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Creative Careers - Ellie Francesca Watson

Over the next few months, artists from Hazlehurst Studios will be documenting three strands of development - Creative Careers, Professional Developement and Workshop Development. This was made possible due to receiving some funding, that allows the individual artists to develop ideas for their own practice.

Ellie is first up with a 'Creative Careers' exploration into finding the perfect supplier for her new range of prints, as she embarks on selling online.

Since March 2020, I have created a series of 12 hand-drawn portraits. My intention when producing these designs was that they would be reproduced as prints, so that customers have the option to purchase my designs at a lower, more convenient price. This will broaden my creative horizons and introduce a more commercial and sustainable aspect into my artistic career.

It is vital that my prints are produced to a high standard and are outsourced to a trustworthy and efficient supplier. To ensure my prints are both high quality and cost effective in a long-term scenario, I ordered a series of single print runs from a range of various suppliers (All 12"x 12" in size). Each design was produced using various different supports (Paper) and photo finishes.

With this range of assorted prints in my possession, it allowed me to make an informed decision as to which supplier, support and finish I will be using when selling my prints, taking into consideration both the value for money of each print, as well as the delivery time and the service provided by each supplier, as well as any personal comments that were particularly relevant to take note of in regards to any final decision.

My findings were as followed:

Supplier No.1:

1. Amy Winehouse

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 3/9/2020

Value - I was extremely disappointed by the quality of this particular print, I felt I could have achieved the same results manually using an inkjet printer. I had already noticed from previous prints that the 'matte' finish was not achieving the high levels of contrast I had desired. The overall quality is not up to a standard I would feel comfortable selling. 1/5

2. Bob Marley

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 3/9/2020

Value - Initially I really liked the finish on this print, it felt high quality and the darker tones were really complimented by the 'lustre' finish. Despite the high quality, I had achieved similar results from other suppliers at a much more competitive price, that had also arrived much sooner after the order was initially placed. I have since noticed, that this is also the only print of the entire series that has been prone to visible fingerprints and marks. 2/5

3. Aretha Franklin

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 7/9/2020

Value - This particular print was ordered with special flat back and cellophane wrap. The quality of the print is beautiful, however the time taken to deliver and cost of the print meant that this is not a sustainable option in a long-term scenario. I also don't believe the packaging is worth the surplus charge, considering I can achieve the same results myself from the packaging materials I have already invested in, in a more cost effective and sustainable way. 2/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.1:

Delivery took 8 days for the 2 prints sent in postal tubes, which is too long as I would then have to dispatch the order again to the recipient. One print came separately as I had paid extra for the 'Flat Back and Wrap' option, to see if it was worth the surplus charge. I feel that the packaging materials I have already invested in could achieve much the same result, plus this took an extra 4 days to arrive (So 12 days in total since I placed the order)

I found this particular supplier's website very hard to navigate, placing the order was complicated and it took several days for the order to even be processed. While I appreciated the wide range of various print finishes/supports, I found that for a long-term scenario, this would not be the right supplier for me and my shop. 1/5

Thankfully, it does get better...

Supplier No.2:

4. David Bowie

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Value - This particular print really impressed me, the contrast was emphasized slightly, but the 'lustre' finish gave a beautiful depth of shading that seemed to really bounce off the paper. 5/5

5. Dolly Parton

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 27/8/2020

Value - This was one of three prints that was ordered in with 'matte finish'. Whilst the print was produced onto high quality paper, I found, (subsequently, with all the 'matte' finishes) that the darker tones were looking very flat. Any blacks used within the portrait were losing their depth and tone, reproducing as a dark grey shade instead. This made the overall print rather unappealing to me, despite the high quality. 2.5/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.2:

I was really impressed with this particular supplier, the prints arrived less than 24 hours after I placed the order. Both prints arrived flat, backed and wrapped at no extra cost. Initially I had some issues using their website but their customer service team were super quick to respond to my message and answer my queries. 5/5

Supplier No.3:

6. Freddie Mercury

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 2/9/2020

Value - The quality of this print was fantastic; all fine details were captured perfectly. I found the finish slightly unusual, seemingly more pearlescent than the others ordered with the same finish. The lighter tones appeared to have a slight 'silver' shift when held to the light. Although not unappealing, it did make me question how a subject containing more intense depth of shading would reproduce with this unusual finish. 4/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.3:

Flat packaging... Hooray! This print did take slightly longer to arrive; however, the supplier's website was easy to navigate and placing my order was really simple and quick. 4/5

Supplier No.4:

7. George Michael

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 27/8/2020

Value - I had such high hopes for this one as the supplier came highly recommended. Unfortunately, I noticed a very unattractive beige tint to this particular print the second I unboxed it. This was the only print produced using the 'C-type' Digital printing method. Although this technique is considered more advanced, this heavily reduced the high levels of contrast within the portrait and left it looking rather flat in comparison to others. 1/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.4:

I couldn't fault the delivery time... I blinked and it had arrived. Bonus points also awarded as it arrived flat. However, I did feel the packaging was excessive considering only 1 print was ordered from this supplier. Whilst obviously I want the prints to be protected in transit and this is absolutely essential, I couldn't help but feel that 4 layers of carboard as well as two large plastic cellophane bags wrapped/taped around the print was somewhat unnecessary. Plus, I found their website particularly complex to navigate. 3/5

Supplier No.5:

8. Janis Joplin

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 29/8/2020

Value - Once again, this order was placed from a supplier that had been highly recommended to me by a fellow artist. I went for the 'velvet' finish in this particular print, as I was trying to explore as many viable printing finishes and methods as my budget could afford. At this point, I had already received one of my prints that was ordered in a 'matte' finish, and was not satisfied with the result, the matte finish had flattened out various tones within the portrait and it had lost the depth of the original artwork. Unfortunately, this was a similar result. I also noticed a slight 'blue' tint to the print when held up to the light. This seemed particularly unusual, as far i was aware, the printing method used by this supplier, was much the same as the majority of the other prints, which had no colour shift when exposed to light. In terms of having a 'velvet' finish... It felt no higher in quality than my other 'matte' finish prints... 1.5/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.5:

No complaints to the supplier, despite not being overtly keen on the print i had ordered. Their service was quick and efficient, and their website was easy to navigate. The price for this particular finish was costly, especially since there was little difference in paper quality compared to less expensive orders from other companies. However, the print did arrive flat. So gold star for that! 4/5

Supplier No.6:

9. Jimi Hendrix

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 1/9/2020

Value - I ordered this particular print with a colour correction service, for a small additional fee. All my portraits are monotone, so as expected, it made absolutely no difference to the original. I was impressed by the overall quality. Both prints from this supplier were ordered in a lustre finish, by the time they arrived I had already come to the conclusion that the 'lustre' finish prints were by far the most successful reproductions. 5/5

10. Kurt Cobain

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 1/9/2020

Value - Order with the same finish, this time with no colour correction, there was no difference in quality or contrast between these two prints are both were very good reproductions of the originals. 5/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.6:

The packaging was... awful. The prints arrived in small, tight postal tubes that has been stapled virtually all over, once I had finally prised the lid of the tube, the staples had pierced the interior of the tube, making the prints difficult to remove without damage. Thankfully the prints were unscathed and were relatively easy to flatten. However, I could not see this being at all practical in a long-term scenario, which was a shame as the prints themselves were excellent and there was no issue with the service provided by the suppliers. 2/5

Supplier No.7:

11. Prince

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 27/8/2020

Value - I was anxious to see how this particular portrait would reproduce. The highlights in this portrait are especially prominent as it was drawn from a heavily exposed reference image. Thankfully, the reproduction was great and I could breathe a sigh of relief! The order from this supplier was one of three that had arrived the next day. Even at this early stage of the process, I could see that the 'lustre' finishes were capturing detail perfectly and really emphasising the various tones within the portraits beautifully. 5/5

12. Stevie Nicks

Date Ordered - 26/8/2020

Date Received - 27/8/2020

Value - I hate to have a favourite, but my little heart skipped a beat when i opened this print up... Somehow, I think I prefer the quality on this print to the original portrait itself... It captured every little detail perfectly and the lustre finish really emphasised the softer use of shading used to produce this particular portrait. 5/5

Packaging, Delivery and Overall Service from Supplier No.7:

Delivery time was super speedy and they had arrived within 24 hours after placing the order. They also arrived flat, which as we've by now established, I much prefer. The delivery of the prints was followed up with phone call a week later from the company to check my prints had arrived intact. 10/10 service, they were fantastic! 5/5

Overall Findings

This grant was hugely beneficial to my business and really changed my perspective. Beforehand, I was convinced that only 'matte' finishes would complement my series of work. I have very limited digital photography knowledge and was too quick to associate 'lustre' with 'gloss' finish, taking the initial assumption that the shine would make them completely unappealing and difficult to photograph.

On the contrary, the 'Lustre' finish complimented the portraits beautifully, and seemingly captured details perfectly. Whilst it does defiantly reflect when held to the light, it's more of a translucent pearl sheen and is not in the slightest bit difficult to photograph and compliments the tones and shading used within the portraits. Of the 3 matte finishes I had ordered, not one impressed me. I noticed a dip in contrast and tones within the portraits. For whatever reason, none of the matte finishes captured darker tones as accurately as the originals and I found I was losing a sense of dimension within the reproductions of the portraits. Turns out, 'flat matte' fell flat...

If there's one thing I've learned through this entire process, (And trust me, it's been a tough pill to swallow) It's that I don't always know best... Sometimes, you need to let yourself in for a few extra headaches in order to achieve the results you really want. In hindsight, having now actually ordered a full print run from my chosen supplier, I'm so glad I've done my research and really delved into various different options before rushing in and committing myself to any old supplier that came recommended by a friend, purely to get my shop up and running that little bit faster.

Whilst, I haven't named any of the 7 print suppliers I've used throughout this evaluation, if anyone reading this is considering having prints made of their artwork, feel free to contact me, I'd be happy to go into further detail and share my findings, on a one to one basis.

Ellie Francesca Watson

You can find Ellie's new shop here: Ellie Francesca Design

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