Prints and Printmaking

Many people purchase pictures as a reminder of a happy occasion; a holiday, a marriage, the birth of a child, a birthday or other anniversary, whilst others make their purchase because the subject matter or the style appeals to them.  Many collect the work of a particular artist whose work they enjoy, and which they also see as source of investment
Unfortunately, there are many images that decrease in value as the colour fades and the quality deteriorates.  This is usually because the image is a low quality ‘dot matrix’ reproduction, possibly with a limited edition number to add ‘perceived value’.  It is therefore important to be aware of the difference reproductions and genuine prints.
If you collect for both aesthetic and investment reasons, to avoid disappointment, before making a purchase always check whether the image is an Original Print, an Artist’s Print, or a Dot Matrix Reproduction.   A brief description of each of these is shown below.

An Original Print  can be produced by stone lithography, serigraphy (silk-screen), etching, giclee, wood block, etc .  It must have been conceived and produced as a print, and totally produced by the artist.  In order to be an ‘original’ print, the artist must have produced the matrix.  This means that the artist drew on the stone in the case of a stone litho., carved the wood in the case of the wood block, or blocked out the screens for a serigraph, etc. The matrix can also be glass, acetate, MDF, electronic, nylon mesh, or metal plate, depending on the type of printmaking to be employed, nearly every form having its own form of matrix. 

An Artist’s Print (rather than ‘original’ print) is identical to an original print in many respects, but with one difference: in the case of an artist’s print the original will have been produced by the artist initially in another medium (a drawing or painting etc.), and then transferred to the matrix, which was then used by the artist personally to produce the print, possibly with the assistance of a master printmaker. 

Most artist /printmakers would argue that a Dot Matrix Reproduction is not a print at all, but a reproduction, since it is produced by printing, which is very different from printmaking.  During the early part of the last century, the development of photo-mechanical reproduction methods (such as multi-colour, dot-matrix offset presses) increased public interest in art by bringing low cost reproductions (technically referred to as ‘posters’) within the financial reach of many who simply wanted low cost images to hang on their walls.  But some print publishers, anxious to increase their profit margins, started to market these low cost images as highly, even extortionately priced editions  
It is primarily for this reason that in an increasing numbers of collectors have sought to make their purchases direct from the artist, or from galleries who have a direct relationship with the artist.  These galleries are quite different from those whose links are with mass-production publishers, and who are really frame makers selling reproductions as a means of increasing their profitability, but without any real knowledge of printmaking or art in general. 

Rosenthal says,
“Offset lithography is a perfectly adequate means of reproducing a painting  to be sold at a very affordable price.  However, I believe that such images, whether open of limited editions, should not be sold under the same banner as fine art printmaking.  It would clarify the issue if the commercially produced dot matrix images were marketed for what they are, namely reproductions or posters, rather than as fine art prints. 
However, it should not be thought that they are without merit.  Together with some of my more famous contemporaries, I was selected to participate in a scheme to put images into schools, repeating on a smaller scale an earlier series of ‘school prints’ in which my hero, John Piper, participated.  My images sold at about £15 each, demonstrating that provided they are purchased at the correct price, and described for what they are, reproductions can represent good value for money, and can put very pleasing images within the reach of virtually anyone.”
These Dot Matrix Reproductions described by Rosenthal, originate as original drawings or paintings produced by the artist, which are then photographed through filters onto film to separate the colours.  Plates are then made, and used on multi-drum offset machines  The colours are laid down as very small but separate dots. It is the eye of the perceiver that mixes the colours, but under a magnifying glass of x15 the dots can be clearly seen.  The machines print at a rate of  5000-10,000 an hour, and because of the rapid rate of printing, the inks used must dry quickly,,,, and inks that dry quickly, fade quickly when exposed to light.  The reason that illustrations in books retain their colour is because the pages are open only for a short time.

Finally, it worth mentioning that other valid names for these reproductions include ‘poster’, ‘dot matrix’, ‘offset’, ‘mass-produced’ and ‘photo-mechanical.  They are sometimes described vaguely as ‘lithographs’ or ‘offset lithographs’ so as to ‘blur the edges’ between their mass-produced nature, and genuine stone or plate lithographs. They are also sometimes numbered as limited editions to imply that only a set number of the image are produced in that edition, and that each image has its own unique number. 
The limited edition size of a genuine print is rarely greater than 350 images (and 75-250 is usual) , but the edition size of reproductions can be as high as 5000, which most people would believe to be not very limited at all. 

With Original Prints and Artist’s Prints, the golden rule is that, all other things being equal, the smaller the edition, the greater the likelihood of an increase in value.  Their value can increase dramatically, even in a short space of time, and the smaller the edition the greater the potential investment value.  But the initial price to the purchaser is also likely to be higher, as it will if there was greater personal involvement on the part of the artist.  Original and Artist’s Prints might have a higher initial cost, but their increase in value is also likely to be much faster and greater.     (One of Stan Rosenthal’s Original  Prints has increased in value by 500% in under two years, and two ofhis Artist’s Prints have tripled in about four years).   
Just why some artists work as printmakers and others as painters or drafts-people is very much a subjective matter, but most  particularly enjoy the experimentation and variety that is possible when working on an original print, both on the matrix and when committing the image to paper through the various proofing stages of linear and colour composition, cleaning up the lines, thinning or thickening them, and correcting or changing the tones or colours. 

Stan Rosenthal produced his first stone lithograph over 50 years ago.  Although at first he became known her as a draftsman and painter, as the prices for his original paintings increased, so fewer people could afford them. He returned to printmaking because prints can be afforded by more people, and he likes the idea of his images being in many homes.  His studio is now one of the best equipped ‘single artist’ printmaking workshops in the U.K.  The benefit to his collectors is that they are able to purchase reasonably priced original work in the form of original prints and artist’s prints at affordable prices.  He still occasionally publishes dot matrix (photo-mechanical) offset lithograph reproductions as posters for the tourist market, these being mass-produced by commercial printers.  But he produces his special work on his own equipment, or at Coriander Studios and Advanced Graphics (for his serigraphs), and with Stanley Jones at the Curwen Studio (for his stone and plate lithographs).  As the artist himself describes: 

“ I like the idea of people having my images in their homes, and prints are more affordable to more people than my paintings or drawings.  Initially I could not afford to purchase my own printmaking equipment and had to save for a long time and borrow thousands of pounds from the bank to have two images produced as Serigraphic Artist’s prints.  They proved to be very popular, so I produced some more.
Some years later I purchased my own printmaking equipment, and with my wife Nicola’s help, now produce my own original and artist’s prints, which are what most collectors want.  Even though they are considerably more expensive than early my dot matrix posters, I am delighted to know that many of my Original and Artist’s Prints have increased considerably in value.
Collecting art, no matter in what form, should be a pleasurable experience, and one which should not be ruined by later discovery that a purchase by the unwary collector is not what it purports to be.  Purchasing genuine prints from a reputable gallery, prepared to back up their spoken words with a certificate of authenticity takes much of the chance element out of the purchase.   I sell from by the website, and through a few galleries that I know personally.  These are The Saint Davids Studio Gallery and Pembrokeshire Art and Framing, both in West Wales, Kooywood Gallery and The Gift Horse, both in Cardiff, Leonine Gallery in Putney, London.  And Very Affordable Art, at the Stan Rosenthal Studio Gallery in Hastings (Nicola’s gallery immediately below my studio and print workshop, and the only gallery  to carry the complete range  of my images).   

Just what constitutes printmaking is quite complex, and to a large extent is determined by the printmaking method employed. The following brief descriptions of the methods I employ, might serve as a starting point for those not familiar with fine art printmaking.

I particularly enjoy working in stone lithography, and the interaction with Stanley Jones, and also with Tom Martin, who has been training with him for over seven years.  We collaborate in the use of stone and plate lithograph, both of which I love, but for different reasons.  I love the sensuality of drawing with the litho-stick on the surface of the stone that mediates the image, and I also love the resultant quality of line, and grain that is transferred onto the paper.  My four recent small black and white images resulted from the time spent in the Curwen Studio workshop and watching Paula Rego working on her images.  She and Stanley Jones were kind enough to say some nice things about an earlier image, and the new images developed from what was suggested. 

Plate lithography poses different challenges, not least of which (for me at least) has been registration of the different plates , and overlaying different colours to take advantage of the transparency of the inks, in two different ways on the one image, as  in the case of ‘Morfa Harlech’.  It is not possible to guess what the outcome will look like, so proofing is essential, and it is here that the excitement is the greatest for me…just seeing the differences that slight changes to the plate or ink make to the image. 
Serigraphy (silk screen printing) also provides an opportunity to use multiple colours, and once again, registration can present a real challenge.  ‘Barn in a Rape Seed Field’ is the most recent of my work in this medium, and I was delighted when I first saw the proof of this image.  The proof was exactly how I imagined it would be, as were the rest of the edition.
For my giclee printmaking, I use my own equipment, purchased over the past six years or so.  I use a matrix in the form of an electronic interactive painting palette, and an electronic pen, so I am spared the pain in my thumbs caused by wielding a large brush.  I produce many (but not all) of my original prints in this medium, and use it for all of my composition work.  Like most printmaking methods, the major problem it poses is colour matching, and it can take up to twelve proofs to achieve the colours I want, or have seen ‘in my mind’s eye’, but it is worth every attempt once it settles down to how I  want the image to be, especially since, on my own equipment I can manipulate the inks and their intensity, and (as Nicola says) to ‘play to my heart’s content.” 

Following in the footsteps of his heroes such as Blake, Turner, Sutherland and Piper, all of whom were printmakers as well as painters, Rosenthal continues in the experimental tradition.  He has invested heavily in his own printmaking equipment, and continues to do so.  This enables him to work in his own unique ‘hands on’ manner, to retain control of the quality of his printed work, to maintain the exacting standards for which he first became recognised, and to assist other artists with their printmaking.

In this way, Rosenthal has continued the tradition of fine art print-making, producing a continually expanding folio of affordable but very collectable legitimate prints.  These all conform to British Standard Institute 7876; 1996.