A vanilla cupcake with frosting with the fraction 21 over 40 in gold letters, like an edition would indicate the artwork being edition number 21 in a volume of 40

Artwork Editions explained

Art can remarkably captivate our minds, evoke emotions, and inspire imagination. Building a diverse and valuable collection is an exhilarating journey for art collectors. So you want to become an art collector and have even opened a Basic Collector account with Capital Art (YAY!!). But the excitement has turned into anxiety and confusion as you are perplexed by how expensive art seems and are starting to feel demotivated. Don’t worry; we’ve got you! When acquiring artwork, editions offer an exciting avenue to explore.

Sure, art collections seem like the abode of the super wealthy, like billionaire and founder of Oracle, Paul Allen. Even the collection amassed by notable corporate collector JPMorgan, the US investment bank, has most of it in Prints. So prints are an underrated hero of getting collectors going. 

So what are Editions?

Editions are artworks produced in multiple reproductions of the same image or work. In the case of Prints, they result from close collaboration between the skilled techniques at the printing studio and the artist’s design.

Since Prints are in multiples, they generally are priced cheaper than any unique work by the same artist. Prints and sculptures, in particular, allow art enthusiasts to own multiple versions of a prized piece while also considering the potential for art investment. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of artwork editions, focusing on various types of prints and shedding light on artist’s proofs and printer’s proofs.

William Kentridge is an artist with an extensive body of work that is highly regarded (and similarly, high priced and prized). His practice includes many unique works and a large body of Prints as part of a long-standing collaboration with Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg, South Africa. Famous street artist Banksy has a similar mix of Prints to complement his street art / public art practice. 

In contrast, some artists, like Bongi Dhlomo and John Muafangejo, who were graduates of the Rorkes Drift Art Centre in South Africa, had their practice mainly consisting of Prints, the same as Andy Warhol.

More technical bits about Editions  

It’s useful to get to know some technical terms that help you navigate the world of Editions, focusing mainly on prints.

Mediums

Reading the medium details of an artwork can be a breadcrumb or a hint as to whether it is a Print or not.

Types of fine art Prints include Giclée Printing, Etching, Photogravure, Engraving, Drypoint, Monotype and Lithograph.

Giclée Printing

Giclée Printing is a form of inkjet printing that became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. It has gained significant popularity in recent years due to its ability to reproduce high-quality digital images on various surfaces, such as matte photo paper, watercolour paper, cotton canvas, pre-coated canvas, or textured vinyl.

Etching

Etching is an incised carving (as opposed to carving in relief) printmaking process in which lines or areas are marked using acid into a metal plate to hold the ink. The plate can be made of iron, copper, or zinc in etching. It is an ancient method dating to as early as the 3rd millennium BCE in present-day Pakistan and northwest India. Still, etching in printmaking is said to have started in the 1500s. 

Photogravure

Photogravure combines photography and printmaking, uniquely reproducing photographic images with remarkable depth and tonal range. It involves transferring a photographic image onto a copper plate and then etching it to create the final print. The process was necessary for 19th-century photography, but by the 20th century was only used by some fine art photographers and has relatively limited use today.

Engraving

Engraving is a traditional printmaking technique involving incising a design onto a metal plate made of copper or zinc, using a sharp tool called a burin. Once the entire composition has been cut into the plate, it is inked. A cloth ball, cardboard tab, or equivalent material is used to gently spread ink across the whole face of the plate; the same material is used to remove most of the excess ink from the surface. A special press with rollers applies the pressure to force the paper into the finely cut lines. The pressure of the press also produces an outline of the outer edges of the metal plate in the paper, known as a plate mark. Once the plate has been run through the press, the resulting impression on paper displays a reverse image of the original engraved composition.

Drypoint

Drypoint is similar to etching in technique, with the only difference being the tools used. The difference between drypoint and etchings is evident when you use a magnifying glass: drypoint lines are softer and have blurry edges, etched lines are crisper and often have a slight wobble because of how the image is drawn onto the plate, using a thin needle on a shiny metal plate. Rembrandt is said to be one of the European masters to have used drypoint. At the same time, William Kentridge is a contemporary African artist who has also used drypoint. 

Monotype

Monotype is a type of print which results in a unique work. It results from applying paint or printing ink to a flat metal, glass, or plastic sheet. The painted image is transferred to paper by manually rubbing or using a press. Although subsequent reprintings are sometimes possible, they differ significantly from the first print and are generally considered inferior. These prints from the original plate are called “ghost prints.”

Lithography

Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image. Lithographs are a style of printing that uses the fact that grease and water do not mix when they come into contact with one another. While other printing methods require etching and other forms of imprints, lithography is unique because it more closely resembles painting as a medium. Lithography was first used for maps and then later used in fine art.

Artwork editions: Size and number

Prints are reproductions of the same work, so the edition size indicates the number of copies there are in existence. In contrast, the edition number indicates which replica that particular print is in the edition. The edition size and number are presented like a fraction, with the numerator having the edition number. In contrast, the denominator has the edition size.

Typically, the smaller the edition size, the higher the price of the art piece relative to a larger edition size by the same artist because the Prints are rarer.    

In some cases, the edition size might be adjusted if one of the pieces in the edition is damaged and cannot be repaired. That happened with a Jeff Koons iridescent porcelain sculpture entitled Balloon Dog (Blue), which was accidentally knocked over by a collector at the opening of Art Wynwood in Miami in February 2023, reducing the edition size to 798.  

Understanding Artist’s Proofs and Printer’s Proofs

An artist proof, commonly abbreviated as AP, is an additional print, often a test print. Many artists keep the artist proof for their own collection as they serve as a personal record of the creative process. Still, some artists donate them to an institution, like a museum. As such, they are rarely sold. Artist’s proofs may vary in number but are generally limited in quantity (up to two or three), making them highly sought after by collectors. If they are sold, they can command a higher price than any item in the edition because of being unique and rarer than the rest of the edition.

Printer’s proofs, often marked as PP, are additional prints used to assess and refine the printing process during the creation of an edition. They ensure the quality and fidelity of the final images. Printer’s proofs are typically small in number. They hold a distinct value for collectors due to their association with the technical aspects of the printing process.

Where to find Prints?

Galleries

Many galleries sell prints, and print studios are a helpful way to engage in the primary print market. A few prints studios include Artist Proof Studio (Johannesburg, South Africa), Atelier le Grand Village (Massignac, France), Louer Contemporary (London, England), Lower Eastside Print Shop (New York, USA) to name a few.

Art Fairs

Several art fairs include an Editions section, mainly for collector development, but established collectors love buying editions too. Some whole fairs sell only editions, so look for one in your city.

Auctions

Some auctions may contain editions, and some auction houses may run an entire auction of editions only. You can see a lot is an edition as the edition number and edition size will be indicated.

Interior Design stores

Given that the price point for editions is lower, you may find an edition in an interior design or homeware store. The artists are generally less well-known than the editions sold through galleries, art fairs or auctions.

Anywhere which sells art will generally also sell Prints – so ask :). No doubt, every platform will be willing to assist. 

Artwork Editions as an Art Investment

Art collectors, both emerging and experienced, understand the potential value of their acquisitions as art investments. Editioned prints can offer a unique opportunity for art investors due to their limited availability and potential for appreciation over time.

Artwork editions, especially those from established artists or with historical significance, have the potential to increase in value as demand grows and supply diminishes. Collectors often consider factors such as the artist’s reputation, the edition size, the quality of the print, and the artwork’s condition when evaluating its investment potential.

Conclusion

Artwork editions, whether in prints or sculptures, provide art collectors an exciting realm to explore. Understanding the various types of prints, such as Giclée Printing, Etching, Photogravure, Engraving, Drypoint, Monotype, and Lithograph, allows collectors to appreciate the distinct qualities and techniques artists employ. Additionally, delving into the significance of artist’s proofs and printer’s proofs adds depth to the collecting experience. By considering the potential for art investment, collectors can make informed decisions and enhance the value of their art collection.

Remember, each set of artwork editions tells a unique story, waiting to be discovered and cherished by passionate art enthusiasts.

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