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Original prints should not be confused with reproductions.
An original hand-made print is a genuine work of art which ranks with painting, sculpture and drawing as one of the foremost means of artistic expression. Original prints were made in the past by all the masters, ranging from Durer, Rembrandt, and Renoir, through to Picasso and Warhol, and today artists carry on the tradition which involves slow, painstaking, skilled work.
By contrast a reproduction is merely a copy of an original, made with photographic mass production techniques, such as those used to print glossy magazines.
Because they are made by modern high speed commercial techniques reproductions have virtually no investment value, whereas museums around the world today seek out the best contemporary prints to add to their collections of old masters' works.
An original print is pulled from a plate or block that has been hand-made, and hand inked by the artist who chooses a particular medium to create an effect which could not be achieved in any other way.
The artist creates a surface so that more than one image can be printed from it. A series of prints from the same prepared surface is called an edition. The artist will generally limit the number of prints in an edition - and with some processes the fragility of the plate itself means that only a limited number of prints can be pulled before the plate degrades.
After the edition is completed the plates are marked or destroyed so they cannot be used again.
Each print in an edition requires the same skilled work or inking, registering and printing. Usually a separate plate must be prepared, inked, and printed for each colour appearing in the final print.
After the plate or block is completed, and before the edition is printed the artist will usually experiment with colour combinations and different inking techniques, sometimes making and rejecting a number of trial proofs. Once the final combination has been decided the artist may make a number of "artist's proofs" which will be held for the artist's use or sale.
The next step is the edition itself. Each print in the edition is numbered, titled, and signed by the artist. The notation "A/P" refers to an artist's proof, "1/20" denotes the first print in an edition of 20, while "52/75" means the 52nd print of an edition of 75.
There are a variety of methods used in printmaking, and knowledge of these adds to the appreciation of the prints.
The image is painted onto a flat plate and put through the press. The artist can never exactly make the same marks again, hence the term "mono" print.
Screenprinting (Also known as a Serigraphy)
Screenprinting is a stencil process. A fine mesh material is stretched over a frame (originally the material was silk. Areas of the screen are blocked with a varnish-like substance, and then a squeegee is used to push ink through the open areas onto paper. The image is then created by building up layers of colours using a different screen for each. Unlike other printmaking methods, screenprinting is worked in the positive rather than the reverse of the image.
During the 60s serigraphy was adopted by Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana because of its ability to deal with bright areas of colour.
Woodcut & Linocut
A woodcut is made by cutting into the broad face of a plank of wood, usually with a knife. A linocut is made by the same method, but using linoleum instead of wood. In working the wood the artist cuts away the areas not to be printed, and the ink adheres to the raised surface during printing making it a relief rather than intaglio print.
Some Printing Terms
Most prints fall in to the categories of relief, intaglio, lithographic, explained above, and stencil.
With relief prints the raised part of the plate surface is printed. Relief printing includes woodcuts and linocuts, embossing and wood engraving.
With Intaglio prints the image is cut below the surface of the plate. Intaglio methods include etching, mezzotint, engraving, drypoint, and aquatint.
Silk screens are a form of stencil with open areas of the stencil being printed.