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The Hepworth Wakefield Print Fair: Advice on buying prints

‘My only advice would be to buy the prints you like…’

Original Prints have been described as ‘the most democratic art form there is’ because, whereas a painting by an established artist will cost several thousand pounds, a print by the same artist may be had for a few hundred.

However the word ‘print’ can lead to confusion: reproductions are frequently, loosely and incorrectly referred to as ‘prints’. Yet there is a world of difference between an original print and a reproduction. A reproduction is photographic (or scanned) representation of an existing image and as such will have little value. An original print has been created by the artist, sometimes in collaboration with a printmaking studio, and is a work of art in its own right.

In the past, etchings, engravings and wood cuts provided the majority of original prints but as artists experimented with new materials and techniques, new forms emerged:  lithographs, linocuts and screenprints, for example. Latterly the advent of the computer and inkjet printing has brought in a new generation of prints – and muddied the waters of definition too. Pressure from galleries to show inkjet prints (gyclee) has resulted in their inclusion in the Royal Academy’s Original Print Fair, although they are not strictly original prints.

True prints can be classified as either ‘intaglio’ or ‘relief’. In simplest terms, to create a relief print, incision is made in the surface of the plate, ink is applied to the retained surface and transferred to the paper, resulting in a block of colour. The technique for an intaglio print is the opposite: the highly polished plate is incised; the ink is applied and then removed, leaving traces within the incisions of the plate. The plate is then pressed into damp paper, thus drawing the ink out of the depressions in the plate. Intaglio printing offers the advantage of a graduation of tone in place of a relief print’s block colour.

The number of prints taken from a plate is generally decided by the artist and each ‘pull’ is numbered accordingly (3/90 designates the third pull in an edition of 90). In addition, the artist can chose to make several ‘artist’s proofs’ for his own purposes and, if a printer has assisted, ‘printer’s proofs’ may be made. When the printing of the edition is complete, it is common practise to score or clip the corner of the plate to prevent subsequent print runs.

Print runs vary according to the strength of the plate and the artist’s wishes. Some collectors prefer to buy prints with lower edition numbers but it is very uncommon for substandard prints to be released by the artist.

Unsigned, unnumbered prints have been made outside the original edition and are best avoided. Printmaking is a medium in itself, one that many artists prefer, and is extremely versatile using many techniques not touched on here, such as collagraphs and monoprints. If you want to know more, there’s nowhere better to ask than at The Hepworth Print Fair.

John Bell, Zillah Bell Gallery

The Hepworth Wakefield Print Fair returns on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 March 2016, with a host of supporting events which celebrate the art of printmaking. Held in The Calder and featuring over 40 printmakers, collectives and galleries handpicked from around the UK, the fair will provide a friendly atmosphere for both budding collectors and seasoned print enthusiasts to engage with all things print.


Image: Emily Sutton, Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk 

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