Prints 101

Printmaking is an incredibly vast and expressive art form - and as such, it can be a little hard to navigate and understand. At Skyliner Studio it is important to us that all of our customers understand what they are purchasing, and are happy with what they receive. A little bit of background info can go a long way towards that, so we are offering this page to help you be able to better understand this amazing art form. And of course if you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me!

What is Printmaking?
Printmaking generally describes a family of different mediums that all share the ability to create multiple originals.  Different printmaking mediums include screenprinting (aka silk screen, aka seriagraphy), lithography, etching, relief, engraving and more!

What is a Print really?
In simplest terms, when a painter creates art, their finished product is called a "painting."  When someone creates art by drawing, their finished product is called a "drawing."  Well, the finished product of art created through a printmaking medium is called a "print."

So how can you have multiple originals?
That's a great question, and a large part of the reason printmaking is often misunderstood.

Let's start with what an original really is: the finished result of a creative process made by the artist.

In painting, when the artist applies the final brush stroke and considers their work finished, voila - you have an original painting!

In similar fashion, when a printmaker completes the process by adding the final layer of ink to paper (or whatever material they are printing on), and they consider the image done - you have an original print!  

The difference is that the setup required to create a print means that you have the possibility of repeating the process; add more ink, a new piece of paper and create all over again.  But the artist is going through the entire process each time, which means each print is the result (from start to finish) of the creative process.  Making each print an original!

While I don't think this happens often, if a painter decided to paint the exact same subject 3 times in a row, each of those paintings would have been executed by the artist, from start to finish, completing the creative process. That would also mean multiple originals. Each result of the creative process (in this case each painting) would be an original.

The difference between a print and a reproduction
Picture the painting "The Mona Lisa."  Famous the world over, it is also in existence on t-shirts, note cards, and even as full painting reproductions that someone can buy.  And those reproductions would frequently be called... prints!

A reproduction print is produced through mechanical means to create a copy of an original work of art.  Since it is a mechanical process (that frequently involves high res photography and expensive printers) it was created through a different process than the artist used to create the original. The result of a mechanical reproduction would most likely be called a "print", but it is very different than one of the multiple original prints that are created by a printmaker.

Reproduction prints aren't all bad - in fact they can actually help artists in other mediums earn a living in order to be keep making more art.  If it took 4 weeks to create a painting, and you can only sell it once, well... a reproduction print allows an artist to capitalize on their efforts.  This is highly prevalent in drawing and painting.  But a reproduction print is NOT an original! 

There are several ways that a discerning art buyer can determine if the "print" they are looking to buy is an original print, or a reproduction print.  The most common thing to look for is the term "giclee" (pronounced zhee-KLAY) - which is a really fancy sounding term that was coined in 1991, and really just means "high end ink jet printer."

The power of the artwork doesn't diminish by being a reproduction. If there is a painting you love and just couldn't ever afford, but you buy a reproduction print, hang it in your living room, and it brings you happiness, than that is fantastic!  But when you are talking about buying "prints" just make sure you understand if you are looking at reproductions, or original prints.

Note: All of the prints sold through Skyliner Studio are originals, not reproductions.  Each has been handprinted at my studio in Minneapolis.

What is a Limited Edition Print?
So an artist in printmaking creates multiple originals... then what? Well, not all results from the process are identical, or even good!  There may be some variation between each print produced (they are all printed by hand after all) and an Edition is a way of controlling the quality of the prints. Each of the prints produced is compared against a single print known as a B.A.T. - an old French acronym meaning 'Bon a tirer' or "good to pull" - to evaluate how similar they are.  This is used to help keep all of the images consistently of a high quality, and only those that match the artist's standards when compared to the B.A.T. become a part of the edition (and rejects become scratch paper... lots and lots of scratch paper).

In a Limited Edition each of the originals is numbered and signed by the artist. The bottom number tells how many originals were in the edition, meaning that no more originals will be made.  Not only does this help inform a consumer about what they are purchasing, it also helps maintain the value of fine art prints because collectors (and the art market at large) understands exactly how many there were at the time of printing.

Example: If a print is numbered "24/50" that means it is number 24 out of a total of 50 prints in the edition.

Important: It is a common misconception that a lower number somehow holds more value than a higher number.  That is just... well, wrong.  Because all originals are compared against the B.A.T. to determine if they match enough to be included in the edition, they are all of a consistent quality. In fact, by the time artists have printed all the originals, then gone through the process of determining which are good enough to include in the edition, the order they were printed in has shifted severe also times over.  The print labeled 1/50 usually just means that was the original that was at the top of the stack when it came time to sign and number the edition!

Can an Artist release a second Edition?
Yes absolutely. It is up to the artist if they choose to do this or not, and a lot prefer not to, but if an artist DOES decide to create a second edition then that should be noted somewhere on the print - frequently in the Title on even with a comment on the print that says "Second State."

One common practice in printmaking is to a common central image, but to edition that image in different colored inks, or possibly in a black and white version, and another version that contains multiple layers of colors.  In each of these cases, the number of the limited edition indicates how many of THAT version of the image is included in the edition.

Example: If Skyliner Studio released a limited edition of 25 prints of a Happy Cow in black ink on white paper, but then later that year creates another edition of the same image printed in gold on black paper, these would be considered two separate editions.  They are visually different, even though the imagery is similar, and the presence of 25 gold cow prints doesn't change the amount of black and white prints that were stated in the first edition.

Where problems begin is if Skyliner decided to print another edition of black and white cows, identical to the first edition, and didn't note this on the prints in a way that informed a potential buyer.  This would ultimately undervalue the original prints, because anyone that bought the first edition believed that they were buying 1 of only 25 originals.

Note: Skyliner would NEVER do this.  Editioning is taken very seriously, both in setting the edition size, and in rejecting prints that don't pass the quality check.  If anyone wants proof of this, visit the studio on a day I am printing and measure the reject pile!

So what about printing on other objects?
One of the beautiful things about printmaking is that you can produce images on almost anything! Paper, cork, wood, fabric... all can be printed on (especially with screen printing!).

Most of the designs that are created at Skyliner Studio begin with a limited edition print in mind, but those same images can be carried on to other things - tea towels happen to be a personal favorite of mine!

Any limited edition print is regulated - once the edition is sold out, they are gone.  With images on other objects, unless I specifically call out in the description that I am limiting the production of them, I will probably print as many as people are interested in buying, or until I get tired of printing the same image (which can happen!).

The real benefit of editioning a fine art print is to help preserve the value, both for the buyer and the artist, of that print.  But with t-shirts, towels, etc. it is truly just about having an image that someone enjoys.  I haven't yet met anyone that buys a t-shirt and expects the value to appreciate over time.

More questions?
So that was probably more than you ever wanted to know about printmaking and fine art prints, but there is definitely more.  If you still have questions, please contact me and I will do my best to answer them!