The Print Council of America issued a guide establishing criteria for an original print:
- The artist alone must create the master image on stone, or whatever material is used to make the print.
- The print — if not printed by the artist — should be hand printed by someone under the artist's direct supervision.
- Each impression should be approved and signed by the artist and the master image (the matrix) destroyed or cancelled. The original print is not a copy of anything else, not a copy of a painting or another print. If an artist chooses to copy his or her own work, originally done in another medium, it would be a print done after an oil (or other medium). An original print is a creative endeavor by the artist and, therefore, is as valid an expression as is any other form of visual art — whether it be a painting or a sculpture. The original print is a work of art in its own right.
Types of Prints
Many of the most famous images in art are, in fact, prints. Take for example, one of Dürer's most famous works Apocalypse, which is a woodcut and, therefore, a multiple original. There are three "generalities" of printmaking: intaglio methods, relief methods, and planographic methods.
The following information will help to clarify some of the terminology that is associated with print collecting, which may be somewhat intimidating.
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Since the beginning of history, humans scratched and incised lines into stone, skin, or bark. The technique was continued by Greek designers and by the Etruscans and Romans. It was brought to great refinement by the artisan-engraver and the artist, collaborating to produce a multiple image: the print.
We do not know who first thought of the idea of rubbing ink into the lines incised in metal by an engraver, and then coaxing it out by pressing a dampened sheet of paper against the metal surface. But the practice seems to have begun near the beginning of the 16th century.
The areas to be printed are incised by cutting, scratching, or etching below the printing surface to hold ink in the now recessed areas. The paper is placed on top of the plate and together they are pulled through the press. The pressure required to pick up the ink leaves a visible plate mark within the margin of the sheet of paper.
Common Print Terms
A.P. - Impressions for the use of the artist outside of the regular edition. (Artist Proof)
à la poupée - A process by which all colors are applied to the plate and printed simultaneously, creating varying impressions.
bon à tire - Meaning "right to print", this impression serves as a guide for the rest of the edition.
Cancelled Plate - The plate is holed or scratched over in order to prevent further printing.
Catalogue Raisonné - A catalog containing a description of all the work done by an artist.
Counter Proof - The artist places a piece of paper over a print while the ink is still wet, and pulls another impression from the print itself.
Edition and Edition Size - A completed run of prints is usually limited. There appears to be no minimum or maximum number used. Editions of 100 or less are considered small. Original prints have been executed to accompany written texts, and such editions may number in the thousands.
Hand Signing and Numbering - A print does not have to be signed and numbered to be an original. The practice did not start until the later part of the 19th century. One of the earliest proponents of the practice was Whistler. The signature usually appears on the lower right margin and the numbers on the left.
Signed in the Plate - Instead of signing each print in pencil, the artist signs in the plate, in which case the signature appears printed.
State - A state designates an alteration on the plate, however small or insignifigant it may be. The French engraver Felix Buhot, for instance, seems to have been more concerned about the changes he could affect by altering the plate than the final or published state.