Buying Art as an Investment
Part One Types of Art Prints
A print is termed, “original” if the artist of the design has worked on the printing element himself, as opposed to reproductive and interpretative prints which involve the use of an intermediary person to reproduce the design onto the printing element. Original prints are often only produced in small numbers; they may be numbered and signed by the artist. These distinctions between reproductions (which occasionally may also be signed and numbered) and original prints are, however, generalized.
In practice the frontiers are more imprecise, particularly in commercial printing. It must be noted that some people have a much more rigorous definition of an original print than others, e. g. of a photo-mechanically produced original print of which only a very small number of impressions, numeration and a certificate of authenticity will make it qualify.
Print techniques in combination
Techniques may be, and often have been, combined: etching with drypoint, etching with aquatint, engraving with etching, woodcut with wood engraving, even etching with chiaroscuro woodcut. There are, in addition, many dozens of other techniques used, typically in combination with these basic ones, and many variations of the basic techniques. Artists are artists, not technicians — no true artist will hesitate to use any technique that gives him or her the desired result. A brief list of the basic techniques of printmaking is listed below. Many others exist.
In planographic printing, as opposed to intaglio and relief processes, there is no difference in level between the inked surface and the non-inked surface. The following sections detail variations of lithographic prints.
Artists who use print lithography include Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The design is drawn or painted on the polished, or grained, flat surface of a stone, usually Bavarian limestone, with a greasy crayon or ink. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of acid and gum Arabic. In printing, the stone is flooded with water which is absorbed everywhere except where repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled on the stone, which is repelled in turn by the water-soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. A piece of paper is laid on the stone and it is run through the press with light pressure, the final print showing neither a raised nor embossed quality but lying entirely on the surface of the paper. The design may be divided among several stones, properly registered, to produce, through multiple printings, a lithograph in more than one color. A transfer lithograph (French, autographie) employs the same technique, but the design is drawn on special transfer paper and is later mechanically transferred to the stone. A zincograph is the same technique, but employing a zinc plate rather than a stone.
Initially called albertype, after its principal inventor, this process consists in pouring a layer of gelatine mixed with potassium chromate over the surface of a zinc or glass plate which is then exposed to light to receive the image. The gelatine hardens in proportion to the amount of light received, the unexposed parts remaining soft and capable of retaining moisture, and the printing can therefore be done, lithographically: the plate is dampened with water and the ink is applied with a roller. It adheres to the surface in inverse proportion to the amount of moisture retained, the hard areas of gelatine printing the darkest. The reticulated grain of collotype is particularly good for reproducing watercolor, for which the process was much used during the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Offset lithography or offset or photo-mechanical print
One of the four major industrial printing techniques of which the others are: letterpress, photogravure and screenprinting. It has become the most commonly used method in commercial printing, although its importance in printmaking is not very great. It is an extension of the lithographic technique: the image is picked up from the stone, or more usually plate (either zinc or aluminium which has either been grained or covered with an absorbent oxide), by a rubber roller which then reprints it onto paper. Text and image can be transferred photographically and prepared in the usual lithographic technique based on the natural antipathy between grease and water. The advantage of offset is that it enables the damping, inking and printing itself to be done by a series of rollers which enormously speeds the operation, thereby enhancing the commercial value of the technique.
Lines are incised on a highly polished metal plate by means of a sharp-pointed instrument, diamond-shaped in cross section, called a burin or graver. The tool works like a plough cutting a furrow. The strength of the line may be increased by cutting deeper. The burin is held in a fixed position and, to produce a curved line, the plate itself is turned. This makes engraving a slow and painstaking technique producing controlled, formal results
Lines are scratched into the metal plate using any sharp instrument with the same freedom as a pencil. The effect is spontaneous, not formal. Cutting into the plate throws up, on each side of the cut, ridges of displaced metal, which are called burr. In the printing of the plate, these ridges will also take some ink and print a kind of inky glow around the line.
Lines are bitten into the metal plate through the use of acid. To begin with, the plate is covered with a thin, acid-impervious coating called a ground which is smoked to a uniform black. Lines are drawn through the ground with a stylus baring the metal of the plate. Acid is then applied which eats into the exposed areas. The longer the plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper the bite and therefore the stronger the line. Different depths are achieved by covering some lines with acid-impervious varnish (stop-out) and biting others a second (or third) time. The appearance of etchings is usually free and spontaneous but the technique has occasionally been used to produce results almost as formal as engraving
The principle of screenprinting, or silkscreening, consists in applying stencils to a screen (constructed of silk or of some synthetic or metallic material), in such a way that when ink is applied it is prevented from passing through some parts while penetrating the rest of the screen, thereby printing an image on paper placed underneath. The screen is stretched across a frame and attached to a base in such a manner that it can readily move up and down, so that paper can be easily placed and removed as required. For each impression, the paper is placed against registration tabs to ensure that the printing is done in the correct position. The ink is poured over the masking at one end of the screen and when this has been lowered into position, the ink is scraped across the screen with the aid of a squeegee.
The most important part of the process is the preparation of the screen. Stencils may be applied in a variety of ways, including the use of filling-in liquid, varnish or plastic film. A drawing can be made directly on the surface with a special ink which is removed in readiness for printing after the rest of the screen has been blocked out. A photographic stencil is made by initially sensitizing the screen.
Collectors rarely see themselves as having only one choice when selecting art, no matter how "unique" that art happens to be. Not only are they cost-conscious, but they almost always compare work from artist to artist and gallery to gallery before they buy. The more comparing they do, the better they get at collecting, assessing quality, determining fairness in selling prices, and getting the best bangs for their bucks. This is what good collecting is all about and what you're up against when it comes to pricing your art.