Divine Success:
Mr. Costello’s Valley of the Moon Fine Art Publishers

Tie to Bette Midler’s new show provides a boost for startup fine-art publishing studio in Ojai
Scoring big in Las Vegas
By Allison Bruce
Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bette Midler and eBay have helped an Ojai company step beyond the struggles of a startup toward lasting success.

Valley of the Moon Fine Art Publishers, a giclée and fine-art publishing studio begun four years ago in the owner’s living room, got its big break this year when Midler contracted with the company to create collector prints for her Las Vegas show that opened last month at Caesars Palace.

Each giclée print is signed by the diva and sells for $200 in a shop near The Colosseum, a 4,100-seat venue where Midler will be performing in “The Showgirl Must Go On” for the next two years.

“I’m really, totally, absolutely thrilled,” said Valley of the Moon owner Jim Costello as he pulled up a picture of the Midler shop on his computer at his Ojai studio.

“Giclée” refers to a high-quality printing process for reproducing fine art.

The deal with the Divine Miss M came through connections Costello has built in his years working with studios and artists. His friend of 32 years, Rod Dyer, is a friend of Midler and made a special shadow-box collage for her when her show opened. Dyer worked an image of the collage into the tour book.

He and Costello teamed up to create giclée prints of that collage and the book’s cover, and Midler approved signing and selling them.

Costello said about 250 sold in the first 14 days of the show.

Dyer said merchandising is a huge part of Las Vegas shows, and the giclée prints bring up the quality of the merchandise, giving people something of value that is more collectible.

“I thought it would be good to have something they can take away with them that they can get framed and keep forever,” he said.

The picture has changed

Valley of the Moon is a wholesale business, with about 70 percent of the work coming from artists getting prints made to sell and 30 percent coming from studios, corporations, art auction houses and the like. At least, that’s how it was before the Midler deal.

Now, work from institutions has increased to about half of the business – including the Midler prints.

Photo: Joseph Garcia

There’s an order for 2,000 by June, and a new series of prints is in development. Because of the Midler order, Costello can spend more time making new connections and drumming up business rather than worrying about what’s going to pay the bills.

“This has been a real catalyst, being able to have a little bit of financial security,” he said.

Old school technology

As for how those prints are created, Costello speaks with pride of the machines he has picked up on eBay and that his stepson and business partner, David Graham, fixes and maintains.

While new technology is always about the next thing to hit the market, Costello relies on machines that have been pushed to the backroom in most businesses and depends on software that has to be used with an earlier version of Apple’s operating system on his office computers.

These sometimes temperamental machines have to be taken apart and cleaned nightly. They can knock an incautious user off his feet with the electricity flowing through the ink nozzles.

“I’ve gotten greeted’ a few times,” Costello said. “That’s why I call this machine Sparky.”

He lifts the lid of the machine – the first one he bought for $600, but has added about $5,000 in repairs. He shows the four nozzles that hold the colors.

A current charges the nozzles, and the drum where the paper is placed is lightly charged as well. As the machine works, the ink is pulled onto the paper through the charge, Costello explains. He suggests it is something more akin to electroplating than what your inkjet printer does at home as it sprays ink on a page.

Older but more versatile

Newer machines may allow the user to push a button and walk away, but they don’t create the finished products that his machines can, Costello said. The main difference is that the machines Valley of the Moon uses can print on any kind of paper. That means archival paper that hasn’t been treated – paper that will create a print that lasts.

Costello said his hidden weapon is his stepson.

“I’m lucky,” Costello said. “I think my stepson is absolutely brilliant at fixing these machines and a brilliant color corrector.”

As the business grows, Costello would like to hire someone to maintain the machines so Graham can spend more time on color correction – getting the print’s colors true to the original intent of the artist.

Costello admits to cringing when someone picks up a giclée print and treats it like a poster. He made a special trip to Las Vegas to talk with employees at the shop about what they were selling, explaining what distinguishes a giclée print and talking about the machines, paper and process. Each Midler giclée takes more than an hour to print.

“People don’t realize this is art,” he said, picking up a print. “You handle it like it’s art.”

Dyer said he relies on Costello’s expertise for his prints. An original piece of art either gets sold or hangs on the artist’s wall for years, he said. A limited edition of giclée prints lets people have a nice piece of art they can afford at much less than the cost of the original, he said.

Costello said he wanted to make it affordable for artists to sell their work, something he has strived to do with his business. He also wants to create something his stepson can continue.

It’s a passion that sometimes keeps Costello and Graham at the Ojai studio until late at night or brings Costello out on a Saturday morning.

“I can’t stay away from this place,” he said.

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