What are prints, exactly? An all-too-common misperception among new collectors is that all prints are reproductions — like posters on a dorm room wall, mechanically duplicated and mass-produced. The truth is that prints, even when they take the shape of a poster, are original pieces of art in their own right. They bear the artist’s handprint as well as the marks of the printer with whom he or she has decided to collaborate. Our favourite artists’ prints are just as unique as their sculptures, paintings, or photographs – there are just more of them.
Printmaking is, first and foremost, an art form. As a result, original prints have been known to sell for more than a million USD at auction. In fact, a Pablo Picasso etching, La Minotauromachie, just sold for a record-breaking $1.98 million. Of course, not all sorts of prints achieve this level of commercial success. As we will see, collecting prints can be a cost-effective method to build a decent art collection. What matters is that you know what to look for.
There Are Various Types of Prints
As any knowledgeable collector is aware, there are various types of prints available on the market today. Lithographs, etchings, woodcuts, silkscreens, linocuts, drypoints, aquatints, mezzotints, and giclée prints are examples. Let’s start with the ones with the most art historical significance: etchings, screenprints, lithographs, and giclées.
Etchings are noted for their highly nuanced contrasts, which are achieved by using a black and white palette. This method was utilised by the Old Masters and has survived to the present day. Rembrandt pioneered it, and the Morgan Library & Museum describes his etchings as “renowned for their dramatic intensity, probing psychology, and poignant humanity.”
The technique behind the creation of an etching, both then and now, includes coating a metal plate with wax and then scratching an image onto the plate with a specially crafted needle. The artist then immerses the plate in corrosive acid, which eats away at the metal bits removed by the needle. While submerged in acid, the plate is often “feathered,” or brushed with a feather-like tool to prevent bubbles from interfering with the acid’s corrosive impact. When the plate is taken from the acid, the wax is cleaned off and ink is pressed into the grooves where the acid has eaten into the grooves produced by the needle. Except for what fills the grooves, all extra ink is removed. Finally, a dampened paper is placed over the plate, and both are covered with a protective cloth. The etching press is set up in this position to run over the plate, staining the moistened paper with the image carved into the plate.
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Screen printing has roots dating back to the Song Dynasty of ancient China, but technique is most commonly linked with the Pop artist Andy Warhol today. Warhol employed what was then known as “serigraphy” in the 1960s to reproduce the sense of standardisation he felt existed in and surrounding the depiction of celebrity idols. Warhol collaborated closely with master screen printer Michel Caza, who was also a founding member of “The Federation of European Screen Printers Associations” (FESPA).
Screen printing uses a mesh to transfer ink onto a substrate that has already been prepped to be impermeable in spots so that the ink does not oversaturate the mesh. This is known as a “stencil method” of printmaking because a stencil is used to impose blank areas not coated with the impermeable substance on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh. A fill blade or squeegee is then used to press ink into the mesh openings, generating a more detailed depiction of the design with each squeegee stroke.
Was first pioneered by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 19th century. His technique influenced several prominent twentieth-century artists, including Joan Miró, David Hockney, and Jasper Johns. The artist first draws on stone with a grease-based material (called a “tusche”) to create a lithograph. The stone is then treated with a chemical solution to guarantee that the image attracts printing ink while blank parts reject ink and attract water. To fix the picture, a solvent is employed, and the surface is wet with water. Oil-based ink is then put to the stone using a roller, adhering exclusively to the image. Finally, the stone is mounted on a lithographic press and covered with damp paper and board — a pressure bar ensures that force is applied evenly throughout the image. The image is printed backwards, with separate stones utilised for intricate multi-color images.
It arose as a result of computer technologies becoming more widely available to artists. Graham Nash (of the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) was among the first to use computer printers for his printing firm. However, one of Nash’s workers, artist Jack Duganne, developed the name “giclée” in 1991 in order to distinguish his more artistic printing approach from Nash’s more business-like one. The term comes from the French word for “nozzle” (gicleur), and it now refers to any print made with archival inks, archival media, and colour quality control. Giclée prints are frequently a low-cost option for digital artists who want to reproduce their original two-dimensional artwork while keeping the original rendering for themselves.
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