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“I have a Warhol at home”, said an acquaintance of mine at an art fair we both attended. I was amazed - owning such a big name must have cost a fortune! “Yes, it’s a print of his.” Ah, so that’s the catch.

The truth is that Fine Art prints don’t account for much of a percentage of total sales on the art market - barely 2 percent according to more recent reports, yet they certainly are the most affordable medium out there at the moment. It is also a great way for young art aficionados to start their collection, and buying a limited edition print for example, which is the most popular kind of print, is as easy as shopping online can get. With a price range between $1,000 and $10,000, these works can also be found in practically every artist’s portfolio, but also in almost all the art fairs nowadays, providing collectors with a vast, various choice of styles, sizes, subject matters, techniques. In fact, it is the latter that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of printmaking, and why many consider prints a marvelous, exciting medium to make, look at and own. 

The recent success of paper in the contemporary art market is an important fact, indeed, we already spoke about that, read more on The paper breaks the wall of the art market...

In Western Art History, fine art prints by artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Martin Schongauer, Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Dürer and Francisco Goya are considered proper artworks, the so-called Old master prints. These were one-of-a-kind, rare, yet much more accessible than the artists’ paintings for example, and continue to tell audiences much about their exquisite craftsmanship and creativity, as well as the story of their time. Of course, in the Byzantine and the Islamic worlds, woodcuts were present even before the Renaissance, and we couldn’t not mention the ukiyo-e works from Japan, still sought-after in the country and abroad. While they were often copies of paintings, prints were quite popular on their own, mainly in European countries like France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. In the 17th century, printmaking became reproductive and commercial, while today, we can talk about the very successful Cubist etchings and lithographs by many prominent contemporary artists, including Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, Max Ernst, Henry Moore, David Hockney…

Discover more about the Chinese and Japanese art, don't miss our article "5 Things you need to know about Chinese and Japanese landscape"!

 

Rembrandt, Self-portrait, etching, c.1630. Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Image via Wikipedia

 

We could thus state the obvious - printmaking is an art. Blatantly put, it represents the creation of artworks through printing, usually on paper, but also other supports such as fabric. A common misconception many still have is that a print is not a unique work of art and it is often compared to a poster as an example of mass-produced work. The originality of prints is definitely something that should not be disputed, nor should it be judged based on their numbers in circulation; these are still artworks which came from the artists themselves and their printers, as a result of their handling a particular technique, or techniques. Do you want start creating your own dream collection? Read our article The History of Art Auction: Three things you didn't know...

Speaking of techniques, they are an important aspect of fine art prints and printmaking, and because of them, there are different kinds of prints available on the market that every interested collector should know about. Some of them date back centuries, while others are naturally more recent and came with the industrial revolution and technological development.

There are many types of prints out there, but they are often divided into bigger groups. Relief printing, for example, includes techniques such as woodcut (woodblock in the Far East), engraving, linocut and metalcut. It 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 results in an image printed from a raised area of wood or lino (linoleum) blocks that presses into paper and impresses it with ink.

Woodcut, one of the earliest printmaking techniques, involves an artist, who creates a design on a plank of wood, and often a specialist cutter too, who carves away the parts of the block which will not receive ink. The surface of the block is then inked and applied onto paper or other surface. Engraving, on the other hand, is typically made of a metal plate containing a design that is cut through using a tool called burin.

Intaglio, often considered the second biggest group of prints, comes from the Italian word translating to “to carve”, or “to cut”, presents us with a great variety of methods used to produce works, as it means cutting or incisions an image into a metal plate with certain acids or tools. Coming after the woodcut print, in the Middle Ages it was used to decorate metalwork such as musical instruments and armor. Although drypoint, mezzotint, and aquatint also belong to this group, Intaglio’s two basic types of printing are engraving and etching, the former having the printing lines are incised onto the surface of the print form, usually a thin metallic plate, and the latter being the opposite of woodcut - the raised portions of an etching remain blank while the crevices hold the ink.

Invented in 1798, lithography is based on water and oil, and the way they interact - or better yet, not interact. Using oil, but also wax or fat, an image is drawn onto a smooth surface of a lithographic limestone plate, which is then treated with ink and acid respectively, with a printing press applied in the meantime. In contemporary art, lithography is a well-respected art form and is often combined with other printmaking processes, such as silkscreen.

Silkscreening, 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 stencil attached to a silk screen, which is in turn stretched on a frame. The ink then goes through the screen and onto the paper underneath the frame, and each color requires a separate screen. Indeed, it was Andy Warhol who brought silkscreening to the next level of popularity in the past century, but also worth mentioning are those by Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Josef Albers, to name a few.

Another terms collectors frequently stumble upon these days as well is Giclée. Belonging to the techniques which were developed very recently (1991, to be precise), it bears a French name and it is an important part of the contemporary, digital fine art production. At first, the giclée prints were created through the Iris printer in the early 1980s, while now they are made through inkjet printing of many kinds. They can be both original works or reproductions. With the advancement of the digital technology, giclée prints have achieved the status of high-quality artworks and are often more expensive.

 

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

 

A Few Things to Know If You Are Collecting Fine Art Prints

To conclude this article, we can talk about the original prints and artist proofs, in order to understand the market of these works. An original print is the printed impression produced by using one of the aforementioned methods. The artist typically hand-makes a pre-defined number of identical images within an edition (limited edition, as opposed to open edition, where the number of prints is not yet determined), although the process as well as the coloring is never the same. To ensure that no more of these works is made by someone else, the artist typically destroys the block, stone, plate or screen used in the process, and signs each of their prints in the lower right-hand corner, also citing the serial/total number of the print/edition. All prints inside an edition are priced the same, no matter what serial number they carry. Like with books, there can also be several editions of the same edition, printed on better paper for example.

Also a part of a fine art prints edition, but at the same time outside of it, are the artist’s proofs. Also known as A/P prints, they were born at a time when the artist himself was involved in the “hand-pulling” of his prints off a fresh stone/block/plate/screen. These were the first prints to come out of the printer and were also the “most good-looking ones”, as the printed would wear down as the number of prints went up. These days, the artist’s proofs still sell better even though the printing technology contributed to the making of equally well printed works. However, they nevertheless belong to a subset of their edition and their number is restricted - no more than 10% of the total number of prints within the edition. Collectors often go solely after A/Ps for their uniqueness, although their value is mainly dictated by the art market of the moment.

Because they are works on paper, fine art prints require particular care. When on display, they should certainly be inside a frame and protected by glass; if they are in storage, they should be kept in appropriate temperatures, as to avoid damaging. Old prints in particular are very fragile due to their “age” and should be handled professionally.

Finally, as with any other medium you favor and you are planning on starting a collection of - buy what you like, and trust your heart!

 

Stay Tuned to Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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