Printmaking explained: a guide for new collectors

Are you new to buying prints and feeling overwhelmed by the variety of techniques? Do you know the difference between a mass-produced print and a Fine Art print?

If printmaking is a bit of a mystery, the RBSA’s resident Art Historian Brendan Flynn has some of the answers…

Are older works worth more?

It’s common for people new to buying prints to believe that because a work is old, it must be valuable. Many antique engravings were originally book illustrations and are not numbered editions.

Hazel Bryer, ‘Brockwell Park Lido’

What are limited editions?

The number of prints produced is limited by the artist who will decide on the size of the edition. Fine Art prints are generally produced in quite small editions ranging from 20 to 500 though larger editions have been produced by artists like Eduardo Paolozzi of up to 3000.

Once the edition number has been reached the plates, blocks, or screens are destroyed or scored through to make further printing impossible. A small number of artist’s proofs are retained for the artist’s own use or as a record for archiving.

Trial proofs, or printer’s proofs, are usually made to monitor the quality of the image as the artist is working. These are discarded after editioning, but you do see them in circulation sometimes. They do not have the same value to collectors or dealers as numbered images from the edition.

Not all art prints are numbered. Some are produced in open editions that the artist will continue to make to supply the demand.

Heinke Jenkins, 'The Bridge'

Heinke Jenkins, ‘The Bridge’

What is the difference between a mass produced and Fine Art print?

A mass-produced print is essentially an image created by photolithography or other industrial means for publication in large numbers.

A Fine Art print is an image produced by an individual artist (or group of artists) and printed using a recognised fine art medium such as etching, lithography, screen-printing (serigraphy), engraving, dry-point, wood-cut, lino-cut. They are normally signed in pencil by the artist (see Heinke Jenkins’ The Bridge above).

Hilary Paynter, 'Crackers'

Hilary Paynter, ‘Crackers’

How do I start collecting?

As with any work of art, buy what you really like and can live with.

Find out about local galleries and dealers that sell prints, visit exhibitions and auction rooms, look out for framed and unframed prints in charity shops and on the internet. Art societies like the RBSA have demonstrations and practical workshops you can attend.

If you are collecting to sell on, then obviously do your homework. Condition is everything to collectors and can influence the value dramatically. Beware hand-tinted prints taken from books, run-ons and restrikes from cancelled plates.

Get some printmaking experience yourself: lino-cut, stencilling or any simple relief printing can be done easily and cheaply on your kitchen table. Or sign up for one of our RBSA printmaking workshops for experience of screen-printing or etching. You don’t need to own a press or have any great artistic skills to achieve good results. It’s great fun and you will soon become hooked and learn more about the methods and principles of printmaking than from reading a dozen books.

Neil Bousfield, 'Seven Mile House'

Neil Bousfield, ‘Seven Mile House’

What do I do with my newly-purchased print?

If you buy a print you like, get it mounted and framed! Otherwise, you will end up with dozens of them in folders and cardboard tubes all over your house and they will never see the light of day! Speaking of which, keep your print out of direct sunlight which, over time, will fade the ink and damage the paper.

By Brendan Flynn, RBSA Art Historian

For an explanation of different printmaking disciplines, make sure you read Part Two, coming soon…

Peter Ford, 'Finding Filonov'

Peter Ford, ‘Finding Filonov’

All works featured are part of our forthcoming Print Prize Exhibition, which opens on 26 July.

Our biennial Print Prize exhibition aims to champion and celebrate the exciting range of contemporary printmakers producing original printed artworks within the UK. Selected artists also have the opportunity to be rewarded for their talents, with a top cash prize of £1,000! Entries will be judged by Leonie Bradley, Editor of Printmaking Today, and Mychael Barrett, past president of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.

Banner image: Lucy Ball, ‘Wait’

#Britishprintmaking #contemporaryprints #limitededitions #printmaking

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