Your guide in the world of collecting original prints - 1

Starting your art collection, original prints are great, but how do you know what is what?

The word "print" is used in a multitude of ways, here I try to explain what to look for when you selct a print for yourself or as a gift.

I think the very first thing to talk about is the difference between printmaking, and reproduction prints (sometimes called giclees)

When a print is a reproduction, it is a copy of an existing artwork. It can be a painting, a collage (like my linocut collages) or other ways of creating an image and it is usually either scanned or photographed and then uploaded to a computer, where soemtimes it is enhanced, maybe a tweaking of the colors or other details, before being reproduced in a inkjet printer. Inkjet printers come in all kinds of qualities, your office printer uses normal inks, that fade quite quickly, but for artwork most of the time, pigment inks are used that are lightfast. These prints are often called giclees, and the word should tell you, that excellent paper and inks have been used, what we call museum quality. In recent years, the word giclee has been very over used and it is well worth asking the seller, what kind of paper and inks the reproduction print is printed with, so you are sure to get value for money.

There is nothing wrong with a good reproduction, although it is many times mass produced. This of course, also makes it very affordable!

So let us move on to the wonderful world of original prints! An original print is made from start to finish by the artist, with the help of a printmaking press. There are a lot of different ways to make your print, but they all have in common that the printmaker uses a "plate", that is, a surface to create an image on. This surface is then inked up, the paper is put on top, and the plate and paper are taken through the press which transfers the image from the plate onto the paper. The artist makes the plate, inks the plate (for each print) and puts it through the press, hands on the whole way through for each and every print, and this, is why they are counted as originals, artist input in each and every one. Fair enough then, that original prints cost more than reproductions, don't you think?

Here is a list of the most common ways of printmaking:

Etchings : are traditionally done on copper, the copper plate is varnished with an acid resist, the artists image is drawn onto the plate with a sharp stylus, removing the varnish so acid can access the copper and bite a line,  the copper plate is cleaned, and ink is applied, forced into the lines. Humid paper "lifts" the ink out of the line when taken through the press, and the image is transferred to the paper.

Drypoint : with a sharp tool marks and lines are made on a metal plate, raising a burr, this burr then holds the ink when the plates is inked up, humid paper and the image is transferred. Drypoints tend to give very short editions as the burr wears down with the pressure from the press when printing.

Linocuts : Linoleum, the old fashioned kind, and never versions, are carved with sharp lino knives to create the image, the ink is rolled onto the plate and printed on mostly dry paper. Again, the lino plate has to be inked for each print. Several plates are used for multi colored prints, printed on top of each other. Or the same plate is used, when creating linocut reductions, making for very short editions.

Woodcuts: Are quite similar in method to linocuts, but instead of lino, wood is used and the grain is often incoporated into the image.

Screen prints: Are effectively a stencil, the stencil can be made by hand, or processed using a photo technique onto mesh, the ink is forced through the mesh onto the paper creating the image. To achieve multiple colors several screens are printed on top of each other.

Collagraphs: here the plate is created with a variety of "stuff" - anything flat enough to go through a press can be used, glued onto, cut out,scraped into, carved etc etc, to create an image. These plates can also be assembly pieces, that is many plates assembled to make a whole. Collographs tend ot also be quite short lived and create short editions, in some cases onlu mono prints.

Monotype or Monoprints: This kind of printmaking is like the name says, a way of making a single print!
A mono type usually tells you that marks where made on a plate, these marks can then be manipulated, added to or scraped away to create prints, maybe a series using the same image as a start. A mono print, is usually ink manipulated much like a painting on a surface and then printed onto paper with the help of a printmaking press.

OK folks, all for today, part 2 in the next couple of weeks will talk about what to look for, and how to identify the different techniques correctly, it'll make you sound like a pro when looking at printmaking!