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Squeegeeville, Courtenay, BC, Canada

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Interview with Andy MacDougall of Squeegeeville

Q: Andy, after 35-40 years of screen printing, you have seen a lot of ink flow under the bridge. Briefly, how has the profession changed over the years. Are the issues today roughly the same as they were then?

A: On one level, they are the same – new people coming into screenprinting are still dealing with a lack of solid knowledge to help them make the process work. Schools still teach with crappy set-ups, and generally the kids coming out of a lot of these institutions have little awareness of the technical side, other applications, (ceramics, glass, electronics, solar cells, etc) or career opportunities.

On another level, there is a distinct renaissance happening, driven by a DIY interest in the process, and helped along by waterbased inks and digital (yes digital!) printing of film. Of all the print processes, it still remains the most versatile, and one of the cheapest to set up and get into at home, on a budget. With the added bonus of being able to make saleable items, both artistic, commercial, or a combo of both.

Commercial graphic screenprinters and commercial textile printers are feeling the pinch from digital, just like in the art print field.  Screenprinting still delivers a better product in many cases (durability, sharpness, versatility, economy) but finding the balance point is the tough part. I actually think we will see a lot of the digital upstart companies going broke in the next while as the market dries up and they can’t make their payments on those $250,000. presses they just bought.  Screenprinting will always be there to pick up the slack.

Q: You’ve worked on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. Do you detect differences between the two places as regards philosophy and working procedures?

A: I like the openness of the US print scene. There is just more going on, in more places. Through the API (American Poster Institute) and their Flatstock events, it has opened up a network of printers and artists in every major city. Here in Canada, it seems screenprinting artists are fewer and far between, but that is mostly a function of big distances between major centres, and one tenth the population.  Americans (generally) are more oriented to making a buck than up here. Driven might be the right word. When it comes down to it, they’re all OK on both sides of the border, maybe a little less aware of the ‘the world’ down south. Each country has its share of art idiots.

Q: You’ve printed on every substrate known to man, and a few more, including all kinds of jobs, both industrial and artistic. What were some of the most interesting from a professional screen printer’s point of view?

A: I’m always most enthused about my latest job – a 100-run edition of 12 different months, 12 different artists, ‘09 pinup calendar. First one on my new press, in the new studio! Some other ones that stand out are the weird material items – big sheets of glass and aluminium for displays in World’s Fair pavilions, or helping customize a print line to image onto 4×8 foot sheets of formed metal. We did a 40 panel display for a pulp and paper company on raw sheets of pulp once – it was like printing on sheets of giant toilet paper.

I get a kick out of helping others to set up printing – a local native tribe starting up an on-reserve cedar box making business, where I helped set up and train them to print their own designs on the lids they were milling down from cedar logs. I just finished a project with a Beaufort Handicapped Adult Centre printing on old blue jean material they were collecting and sewing into recycled reusable shopping bags. They sold out their entire run before Christmas, and are now looking at offering the printed bags, customized with an imprinted logo or art, to other businesses in town. The handicapped adults all get into it, and due to the nature of the process and their workshop, they can all help – many hands make it go – from cutting, sorting, and cleaning the stock, to printing, to rackers carrying the material to dry, people ironing, people sewing, people packaging. All little skills to be mastered, something for everyone to help with, and needed for it all to work. The sense of pride and accomplishment at the Beaufort Centre was awesome and screenprinting was the process that made it happen.

Q: Before sitting down to prepare this interview I went back and read an article of yours published on World Printmakers five or six years ago, called “Food for Thought, Andy MacDougall on Full Disclosure and Other Art Marketing Issues.” That article seems remarkably enduring to me. It deals with the same subjects we’re debating today—offset litho reproductions signed and numbered and sold as “prints,” giclees and other authenticity issues and what to do about them. It seems that no progress has been made. We’re right where we were before, only worse, as the abuses have spread. Do you still stick to your prescription at that time: “Marketing, marketing, marketing?”

A: Well, the giclee people sure took it to heart! But marketing isn’t just about advertising the product. As much as artists love to hide behind the  ‘I’m not commercial, I’m not a sellout!” chant, face facts kids. You want to eat, you need to sell. And if people aren’t buying, then go back to zero and deconstruct your product and remake it into something that can find a home out there. Branch out, change your colors, change your subjects, change your medium. Change your attitude! The interesting thing about art is the artist is just as much the product as the finished piece. People may disagree with this, but it’s true. So, what are you doing to keep your art or yourself interesting? To find new markets or groups of people? To get some publicity in the local paper?

When was that article? Six years back? I would venture a guess that more art was selling in 2008 than in 2002, so our market sector has grown with the balloon economy we just went through. Prints still make up a good share of the art market, especially regionally. If I look at my business and the artists I work with, I would say overall, the bigger ticket limited edition print artists ($300-$1,000 per) aren’t doing as well, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact they are producing essentially the same stuff. The younger street and poster artists, working in a more contemporary style, are doing good sales and volume, but they are selling prints for a fraction of the cost of the ‘fine art’ people ($20-$50). What’s cool about this group is some of them are now producing more straight-ahead art prints, and getting better prices the longer they stay at it.

It’s all in flux. As it always has been. I would say, if people aren’t selling, don’t be afraid to step out and try something new, find new audiences. We’re going to have to do something different anyway, with the economic climate now, art purchases are going to be way down on the list.

Q: Is part of that marketing the education of the print-buying public? How do we go about it? First we have to get their attention, no? Is that what your idea for a No Giclee symbol is about?

A: A bit. If you have a symbol that raises controversy and begs the “what’s that about?’ question, it creates an opportunity for dialogue, or a sales pitch, or both. There really is a quiet revolution going on that is not Luddite driven so much as value driven –- appreciation for finer handcrafted ‘human made’ items. A lot of this ties into anti-consumerism, and I’m hoping people are getting away from just blindly buying crap that is flavour of the moment, and more into buying simple things that will last and give pleasure long after the initial purchase. So in theory, if a No Giclee symbol gets out there, and is used in enough instances in every art circle worldwide, pretty soon people will get it –- that it represents quality and originality and hand crafted excellence — or at least have a better idea of what they are buying.

Besides, it’s fun. Art needs to be a bit more fun, a bit less whiney.

Q: To what extent do you feel that it’s essential for printmakers to work together in a coordinated manner on these issues? Is this why so little progress has been made in recent years, the lack of a coordinated effort?

A: I think we are by our nature independent, and even within the art world, the pure printmaking artist (as opposed to someone who only paints originals) is sometimes seen as second tier, as are prints. And within the printmaking community, there is a serious case of pecking order, and it is fractured many different ways.

The web (you know this) has allowed for the creation of loose groupings, but I think if you have 50 printmakers, you get 50 different issues. Could printmakers use some unity? Yes. Will it help them sell more prints? I don’t know. Because as much as we want it to be about appreciation of the craft and the art, or public awareness, on an individual basis, we all have to sell to eat, and I would venture that if an artist is selling well, then the artist has fewer issues or problems.

Q: You’ve just moved into a new house and workshop. How does the new studio differ from the old one?

A: What Studio?!?!?!?! Kidding. Kind of… 6 months in and I’m still getting wiring and construction done, although the press is in, the exposing unit is in, the ink room is set up, but generally it is still a big mess. We will be ready for spring classes and workshops.

Squeegeeville II is in a basement, and all I have to say is I’m glad I’m short. The old shop was custom built and had 9’ ceilings and a big open combo work area. We had to downsize from 3’x4’ to 2’x3’ max print area, but in reality I hardly ever worked that big anyway. We have separate rooms that interconnect for printing, exposing and screen storage, ink mixing, and art prep.

I’m waiting for summer to finish the solar exposing set-up – we have built a big door that we can roll the exposing frame out to the sunlight. And I have sweet double doors right beside the press that can open in the summer. We’re on three quarters of an acre, a half a block from the ocean, so overall, I’m not complaining!

The other day, I started counting shops that I built, starting from a converted bedroom in 1982. This is number seven. The biggest was over 14,000 sq feet. This one is about 800.

Q: What recommendations do you have for young people entering the printmaking world today?

A: Embrace technology – learn digital workflow, as well as hand skills. Get a job in a commercial shop, especially if you want to learn screenprinting. Learn business skills. And keep making art. Print on anything.

Q: Are you willing to accept original digital images as fine-art prints?

A: Yes, as long as everyone is clear on how they were produced. To each their own – we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Would I buy a digital print? Not likely.

Q: Do you think digital is going to force printmaking to evolve or is digital going to bury it?

A: Evolve. This is the history of art prints – they follow the current technology of print, whatever it is. Digital is just the latest advancement. And historically speaking, even though mainstream print technology advanced past each of the ‘art’ methods, they still have their disciples (and collectors) 500 years or more later.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add to these observations, Andy. This is your space.

A: It’s funny sometimes how the world works. Here’s my Internet buddy Miguel in Spain asking Andy in Canuckistan all these questions, which gets my brain thinking about things that at the moment are not near the top of my list. But of course, like a bad song that won’t go away, I start to think about marketing art, which really begs the most important question any hotshot ad man asks first – WHO, demographically speaking, is buying the art?

And what to my wondering eyes should appear, THE VERY SAME DAY, the Opus Arts Newsletter, in which I spy a little article about a survey conducted on art buyers, which makes for some insightful reading, in light of our little Q&A session. Read on….(and please don’t get worked up about the use of ‘copies’ when referring to prints, that’s not the point…)

Canadian Fine Art Market Report 2008. Opus reviewed the report with author Cam Anderson and we’re happy to be able to share some of the highlights here.

According to the report, 65% of art buyers indicated that they buy originals, and 67% buy copies; 70% buy for personal use while 58% buy as a gift. The results claim that “the main reason given for making a purchase was that art buyers bought on impulse, and loved the work” (78%). Three secondary reasons were prominent: “bought as a gift” (54%), “bought from an artist known to the buyer” (48%), or “while on a trip” (48%). The report encourages art sellers to therefore offer both originals and copies, to market especially to customers who have bought art recently, to make gift-buying convenient, and to show art both widely and often to increase the opportunity for impulse buying.

For artists wishing to sell originals, Anderson reports that buyers’ preferred sales venues are buying from the artist directly (71%) and at local art shows (64%) and art galleries (51%). The report found that less buying was done online (15%) or at gift/frame shops (12%). This is perhaps explained by the main reasons buyers consider buying directly: “to see the artist benefit financially”, “to get to know the artist”, and “to get more meaning from the art”. For artists showing art online, take note that 50% of buyers go online seeking local art and art shows. The implication seems to be: get involved. Make your art available in local shows and art galleries, and be available in person to greet your buyers. They want to meet you!

So who are your buyers anyway, and what are they like? Female buyers outnumber male buyers by 4 to 1. Buyers under 35 tend to be more impulse driven and are more likely to buy copies, while travelers and those over 35 (35 to 50, and 50+) hold a larger interest in originals, art shows and the artist themselves. Buyers who are also artists are likely to be female, to have taken or plan to take art lessons and to buy at local shows. Regarding household income, Anderson reports: “those over $100K annual family income and who are between 35 and 50 years old are especially important fine art buyers.”

Written by Michael Booth

July 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm

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