What is a Fine-Art Print?

Fine-art print-making is fascinating, because it defies the public perception that a print is a ‘copy’ of another image. Fine art printmaking begins with the original concept of making an image in reverse on some base ‘plate’ made of wood (woodblock), or copper (etchings), and a whole variety of other media.

Many famous artworks are copied, and printed mechanically – and while they are called prints, they are a world away from ‘fine-art’ prints, whereby every aspect of the concept of the image and the making of plates, is a hand made technique, and the finished ‘prints’ have their origin in the artists’ process (rather than being copies of something else).

In Ireland many co-operative Fine-Art studios were set up following French models from the late 19th century, such as Atelier 17 (now re-named Atelier Contrepoint) in Paris (Founded in 1927 by Stanley William Hayter 1901-1988). It is a thriving art form, with fine-art print studios dotted all over the world.  Many of Ireland’s fine art print studios, like Atelier 17 are collective studios and co-ops where artists share skills, ideas, equipment and vast cups of tea.  Graphic Studio Dublin was Ireland’s first such studio, established in 1960, with artist and architect Patrick Hickey as a founder.

I hope that by sharing some of the relationships between artists and fine art printmaking, it will allow more people to love it as a highly skilled, hand-made process, that enables a public to buy art at a more accessible price point.

The process of making the plates – ready to print the edition can take weeks (the proofing phase) and sometimes months. When the edition is finally printed, all by hand and all checked for their uniformity, they are hand numbered, and you can take away your 4/20 (print four from an edition of 20 in total). Sometimes you’ll get a chance to buy the A/P, the artist’s proof. This is the artist’s one, once the edition has been proofed. I call it the ‘eureka’ of the set. It’s the final approved work, and will always pass through the artist’s collection, and if you are lucky into yours.

Make a note that many universities and corporate collectors buy fine art prints, because they can buy multiple works to cover large areas of their walls. Many corporate collectors enjoy having multiples to increase the access that clients, staff and visitors have to the art. So if you find an etching, a woodblock, a lithograph or other fine-art print you like, buy it, hang it and love it – knowing it has a raft of ‘siblings’ hanging somewhere else in the world…

This article is an edit of ‘When is a Print NOT a Print’ which I published in Irish Property Buyer in April 2005.