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Wrendesign is an artist-owned company showcasing about 400 original paintings and also offering a section on illustrated children's stories online which can be downloaded free for single use. This blog is maintained by one of the resident artists. To see our website please click on link above.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Signed and Numbered Editions - What Does it Mean?

Original Graphics and Limited Edition Prints (included Giclee) are usually signed and numbered.

They are supposed to be signed by the artist (but in actual practice, in large editions, they may delegate someone else to sign them).

They are numbered like this   125/500.  

This indicates number 125 out of a total of 500.

In the case of actual original graphics (such as if pulled off a lithograph stone) the first number is supposed to be the actual place in the edition.   2/100 would be the 2nd print pulled out of a total of 100.   Lower numbers may (or may not) be more valuable as presumably the stone would be less worn.   But also, the artist sometimes makes changes during the run, so # 30 may be slightly different from #29, etc.    Since the artist presumably approves each print before signing any print in the edition should be okay.

In the case of limited edition prints done photographically (including Giclees) all the prints should be exactly the same, barring some flaw in the paper or something.   So, the lower numbers should be no more valuable than any other.    In actuality, the prints are usually not numbered in the order they came out anyway - they are usually numbered by what is most convenient, such as in what order they arrive in front of whomever is doing the numbering (probably not the artist).   The value lies in the fact that there are a limited number of them.

The total in the edition can be misleading anyway.   There are always a number of artist's proofs.   These are not counted in the total edition.   In the old days, the artists proofs were the first printings and the artist either approved them or made changes before proceeding.    Sometimes, they were "extras" given to the artist to enhance their income.   At any rate, they are never counted in the total edition, and there is no way to know how many there were, but there are usually not a huge quantity.
If you see one for sale it will be signed and say AP in lieu of the normal edition #.   Since they are frequently seen, I assume this is still standard practice even with limited edition prints.

As for the signature.   Let us assume that the artist actually signs each print.   In large editions this is not always true, but it is generally not possible to know. 

One other thing - with current technology, it is no longer necessary that the artist order the whole edition printed at the same time.   Once the up-front scanning cost is done, they need only order a few prints at a time.   And they do not have to number them in the order printed.   Thus you might get #34 out of 50 but only 12 have actually yet been printed.    I am not saying that all artist's do this, but it is accepted practice. 

Original Graphics - What Are They?

There is a category of art known as Original Graphics. These are truly original, as the artist created them by drawing directly on multiple lithograph stones or silkscreens or woodblocks or copper plates or some similar thing.    They were created with the express intention of making multiple copies - there is no "original" painting being copied.    The resulting images may each be slightly different due to alignment etc., or they may even be done in different colors, but they are essentially the same picture. They are usually signed and numbered and in limited edition as the screens etc. tend to wear out. They will be numbered like this -- 14/50, meaning this is #14 or an edition of 50. They are "original" but not in the sense of an original painting which is one of a kind. But they do have a value as an original creation.   (It is possible for an artist to make an original lithograph or silkscreen or etching of their own original painting but this is very unusual as the techniques are so different as to render the resulting graphic not very similar to the painting.   They would more likely be considered different works of art.)    In the past this was a common way for artists to make their work more affordable to their public.   It is still used by some artists to obtain specific effects.

Sometimes photographic prints are called "Original Graphics".    These are photographic prints of a painting that actually exists.    But they are not always labeled as such.   They should be called limited edition prints.  They can be done on paper or canvas and be any size.   In fact, they are often available in a choice of sizes.   Giclees fall into this category.   In such cases the original painting may also be available for sale.   The edition may be very large and neither signed nor numbered.    Or it may be quite small,  signed by the original artist and numbered. The value increases if the edition is limited.   There can also be great variation in the quality of the photography, the printing, the inks used, the number of inks used, and the quality of the paper or canvas.

Do not disdain these, if of high quality.   It can cost an artist hundreds of dollars to have a large painting photographed or scanned on high-quality scanner (which itself can cost thousands of dollars), and the printing is also very expensive if high quality inks and paper are used.   It does give the artist a wider audience though, and it allows more people to enjoy their work at an affordable price.

These are worth more than regular "prints" which are usually printed by a publisher and distributed in large quantities and also called graphics (which is really just a generic term).    There are high quality prints distributed by the art houses such as New York Graphics, and lower quality posters which you can buy everywhere for $3.   But they are not limited editions and almost never signed in pencil.

See the next blog for information on numbered editions.

What is an "Original" Painting

This is somewhat confusing to those not in the field.   In the art field a true original means one painting created directly by the artist - as in an artist stands at an easel and produces an oil or acrylic painting.    Actually two or more artists could collaborate, but there is still only one painting.   The definition of what is painting can be broad, but the result is always ONE original artwork.

Copies may subsequently be made, as in prints, posters, photos, or even hand-done copies done by other artists, but there is only one "original".

Artists can, and frequently do, authorize copies of their originals to supplement income and make art more affordable.    These are usually now done with digital cameras or scanners and a high-quality printer.    They can be quite expensive if done to high standards.   Usually they are done in a limited quantity, and often they may be signed and numbered by the original artist.    They can be printed onto high quality paper or onto canvas.   They do not have to be the same size as the original.   

Giclee prints fall into this category.    When done on canvas, they can look very much like the original.   Sometimes they are hand textured with a clear gel to give the feel of brushstrokes.    This is usually done by a technician, not the artist.  There is nothing wrong with this - they make art affordable to more people and help support the artist.    But they should not be confused with a true original, which is one of a kind.    A giclee print may have an edition of 50 or an edition of thousands.    As an example, the original of a particular  painting may cost $10000, while a good quality giclee print on canvas of the painting in a limited edition may cost $500.    These should be labeled in galleries as giclee reproductions, but sometimes they are called giclee originals.  

There is another type of "original" painting that is in the market.   These are actually done by people (usually in places where wages are low) in a mass production line fashion.   One method is to have an artist stand on a podium before 50 other workers, all in front of a canvas.   The artist says, paint a tree on the left like this, the 50 copy it, and so on until the picture is done.   Another method is to have the pictures move down an assembly line, and each worker adds one element, such as the tree, which he has been trained to paint.   The output is 50 or more "originals" which are all essentially the same painting.    A third method is to have an artist make many quick copies of the same painting.    These are the "originals" you see offered for very low prices at art "sales" and in some furniture stores.   They are original only in that they are paint on canvas, they are not one of a kind.    If you see a large framed painting touted as an original and on sale for $150 it is probably one of these.   No artist could survive at such prices.

In my next post I'll touch on Original Graphics.