What New Collectors Need to Know about Buying Prints at the IFPDA Fair and New York Print Week
In honor of New York Print Week and the IFPDA Print Fair, we have invited a few of our print specialist and print studio partners to share what every first-time collector should know to get started. Those we surveyed include Rhea Fontaine of Paulson Fontaine Press, Christina Graham of Pace Prints, Alan Cristea of Alan Cristea Gallery, Evelyn Lasry of Two Palms, and Elizabeth Fodde-Reguer of Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl. According to these experts, here are some of the questions and tips to keep in mind when browsing the fair for works on show this week.
#1. What makes an original print original?
One of the most common misconceptions about prints is that they are reproductions on paper of existing works of art. In fact, prints are original multiples; works of art in their own right that are conceived and executed by the artist in multiple in the medium of printmaking, which includes silkscreen, woodcut and linocut, etching, lithography, and digital printing, among other techniques. “They are not unique, but they are originals,” says Elizabeth Fodde-Reguer of Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl.
Because printmaking is a medium with unique strengths and limitations, and involves collaboration between the artist and printers, it often opens up new space for artists to explore. Fontaine says “our goal is for the artist to leave their experience in our studio with a new understanding of and approach to their own practice.” As Christina Graham of Pace Prints notes, “the breadth of techniques used in printmaking and papermaking creates endlessly surprising results in the hands of different artists.”
While printmaking encompasses a diverse group of processes, all hold in common the use of a “matrix”—a plate, block, or other surface—that is incised or chemically altered so that an image can be printed from the matrix many times. Don’t picture a desktop printer or photocopier churning out pages, though! Fine art prints are constructed in layers, meaning that a multicolor image may require a dozen or more different plates or blocks to produce, and a dozen or more separate runs through the printing press.
#2. What makes a print different from other mediums?
“Printmaking is a collaboration between an artist and a master printer, whose technical skill set allows the artist the freedom and creativity to push the boundaries of printmaking to convey their vision,” explains Graham. While some artists work actively in mediums like silkscreen, etching and woodcut as part of their practice, nearly all will collaborate with a master printer to produce an edition. Artists work closely with the printer in the workshop, working directly onto the printing elements, producing drawings, refining color palettes and more, until they achieve the result that the printer will edition.
Printers are themselves skilled artists who train for years to master difficult techniques and spend a lifetime helping other artists execute their vision. A publisher is the gallery, studio or other entity that commissions and sells the edition. Sometimes, the printer and publisher are one and the same, or a print may be published by an artist’s own studio.
#3. What should I know about pricing?
Pricing for prints depends on a number of factors, most generally the size of the edition, the techniques used, and the market for the artist’s work. Original prints are produced in a finite number of impressions—a limited edition. (The main exception is a monoprint, also called a monotype, which is a unique work created using printmaking techniques, not produced in an edition.)
For new collectors, simply understanding the anatomy of an edition can be daunting, but understanding the minutia isn’t necessary to start working with a reputable print dealer who can answer questions. For the curious, the IFPDA’s detailed online resource offers a useful glossary for print buyers.
The edition size is determined by the publisher in conjunction with the artist and depends both on commercial considerations—how many prints they feel they can sell—and the technical considerations of print production, as Alan Cristea notes. Two Palms director Evelyn Lasry gives the rundown: “Smaller editions make for rarer prints and those tend to be more expensive than a large print edition. Often a print increases in price as the edition sells through. All of the images in an edition should be the same and are not numbered in the order they were printed.”
In addition to the prints in the edition, which are numbered and signed, most limited editions also include a small number of artist’s proofs. Collectors might also come across R.T.P. or B.A.T. proofs (customarily the printer’s guide for producing the edition), printer’s proofs (given to the second master printer working on an edition), and more. “Proofs are priced no differently [than numbered prints], unless they are unique,” explains Graham.
Considering that pricing depends on a number of complex factors, collectors should not hesitate to ask clarifying questions and consult multiple dealers to ensure they are paying the market price for works. Remember too that each edition has documentation—“I also encourage collectors to be mindful that the prints are signed and numbered by the artist and that the publisher provides an official Print Doc that lists all pertinent information about the print,” says Fontaine.
#4. How do I know when to buy?
Ultimately, deciding to buy a print is no different than deciding to buy any other work; collectors should ask themselves if they connect emotionally and intellectually with the work, and will continue to for years to come.
Print specialists agree that you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate and start collecting prints, but the more you learn, the more you will enjoy. Visiting print studios or asking dealers, printers and artists about the processes involved in making works can only deepen a collector’s appreciation. As Evelyn Lasry puts it, “Does one ask about the step-by-step mechanics of how a great restaurant meal is prepared in order to enjoy it? No, but it certainly makes it more interesting.”
Madeleine Boucher is Content Manager on Artsy’s Learning Team, and a printmaker at Shoestring Press in Brooklyn, New York.