Saturday, October 15, 2011

How to sign an art print

This month the Making A Mark Poll is about signing artwork.  I've also created a new resources for artists website - How to sign a painting and other fine art - which is providing to be very popular.  This morning I added a new section to it relating to How to sign a fine art print.
An artist's name on a print can increase the price by two or more times, and creators generally view signing and numbering works as a valuable source of income for themselves.What's the value of a signature on an art print - Daniel Grant - Huffington Post
The Do's and Don'ts of Signatures for Printmakers

Here's a summary of the conventions - and a few tips about what NOT to do

Printmakers should do these
  • DO sign using a sharp pencil
  • DO only sign the fine art print if you are happy with the quality of it - the artist's signature is the mark of "approval" and also attests to its authenticity
  • DO sign a limited edition print near the bottom edge of the print - on the bottom right hand side
  • DO mark the edition number and the edition size at the same time - on the bottom left hand side (eg #4 /25 indicates this is the fourth print of a limited edition of 25 and that no more prints will be made)
  • DO add a title if appropriate - in between the signature and the edition number
  • DO sign any artwork which is to be reproduced as a giclee within the image to be reproduced (ie it's best to avoid being accused of trying to imitate limited edition prints.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with giclee prints but they're not the same as fine art prints which are hand-pulled)
  • DO use a monogram if you want to be traditional.  The practice of signing prints with names is relatively recent.
Albrecht Durer's monogram - used on his etchings

It's best to avoid doing these
  • DO NOT sign using a pen.  Convention dictates this is inappropriate and oddly it might make it more vulnerable to fraud as signatures can be printed - but pencil can't!
  • DO NOT sign if you are unhappy with the print - you should deface or destroy it to stop it being sold if you want to maintain the status of your work
  • DO NOT sign prints which are not hand-pulled and/or are unlimited editions of a reproduction in the same way as a limited edition fine art print.  The convention to maintain the distinction between these two different sorts of prints is that 
    • limited edition fine art prints are signed and 
    • unlimited reproduction prints are NOT signed outside the image in a way which mimics the limited edition print
  • DO NOT sign blank sheets of paper
Signing blank pieces of paper occurs when the economic value of the print lies in the signature.  Certain artists (eg Dali) are well known for having done this in the past and this has now undermined the secondary market for their prints.

You can contribute to the opinion poll about signing your artwork - you will find this in the right hand column

I did my best to research this topic thoroughly - but I'd love to hear any views or tips from printmakers on this topic.

It seems to me that achieving a sensible distinction between limited editions of giclee prints and a hand-pulled fine art limited edition print is easier said than done.


Elisha said...

Thanks! That is a really good point about the pen vs pencil signatures.

Andrea said...

I do mosaic art right now so I am not sure how to sign them lol. I am going to leave my link just trying to build blog relations. What does nofollow mean? I just started a blog on mosaic art

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I've seen mosaic art signed in the media that the mosaics are pressed into. I think this a monogram mosaic would work great though!

"Nofollow" means That Blogger automatically codes all links left in comments so that they don't count for the purposes of building links to websites or blogs. Basically that means leaving a link to your blog on a Blogger blog doesn't help it at all.

Sue Pownall said...

Great post Katherine.

"It seems to me that achieving a sensible distinction between limited editions of giclee prints and a hand-pulled fine art limited edition print is easier said than done." I agree as my recent prints are giclee but there is not anywhere within the image area to sign. I am however, telling everyone they are giclee.

Cecca said...

Great clear guidelines, sounds good to me. Have you got any advice on Artist's proofs, test proofs, variable proofs and the use of AP, TP, VP etc? I'm just getting into printmaking and any advice would be helpful. Thanks, Cecca :-)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I've seen renowned artists signed artist's proofs and they've either had AP or Artist's proof after the signature. They are NOT numbered.

Tear up test proofs? Aren't these normally annotated with what needs to happen next to make them work as a proper proof? I've also seen these crossed through after they've been actioned so they can't be sold.

I guess they could be made part of the edition if they "work" to the required standard and then signed in the normal way.

I'm not sure what you mean by variable proofs - ones that didn't quite work?

Jono Doiron said...

Thank you for your information.

_ said...

I have a really goofy question. Say you have a monotype. It's an edition of one print--but it is a print-- do you label that? 1/1? I've seen 'AP' for 'artist proof', etc., is there a shorthand for 'unique print'?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Now that is a good question. I guess you'd sign it the same way you'd sign any other unique artwork - and then take a good quality photograph of it and file it!

_ said...

...I'm really sorry, I don't know what that 'same way' is (unless you mean, just sign it, but I mean the edition number on the lower left of a print, opposite the signature, that can have additional letters designating if it's a proof or whatnot). Is there an accepted notation for monotypes that denotes them as single-print editions? Or do you just write 1/1 and assume that the certificate (which of course also states that there is no master extant) is enough? I've been searching for over a month and gotten lots on everything but monotypes. For monoprints you apparently do "varied edition" or "EV #/total" to distinguish them from identical multiples), but there's nothing out there on how to label the print category if a print is unique. Sorry if this is irrelevant, it's just, everything else has such a concrete convention for how it's done, so it seems odd for there to be no accepted way for this.

Peter Russell said...

Really good post.

Simon Wright said...

Great post but I have a problem regarding the use of a pencil and not a pen. I have Giclee prints taken from a painting to sell as a limited edition of 85. The trouble is that because they are on semimatte paper a pencil will not make a mark. I have an o.h.p. fine line pen but am afraid to do the wrong thing. What do you suggest ?...

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Don't use semi-matte paper - and always make sure you can sign a paper before placing an order?

Beach Festivus said...

Great article. I have some questions:

1) Say you have an original painting, and you are making limited edition prints. How uniform do the prints have to be? Do they all have to be the same size? Do they have to be framed the same? Do they have to be printed on the same media? Do they have to be signed in the same place? Do they have to be signed with the same color?

2) Should you have consistency in the number of limited edition prints you have per piece? In other words, if I have 3 paintings, is it okay to limit one to 10 prints, another to 50 and another to 250?

3) Say you're making a limited edition of 100. You don't have to print all at once, right? You can basically do it on demand? Do you have to start with #1, and then #2, etc? Or can you go out of order?

4) What is to stop someone from buying a limited edition print, and reproducing it, essentially meaning there are more copies then you are stating?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I think the source of your confusion is that that you are talking about reproductions and I am talking about fine art printmaking. A lot of people get confused about this.

Here's the answers to your questions

1) Say you have an original painting, and you are making limited edition prints. How uniform do the prints have to be? Do they all have to be the same size? Do they have to be framed the same? Do they have to be printed on the same media? Do they have to be signed in the same place? Do they have to be signed with the same color?

You can't make a limited edition print of an original painting - because it is a painting, not a support for creating hand-pulled fine art prints.

You can create giclee print reproductions of a painting and you can do these any size you like but you should NOT confuse these with a proper limited edition fine art print.

When you sell a fine art print, you sell the print - it's up to the owner to decide how they are framed.

Read the website for more information about how to sign them

2) Should you have consistency in the number of limited edition prints you have per piece? In other words, if I have 3 paintings, is it okay to limit one to 10 prints, another to 50 and another to 250?

Like I said you're not creating limited edition prints in the conventional sense, you are creating giclee print reproductions. You can have as many as you like anytime any size. A limited edition in the true sense of the word is done once only in one size.

3) Say you're making a limited edition of 100. You don't have to print all at once, right? You can basically do it on demand? Do you have to start with #1, and then #2, etc? Or can you go out of order?

Let's say you are not going to make more than 100 reproduction prints of one painting - which is what you seem to be suggesting you want to do.

If you're creating giclee prints you can print as you go and many people do - however they are also very careful to call it a giclee print reproduction.

4) What is to stop someone from buying a limited edition print, and reproducing it, essentially meaning there are more copies then you are stating?

When making a fine art print, the convention is to break the plate at the end of the print run. That would mean no more prints could be made.

Anybody anytime anywhere can make a reproduction of the image if they can get hold of a decent size image - or even a halfway decent image. A giclee print can be plagiarised very easily whereas it's much more difficult to plagiarise a strictly limited edition fine art print eg an etching, lithograph, linocut etc etc etc

Beach Festivus said...

Thank you Katherine. You're right, that is the source of my confusion. A fine art print that is actually unique, vs a reproduction which a modern printer can make exact copies. I was ignorant to this distinction before

For example, there is a local art show once a week here. The funny things is, if you make a painting, you are only allowed to sell the original; no reproductions at all.

But then you have the photographers. All digital photographers. Because their work is all digital, and there is no "original," they are actually allowed to sell as many of the same piece as they want. Because they aren't considered "reproductions," because there is no original.

That doesn't seem fair does it?

But they might technically have to make them limited editions. But I see them selling #1/1000.. it's basically unlimited for all intents and purposes because they probably won't sell 1,000 (is there even value in that?) Or maybe they don't even have to limit their editions. They might be allowed to truly sell unlimited reproductions. I'm not sure.

So what are the guidelines for those folks? They are just using a printer to make exact reproductions of their original digital image. What are your thoughts on my original 4 questions as it relates to those folks doing digital photography?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Painters are painters and photographers are photographers - and they're different

The point is fine art prints are different as well - and they are the ONLY media which can genuinely state that they produce a limited edition ie if they destroy the plate or whatever the print is produced from at the end

Everything else is down to an artist's or painter's integrity.

john king said...

Hello all,
I wondered if I could ask some advice regarding repro prints? Apologies in advance for my vagueness!
I'm not familiar with the practice/protocols of selling reproduction prints.
Currently I am working on a series of quality hand painted works on wood panels which are reasonably unique to my skill-set.
As well as selling the originals I'm a bit confused about what road I should take with selling reproductions, ie Signed limited editions, and/or through a repro site such as

My material options are:
1. Digitally Printed Stretched Canvas, 2. Digitally Printed Paper. 3. Screen Printed Paper. 4 Digitally Printed Hardboard (to capture the wooden feel of my work).

My queries are:
1: Signed Limited Prints:
-Are any of the above materials not considered appropriate for a signed limited edition print?
-Is it acceptable to offer Ltd Ed's on more than one material?
-With my work being full/multi colored is a fine art hand print possible or viable?

2: Selling Online:
-Is it considered poor form for an artist to sell both Limited editions as well as online repros through a Crated type site? (Assuming the limiteds are priced higher than the online repros)
-Would selling through a Crated be detrimental to my work's "Value"?
-What's your opinion on selling Limited Signed Prints vs Online repros?

Many thanks everyone, and again sorry for my question bombardment!

Cheers :-)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Well first of all a Limited Edition of something that isn't a proper fine art print is a debateable asset - for the very reason you outlined

It simply isn't a limited edition if you are going to make any other sort of copies in other ways at other times.

So first of all I'd forget about calling anything a limited edition if you contemplate multiple methods of sale.

Next there are any number of sites that do exactly the same thing as the one you mention which is basically printing images from a digital image that you upload

You don't ever see the product sent to the customer let alone get to sign it!

Frankly I'd worry less about what you are going to produce and worry more about how you are going to get people interested.

The simple fact is that sites like the one you mention rarely bring any traffic. Those that do well are those that have already developed a following elsewhere and are just using the site for creating prints in one form or another.

Bottomline, creating prints - in whatever way you choose to do - does not mean you will sell them.

Richard Campbell said...

Would it not be proper to create a limited edition of, say, an abstract digital print if the original file is deleted upon creation of the desired number of prints? Would a certificate help support that? I'm assuming a personal print service would be used, not a "sales site."

Katherine Tyrrell said...

The question with digital prints and limited editions is essentially whether the buyer trusts the artist. I don't think a certificate would make much difference.

tam said...

I am still unsure as to what type of print I am creating, and how to sign it.

I'm a watercolour artist.
I use an artisan photographic inkjet printer to create prints of my work, which I sell.

I print each one individually on a fine setting. I use high quality paper and high definition dye ink, a combo that gives the print a 200 year lifetime (given archival conditions). I reject the ones I am not happy with. These are not limited edition prints.

Since I print each one myself, and then dry and cut them myself, what type of print is this?

Also, do I sign the front? I have only been initialing the back of the prints (as a form of approval), and often the front has my initials and date (signature) from the scan of the original watercolour, but not always since I need to sometimes crop the image to fit a print format. Should I have both the original signature (from the painting scan), as well as a print signature on the front, or just one signature, or none?

I have tried to find this information online, and this is the best post I have come across about it, however I am still unsure how and if I should be signing the front. I also struggle with the wording for this type of print.

Any suggestions would be well appreciated!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

You are creating a reproduction - albeit with a little more care than some who create reproductions do.

If you signature on the painting is visible another signature on the reproduction would seem to me to be just duplication as you are not indicating any additional information - such as edition number

I'd sign on the back and also provide them with a printed card for the back of the frame with information about yourself, your website address and how to contact you. That way if they want to buy more of your work or have somebody who admires it they have your details readily to hand!

tam said...

Thank you, Katherine! Great suggestions.

Sometimes my "prints" are not exact replicas of my paintings. If I digitally, or physically enhance, adapt, or change the painting, do I still refer to it as a "reproduction"?

For example, I have a few pieces where I've digitally removed the entire background and replaced it with wood grain. These ones are popular. I sell "copies" of these, they are not one of a kind.

Also, for one shop, I physically mount my "prints" onto real wood, sand them off, and then use mixed media to highlight some of the details (eg acrylic paint for a new textured background), then varnish. I have been referring to these as "Art Blocks", since they are one of a kind (but based off of a reproduction). I have noticed at some of the markets there are artists selling cheaply made "art blocks" that have been mounted by machine: I am hesitant to continue calling my wood-block-reproductions-enhancements-moslty-made-by-hand "art blocks" since they are not cheap reproductions, and take me a considerable amount of time to create.

I must admit, I am confused by what to call my "reproduced" and "partially reproduced" work.

I'd like to avoid suggesting that my "prints/reproductions" are something they are not, but at the same time I'd like to use the proper terminology to describe them for what they are, and be able to market them correctly. I spent many dedicated days a week making these "prints" and it is a large part of my business. I am able to explain the whole story about how I make them if I sell in person, however most of my selling is online or at a shop, and I'd like to properly, and concisely, convey what my "reproductions/prints/copies/adaptations" are in written form.

Thanks for your insight!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Hi Tam - I'm sorry, I don't have any recommendations for you.

I think so long as you describe them honestly then you should be fine.

The difficulties arise for artists who create reproductions and then add some detailing on top in paint - and then call them 'originals'. I seem to recall that quite a few of the Thomas Kinkade works made in this way led to a major dent in his reputation.

Susan Herbst said...

This is very helpful information, BUT, often when you do a monotype, there's enough to make one more (ghost image). Depending on the quality, this is a nice print too (maybe). So how do you go about signing each?
Is is correct to say monotype, 1/2? and 2/2?
What if instead of signing the second print, you decide to perhaps go back and enhance/redefine/repaint/etc? That truly makes it a new artwork. Is the first pull then 1/1 and the second is monotype/mixed media?
Do you see my conundrum?
Thank for your help.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I do indeed and I'm not sure what the answer is. My feeling is that a ghost print which is then reinforced is an independent work of art rather than a print.

Susan Herbst said...

OK so 2 unenhanced mono prints would be 1/2 & 2/2
But if you enhance then there is no need to consider it part of the series.
Got it.

Sarah Humby said...

I'm also making a series of monotypes. They are small (10cm x 10cm) and I have decided not to clutter up the clean space with a title (also my handwriting is not pretty) so I am just signing in the bottom right. I feel I should write 1/1 in the left hand but I hate the way it looks in my writing and would prefer to leave it out as a monotype is a one off by definition but should I really anyway? Or does it just not matter much? I wouldnt sign them either if I could get away with it but I realise its important and I want people to know its my work.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I can't find a clear answer as to how to sign a monoprint. I suspect there are a number of practices.

So far as a monotype is concerned, essentially they are just like any other artwork. There's only one of them and we don't go around labelling unique paintings and drawings with 1/1.

If the ghost of a monotype is used to create another monoprint, then a decision needs to be made about whether you have two very similar prints which could be confused or one unique work and another 'underprint' for another different work e.g. if colour or something else is added on top.

So not so much one simple answer as an "it all depends" and "use your own judgement" as to the purpose behind indicating a series.

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