs) and subject matter of the edition, the manner of printing, the length of time allotted to produce the edition, the number of proofs that the printer keeps, the number of colors and the type of paper to be used are the basis of the estimate that the studio provides. However, revisions, additions and alterations during the process are likely to increase the fees. Assuming some level of revisions, the written estimate will usually note some leeway of 10 percent, above which the studio will ask for approval from the artist. Fees may be based on an hourly rate or for the entire project, with payment made at the end, usually within 30 days of completion, although payments also may be scheduled. (Print studios working with an artist for the first time usually request the individual to submit a credit application and provide half of the estimated cost upfront with the rest payable at completion; subsequent jobs with that artist will be completely at the end.) Rush orders and requests to work overtime or on weekends will increase fees by as much as double, and mistakes (the artist didn't catch an error on a proof) or delays attributable to the artist are not the responsibility of the print studio. It is not uncommon for studios to tack on interest charges -- for instance, one-and-a-half percent per month or an annualized 18 percent -- for late payments.

Things happen. The artist may not like the work that the studio staff is doing, or there may be a reason that the entire project has to be cancelled. Rejection or cancellation prior to the completion of an edition usually entails a kill fee of 50 percent; if the edition is completed, the artist will be expected to pay the full agreed-upon amount.

Any agreement with the print studio should indicate that the artist is the creator of the edition (and owns all copyrights) and retains artistic control, who owns the printing plates (it should be the artist after full payment has been made), whether or not the plates are to be cancelled (that is, defaced, for which the artist should receive a cancellation proof), and that the printer only has been given a one-time right to produce an edition. Tiki Studios in Big Pine, California, stipulates in its contract that it "always reserves the right to reproduce or use any work created by us for the Client in any reasonable way for our own marketing and self-promotional needs." Many print studios include a similar clause. As copyright owner, the artist would want to include that his or her artwork cannot be used for promotional purposes without express authorization or payment.

Ideas that start as an inspiration often end with a dollars and cents reckoning. The cost of producing a single object or an edition is determined based in part on what the foundry is asked to do -- make molds, build a supporting structure, cast the piece, patinate, create a base, install the finished work, transport and store the molds and completed artwork, insure the molds, complete work by a certain date, contract outside engineers and other sources of expertise -- but the first thing that sculptors should ask for is a quote. Probably included in that estimate is the cost range of a change order, because alterations in the design or fabrication are made during the process. Since material and labor costs fluctuate, the quote should have a lifespan of 90 days.

A payment schedule should be established as well. Typically, this would be in two or three stages, such as 50 percent initial deposit with the remainder paid at completion or 30 percent down payment with another 30 percent at some midpoint approval stage and the rest paid at the completion. Other agreements may spread out payments evenly over a period of months. Whatever the deal, the plan needs to be agreed-upon and work for both artist and foundry.

Distance may limit the ability of sculptors to take an active part in the fabrication of their artwork, but artists generally need to approve the wax for investment (making sure there are no air holes and that seams are repaired and concealed, for instance), as well as the metal prior to patination and the patina. The work is all about creating a work of art, but some foundries are reluctant to have the sculptor around a lot, adding a "shop" charge to the overall bill. Artists should know in advance the degree to which a foundry welcomes their presence.

At times, the molds become a source of contention, because artists complete their editions over a period of years, requiring the foundry to store (taking up considerable space) and insure (determining their value is difficult and they do deteriorate over time) them during the interim. The question of who owns the molds should be established at the outset (the artist, who must pay for them), as well as the issue of who is responsible for keeping them (storage and insurance charges may be part of the final bill). It is a lot to ask that a foundry keep a mold indefinitely.