Creating Fine Art Prints from Public Domain Images

Creating Fine Art Prints from Public Domain Images…

by J. Arthur Davis

I was asked to show you how I take a simple Public Domain image and turn it into a sell-able piece of art.

Actually the process is quite simple once you have done a few. I will show you how I created the piece on the right.

First I take a blank sheet of watercolor paper. It can be any size you want, depending on the size sheet your printer can handle.  The sheet shown is 15” x 11”.

I then take any object that will allow me to draw a circle. I just happened to have this plastic coffee can on my desk and it was the exact size I needed. I draw a light circle on the paper with a pencil.

You can make the circle any size you want, it will all depend on what you want on your background.

Next we are going to paint masking on the circle. We want to keep the background colors from getting into the circle. First wet your brush and get it well covered with Ivory Soap. The purpose of the soap is so you can easily clean your brush after using the masking.

Dip your brush into the masking and get it well saturated.

Now your are going to cover the inside of the circle with the masking. Apply it quite heavy. You want enough masking to cover the whole area as well as thick enough so it will be easy to remove when you are finished.

When you are finished applying the masking your sheet should look like this. The masking will have a slight shine. Do Not add heat to hurry up the drying. By adding heat the masking will stick to the sheet like stink to a skunk!

Now I take a wide brush and soak the whole sheet of paper. Get it really wet. You want the paint to run so the more water the better.

The next step is to apply your colors to the top of the print. I just squeeze the watercolors on the paper. You can apply them with a brush as well. You are free to create whatever kind of background you want. There is no perfect answer to this. Use your imagination.

Once the paint is applied use a wet brush or spray bottle to mix the colors. You can also pick up the paper and tip the paper to mix the colors. Again, do whatever you want to get the color to run. This is the fun part of making these paintings. No two will ever be the same.

If you want a textured look like the one shown above take some heavy sea salt and sprinkle it on the wet ink. I got mine a little heavy on this print. The other print has about the right amount. Allow everything to dry.

When the print is dry, brush off all the salt. If you have trouble getting it off take some sand paper and lightly sand it. You will not hurt the print.

After removing the salt remove the masking. It is just a matter of using your finger and rolling the edge of the masking until it comes loose. Most of the time you can just pick it up and it will come off in a sheet.

Your next step will be to color the inside of your circle. Here you can use any color for your base as long as you remember not to get it too dark. You will be printing an image over this sheet so you don’t want it so dark that you will not be able to see the image. I also added some red to the yellow before it dried.

I stood the print on end so the red would run down the circle. This gives a nice look to the circle.

When the print has completely dried I flatten it and insert it into my printer. Any inkjet printer will work, but the original print will not be archival because most inkjet printers use dye-based ink. I use a 44” Cannon IPF8000 – 12 color archival pigmented ink printer. This is a professional printer which is used to make large fine art prints. If you are going to get serious about doing this kind of art then look at the smaller Epsons and Cannons. Yes you will have to spend some money, or find a friend who has one of these printers.

I now go to the internet and find images that I want to print on the paper. Sometimes I will find the images in color sometimes they are just line drawings. When I get the image I want I drop out the backgrounds and any information I find that is not important to the final image.

I send the image to the printer and this is the result I get.

This is the completed image and is now ready to enhance if you are so inclined. If the image is a black and white line drawing I will then take my watercolors and go back and add color to the image. You can see the results on the image below on the left.

Here we have the completed pieces with mats and ready to frame. Before I put the images in a mat I will again scan the final print. I want to be able to make reproductions of these images. They can be reduced and put on note cards or enlarged to any size you would want. The image of Waywaysacapo, on left, will be enlarged to 24”, matted and framed.

Here's a closer look:

Original black & white line drawing...

New colored version created using the technique discussed above...

There is no limitation on what you can do with Public Domain images. There are thousands of possibilities, only your imagination will tell you where to stop.

As for the price of the finished piece, the original art is free, you have the cost of your watercolors, paper, mat board, glass, frame, plus your time. Framed and ready to sell you, if you purchase everything wholesale, which you should be doing, will cost around $50.00 for print that is 22x18. Retail on that image should be 5 times your cost of materials. You would realize a profit of $200.00. Not bad for something you can sell over and over again.

Jim Davis

I am a commercial photographer by trade, but gave it up in 1998 to concentrate on creating fine art prints using wide format inkjet technology. Currently I work with photographers and artists from all over the world, plus creating my own art prints.

If you would like to contact me for more information on my services you can reach me at, (717) 576-8884, or my website:

I'm so thankful that someone so talented will share his "secrets" with us!

P.S. - I've got a NEW site to house Public Domain High Resolution Images. This site went down in flames a few weeks ago... so I've revamped, renewed and readjusted the prices.

All the High Resolution Public Domain Images Packs have been drastically reduced in price!

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  1. Susan Fleming says

    I really enjoyed reading about this technique, and yes, i would love to see more ideas for using public domain art work.

  2. says


    Great feature, I think I will have a go at this, I have a bunch of old comic book type pictures that I have been trying to come up with an idea for, and I think this would work well. When you sit and think about it there are a huge number of variations on this technique that would probuce great pictures.

    There are a few questions I would like to see answered like what type of paper to use, will it go through the printer without ruining it, will the printer inks stick to it etc.

    My main question would be – How would you sell this type of work (without having to put in lots of time and effort), obviosly since it is a physical item the normal methods of selling downloadable items won’t work so well, any ideas.

    And yes more ideas on using PD artwork would be great.

    Many Thanks


  3. says

    There are a few questions I would like to see answered like what type of paper to use, will it go through the printer without ruining it, will the printer inks stick to it etc.

    I think the answers to both of these questions would involve a consultation with your current printer’s user manual and some experimentation (without risking ruining your printer of course).

    You can contact Jim directly at his website if you have specific questions and need a real working artist’s opinion.

    My main question would be – How would you sell this type of work (without having to put in lots of time and effort), obviosly since it is a physical item the normal methods of selling downloadable items won’t work so well, any ideas.

    Oh yeah, definitely, this is a whole different world of product creation and sales. The rules for information-based products don’t apply. These are the types of products that would work well for sale on eBay (possibly even Amazon?), other auction sites, and directly from your own website.

    There’s also the possibility of making a good income selling locally through arts and crafts shows, community markets, selling to retail businesses, etc.

    I’m sure there are also other sites that specialize in selling framed and printed artwork for artists. I’ve never really ventured into that arena because I prefer to specialize in info-products but I’m sure they exist – anybody know?

  4. Doni says

    All I can say is WOW! what a grand idea. That opens my imagination a lot.thanks. Anymore ideas? You guys are amazing. Doni

  5. says

    Thanks Doni… I’m hoping that “my” ideas are just the ticket to get everyone working on some ideas of their own. I’ve got lot’s more idea in the works and will be sharing soon.



  1. […] Creating Fine Art Prints from Public Domain Images   Paper – personally, I love to use 70 pound “natural parchment” – it really does a lot to add to the “vintage” look and feel of a print. It doesn’t look cheap, it looks quality. You can pick that up at the office supply store at first and then source it in bulk a lot less expensively later.   If I need to clean up a print before reproducing, I edit it in Photoshop myself especially if the print is yellowed by age, I’ll take it into Photoshop and convert it into greyscale so that it’s back to pure black-and-white. This is not as easy for me when using colored prints but quite frankly, many times the yellowing adds to the “vintage” feel anyway. People interested in these things like their prints to look old – even reproductions.   That’s really all there is to it – keep it simple and you can get started right away.   I hope this helps! […]

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