What is Printmaking?

It is sometimes called "original printmaking". The prints that the artist has prepared by using traditional printing techniques in preparing a mold, then reproducing from this mold by way of print, are called prints. This reproduction process can be done using a variety of techniques individually or together.

Printmaking Defined Worldwide

Terminology related to printmaking in Europe was developed based on 19th century France. The European tradition embraced by print artists -the concept of printing, mold and production of enumerated prints processes, and the acknowledgement of personal responsibility for all stages of production including printing – was espoused and has endured through the present day. By the 1960s, interest in print works began to increase throughout the international art market, and visible momentum in the printmaking field became evident. With the development of technology in the second half of the twentieth century, many discussions about printmaking ethics arose. Printing historian Felix Brunner said in his book Manuel de la Gravure published in 1964 that printing is a handiwork. According to Brunner, the determinant is that the artist themself worked on either the engraving plate or the lithography stone, otherwise the print would not be original as a result. After the printmaker has personally prepared the printing plate (Fr. estampe), they can give the prints to technicians and ensure printing under direct supervision.

Definition in Europe

At the International Etching Congress in 1937, it was stated that the term printing is valid only for any hand applied proof, and that any other process, existing or yet to be executed, must be carefully specified. In 1964, the Printmakers' Union (La Chambre Syndicale de l'estampe, du tableau et du dessin), which reproduced from paintings and drawings, accepted the entire definition issued by the French National Etching Committee (Comité national de la gravure française). According to this definition, proofs made in black or in color from one or more plates designed and executed by the artist in their entirety, regardless of the technique used, with the exception of all mechanical or photomechanical processes, are considered to be prints, etching or lithography. However, in June 1967, "a limited number of etchings, prints and lithographs taken directly from the plate applied by the artist themselves, regardless of the technique" was the definition used for original artwork. The most important aspect of the definition proposed by the French National Etching Committee in 1936 and later adopted by the Printmakers Union in 1964 was that the printing plate was hand crafted by the artist, and excluded interpretation printing from this definition. This development - as enshrined in Article 54 of the International Exhibition Regulations (Exposition Universelle) of 1937 - brought the International Etching Committee’s current definition to the agenda and further developed this definition “provided the details are clearly defined” with consideration for new techniques that may emerge in the future.

The French definition of 1967, which is legal today, invalidates the exclusion of the photomechanical process. As a result, it paved the way for printing even after the artist's death, without the artist's intervention and supervision, provided that a print was limited in number and that the plate was hand-crafted by the artist.

The principles were determined at the 3rd Artists Congress held in Vienna, Austria in 1960. 5 articles were added for original print work and its artist. According to these articles, the works which will materialize after the artist determines the technique to be implemented shall be numbered by the artist themselves. In order for the print to be original, it must have the signature of the artist. Next to the signature, the number of the print and the total number of prints should be written. The plate used in the printing must either be destroyed or a mark must be placed on it, destroying the mold so that it cannot be reused. In order for the print to be considered original, the artists must prepare the surface of the plate themselves. There are no rules or norms for reproductions, which require only a descriptive mark. If the artist is alive and the production is carried out with their permission and knowledge, signing the reproduction results in an added value for it.

Similar principles and regulations were determined in other countries in Europe within the framework of certain rules. These rules were used in international exhibitions held every two or three years and over time, signature, date and numbering systems became permanent.

Definition in America

The American Printing Council's definition of 1961 added the artist's personal participation in the printing process and approval of the finished product. According to this definition, the artist has created the main image to be printed within or upon the plate, stone, wood, block or other material, alone. The print is made from materials specified in accordance with the artist’s instructions. The finished product is approved by the artist. This definition is the only definition that asserts the unity and integrity of concept and practice in the making of the print, and accepts artist proof prints produced in accordance with the artist’s instructions under these circumstances. Furthermore, the issue of manual image creation is no longer specified, allowing the application of photo mechanics or other modern techniques, thereby supporting the adoption of other current techniques. This definition, which does not have a legal dimension, but is generally accepted in the field (there is no overarching and specific law defining the printmaking field in any country), is intended to apply to prints produced after 1930.

Original Print Numbering and Signing Conventions: Original prints made by the artist are numbered according to the printing order. First the print order, then the number of prints with a slash (1/50, 2/50 etc.) are indicated. The artist hand applies their signature on an area they deem appropriate, and the date of production is indicated as the year, immediately following the signature. If the artist wishes, the name of the work is indicated between the number and the signature.

Proof Print (Fr. èpreuve, Ger. Probedruck): These are the prints that the artist has not yet decided to produce as enumerated prints. These are often destroyed by tearing. If the print is to be retained, “Proof Print” is written upon it. (Artist prints, Artist proof / epreuve d'artiste, can also be included in this group.)

The Brand of the Print Studio: When the artist does not have the opportunity to produce the print in their own studio, the brand of the studio where the productions of enumurated prints are made is printed or embossed close to the edge of the paper, in a way that does not affect the picture.