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Intaglio Prints: Original Works of Art

In Fine Art, Fine Art Prints, Fine Art Terms, Intaglio Prints, Itaglio Etchings, Printmaking on September 15, 2010 at 6:13 pm
"Cotoneaster"

Itaglio Etching Print by David Smith-Harrison

Ever wonder why someone would sell a “print” as if it were an “original”?  Setting aside the unscrupulous motive of deception, there are prints that are original works of art.  Say what?

The term “print” has developed in modern usage as synonymous with “reproduction” or “copy”.  In many cases this is certainly true.  A giclee print of an original painting is an example of a reproduction.  Regardless of how excellent the print is, it is still a copy of an original and it is valued and priced so.  The same is true of prints made using a four-color offset printing process and similar methods of reproduction.

In the world of fine art printmaking, however, exist various media that are printed images on paper where the prints are the original fine art. The Print Council of America (PCA) issued a guide, in 1961, establishing some criteria for what is an original print, that are quoted below:

  1. The artist alone must create the master image on the stone, or whatever material would be used to make the print.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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 – may it be a painting or a sculpture. The original print is a work of art in it’s own right

Definitions such as this one continue to evolve, but this one seems to me to do well to describe what is an original print.  The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) also has some published material on this subject.  I have provided links to both the PCA and the IFPDA below in this blog for your reference.

The concept of original prints came to my attention as I was learning more about the fine art media of intaglio etching printmaking used by an artist that we represent at The Marshall-LeKAE Gallery in Scottsdale (AZ, USA), specifically the exceptional work of artist David Smith-Harrison.  The term “intaglio” comes from the Italian word “intagliare”, meaning, “to incise” or “to engrave”.  The term is commonly used to refer to either the process or the finished work.

The intaglio process is an etching process where the artist uses a stylus (needle) to hand incise the image into a “ground”, a thin, protective coating (either soft or hard), on a metal plate (usually copper or zinc).  The artist draws directly into a hard ground, that is firmly adhered to the plate’s surface, removing it from the plate’s surface in the process. With a soft ground, the artist will over-lay the ground with paper and draw on the paper. Where the lines are drawn on the paper, the soft ground, that is less firmly adhered to the plate’s surface than a hard ground, sticks to the paper and, when the paper is lifted, lifts from the plate’s surface.

The ground coated & image incised (into the ground) plate is then dipped in an acid bath where the metal plate surface is “bitten” (chemically eaten away) by the acid wherever the plate’s metal surface is exposed (by the removal of the ground coating).  This acid etching creates grooves in the plate’s surface that match the image incised in the ground coating.

The acid-etched plate is then coated with high quality ink (as used for the intaglio process).  The ink is gently wiped off of the surface leaving ink within the grooves of the etching.  The plate is then pressed together with high quality paper (also as used for the intaglio process), using a press with rollers to produce high pressure contact between the plate and the paper to force the paper into the etched grooves in the plate’s surface.  The ink that remains in the grooves transfers to the surface of the paper pressed into those grooves.

The resulting image, on the paper, is the original intaglio print.  With a good press and high quality print, the ink image will have a raised feel to it.  To produce each print, the process repeats, so the printer must clean, polish, re-ink and wipe the plate after the printing of each impression (image) and before the printing of the next image.  Each print normally is hand titled, numbered and signed by the artist.  When the printer completes the total run (total number of prints made, or edition), the plate is then “cancelled” (holed or scratched over) or destroyed so that more original prints cannot be made.

The process that leads up to the run of the original prints includes some trial prints along the way.  Such a print is a “Work Proof” (W.P.) or “Trial Proof” (T.P.) and is one of a kind.  Because a W.P. or T.P. is unique, it may have a higher value than those original prints in the run. When a print is the one approved by the artist for the run, it becomes the B.A.T. print from the French words “Bon A’ Tirer” that mean “good to pull”, or “right to print”.  This proof is the first good impression that an artist approves for the master printer to use as the standard for the run (or edition).  The first prints made after the B.A.T. are each called an “Artist Proof” (A.P.).  Several A.P.’s may be made, for the artist’s personal use, before the printing of the numbered prints of the run.  These A.P.’s are not numbered, simply labeled as A.P.’s.  Because they are the same as those prints in the numbered run, the A.P.’s have no special added value above the value of the numbered prints in the Edition.

Print numbering is typically in a format such as “64/200”.  The “64” is the specific number of the print.  The “200” is the total number of the run or edition.  The mark “64/200”, written by the artist on the print (usually to the lower left, in the margin), simply means print number 64 of a run of 200 prints.  The artist marks proof prints W.P., T.P. or A.P., as applicable.  The artist’s signature usually appears to the lower right in the margin, although the artist may choose to include the signature within the print image. A print is still an original whether signed and numbered by the artist or not.  When done by hand, the artist will sign, title and identify (the number or proof) each print in pencil to contrast with the print’s ink image thereby showing that the hand markings are original and not a part of the printed image.

In trying to grasp the “original print” concept, I likened it to the making of bronze sculpture.  In this case, the artist’s hand work is the artist’s creation of a clay sculpture (that I liken to the printmaker’s etched plate) that the artist makes a mold from.  I liken the mold to the printmaker’s plate after its acid bath.  Bronze castings (that I liken to the printmaker’s prints) are then made from the mold and numbered and signed by the artist as “original” bronze sculptures (that I liken to the printmaker’s “original” prints). Upon completion of the series (total number of castings), the artist destroys the cast and re-uses the clay for the next sculpture.

Here are some links to some websites that I found particularly helpful to self-educate about fine art prints as original works of art:

Giclee Prints & Their Benefits

In Fine Art, Fine Art Consulting Services, Fine Art Matting & Framing, Fine Art Prints on August 15, 2010 at 6:14 am

Giclee prints, as I have described in an earlier post, are high quality digital prints printed on high quality art paper or canvas using an ink jet printing process with fade-resistant, archival quality ink.  Once a paper or canvas is selected, the digital image can be printed at any size from 2″ x 3″ to 40″ x 60″ with the large format resources that I work with.  Some artists choose to make these high quality reproductions of their original fine art to make the art work image accessible and affordable for more art buyers to enjoy.

Shown above: the Canon iPF imagePROGRAF 8100 – the large format ink jet printer that I work with for my clients.  It uses a twelve-color, water-based ink cartridge to produce brilliant, true to original colors.  The typical desktop ink jet printer only uses four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

The original art work remains the one-of-a-kind original with no loss of value due to availability of reproductions.  Actually, the original may increase in value as the work of art and the artist gain greater exposure through distribution of the reproductions.  I have come to realize the value of giclee prints for artists, art galleries and art buyers and now include giclee consulting among the services that I offer my fine art clients.

For artists and art galleries, giclees offer a way to reach and service more art buyers with the same fine art image, and to expand their inventory of available art with reproductions that are affordable for a larger number of potential art buyers. Giclees fill a 2-dimensional art market niche with three-digit price points,  well below the four, five or even six-digit price points of the original works.  Giclees can generate more (and repeating) sales revenue from prints of a fine art image, beyond the one-time revenue realized by original fine art work.  In effect, sales revenues can begin before the sale of an original work of art, and residual income can continue long after the original work sells.

For art buyers, giclees offer an opportunity to acquire fine art images at affordable prices and at sizes other than that of the original work of art.  And, for the money, giclees can really look good on display.  Giclees can be printed on canvas and wrapped around a hardwood frame to appear very similar to the original artwork.  Clear, textured coating can even be applied to a giclee to simulate the texture of brush strokes on the image surface.  The wrapped hardwood frame can either be 1-1/2″ thick for frameless display or 3/4″ thick for installation in a frame for display.  The surface sheen is selected from a dull, matte finish, a low luster finish or a gloss finish (among others) as needed to make the desired appearance.

Printing can also be done on photo paper, watercolor paper, velvet paper, ultra-smooth paper or textured paper to name a few.  Again, different sheens (such as matte or gloss) are available.  Such prints can be matted and framed for display, with or without a protective museum glass front covering.  These reproductions are lower cost than the higher end giclees that use stretched canvas wrapped around hardwood frames.  The paper prints simply address another market niche.

To better serve the various needs of my artist, gallery and art buyer clients, I work with Faville Photo of Mesa, Arizona, to arrange for affordable, high quality giclee printing, reproduction, matting and framing services.  Knowing the needs of my clients and the services of Faville, I am able to professionally match the most appropriate services to the needs and budgets for any artwork reproduction project.  Check out the Faville Photo website at http://www.FavillePhoto.com.  With any direct contact, be sure to reference my Faville ID “HO2010” to receive my complimentary consulting services to help you decide the best services set match for your particular needs and budget .  I will also give you a coupon for 5% off of your first order as our way of saying thanks for joining our growing list of clients

What’s a “Giclee” Print?

In Fine Art Prints, Fine Art Terms, Types of Paintings, Uncategorized on July 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm

You may have heard galleries or artists refer to prints of 2-dimensional fine art as “giclees” and wondered why they didn’t just call them prints.  It’s not just a fancy term that is synonymous with print.  It refers to a particular high quality type of print.   In short, “Giclee” is just a fancy term for a high quality ink-jet print, made from a digital image, that uses fade resistant archival inks and papers.
Turn your digital photos into canvas giclee prints

Here’s a more detailed description:

The term giclee (pronounced “jhee-clay”) comes from the French word “le gicleur” meaning “nozzle”, or more specifically, “gicler” meaning “to squirt, spurt, or spray”.  It was selected to describe this type of print because the image produced on the print papers is sprayed on with pigments by nozzles in the printing process.

photo of the epson stylus pro 9600 large format giclee printer

A large-format, ink jet printer, as used for the printing of giclees.

A giclee, as a fine art term, means a high quality reproduction of an original, 2-dimensional work of art (such as a painting, drawing or photograph) made from a digital source using a high quality ink-jet printing process with fade-resistant, archival quality inks printed on archival quality fine art paper or canvas. This process, that evolved in the 1990’s, is different, higher quality and more expensive than the earlier process traditionally used for fine art prints that was the four-color, offset lithography process.  Offset lithography prints and are still common today, particularly for large volume printing projects, but the giclee process digital print has become the standard for high quality fine art reproductions.  The process continues to evolve as technology advances.

I found some very good descriptions of the giclee history and process at the following websites that I recommend reading to gain a better understanding of this topic:

Sometimes an artist will use a giclee print and add some paint to it to give it more of the look and feel of an original painting, or to change the look of an original painting to meet the request of a buyer.  A “paint enhanced giclee” or “hybrid giclee/painting” is still based on a reproduction of an original and is priced much less than the one-of-a-kind original.

Now when someone refers to a giclee, you’ll know exactly what they are talking about.  Perhaps you’ll even know a little more about giclees than they do!