Friday, April 3, 2009

Answering your questions...

Dear Gallery One: How can you call a print an original? Aren't all prints just reproductions? JP, UTAH

Dear JP:

We get lots of questions about how prints are made and why we sometimes refer to a print as an original. It is easy to understand the word "original" when speaking of paintings, pencil drawings, pen and inks, acrylics, watercolors, etc. Here the artist has created ONE work of art with his own hand. The surface might be paper or canvas or even masonite. I like to call these SINGULAR ORIGINALS.

A bit more complicated are MULTIPLE ORIGINALS....commonly called ORIGINAL PRINTS. Traditionally, the artist creates a master image for the purpose of making a small number of prints that he might sign and number. The master image could be created upon a block, stone, plate or screen — any of which assists in conveying the image to the print surface.

Here are examples:

SERIGRAPHY or SILKSCREEN: A stencil is prepared (usually upon a silk or polyester surface) and ink is forced through openings in order to produce the desired image. For some complicated prints, dozens of screens might be used to produce the desired colors. (Image at left is a Charles Harper serigraph or silkscreen.)

ETCHING: A technique for making prints in which the artist works upon a metal plate that has been covered with an acid-resistant material through which he develops his design by exposing portions of the metal plate. This prepared plate is then immersed in an acid bath; the acid eats through the plate where the acid-resistant material has been removed; the plate is then removed from the acid bath and cleaned leaving an incised plate with lines that can hold ink for transfer to paper. (Etchings are often hand-colored.)

RELIEF PRINTING: A block or plate is cut out so the desired image stands in relief. That projecting block or plate is inked and it is used like a stamp to transfer the image onto paper or another substrate. (You probably made your own relief prints in kindergarten using a potato.)

LITHOGRAPHY: The artist draws his design upon a plate or stone which is moistened with water. Ink is then applied and paper is pressed on to the surface to pick up the design. Modern adaptation includes the use of mylar to replace the plate or stone. (The printed image will be in one color. A "colored" lithograph is prepared by the artist using multiple plates or stones...or by hand coloring the print.) (Image at left is an original lithograph by Edna Hibel.)

The blocks, plates, stones and screens cannot be considered originals. They are just vehicles to produce ORIGINAL PRINTS. And you can appreciate the individuality of the original prints...especially when they have been hand-colored or produced with multiple plates, stones or screens.

You'll find original prints at by Bateman, Brenders, Christensen, Doolittle, Hibel and others. When we have finished refining our website, you'll be able to search for them all by typing "lithograph," for example, into our search box.

Then there are REPRODUCTIVE PRINTS. The artist produces an original work...and photographic technology and automated printing equipment create reproductions of that original. Fine art print reproductions are often signed and numbered in limited editions.

In any case, care should be exercised so that prints remain in mint condition for maximum value and enjoyment.

A similar, but much advanced process, creates giclées — the state of the art prints now taking the art collecting world to a whole new level. We get lots of questions about giclees. How to pronounce the word? And what does it mean? We will cover this in a later blog.

That's all for now.
Norah Lynne

PS....Email us at with your questions and/or comments. We'll try to address them all either in the blog or person-to-person.