1. Remember that a print can be many things
At a basic level, a print is a work of art made from using a combination of three things: paper, ink and a ‘matrix’—the matrix being a source of the image to be printed. There are four basic types of materials used as a matrix: wood, metal, stone and screen.
Printing from blocks of wood is the oldest technique of all, and arguably the simplest. An artist draws an image on the face of the woodblock, then using a sharp tool cuts away the extra wood, leaving just the raised area, which is then inked and printed. The resulting print is known as a woodcut.
Robert Mangold (B. 1937), Untitled, from the Skowhegan Suite. Woodcut in colors on Kozo paper, 1991. Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000.
Printing from metal plates is a technique almost as old as the woodcut, and could be seen as an improvement, since metal is a more stable and durable material. The simplest form uses a small, chisel-like tool to cut thin V-shaped grooves in the surface of the plate. Once the design is complete, ink is applied and the surface of the plate is wiped clean—leaving ink only in the grooves. The plate is then placed on a sheet of paper and put through a press. The resulting print is known as an engraving. Artists found that using different shaped tools yielded different results. A sharp needle, for instance, when dragged across the surface would produce a more intense effect than the clean lines of the engraving tool. Prints made by this technique are known as drypoints.
Wayne Thiebuad (B.1920), Three Ice Cream Cones, 1964. Aquatint on wove paper. Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000.
An A-Z of Prints & Multiples, Part 1
A lithograph is when a design is drawn onto a slab of smooth stone with a waxy crayon and then the stone is dampened and the ink is applied with a roller. The ink sticks to the waxy image and transfers to the sheet of paper when passed through the press. While printing these works require great skill on the part of the printer; the artist is free to use many of the same tools, such as brushes and pencils, and the same gestures, as they do with painting and drawing. Historically, it opened up printmaking to artists who had previously been reluctant to learn the technical skills needed to create woodcuts, etchings and engravings.
Ellsworth Kelly (B.1923), Leaf VII, lithograph on Arches 88 paper, 1978. Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000.
Screenprinting is an extremely versatile, low-tech approach to printmaking, adapting itself to everything from t-shirts to posters to commercial packaging. It uses a fine mesh stretched across the bottom of a wooden frame. The frame is placed on a sheet of paper and the ink is wiped onto the surface of the screen, sinking into the paper below. The image can be created using various methods, but the most significant development came with the use of light-sensitive gelatins, allowing photographs to be transferred to and printed from the screen.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Jacqueline Kennedy II (Jackie II), Screenprinting in black and purple, 1966. Estimate: $7,000 - $10,000.
2. Editions aren’t just works on paper
Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004), Little Nude, from Seven Objects in a Box, 1966. Vacuum-formed Plexiglas multiple spray-painted in colors. Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000.
Artworks in limited editions are not just confined to works on paper. Works in three-dimensions—that can also be found in print sales—are referred to as ‘multiples.’ This is a particularly varied group and can range from works such as a vacuum-formed Plexiglas work by Tom Wesselmann (seen here) to a syringe, needle, resin and pills multiple by Damien Hirst. This is also the most innovative area in the prints field—digital inkjets, laser cut objects and 3-D printing are all found in contemporary print fairs such as the Editions/Artists' Books Fair in New York and Multiplied (organized by Christie’s!) in London.
An A-Z of Prints & Multiples, Part 2
3. Consider where the print came from
Another really interesting and important way to think about prints is to learn about the workshops and studios where prints have been created and published. The histories of these studios are as varied and eclectic as prints themselves. In First Impression alone, there are more than 50 different studios represented, including major workshops from the European tradition such as Galerie Louise Leiris, a studio in Paris that published many of Picasso’s prints, and Mourlot, a major publisher for Chagall and Miro, to very important American post-war print workshops, such as Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and Tyler Graphics in New York. We also have some fantastic contemporary studios represented, such as Other Criteria, Brand X and Parkett. A great way to build a collection is to think of different examples from these institutions and their influence on your favorite artists.
4. What if I can’t come to the view?
Our lot descriptions are designed in a way so that most of the information you need is found in the sale catalogue—which is available online! For every lot, we illustrate the piece and give the signature and numbering details, the publisher of the print and our condition notes. Importantly, we also note if the work is framed! Not everything in our catalogue comes with a frame, but we do make a note if it is. To better see the print, you can also view a high-resolution image on your computer from our website. Supplemental condition reports are available by emailing our department directly. We’re always happy to send further detailed images and answer any questions you have this way. The important thing is to remember that even if you never come into Christie’s for the sale—it is possible to reach out to a specialist directly.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
One of the most important factors impacting the value of a print is its condition. Going to a print view means that you can ask to see something out of the frame in order to examine the sheet. If you can’t go to the view, our condition reports are written in a way that is meant for you to imagine exactly what is going on. Questions to ask include: “How are the colors?,” “Is there any damage to the paper?,” or “Has the framing hurt the object in any way?” Condition is also relative to the object and its age—a Picasso made in 1905 will be considered differently than a Hirst made in 2012. Of course, if you don’t understand something you should always call a specialist—asking questions is really the best way of learning in this field.
To learn more about our summer sales of Prints and Post-War and Contemporary Art, visit At First Sight.