Prints - Why Buy Them and What Should You Look For?
A good, artistically viable print is not just a reproduction
of a popular image made by an artist, but an extension
of his entire artistic vision. More and more often,
respected artists are making prints because they see
them as an integral part of their work. I know many
artists who have gotten stuck in their painting, who
then turned to printmaking as a way to break away from
the rigors of their studio. More often than not, they
later find themselves approaching their painting in
a fresh and freer way.
price level for original prints is normally substantially
lower than that of unique paintings because they
are multiples and on paper. However, there are exceptions.
Occasionally a mediocre, small painting will cost
less than an important, large original print.
in any other aspect of the market, homework must
be done. As is the case in buying any art, the
most important aspect to consider is the quality
of the image and how it fits into the artist's
entire body of work. Some artists, even some
of the most important, make lousy prints. Three things
should be considered when assessing the price
of a print: The cost of a print should reflect the
size of the edition, if the piece is signed by
the artist or not, and the condition of the print.
Many color prints have faded over the years,
or the paper has deteriorated. Another aspect to consider
is the date of the print. An artist's work can
change dramatically over the years, and often
the market considers certain periods of an artist's
career more valuable than others.
Basic Printmaking Techniques
note that these descriptions only describe fundamental
processes. For more detailed descriptions andvariations
such as collograph, aquatint, etc., click here.
1. Physical Change in Matrix:
(Intaglio) - The artist draws into a
cooper plate with a stylus. She then wipes the plate
with ink so that the ink lodges into the etched lines.
She then wipes all ink off surface of the copper
leaving ink in the lines. Then the artist puts a
piece of paper on top, puts it through a press which
exerts pressure and the ink is transferred from copper
plate to paper, just as the artist has drawn it.
(Relief) - The artist carves away all
areas of block of wood eliminating that which she
does not want printed on paper leaving the shape
of the image desired. She then rolls ink on the surface,
puts paper on it and puts it through the press, transferring
the ink from the woodblock to the paper. This is
just like the potato print you made as a child.
2. Chemical change in Matrix:
Lithography-This was a process invented
in the late 19th century by which the artist draws
on a stone or metal plate with an oil based crayon.
By taking advantage of the fact that oil and water
don't mix, she then waters down her plate and, naturally,
the water does not adhere to the areas drawn on.
Then she rolls the plate with oil based ink (in any
color) and the ink adheres to the areas drawn and
is repelled by areas that are wet. Therefore, the
ink only stays where the artist drew. Then she puts
paper on top, pulls it through a press and the ink
is again transferred from matrix to paper. This is
the fundamental process of all commercial color printing.
3. Stencil (Silk-screen or Serigraph):
A stencil type process using a fine mesh fabric stretched
on a frame. The artist blocks out all the areas he
does not want to have an image with paper, glues
or other materials. He puts the screen on top of
a sheet of paper, then squeegees ink through the
mesh. Like any stencil, the ink will only come through
where the artist wants it.
note that in all of these processes, there is a
different matrix or silk-screen for every color. Often,
the paper goes through the press many times to achieve
the combination of colors the artist needs.
- A signature on a print is important
Not necessarily. Many of the tacky dealers
have signed Erte, Dali, and Rockwell prints. This
only indicates that the artist has signed the prints.
It does not mean that the artist has had any input
into their creation, that they are original, or
have any value. Prior to the printmaking boom in
the late 19th Century, many artists considered their
printmaking unimportant (as did the marketplace)
and didn't bother to sign their prints. Rembrandt
etchings are never signed. However, often the existence
of a signature is very important to the value of
a print, and allows you to distinguish between a
fine print and a well-framed poster.
- The number on a print is important
Not at all - In the typical printing process, no
one keeps track of which sheet of paper is first
or last off the press. In etching, it's necessary
to keep your paper damp to better absorb the ink.
After the print is pulled, it goes on a drying
rack to dry out causing the sequence of paper
to become all confused. In color prints - remember
- the paper goes through the press a separate
time for every color, so the one sheet could be
the first for the red plate and the last for the
- However, the number of the total
edition is very important.
Today, this number is typically dictated
by how many impressions you think you can
easily sell. In the olden days, there was
a physical limitation as to the number
of impressions an artist could pull from a copper
plate. The later impressions pulled from
that plate became weaker as the copper
wore down under pressure from the press. Nowadays
the plates are given a steel coating to
protect them and can be editioned infinitely.
- Be aware that still you cannot always trust
the edition number.
Tacky prints are often made in many editions,
with many kinds of edition numbers so that you
will see the same Dali print in Roman Numerals
on one kind of paper, in Roman Numerals on another
kind of paper, and in Arabic Numerals on a third
kind of paper. An honest dealer of tacky art
- and there are many - will document for you
the exact number and size of all of the editions.
New York State Law
regarding the Sale of Prints
to New York State Law, the sale of visual art objects
produced in multiples require the following disclosure:
Name of the Artist
Signature - If the artists name appears on the
multiple, it should be made clear if the piece was
signed by the artist. If the work is not signed by
the artist, state the source of the name on the multiple
such as whether the artist signed the matrix, or
if the work is stamped with the artist's name by
the artist or the artist's estate.
Medium - Describe the process by which the multiple
was made and whether it was made by hand or photographically.
If the print was editioned from the master after
the artist's death, this shall be stated.
If the work is a photomechanical or handmade reproduction
of another existing work of art this shall be stated
and, if the work is not signed, whether the artist
approved in writing of this reproduction.
Size - Size of the edition of this print,
and the size of all other editions taken from the
same matrix, and whether and how all other multiples
taken from the same matrix are numbered.