The Art of Ethics

Q. I’ve been producing giclée reproductions for several years. In one of my recently finished prints, I added pastel pencil to a few areas to enhance shadows and colors that weren’t bright enough. Does this mean that the piece can now be considered an original, mixed-media artwork? No piece would be exactly the same, since no pastel marks are identical, so each time I do this I’d be creating a new original, correct?

A. The term giclée (pronounced ‘zhee-clay’) is derived from the French noun gicleur, meaning “nozzle,” and the verb gicler, which means “to spray.” The word refers to a form of printing done on Iris printers, which created fine-art prints on high-quality art paper with sprays of lightfast ink. Since most high-end ink-jet printers now spray ink through special nozzles, the term giclée lives on as a fancy way of separating fine-art printing from the digital printing that’s so common now.

Part of the answer to your question will be revealed when gicleée painting develops more universal and acceptable definitions, but until then you must consider whether or not your clients will understand the philosophies behind what you’ve done. You might be able to think of your objects as original mixed-media works if you apply the enhancements by hand, and the changes from one work to the other are readily apparent. If you make 50 of them that are all similar in appearance, however, I’d have a hard time calling them one-of-a-kind originals. You ought to explain to your buyers before they purchase the work that, while these works of art could be seen as one-of-a-kind to some people, others might claim that merely adding a few touches by hand violates a certain spirit of original artmaking.

To learn more about giclée, I recommend that you read Harald Johnson’s book, Mastering Digital Printing (Muska & Lipman). You can find an excerpt of his book online at

Phoebe Storey is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society. Throughout her career her paintings have won many awards and are included in collections in the United States and abroad. She lives in Stockton, California.

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