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What is an art print ?

The definition of an art print

Print is a generic term for an image made using a board (wood, metal, stone, etc.) previously engraved and inked, obtained on paper using a press.The printing of a print may be carried out in several copies called «proofs».

It is agreed to call «original print» a print designed, and executed on the board by a single artist.Nevertheless, many quality prints have been executed by artists after other painters or draughtsmen, these are «interpretation prints».

The artist’s handwritten signature and the drawing justification, in the lower margin, did not appear until the end of the 19th century.

The proofs of the same print are not exactly identical, due to the manual intervention (inking, pressure).Apart from these definitive proofs there are proofs testifying to the different stages of the drawing of the board, The artist sometimes makes prints of some proofs during his work, before reworking the board to obtain the final result.These proofs, called «states» are listed in the order of evolution of the work.

The techniques of the print

The different techniques leading to the printing of the print can be grouped according to whether the material (wood, metal, stone, etc.) or the method of elaboration (manual or chemical) but the most classical classification is based on the mode of drawing.

There are four categories :

I - Printing from wood :

1 – xylography (engraved wood) :

Although the process has been known in China since the 7th century, it appeared in Europe at the end of the 14th century.The wood plate is cut in the direction of the fibre.It is cut with penknife and gouge to clear the parts that will remain white in the print, leaving the pattern in relief, it is this one that once inked will print on the paper.By using several woods each representing a part of the drawing and by superimposing the prints on the same sheet, a colour print can be made.

2 - linogravure :

The technique is the same as that used for engraved wood.We use linoleum, more economical and much easier to work than hardwood.

II – Metal Printing :

Different techniques can be used for the same print.A polychrome print, is obtained either with a single board by inking each part of different colors, or by superimposing several boards, each for a particular color.

1 - Burin :

It’s the oldest soft-cut engraving technique. Its origin is the stampings which the silversmiths drew from their ornamental work on metal in order to keep a witness of it. This technique, which appeared simultaneously in Italy and Germany in the middle of the 15th century, spread to other countries from the 16th century onwards. The engraver digs a copper plate, using a steel tool called a chisel. The drawing is thus formed by more or less deep grooves in the form of V. The board is then inked and wiped. Under high pressure the moist paper moulds into the hollows and retains the ink there giving a slight relief to the touch. The pressure exerted by the press on a soft face leaves a trace of the «plank blow» commonly known as «basin».

2 - Drypoint :

The use of the dry-tip dates back to the 15th century. The artist draws using a needle on a metal plate. The «beards» formed by the scraped metal, are preserved to retain the ink.

3 - Eau-forte

The process has been used since the 15th century. Under the generic name of etching, all the techniques consisting of engraving with acid, a plate of solid metal. The metal plate being covered with a varnish, a drawing with a point is made. The passage in a bath of acid hollows out the parts thus cleared, while the varnished parts are protected.

4 – aquatint

Invented in the middle of the 18th century by the French Jean-Baptiste Leprince, the aquatinte makes an effect imitating lavis. The copper plate is covered with powder (bitumen, resin, or other) fixed by heating. The acid bites the copper between the grains, giving the impression of half-tints.

5 - Black way

This technique was discovered in 1642 by the German Ludwig Von Siegen.

We obtain the image by a process of scratching on a brass plate(patch) beforehand covered with a grenage leaving no smooth surface. Left such which the test(event) would be of a uniform black, by giving up more or month the grain(bead) or by polishing them, we obtain gradations going up to the white.

6 - Soft varnish

For this variant of the etching we apply a paper sheet to the board coated with a soft varnish. The drawing is executed on the sheet(leaf) which, torn away(extracted) from its support(medium), leaves the visible line(feature) on the plate(patch).

7 - Sugar

Varnish lift-off etching process: a mixture of sugar and ink or gouache is applied directly to the metal plate. This plate is then covered with a varnish before being soaked in water. The sugar melts and removes the varnish. The plate is then soaked in acid to attack the bare parts.

III – Printing from stone (lithography):

Invented in Bavaria around 1796-1798 by Aloys Senefelder, the process spread successfully in the 19th century.The drawing, executed with a greasy ink, is fixed on the lithographic stone.Thanks to its chemical properties, the dampened stone retains the printing ink on the drawn parts and rejects it on the intact parts.The drawing is made directly on the stone using various tools: lithographic chalk, feather, brush, brush, etc.

IV – Silk screen printing (screen printing):

Screen printing has as its ancestor the stencils used long before our era, in the Far East, for the decoration of fabrics.The colour is applied in the hollow part of a sheet (paper, metal, leather...) using a brush.The stencil is also used to color prints in black).In 1907, in Great Britain, Samuel Simon perfected the process by using a stencil delimited by a varnish on silk.Very quickly the invention, destined for the textile industry, finds new applications.The inking is carried out by sieving through the undiscovered parts.

V- Carborundum :

The technique consists in making a matrix from plexi or cardboard on which materials such as glue with more or less fine sand, putty... are applied. By drawing to obtain materials, this support is then inked, then passed under press to achieve different printing and embossing effects.

VI - Aquagravure :

This technique is characterized by the simultaneous creation of paper and engraving. The artist engraves and carves his motif in low relief in a wax plate, or other, wood, metal, linoleum.

VII - Stencil :

This technique is at the origin of silkscreen printing. It is a cutout in thin metal or cardboard that allows the gouache to be applied with a brush without overflowing the shape of the cutout.

VIII - Monotype : 
This intaglio process is a painter's work which allows to paint directly on any type of plate with a brush and printing inks. A single copy is printed either by press or by hand.

Among modern papers - mainly mechanically produced - there is a range of papers of different qualities. Each paper is more or less adapted to the various printmaking techniques. For example, lithography will often be printed on Vélin d'Arches, BKF Rives or Japanese paper ; a Richard de Bas (handmade paper) or a Vélin de Lana will magnify a woodcut or an etching. Some papers have a watermark (trademark) in transparency; the watermark allows the paper to be identified and sometimes to be dated. Sometimes a print may be made on different types of paper (for example, Vélin d'Arches and Japanese paper).
Original print

Unlike the interpretive print (made by a third party, an engraver or lithographer), here the artist designs and makes his own creation on the matrix (stone, copper, steel, zinc, wood or silk). It goes without saying that the original print covers all possible graphic expression techniques (lithographs, engravings, serigraphs). While most graphic works consist of original prints, it should be noted that some are made up of both original and interpretive works.
Interpretive print

The original work of an artist (painting, drawing, etc.) is interpreted and transposed on the matrix (support) by a lithographer or engraver. This work is most often done under the direction of the artist himself who sometimes puts his signature on the print. The fact that the artist did not engrave himself from his work on the matrix (stone, copper, etc.) is not necessarily linked to the value of the print.

Print run /Edition

In our field of interest, print is synonymous with proof or copy. A complete print of a work is an edition.  "Limited edition" means that the printing of the print is carefully controlled quantitatively, that each proof is numbered.
The justification of the print run is the complete listing of the print run of a work; the numbered print run itself, the number of artist's proofs, private proofs, additional prints on different papers, etc.... It is customary to print artist's proofs in addition to the normal print run of the edition: they are intended for the artist and the publisher as archives; their number generally does not exceed 10% of the total print run. Artist's proofs may be numbered, in which case they are numbered in Roman numerals.

In modern printmaking, almost always at the end of the print run, the artist puts his signature in pencil on each of the proofs. This step allows him to control the print run and to eliminate any proofs that do not entirely satisfy him. In addition, some prints bear a printed signature, i.e. one that is affixed by the artist in the composition ( for example in stone for a lithograph or in copper for an engraving), this way does not necessarily exclude an original signature.

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