About Prints, Printmaking and the 'Original Print'

None of the images on this website is a print.

None of them is printed. They are made of coloured light, of pixels.

To get them onto this screen, a real print was 'scanned' and reinterpreted in computer terms. Much of the visual printed matter we see around us is similarly a copy of a previously existing photograph or artwork. You can point to the original and you can point to the copy.

Print makers make prints by methods which originate the image. When the first print is peeled off the woodblock or etching plate it is an original; it is brand new; it is the first time it has been seen. You cannot point to any pre-existing original and say 'this new thing is a copy of that one'. 

But every print pulled from a woodblock is an 'original print' because inking the block and printing it is the only way to produce or to originate that image – note the word produce. Its opposite is reproduce. The artist has chosen to produce the image in this particular way, because of the qualities given by the particular process; in my case, I love the finesse and the rich tones of wood engraving.

If the print produced in that way is photographed, photocopied or scanned, it is being reproduced and however good the copy, however satisfying the image, however expensive the copying process, there is an essential difference between the copy and the original, the thing made. 

About limited edition prints

When producing prints, it has become customary for printmakers to limit the number they take from any one block, to number each print so as to indicate the limitation, and to sign it. This clarifies the 'status' of the product and 'authenticates' its relative rarity for the buyer.  The 'fraction', say 5/45, seen on a print indicates that it is the fifth print in an ‘edition’ of forty-five but since all are from the same block the fifth is in no way superior to the fifteenth or the twenty-fifth).

Limitation is only a habit of the market. In principle a block or plate can be printed until it physically wears out and this is particularly true of wood engraving because of its durability. Even if not printed by the artist and maybe printed many years after the block was engraved, every print made from a woodblock (or an etcher’s plate) bears the direct impression of the artist’s hand as it engraved and is therefore an original. There is of course a law of diminishing returns in the marketplace as the object gets further away from the artists's direct involvement.

Most of my work is 'commercial art' as they used to call it. It gets seen primarily in reproduction as book illustrations. Sometimes I make prints to be seen as pictures to hang on the wall or collect in a portfolio: these are 'prints' in a more particular sense of the word. In several cases what was made as an illustration also appeals as a stand-alone print and is issued as such in a limited edition.

Thus the separation into 'prints' and 'illustrations' can seem a little arbitrary: all the images of which you see reproductions here are prints because they were all made by a printmaking technique. In this case wood engraving.