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Prints are very common, among artists and first-time collectors… But what are Fine Art Prints?


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Unlike a painting, prints can be replicated. But is that really the case?

What are Fine Art Prints?

Fine Art Prints are original artworks. Printmaking is Art. However, the artists who working with this medium elaborate images as a reproduction rather than a unique piece.

Over the years, artists from all over the word have used printmaking to create some of their most compelling works of art. 

In Western Art History, Old master’s prints were highly popular. Fine art prints by artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Martin Schongauer, Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Dürer and Francisco Goya are considered incredible artworks. 

These were one-of-a-kind, rare, yet much more accessible than the artists’ paintings.  Even today, these masterpieces continue to tell audiences much about their exquisite artisanship and creativity, as well as the story of their time.

This Art form consists of the production of images, usually created on paper, but also on other surfaces such as fabric, parchment, plastic or other support. The image is replicated by the artist, through distinct techniques to achieve different results with wood or metal plates.

A common misconception is that a printmaking is not a fine art technique. In fact, unlike paintings or drawings, prints often exist in multiples. 

It is often compared to a poster as an example of mass-produced work. Nevertheless, the originality of Fine Art prints should definitely not be disputed. 

Fine Art prints are limited edition pieces and not simple copies of paintings or photos created with antique or new tools, specially developed through the centuries. The total number of versions - impressions - is referred to as an edition, which artists began to sign and number around the start of the 20th century. 

These special modest artworks are considered a marvellous, exciting medium to make, look at and own by many.

Fine Art Prints in the Art Market 

A variety of different artists create prints. These works can be found in every single art fair, ranging from the old masters works, antique pieces and even artworks made by contemporary artists all over the world. 

In the first half of 2021, Art prints accounted for 6% of the sales in the dealer sector – a great deal less than the 60% of paintings. However, according to recent statistics (Statista 2021) Fine Art prints were the second most commonly sold medium in the Art World in 2020. In fact, second only to paintings, 71% of collectors reported buying this medium online last year, and 66% stated they bought prints on social media channels. 

Why is it that the data available seems contrasting? So many buy prints but they still represent only a small percentage of sales?

The numbers appear to contradict themselves, but the answer is simple. It clearly suggests that the popularity of prints, and the accessibility of their price on the market are attractive to many. This medium does not account for much of the total sales, but this reflects the value on the market.

They certainly are most definitely a cheap go-to for buyers and collectors at the moment!

Prints represent a great investment for young and new collectors - especially when they are only just starting to build an art collection. With a price range which starts in the 100s and goes up to around $10,000, these works are an inexpensive investment - easy to ship and easy to find. 

Providing collectors with a vast choice of distinctive styles, sizes, subjects and techniques - even within printing. In fact, it is the latter that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of printmaking…

 

Statista, Most Common Fine Art Mediums bought Online Worldwide during the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020 by channel, 18.05.2021, Courtesy of Statista.com ©Statista 2021

 

Arts Economics, Dealers’ Share of Sales by Value and Medium in H1 2021 (All Dealers), 2021, Courtesy of ART Basel and UBS ©Arts Economics 2021

 

Arts Economics, Dealers’ Share of Sales by Value and Medium in H1 2021 (Share of Dealers by Sector), 2021, Courtesy of ART Basel and UBS ©Arts Economics 2021

 

Printmaking Techniques

Many Printmaking techniques exist. However, they remain a mystery to most people.  

Each technique produces extremely different results. Some are more minimalist, while others are extremely delicate, graphic or bold. 

Certain printing techniques date back centuries, but there are also techniques which are much more recent developments - resulting from the Industrial Revolution and technological advancements. 

Generally, the most traditional prints are produced by drawing or carving a composition on a carrier surface – called a matrix. Depending on the technique this can be created on wood block, metal plate or stone surface.  This surface is then inked, and the image is transferred to paper by the application of pressure - creating an impression. 

Read more on The paper breaks the wall of the art market

 

Jan van Eyck Academie, Printing Studio, n.d., Courtesy of the Jan van Eyck Academie 

 

Relief Printing

Relief printing encompasses a variety of techniques. Similar in their approach, they strongly resemble one another. These are woodcut (also called woodblock), engraving, linocut and metal cut.

Relief Printing first appeared in Europe in the 15th century, when the process of paper making was imported from the East and, as the name suggests, it consists of a raised area on a block of wood or lino (in linoleum). The image is printed thanks to this raised area, which pressed onto paper impresses it with ink.

Woodcut is one of the first of the relief printing techniques. To create a print with this technique the artist creates a design on a plank of wood, carving away the parts of the block which will not receive ink. The surface of the block or the metal plate is then inked and applied onto paper, or any other surface on which one intends to print.

Intaglio

Intaglio is often considered the biggest group of different printmaking methods. From the Italian word “to carve” or “to cut”, this technique includes a variety of different approaches. Generally, it involves creating incisions on a certain surface with specific acids or tools.

Engraving and Etching are the two main methods of intaglio printing. However, dry point, mezzotint and aquatint also belong to this group. 

Engraving involves the creation of incisions on a metal plate using a burin - an engraving tool. Using the tool at different angles, the artist leaves dents and marks which can hold the ink. Depending on their width and depth they will leave different shades in the final print. Photoengraving uses an acid to create the matrix on the metal plate.

Etching uses chemicals to create the matrix on the metal, copper or zinc plate. The surface is prepared with an acid-resistant ground. Then, the image is drawn on the plate revealing the metal underneath. After this the plate is immersed in acid, leaving lines where the metal was exposed. It was used to decorate metalwork such as musical instruments and armour in the Middle Ages.

Dry Point prints are often created with copper plates. By marking the drawing on the soft metal, the surface is misshaped – leaving a raised area around the lines. This is known as the burr, which creates a delicate and distinctive shade in the final prints. In this technique, the matrix can only be used a limited number of times before the effect of the burr is damaged by the act of printing itself.

Mezzotint was the first tonal method to be used. It allows the artist to achieve half-tones. Mezzotint achieves tonality by painstakingly creating thousands of little dots with a metal tool with small teeth - a rocker. In printing, the tiny pits in the plate retain the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean and then used to create the impression. 

Aquatint uses tonal effects, rather than simple lines. It follows a similar procedure to etching – immerging a plate in acid. By leaving the plate more or less time in the acid the areas achieve different tones. Aquatint creates granular patterns on the areas exposed, resulting in exceptional gradations and chiaroscuro effects.

 

Berenice Sydney, Screenprint with Balance, 1974, Courtesy of the Tate ©The estate of Bernice Sydney

 

Lithography

Invented in 1798, lithography uses a flat stone or a metal plate. The images are created on a greasy substance, which repels the ink. Lithography is a well-respected art form in contemporary art, often combined with other printmaking processes, such as silk screening, in artworks.

A variation of this technique is Offset lithography. It is indirect as the plate does not come in direct contact with the paper. This method involves printing on an immediate surface before creating the final print. 

Silk Screening

Silk screening, also known as screen-printing or serigraphy, is a 20th-century technique which was created and first introduced in America in 1939. The technique involves forcing of ink through a silk screen stretched on a frame. The ink goes through the screen and onto the paper underneath the frame. The design is created by blocking some areas of the screen via a stencil, for instance, and each colour requires a separate screen.

Typically used for industrial purposes, Andy Warhol famously started to use silk screening to create many of his artworks. After him other artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Josef Albers, started to use this technique as well.

Giclée Printing

Another technique is Giclée, an increasingly popular method associated with Digital Fine Art production. It is one of the most recent techniques. At first, the giclée prints were created through the Iris printer in the early 1980s, while now they are made through inkjet printers. Giclée prints can be either original works or reproductions. 

The Infinite Possibilities of Print

Printmaking techniques offer infinite possibilities for artists. They are affordable and easy to transport. This makes it cheaper for artists to create - ideal to support a sustainable practice. Therefore, prints are easier to access in a variety of unique art styles, aesthetics pleasing everyone’s taste.

Representing a convenient investment for collectors, especially if they are first time buyers, these modest artworks can easily benefit everyone!

What print will you buy next?

 

Pablo Picasso, La femme qui pleure, I from 1938, a print which sold for $5,122,500 at Christie's in 2011

 

Written by Zoë Rivas Zanello

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