What’s the Difference?
(Note: This article originally appeared in the NAIA Newsletter issue #4 (1998). The text below has been scanned from the electronic version and corrected for typographical errors, however some errors are still possible and should you discover any, please contact us. Thanks)
At a recent meeting of the NAIA, Banister Pope introduced me as “an artist that had been doing outdoor shows since God was a boy”. It hasn’t been quite that long, however I did exhibit in my first outdoor show over thirty years ago.
When we look back in retrospect, shows that were held 30 years ago were pretty simple. Artists brought out their oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, pottery etc. and the public seemed to grasp whatever the artists were showing and were glad to see us. Art festivals have grown from a few dozen shows back then to hundreds now and have deveoped into a major industry.
I’ve tried to keep abreast of the innovations as they have arrived. Artist have more tools and more technology available to them now than anyone could imagine just a few years ago. New types of painting material, computers, digital cameras, all of the high tech printers, the list goes on. Artists are experimenting more and more and the lines between the traditional media categories have become more and more fuzzy. As each day goes by, it becomes harder and harder to determine what belongs in an art festival and what does not. It is no wonder that show organizers throw up their hands in frustration at times trying to figure out what is what.
That is why we are here today, to try and deal with one of these ‘fuzzy’ issues, Reproductions. What are reproductions? Are they art? or not? Do they belong in outdoor art festivals? If so, in what capacity? If painters are allowed to exhibit reproductions, does that mean that other media categories like jewelry and pottery, for example, will expect the same privilege? If they are not art and do not belong in art festivals, how does one identify them or police them? These are all tough questions and there are no easy answers. The one thing that is clear is that the issue is not going away, so maybe today we can begin a dialog that might point us in the right direction.
There is one thing that I need to make clear up front. The NAIA has not made a stand for or against reproductions. One reason is that we do not deal with marketing issues, and another is that we have members that are on both sides of the issue. So, we are not here to try to tell you if you should or should not allow reproductions in your show. What we hope to accomplish today is to provide enough information so that you can make intelligent decisions about what is best for your own show.
We have basically three things to show you today. Number one is a list of print definitions along with characteristics that will help you to identify them.
The differences are pretty academic and I’ll try to explain them as we go along. Second, we have actual examples of the more popular forms of printmaking and reproductions that are being shown at outdoor shows currently. Third, we have the results of a recent poll that was conducted by the NAIA concerning the idea of a ‘reproduction tent’.
As noted in our newsletter, this survey did not include a question on the acceptability of reproductions , but the returned comments revealed strong objections to their inclusion at the high level shows. Also noted was the need for a clear explanation of what they are – separating the terminology of Original Print and Reproduction to clarify the Print issue that is often confused in the minds
of the general public. These comments are unedited and include responses from both sides of the reproduction issue.
We really can’t talk about just reproductions without dealing with this umbrella term Prints. So what
I have done is to list all the major disciplines that fall under the term Prints and have separated them as to which are original graphics and those that are reproductions. You will notice as we go along that some of the terminology is very similar on both lists and herein lies the heart of our problem with trying to understand the difference in original prints and reproductions.
As far as the public is concerned, the most confusing single word is Print. When this term is used at an art festival, the public is not sure if they are looking at an etching, a photograph, a reproduction or what. I wish that we could just drop the word Print from our vocabulary and call everything by it’s correct name. I realize this is just a dream and will never happen in my lifetime, so what we have to do is try to cut down on the confusion by educating ourselves as well as the public.
The single most misunderstood phrase is Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print. What does that mean?? Over the years, it has become customary for makers of original prints to sign and number their prints with pencil and as a results, the public associates this practice with original artwork. When artists sign their reproductions in the same manner and refer to them as signed and numbered prints rather than signed and numbered reproductions, this really confuses everyone. So you can see that when shows require people to sign and number their reproductions, this just makes it harder for the public to separate the original prints from the reproductions. Nothing is more potentially damaging to a shows reputation than a patron that buys something only to discover that it is less wonderful than they originally thought.
Some art festivals have rules that limit edition sizes intending this as a means of quality control. Maybe they feel that by limiting an edition, that somehow the art will be better. Keep in mind that Rembrandt, perhaps the greatest etcher of all time, did not edition his etchings. Ansel Adams, Americas premiere photographer, did not edition his photographs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that artist should not edition their work. I’m just saying that the decision of editioning should be left totally up to the artist . Every artist has different marketing strategies. Some prefer small, more exclusive editions that would allow them to place a higher value on each piece. Other artists might prefer an open, or unlimited edition in order to keep their prices more affordable. Legitimate hand-made prints have a natural limitation in the size of the edition. When the image on the plate or stone starts to deteriorate, the edition stops. Reproductions don’t require this aesthetic judgment. Number three thousand is just as good as number one.
Instead of using edition limits as a means of quality control, art festivals would be much better served by seeking out jurors that can recognize the Rembrandts and Ansel Adams of today.
First , lets look at the definitions and I will show you some examples. We will have time for you to examine these examples before we finish.
What is an Original Print?
(From the Print Council of America) The artist alone has made the image in or upon the plate, stone, wood block or other material for the primary purpose of creating a work of graphic art. The impression (print) is made directly from that original material by the artist or pursuant to his directions. (The image doesn’t exist unless it is printed)
Four traditional processes
1. Intaglio: The process in which an image is either cut or bitten by acid into a metal plate. Ink is forced into these lines, the plate is wiped clean except for the ink that remains in these lines. A print is made when the plate and paper are run together through an etching press under heavy pressure.
- Print has a platemark embossed around the edge of the image
- Ink is raised on the print and can be seen as well as felt
- Etching: The surface of a metal plate is covered with an acid resist ground. The image is cut through this ground to expose the metal. The plate is immersed in acid and the exposed parts of the metal are eaten away.
- Aquatint: This is a method of achieving tonal effects on a metal plate by applying a powdered rosin that, when heated and melted to the plate, acts as a acid resist. This allows the plate to be bitten with acid in areas where tones are desired.
- Hand colored etching: An etching that has been printed, usually in one dark color, and allowed to dry. Then each print is hand colored with a waterbased medium such as watercolor or acrylic.
- Photo etching: A process for transferring photography images onto a light-sensitive plate and etching the plate in the traditional manner.
- Drypoint & Engraving: These techniques do not involve acid. The design is scratched or dug directly out of the metal plate with various tools.
2. Relief Printing: A process in which the image to be printed is created in relief. Materials such as wood, linoleum or plaster may be cut away to leave the image raised.
- The printed area is usually flat and the negative areas show no signs of printing.
- When the print is viewed from the back, there will be raised areas where the paper has been pressed down into the carved out parts of the wood or linoleum
- Woodcut: A relief printing process where the design is cut from a side grained or flat grained block of wood.
- Linocut: A relief print made from a design cut from a mounted piece of linoleum.
- Collagraph: A print made from a surface developed with collage elements
3. Planographic printing: A form of printing in which the print is taken from a flat surface.
- It does not have embossed edge like intaglio.
- Similar in appearance to a crayon drawing.
- Usually does not have sharp mechanical edges.
- Lithograph: The process of making a print from images drawn or painted with a greasy material onto limestone or a metal plate that has a simulated limestone surface. Lithography works on the principle that oil and water do not mix.
4. Stencil printing: A process of printing using stencils.
- Large areas of solid color and hard edges
- Serigraph (silkscreen): The principle of silkscreen printing consist of applying stencils to a screen in such a way that when ink is applied, it is prevented from passing through parts while penetrating others. For each color, the ink is squeegeed though a different screen onto the paper.
Other forms of expression that produce original prints
Monotype: A printing process that starts with a blank plate or matrix. The artist paints on the plate as if painting on paper or canvas. When the image is complete and while the paint is still wet, paper is placed on top of the plate and is run through an etching press or is pressed by hand to transfer the painting to paper.
- Images are usually very spontaneous showing free brush strokes or roller marks.
- Sometimes will have an embossed edge much like an intaglio.
- Usually numbered 1/1 to indicate that it is a one-of-a-kind print.
Monoprint: A process very similar to monotype except for the fact that the plate or matrix contains a repeatable image that is etched or cut into the plate. After inking the etched or cut part of the plate, the artist can add more paint or ink to the plate as in a monotype. When printed, each print will be different.
- A specific image will repeat in a series of prints even though each print appears to be different.
- Has most of the same characteristics of a monotype
Photography: A process in which an image is captured by a camera lens and recorded on a photosensitive emulsion in the form of a negative, a transparency, or directly as a print (e.g. Polaroid). It can also be captured as a digital image in a computer memory chip. This image can be manipulated using a variety of techniques and materials to produce a photographic print. The image is capable of being reinterpreted to produce multiple prints, either similar to or diverse from the previous print.
Digital Printing (computer): A digital print is made directly from a newly created digital file. This file can be produced totally in a computer program or, as is more commonly done, by significantly manipulating other images that have been brought into the computer to create a work that has not previously existed in another medium. (*This description was paraphrased from the original Print Council definition for the sake of clarity)
- Ink appears flat with no texture. May have a photographic quality.
- Edges of image are usually straight and mechanical with no embossing.
- Dot pattern can sometimes be seen in light or pale area of color.
- Method of printing: ink jet, iris,Giclee, electrostatic, Xerox, laser, or light jet (photographic).
What is a Reproduction?
(From the American Print Alliance) If a work of art already exists (as a painting, watercolor, drawing, photograph, or whatever) and a photocopy or digital impression is made, that copy is a second generation or reproductive image; A reproduction.
Off-Set (lithograph) A painting or other type of original art is photographed and the image is separated onto four aluminum plates. The image is picked up from these plates by a rubber roller which then reprints (off sets) it onto paper. This is the most common method of commercial printing.
- Most reproductions show characteristics of original art processes. They, look like oil paintings, watercolors, drawings etc. (Original prints such as etchings, woodcuts, etc. have distinctive characteristics of their own)
- If the image is perfectly printed and has mechanical edges, it’s probably a reproduction
- When looked at through a 20X magnifying glass, a distinctive dot pattern will appear.
- Inks will appear flat and with no texture.
- If the print is hand signed and the edition is over 300, it’s probably a reproduction.
Serigraph: This is same process as described under original prints, however a painting or other original artwork is photographed and the image is separated onto separate screens. Even though the printed image looks very much like an original serigraph, the result is still a reproduction.
Electrostatic Printing: The process of attracting printing inks or dyes to the surface of a material by an electrostatic (electric charge) pulse. Xerox is an example of this type of copier.
- When viewed with a magnifying glass, there is no dot pattern as in an off-set, however, the reds and blues have a slight halo.
- Dark colors have a raised appearance much like a silkscreen.
- Size of the printed image is usually limited to 11″ by 17″.
- The quality of this process ranges from cheap appearing Kinko copies to images almost as good as the expensive inkjet printers
Ink jet Printing: The process of scanning an original artwork into a computer and printing the image onto paper or canvas with an inkjet printer creating a continuous tone reproduction. These printers spray millions of dot of dye per second producing almost photographic results.
- Prints coming from the more expensive printers ($100,000 or more) are almost impossible to distinguish from the original art. Texture is often the give-a-way.
- Dot pattern can sometimes be seen with a 20X magnifying glass in light or pale colors. This pattern is not visible if the image is printed on a soft paper.
- Prices of these reproductions are usually much higher than off-sets because of production cost. Prints can be printed in sizes up to 4 by 8 feet.
- Sometimes signed by the artist in very small editions (25 or less) to try and justify expensive retail prices.
- Can be printed on all kinds of expensive art papers as well as canvas.
- Giclee (Zhee-CLAY): A French term that means ‘to spurt’. The term giclee was created by Iris Graphic of Bedford, Mass. and because they have the trademark, only prints coming from their presses can be called ‘giclee’. All other such prints are called inkjet prints.
*Special note: When trying to distinguish between an original print and a reproduction, try to think of the artist’s intention.
- When the art work is conceived by the artist to be printed as multiples and not conceived to be a painting, drawing, etc., that print would be an original.
- When an original piece of art (such as a painting, drawing, photograph etc.) is copied by photographic means and printed on an off-set press, a serigraph press, or through a computer by means of an ink jet or electrostatic printer, this would be a reproduction.