Signing and Numbering Prints: What is an Original Print?
The process for creating "Original Prints" revolves around the Artist's involvement in the creation of the printing matrix (etching plate, screen, litho stone, woodcut, etc). In our case the artist creates a copper etching plate by drawing through a hard ground and etching the plate, using aquatint, drypoint, etc... In the end the plate is "proofed" (test printed a number of times) and the artists arrives at an impression they would like to "edition." The impression that meets the artist's standards is called a B.A.T. and all the subsequent impressions taken from the plate must match the B.A.T. in order to be included (impressions that do not match for whatever reason are discarded).
Once the edition is printed the artist signs and numbers each print (1/10, 2/10, 3/10, etc.) You should always sign and number your prints in pencil.
Here are some of the things you can put on your prints to identify them in the edition:
1/5, 2/5, etc, - These are the edition numbers you should use if you have five prints in the edition. If you had ten prints it would be 1/10, 2/10, etc. You may also have other prints that are kept by you (an Artists Proof) or other designations (see below).
W.P. - Working Proof - Any proof you pull as you work on the plate to get it to it’s final state.
G.P. - Guide Proof - If you re working with a master printer this is what you call the proofs you pull together as you work toward the B.A.T. The artist marks these up to tell the printer what needs to be done to the plate.
B.A.T. - Bon A Tirer - The PERFECT PRINT which is used as the standard that everything else in the edition must match.
A.P - Artist’s Proof - Prints from the edition kept by the artists and not signed or numbered with the rest of the edition.
P.P. - Printer’s Proof - The print the Master Printer is entitled to keep out of the edition as a record of the work done and as a reward for putting up with the artist.
H.C. - Hours Commerce - Prints made in a workshop with a master printer which are destined to be used to sell the edition. These prints are shown to collectors and displayed at trade shows.
U.I - Unique impression - If the artist is not creating a numbered edition but is using the same matrix over and over again he/she might identify the images as unique impressions.
E.V. - Edition Verite - The artist is not creating a numbered edition but might be using the same matrix over and over again or incorporating hand colored elements into the image.
C.P. - Cancellation Print - after an edition is complete you are supposed to deface the matrix in some way and pull a cancellation proof to prove that no one can continue to print from the matrix.
An example of how an original print differs from a reproduction can be seen if we compare a Goya etching with a photo-reproduction of a Thomas Kinkade Painting.
Goya drew the image on the plate using a sharp tool to scratch through a wax ground. He later added more marks with aquatint, drypoint, and engraving and supervised the printing of the plate himself. The plate (matrix) was physically created by Goya so that he could express himself (and make some money by selling them...) The Goya print is a perfect example of why original prints are wonderful art. The marks Goya used to make the image could only be made through etching. There was no other way to express his content. The grungy, scratchy line, and rich blacks of his etching are well suited for the creepy and grotesque content of the piece.
Even Warhol, an artist who “wished we could all be machines,” had a hand in selecting the images and colors used in his works. And the interesting and charming thing about Warhol’s prints is the fact that they are hand printed (not mechanically printed as in our Kindade example). The variations and flaws transform these screen prints into original prints. Kinkade allows the machine to endlessly reproduce his work - without any of the conceptual or philosophical weight that drives most other contemporary artworks that we value in the art world.
Original Prints should be valued and priced the same way an artist would sell paintings or drawings, but the price can be lower because there are MULTIPLE ORIGINALS of the desired image.
How to Cut a Mat
Mat-cutting is easy. All you need is an organized system, a good mat cutter, and mat board to practice on. There are two kinds of mat board to think about. The cheapest stuff is standard (Crescent brand). It isn’t archival but it is acid free (usually). The high end equivalent of mat-board is “Museum Board”. It’s basically REALLY thick rag paper--permanent and beautiful.
Choose the kind of mat board you need based on the what your work is going to be used for. A short term (non-permanent) exhibition in your Aunt’s house calls for the cheap stuff, while a show at a museum requires the pricey board. Museum board is worth the money but it won’t improve the quality of your work (but at least you won’t look cheap if you use it)...
The craft of mat-cutting requires math. It’s completely unfair, but this is where all those things your math teacher in high school said to you will start coming back. The best way to get it right is to measure the image area and figure out the size of the opening needed in the mat.
Draw out a diagram with the OUTSIDE dimensions of the mat, then SUBTRACT the amount of space needed for the opening (example: you need a 4 X 6 inch opening, and the frame you want to place the mat into is 8 X 10. Subtract 4 from 8 = 4, and 6 from 10 = 4). Divide the leftover space by 2, and now you know how wide your margins need to be. In this hypothetical case it would be 2 inches (math is fun, is it not?).
On the back of the mat-board carefully measure your margins and draw them using a ruler and pencil.
Place the mat, SHORT SIDE FIRST, in the mat-cutter and put a scrap piece of mat-board under the good one.
Hold the arm down firmly and line up the straight edge with the guide line you drew on the back of the mat.
Start your cut on the green dot, and stop it on the red one (when you hit the line for the outside edge of the next margin).
Once you have cut all the margins carefully, gently remove the center of the “window”.
Put everything away and clean up your mess!
Other options for Presenting artwork...
There are many other options for presenting artwork. Your presentation must look professional, appropriate, and intentional.
Push pins look cheap and ugly unless there is a good reason for using them--and a triple mat with a gilded frame just looks tacky (always).
You never want the presentation of your work to distract the viewer or to overpower the image. So choose the color of your mat wisely (white, off white, gray, black are best).
You may choose to “float” an image on a piece of tastefully colored mat-board.
Linen hanging tape and a special “T” system for the tape are the secrets to adhering paper to the backing board.
In some cases it is also permissible to mount an image on a backing board, panel, or canvas. The thing to think about here is permanence. How long do you want this to last?
If you are going to present a laser-printed piece of graphic design to a client, permanence isn’t much of an issue--so you can use rubber cement and cheap mat-board.
If you want a masterpiece of high art to proudly hang in your home until you are old and gray then you need to use an archival adhesive (Archival glue, acrylic medium, wax, etc..).
The process can involve “shellacking” the image on a canvass, board, etc. or merely adhering it...
Once you have an even coat of glue on the back of the image carefully burnish it onto your target surface (put a clean sheet of paper over the image as you burnish so that you don’t mess up the image).
To shellac the image, cover the front of the image with your adhesive as well, but be aware that this will produce a surface sheen - and you might want to choose glossy or mat finish depending on what you want the image to look like.