Proofs, and more proofs

A recent conversation highlighted for me that there are some misconceptions about printing proofs that are made in the course of developing or finalizing a handmade print. To clarify here are some brief definitions. Please let me know if there are more questions.

#1. A Trial or Working Proof is a print made during the course of developing or working on a plate so the printmaker can determine what to work on next. If any of these are saved it can be interesting to see the artist’s process. These are rarely signed, and are often on inferior paper since they are literally “proofs”.

#2. A State Proof is a trial/working proof pulled when the artist feels the image may be ready to print the final Edition. If a major adjustment is made that changes the image significantly then that means there’s a new state. There can be many state proofs pulled when testing different papers or ink colors, until the final choice is made and the edition is printed. If they are saved as Monoprints they are signed and marked with the State #.

#3. A Counterproof (also called a Cognate) is an image that is printed from a fresh print while it is still damp, rather than from an inked plate, by simply putting fresh paper over the wet print and running the two through the press. The image will be reversed from the finished print. The image on the inked plate can also be transfered to another plate surface that might be worked into a new print, reversed of course. Sometimes this reverse print is called a Transfer Print, but that term is also used for other types of image making so that can be confusing. These prints are all unique since they do not match the edition.

#4. Artist Proofs are identical to the Editioned prints. Usually an Edition is planned to have a set number of prints, say 25, but it may have required 30 or 40 or more prints to be pulled in order to have the right amount of perfect prints. Out of those extras there may be 5 that are also perfect and these are reserved for the artist’s own use. The Edition is signed and numbered and the remaining Artist’s Proofs are marked as AP#/#.

#5. Printer’s Proofs are like Artist’s Proofs in that they are identical to the Edition, but they are copies given to the master printer who worked on the actual inking and pulling of the prints with or for the artist. They may be given to the printer in lieu of some part of payment for working for the artist. They are signed by the artist and marked PP#/#.

#6. Publisher’s Proofs are copies reserved for the the patron/publisher who provided financial support for the project. These are signed and marked Pub.P#/#. The “publisher” is often a gallery that represents the artist.

So it’s easy to see that an Edition of 25 might have required twice that many prints to be made to provide all those extra people with their own prints. These are usually held out of the market until all the Edition prints are sold, or archived for many years, hoping for an increase in their value with the growing reputation of the artist.

Also, to clarify a couple of other things that are unique to prints:
Unique is not just a term we use to show off what we think is a special print. It refers to the print itself being a one-of-a-kind… which does actually make it unique.

Some collectors try to buy a print with the lowest edition number, such as 3/30. There’s no special benefit to the low number, as the prints have been shuffled countless times while they were printed, dried, sorted, signed, etc. There’s absolutely no way to identify the order in which prints are made, therefore 3/30 is no more or less valuable than 23/30.

I hope this makes viewing original prints and their proofs less confusing.

Yours in Ink!

A Letter to the Art Teacher…

First off I need to apologize to the person/artist who actually wrote the following letter, as I don’t remember where I read this, but I found it sufficiently useful to copy and save it. Now I want to share it with everyone I know, art teachers and students alike. There is so much wisdom in this simple piece that I re-read it often in order to prepare myself to meet new students, and help them begin their creative journeys. I fully appreciate the excitement and anxiety of that first lesson, as I have been there many times myself.

An artist may be a brilliant painter, but not a good teacher or communicator. Artists may take up teaching for all kinds of reasons especially in today’s economy. Ultimately there should be only one true reason to teach: to inspire others. A teacher must have limitless compassion for the student and a true desire to see that person create joyfully.

Dear Teacher,

I am so excited to be here in this class. Excited, nervous and scared. I have always wanted to create and I am now finally getting the chance. The art store was a small piece of heaven on earth: colors and textures and blank papers full of potential. I have all of my supplies and can’t wait to begin.

I hope I fit in. I don’t know any of these other students and they are probably all really good. I can see that you know many of them and they all seem to be friends. Please introduce me and make me feel welcome. Please ask that your students each share in the creative process. I am nervous and don’t want to intrude.

I know this may sound silly, but it took a good deal of courage to come here. By being in a class, I will be creating in front of other people and exposing my work (my self) to judgment. I am not a weak person, but this idea scares me. I am not confident in my abilities as an artist and I am not ready to be judged by others. Please give me words of encouragement, as the slightest doubt of my ability may crush my spirit. You will know if this happens, as I will not have the courage to return to class.

I’m ready for what ever you tell me, and your choice of words really, really matters. I respect you as an artist and I know that you are talented and knowledgeable about your craft. Your praise means more to me than you will ever know. I realize that my work needs criticism in order for me to grow as an artist, but please be gentle and mindful of your comments. I will remember your words for years to come.

Thank you for your patience and generosity of spirit in sharing your knowledge. These qualities are paramount in a teacher. If you are patient with me I will absorb your knowledge as fast as I am able.

I am ready now to create.

Yours truly,
My Creative Self

Yours in ink!

1st Annual Connecticut Printmakers Invitational Show

Opening Reception: March 17, 5-7pm

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to curate the first dedicated printmaking exhibit for the Windsor Art Center. My objective has been to educate the gallery audience about the wide variety of printmaking techniques that are available to artists today. Utilizing traditional processes which have a rich and deep history throughout the world, or contemporary methods made possible by technological advances, there are many techniques represented in the exceptional original prints in this show.

The twelve very accomplished artists that I invited for this show demonstrate their love and dedication to the fine art print in their individual studio practice, through their teachings and in sharing their enthusiasm for printmaking in general. I thank them all for trusting me to present their work.

On April 14th and 21st several of these printmakers will be talking about their art work. Each presentation will start at 1PM.

There are many other artists who occasionally add printmaking to their repertoire, by seeking out master printers who have perfected many skills and can guide an artist toward a creative goal. Anyone with a vision can be successful in printmaking with expert help and attention.

Artists in the show:
Ann Chernow, Westport, Lithography
Laurie Grace, Glastonbury, Digital Monoprints with mixed media
Walter Kendra, Collinsville, Monotypes
Jim Lee, Glastonbury, Woodcuts
Aaron Masthay, West Hartford, Linocuts
Melissa Meredith, Bloomfield, Intaglio
Cynthia Root, Canton, Monotypes/Monoprints
Roxanne Faber Savage, Fairfield, Monoprints
Lynita Shimizu, Pomfret Center, Mokuhanga Woodcuts
Thomas Stavovy, Hamden, Intaglio and Monotypes
Carmela Venti, Waterford, Digital and Relief Intaglio
Mark Zunino, Simsbury, Intaglio and Lithography

Windsor Art Center, Freight House Gallery

Summertime! Livin’ is easy!

June is half over already, and the longest day of the year is next week! Believe it or not that means the best part of summer is half over for New England! According to the calendar we have eleven weeks ’til Labor Day but many of those weeks will bring hideous heat and humidity that will make moving more than an inch a day truly awful. Many thanks to whomever invented air conditioning!

Maybe this rant doesn’t seem to make sense on a printmaking site, but weather is actually pretty critical to successful printmaking. Humidity is our enemy. Paper absorbs moisture from the air even while being stored on a shelf or in a drawer. Absorption means paper stretches. When it is run through a press it can stretch even more. Then multiple layer printing becomes a challenge because registration can be way, way off. Sometimes this means cutting new plates to fit the image area as it stretches and shrinks. Leaving a print to dry for a few days then returning to it to put more layers on can be an unwelcome surprise, but it’s not always possible to complete a print all in one day. Printmakers must learn to be patient, flexible and inventive when dealing with this phenomenon.

One possible solution is to “calendar” your paper just before beginning to print. If you have an etching press or lithography press you simply set it up as if you are printing, but without putting down a plate. The tension must be snug in order to pretend the plate and paper and any supportive packing are in place. You must run each sheet of paper you are planning to use that day through the press, then turn each piece end to end and run it through again. This pre-stretches the paper. It seems like extra work but you will be a LOT less frustrated than if you skip this step. Obviously, if you are doing any printing with deliberately dampened paper (intaglio, etc.) then calendaring the paper would be unnecessary.

Now that summer is here I do hope printmaking projects are on your schedule. There are lots of possibilities: workshops and classes, summer camps, continuing education courses, art league offerings, and simply your own home studio… don’t let the summer pass you by before you get into the ink! And if inspiration is a little thin then call an artist or two that you know and get together for a brainstorming session. Often just talking about issues regarding your art making, and any special challenges, with someone of a like mind, will be enough to get you going. I often drag out my old sketchbooks and try to re-purpose or reinvent something that might have worked before, or finally start an idea that has languished in those pages.

There are plenty of gorgeous art magazines at the bookstore newsstand that might also spur your creativity. Maybe what you need is a deadline… so start checking into upcoming shows in your area and set your sights on creating some juror-enticing entries.

Here’s to a productive summer!

Yours in ink,

Looking for some cabin-fever relief?

I don’t know how the rest of the country is faring, but Connecticut has had just about all the snow it needs… we’re praying to the snow gods to quit already! We’ve got icicles that go practically to the ground and the daily dig-out is not fun. The prettiness of snow-covered landscapes lost its allure after about 10 minutes of shoveling.

So I’m spending my time in the studio planning some new projects and I recommend it to you, too. Just like the gardeners who are drooling over seed catalogs this time of year, artists should be planning some enlightening and challenging projects as well. Just to spur a little inspiration I have held some demos recently to show both experienced and beginning artists that there are many ways to make prints. Hopefully one will take root!

Here is a list of 15 Reasons to Make Monotypes… maybe one will inspire you to get going as well.

1. Making a Print is more than making a reproduction of an image, it is the “hand of the artist”
2. Creativity is challenged by the process of trial and error
3. Mixing inks and proofing colors teaches your eye to see subtle color nuances
4. The tactile quality of ink printed in layers produces an active dimensional surface
5. Potential for using mixed media techniques for added interest and lively image
6. It’s all about the process as well as the result
7. There is Magic in watching the colors and shapes appear on the paper
8. Easy to make changes and manipulate the image as it develops
9. Possible to incorporate the imperfections of the process into the art (“happy accidents”)
10. Seeing the image in reverse gives a fresh view of the composition
11. It’s fast and uncomplicated, and reasonably inexpensive to experiment (“it’s only ink”)
12. The possibility of printing “Ghosts” to develop into new images
13. Working directly with ink adapts to individual style (sketchy, painterly, broad color fields…)
14. Requires very few tools or special skills, accessible to all ages
15. Few restrictions on size of potential prints, from postage stamps to murals… anything you can do in paint you can do in prints!

If you have anything to add to this list I’d be thrilled to hear it. It’s time to get out of the cabin and into the sunlight!

Yours in ink!

End of Year Already?

Can you believe it? Time flies faster the older you get, that’s for sure. I’m still trying to finish up some projects I started at least nine months ago, and it feels like only yesterday.

2010 has been an interesting year. There were some really intriguing shows, a few of which I made through the jury process and got to exhibit in, and some I didn’t. There’s no second-guessing a juror so you just forget that the money was spent and go on to the next one. Art organizations depend on entry fees so I don’t really regret the expense, just hoping that there will be another show to enter the following year because my fees helped them to survive.

I also have some very nice memories from several art leagues that invited me to give demonstrations and talk about printmaking. My continual effort is to educate all sorts of people about the many unique techniques available in printmaking, and perhaps one or more will give it a try. At least I hope that these talks help them identify and understand a little more about the prints they might see in a show, and if it says “Intaglio” on the tag they may remember that I taught them something about intaglio, and they will appreciate the unique effort that went into making that art.

Last February, during the winter school break, I taught some special classes to parents with their children. It was a lot of fun. Kids are so amazing and I think they liked having their parents give it a go as well. I’m scheduling some more classes like that in 2011.

At the end of the summer I took a leap and taught a small class in Encaustic painting. Definitely outside the definition of printmaking, but I have done some wax paintings from time to time and if others are interested then I’m happy to spread the knowledge. It’s a unique painting technique but has historical precedents that make it extra intriguing. And the smell of beeswax is quite intoxicating, making it hard to resist. There will more classes this coming summer, just for a change of pace.

My own printmaking efforts have been in fits and starts… mostly a lot of starts. There were several other events that took over my time and attention. The most significant was applying for a grant from the City of Hartford. Federal and city funds had been earmarked for job stimulus and with the objective of boosting the artists in Hartford who could use some help, survival-wise. I was surprised and very pleased to receive a grant considering all the worthy non-profits and individual artists who applied. It enabled me to hire a computer-wiz, Brian, to design some websites for me… and obviously you have responded to this one. I thought the Watermark Press site was the first order of business but Brian began by creating a data base of all my artwork, and in a very short period there were over 140 images categorized. I really had no idea I have that much “stuff” in here! The data base makes it relatively easy to upload images to both of my new sites, and will be very valuable going forward to keep my art cataloged. Fun.

And I especially wanted this blog. It gives me an occasional ego boost when someone has actually stopped to read it and leaves a comment. Besides giving me a “soapbox” I want this space to help promote printmaking, and to encourage safer studio practices to artists of all kinds, by getting solvents and nasty chemicals out of the creative process as much as possible. If they can’t be avoided entirely then convincing artists to use them more carefully will be ideal.

I participated in several Open House and Art Tour events this year. I met many new people who had yet to discover the fun and possibilities in printmaking, and how prints differ from paintings, what makes them unique. I do think it’s a certain kind of artist who truly embraces the challenges of traditional printmaking, but I also promote the art to novices who can find fun in the process. Hopefully I make it sound easy and interesting to them… and it can be, as evidenced by the cute little 4 1/2 yr. old who made a lovely print of her beloved dog and kitty.

2010 was ultimately a satisfactory year, whatever the day to day difficulties, like lost wallets. Really put a kink in my shopping sprees! I, and those I love, have their health, and we’re optimistic that some wealth will find us. I’m not looking forward to a snowy winter, unless I can just put my feet up by the fire with a good book. Everyone needs a change of pace and scenery once in awhile so we’ll probably take a little vacation, and we’ll work hard the rest of the time… I’ve got those print projects to finish and new things to experiment with, some workshops and classes to teach, and some more cool things to learn.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful Holiday season and a great New Year, and hope that we may cross paths in the printshop!

Yours in ink!

Advice for the art collector…

Having just finished a season of open studios and other exhibitions, and getting organized for 2011 shows, I was going through some articles saved from old art magazines. One article was researched by polling art dealers, collectors and auction experts and presented a pretty thorough list of do’s and don’ts for collecting art. As the new year begins perhaps some potential art buyers out there will benefit from this list, or maybe it will encourage some of the faint-hearted browsers to take the leap and buy original art.

If you’d like to discuss one of these points in depth, or can relate one of your specific experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

• Do try to keep an open mind (there’s a lot of different kinds of contemporary art).
• Do take the time to see what’s available (there’s a lot of galleries/shows to choose from… pick favorites and go there often).
• Do take advantage of studio visits, tours, open houses, receptions, etc.
• Do get to know the artwork, intimately (as in up close and personal).
• Do be up front about your budget (find a comfortable level and talk to the artist about works that fit your budget).
• Do treat the artist with respect (and many will bend over backward to help you get what you like).
• If you make an appointment to view art with either a dealer or an artist, then show up, or you just wasted their time and they won’t be very accommodating the next time.
• Do talk to curators and other experts, and even gallery sitters, about a particular work or artist.
• Do try to get the best of an artist’s work, but at least buy something you really like since you’re going to be looking at it everyday.
• Leave telephone auction bidding to the experts. Go in person and see the real deal. Same holds for internet buying… if you can’t see it, then you don’t know what you’re getting.
• Do haggle with care. It’s doubtful a gallery will deal unless you’re a very good customer ($$$), but some artists will, especially if you’re buying more than one piece. Some prefer to barter rather than haggle, so what do you have to offer?
• Do show up and pay for the art you have committed to buying (no one likes to get stiffed).
• Do talk to others about the art you buy. You might find others who like the same artist, or they may tell you about other artists you might like to see. That’s important if you’re trying to build a collection with a certain style or theme.
• Remember that even small living spaces can hold some large works. Many collectors fill all the available space they have because they want to really live with the work.
• Do move the art around in your home. Don’t just put it on one wall and leave it there for 20 years. You’ll see new dimensions if you try looking at in new ways and places.

• Be wary of trends. Even in Art fads start and fade very quickly… buy something that you really like even if the artist is an unknown. Don’t buy from an artist just because your friends do, or because it looks good on someone else’s wall. Create your own unique art collection.
• Don’t assume you need to be rich. Even the most accomplished and well known artists have affordable works, or you might discover someone just starting a career. And not all “emerging” artists are young.
• Don’t blow all your life’s art budget on just one work of art.
• Don’t buy just because someone is famous, and don’t call art “an investment”, because not everyone will like what you like, especially 50 years from now.
• Don’t let your decorator decide for you. It’s easier to change the paint on your wall, and the decorator isn’t the one who will live with it.
• Some artists will let you take work home to live with it for a specified length of time. Don’t abuse the privilege, and don’t ask an artist to “hold” a work for you and cause the artist to lose a real sale.
• Don’t play games with the artist or a dealer. (remember haggling above?) Don’t think you can get something cheaper if you buy directly from the artist and try to avoid paying a dealer’s commission.
• Don’t let someone pressure you to buy. Stay open to possibilities but don’t buy just because someone makes you feel stupid that you are passing on a “good deal”.
• Pay the sales tax. Don’t assume that the artist will cover it for you in the price of the work unless that’s agreed on before the sale.

Once you have developed a nice little collection, and you’re ready to watch for the next big thing ask your insurance agent if you should adjust your property insurance.

Yours in ink!

Are you curious?

I wondered if anyone is curious about the art at the top of this page. I’ll tell you the story behind it another time.

I can tell you it is one of my most favorite print series. The original prints are 10 black and white images that are 14″ wide and 20″ tall on paper with a 2 inch margin all around. Therefore the whole series hanging together is 15 feet long, and the title is “Ode to Andy”. Do you have a wall that it will fit? Let me know because it needs a really nice home. I had the prints high resolution scanned and combined them into the single image you see above, and printed it out in smaller sizes. These digital reproductions I called “Andy’s Wall”, and one copy I re-made into an accordion book with a false slate-like cover, entitled “Stone by Stone”. There are a lot of different things you can do with prints.

I did this series a few years ago when I was in grad school, and there are actually 3 more finished images that I did not put into the line-up (I decided 15 feet was long enough!), so each one of the extras has a different name. The technique used is traditional lithography, done on aluminum plates. It took A LOT of drawing and shading to make 13 images, and I’ve lost track of how many months it took. At the time I started it I had to have carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand, so it looked like I wasn’t going to make deadline on the project, with my right hand wrapped up like a white boxing glove for a few weeks.

My husband stepped up and learned how to roll the ink onto the plate while I did the water sponging and handed him sheets of paper left-handedly, and he pulled quite a number of prints for me. It’s nice having a printmaking buddy! Those were the first prints he ever “made” and it was 3 years before he made another one!

I love lithography, but I don’t do it anymore. The drawing part is really fun and you can use a variety of techniques to put the image onto a plate or litho stone, but then you have to process the plate with a variety of chemicals, acids and solvents. This can be extremely hazardous, and you absolutely must have the proper ventilation and the means to take care of the rags and papers that are contaminated with the chemicals. Storage and disposal are critical issues. I choose to not be exposed to those hazards anymore, so I had to give it up.

Luckily I know a couple of exceptional printmakers who still do lithography and I can go to their studios to get the aluminum plates (I still have lots of litho crayons) and then they could print the plates for me. Perhaps one of these days an image will pop into my head that begs to appear as a litho and I’ll call my friends up. Stay in touch and I’ll let you know.

Yours in ink!

Original Prints vs. Reproductions

There is a continuing dialog about printmaking misconceptions… basically, what is a print and what is a “print”, and how do you tell the difference?

Think about Walmart, IKEA, and the internet. You can find images galore that you can buy already framed and ready to hang in your home or office. So why are we all concerned with reproduction prints? Because too many misunderstood reproductions affects the ability of many artists to sell their original artworks.

With the improvements in ink jet color printers it is possible to make a copy of almost anything that looks almost exactly like the original source of the image. Photographers have had to face the extinction of film and photo paper for their darkroom creations due to the increasing prevalence of high quality digital cameras, many of them at very affordable prices. So now, almost anyone can shoot a picture and make “prints” of it, therefore contemporary photographs seen in galleries and art shows are probably shot with digital cameras or cell phones and ink jet printed. No one thinks twice about it anymore, it’s simply a fact.

Now, take an artist who has spent many months making an exceptional oil painting. The artist wants/hopes for a decent price for that painting, but there may be few buyers who can afford a price that compensates the artist for the blood, sweat, tears and years it took to make that painting. The artist decides to have a high quality digital photograph or scan made of the painting. (That’s a new area of revenue for many photographers, shooting and color correcting art works of this type.)

Once the digital image has been made the artist, or the photographer, whoever owns the best color ink jet printer, can choose from many different papers or canvas substitutes to print a copy of that painting. It may cost a tenth, or less, of what the artist wants for the original painting. So now the artist can sell 10, 20, 30, ? more copies of the painting at a price many people can afford. Therefore, is it a print or a “print” or a reproduction? Just because it wasn’t made in a factory and shipped to IKEA by boat doesn’t make it special. It’s not an original piece of art, it’s a copy, it’s a reproduction. The ink jet printer that was used may be the exact same one the photographer used to print original photographs, but the ‘once-removed’ nature of having the digital image made of the painting and then printing it mechanically turns it into a reproduction, it’s not a “print”. It’s a reproduction, and millions of copies can be made from that one digital file.

Now consider the “print”. A “print” is an original image made by an artist-printmaker, from a printing plate that a printmaker, and only a printmaker, made by hand. Depending on the technique chosen by the printmaker it may be possible to make several “copies” of the image, or it might be a one-of-a-kind that cannot be duplicated. “Prints” are all originals, even if there are “multiple originals” because the artist may re-ink and run the plate through a press several times, attempting to make more than one “print” look exactly like the first one. To keep track of how many impressions are made from a plate there is a tradition of numbering each one. The convention is to use fractions representing the total number of prints in the series and the individual print within that total, i.e., 4/45 means print number 4 out of 45 finished prints in an “edition”. In the future, if the printmaker decides to print that plate again then the numbering system reflects that, by using the fraction but also indicating it’s from a 2nd edition. If the printmaker simply changes to a different kind of paper or ink color it becomes a whole new edition as well. If the printmaker decides that no more copies will/should be made from that plate they may scratch an X over the image and pull a final print to prove it has been canceled permanently, that no one can make more prints from it.

By following these numbering customs a buyer understands that their original print belongs to an intentional series of prints, and how many matching prints might be hanging on someone else’s wall. This is not true of the painter we first talked about. Their digital image could live forever on a disk somewhere and untold numbers of copies could be printed, year after year, in every conceivable size, from wallet to wall mural, coffee mugs to calendars. These images should not be numbered in any way as there is truly no such thing as a “limited edition”, even if the painter doesn’t initially intend to make lots of copies. Making too many copies begins to cheapen each one. Some painters are starting to realize that fewer buyers are interested in purchasing the original painting, at whatever price, because they can have a cheaper version in any size they want.

A printmaker could spend an equal amount of time making 50 prints as the painter took to paint one painting, and therefore have more opportunities to sell their images for a lesser price per print, and each one is still an original. It was common practice for Raphael and other Renaissance painters to have printmakers make “Etchings” of their best paintings, expanding their fame and sales possibilities. Rembrant and Goya made their own etched plates and prints and surviving copies are awesome to look at. No digital copies for them!

If there are any special subjects you’d like to discuss, vis a vis printmaking, just weigh in and we’ll enjoy the dialog.

Fall is here! Feel the nip in the air? Get the rakes out. I’m busy making prints and our leaves can wait!

Yours in ink,

Welcome to Watermark Press!

This new website for the print shop will serve many needs, and hopefully provide you with the information you require as you investigate printmaking, or make it one of your permanent endeavors. I hope the website ends up on your list of favorites as I am going to try to add new and interesting content often. This blog is not just for me to prattle on, but for YOU to ask questions, or send answers back to me. I expect I will post a few “soapboxes” in its future because I think there are a lot of issues about printmaking, and all art making, that deserves comment. I hope you will read and write in often.

Many of my postings will be explaining terminology or relating things going on in the print world and maybe alerting you to an exhibition or an artist you might like to know about.

If you have questions or comments that you’d rather deliver ‘quietly’ then please do via the email on the contact page and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Again, welcome to Watermark Press, come back and visit often!