Friday, April 16, 2010

What is an Original Graphic Print?

Fine Art collecting can be an enjoyable and lucrative enterprise, but it can be easy to get lost in the process (no pun intended). As a new collector it may seem intimidating and somewhat confusing.

You might ask: How can a print be an original and valuable?

Many people confuse the print medium as a medium of copies, and though there are prints that are indeed copies after paintings or after pieces, the various print mediums are simply another method of creation for an artist. An artist chooses to create in a specific medium: drawing, sculpture, photography, film, painting or printmaking. Even within these mediums there are a plethora of media in which the work is created; for example a painting could be an acrylic, oil, tempera or gouache…or even a variety of these.

Within the print medium there are likewise various processes to attain the desired image. A graphic print is a term used to describe a print made by lithography, silk-screening, etching, aquatint, drypoint engraving, woodcut or linocut. An artist uses these printmaking methods as a vehicle of expression, and draws or paints directly on the plate or screen. Printmaking is much more involved than it sounds because the artist also must take into consideration that whatever he/she draws in the plate will be backwards once it is printed on paper. In addition to drawing in reverse, the finished print often requires multiple plates or screens to add specific hues and saturation to the final look.

Graphic prints are considered to be “original multiples,” as the finished print is the only manifestation of such work. Usually an artist makes a limited run or edition of these prints, and often they are ‘signed and numbered’ which means they are numbered sequentially and hand-signed by the artist.

Limited Editions have a stated limit of prints in the edition, and in fact the screen or plate is usually destroyed or damaged in a fashion that would make a posthumous (after death) re-print impossible. There are some editions that have an unknown or unlimited quantity of prints, and you will always find these to be of lesser value (basic supply and demand rules apply). The lower the edition size, the more difficult it may be to find said work, and thus its valuation is most likely higher.

A good rule of thumb with acquiring an original print is to find something in good condition, signed, with a low edition size.

Printmaking Methods:
Aquatint: A process for producing tone etchings, so named because the finished print resembles watercolor drawings in quality. The ordinary bitten line of etching is combined with a delicate tone or tint produced by etching the copper plate with acid through a protective resist. This resist, or ground, is laid by flooding the copper plate with dissolved powdered resin, or by inserting the copper plate in a dust box. Using the dust box method, the coating of resin dust has to be fastened to the plate by heating it. From this stage on the process is similar to etching. Those parts of the design which are to be left white are protected with an acid resistant material such as varnish, or are "stopped out", and the rest of the plate is bitten. Varying tonal effects are achieved by repeated varnishing and immersion. After preparation of the plate, the edition is pulled as would be in other etching techniques.

Drypoint, Drypoint Engraving:  A process of engraving upon a copper plate with a burin, scoring deeply into the plate, creating a furrow bordered by rough, upturned edges (the burr), which hold the ink. In line engraving, the slight burr made by the burin is removed, but in drypoint engraving the burr is left. Therefore, prints taken from a drypoint engraving have a special velvety black line.
Etching:  A process by which graphics are taken from a metal plate, on which the drawing is bitten with acid into the surface of the plate. A clean polished copper plate (or occasionally zinc or steel), is covered with a thin coating of acid-resisting etching ground. The drawing to be reproduced is either traced onto the blackened surface of the grounded plate, or is drawn directly onto the surface, using the burin, which exposes the metal in the drawn areas. The edges and back of the plate are then coated with an acid-resistant varnish and it is then immersed in a bath of acid which attacks the metal where it is exposed. When the lightest parts are bitten to the artist's liking, the plate is taken out of the acid and the work stopped out with varnish. The process can then be repeated until the work is completed to the artist's satisfaction. The ground and varnish are then removed with a solvent and the plate is then inked. Ink is applied to the entire surface and then carefully rubbed off, leaving the ink in the bitten areas. Impressions are made on damp paper, which is forced into the ink filled lines as the paper and plate are put through a pressure press.
Linocut: The full term is linoleum cut. A surface printing process similar to woodcutting. The image is dug into the linoleum (linoleum is a hard, smooth washable floor covering made of a mixture of ground cork, wood, and linseed oil) with the areas not to be printed being cut away. The block is then inked and paper is pressed down on the linoleum. Colors can be added by using different blocks, or altering the one block and re-inking.
Lithography: A surface printing process based on the mutual incompatibility of grease and water. (derived from the Greek term lithos meaning stone and grapho, meaning to write.) A greasy crayon is used to draw the design on the surface of a porous stone, usually a fine-grained limestone block (referred to as a plate). More modern methods use disposable aluminum plates instead of the original limestone blocks. The stone is then thoroughly wetted and an oil based ink rolled across its surface. Where the greasy design has repelled the water, the ink will adhere. Paper is then pressed onto the stone. Each print in the edition typically requires re-wetting and re-inking the stone or plate for each color resulting in a layering effect to create depth and texture.

Silkscreen or Serigraph: A printing process which involves the use of various screens or stencils. The design is drawn on the screen (at one time silk was the general material of choice, before technology provided better materials at less cost) and is either cut out (stencil) or stopped out with varnish. Ink or paint is then wiped or squeegee across the screen, and penetrates to the paper placed immediately below the screen. Different colors usually require the use of different screens, with the many colors being built up on the paper with each successive squeegee of ink or paint.

Woodcut: One of the earliest forms of printmaking, in which the design is carved in wood, with the areas not to be printed being cut away. The block is then inked and paper is pressed down on the woodblock. Colors can be added by using different blocks, or altering the one block and re-inking.