Printmaking 101: Hand Pulled vs. Digital

"Flight" Photogravure and Etching, by Jenny Freestone

Here at WPG, we focus on contemporary, artist-pulled prints.  We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about giclée prints and whether or not our prints are actually “fine art prints” or “one of a kind,” not “reproductions.”  All of these are valid questions, as the lines between these definitions continue to blur with modern printmaking processes.  Consider this your introduction:

"Tulip Tango," by Nina Muys, Carbogravure, 25x19 in, 2005

In the most basic, think of hand-pulled prints like a set of twins (or triplets or quadruplets, etc).  All are originals, even though they may look exactly the same.  Digital prints and reproduction prints are like photographs of a person, totally different from having a twin.

To go into a little more detail, hand-pulled prints involve a certain amount of physical labor not found in digital prints.  Usually, this means a plate or stone with the original image was inked by a person and then run through a press, a person pulled a squeegee full of ink over an original screened image, or a block of wood was hand-printed when a person used a barren or similar device to rub the ink onto the paper.  As you can see with these examples, a person was needed to do the physical work of the printing.

"Ella," linocut by Edward McCluney

Digital prints do not need a person to do the physical work of the printing, unless you count hitting the “print” button.  All digital prints come out of a printer.  Some of these are dubbed “artist quality,” printed on archival paper with archival inks.  Some artists do create original digital files or photographs that can be printed in limited editions, and thus be considered a fine art print, but mostly these prints are reproductions of paintings or other works of art.  Also don’t be fooled by the word”Giclée,” (technically pronounced zhee-clay but also commonly pronounced gee-clay) which is just another word for artist-quality digital printmaking.  Just because something is a giclée print does NOT mean it is an original print–many people use giclee printing to get quality reproductions.

"Eve II" by Lila Oliver Asher, linocut, 25x26 in

But back to hand-pulled printmaking–we want to make one more important distinction about the prints we show, which are artist-pulled.  This means the artist that created the original matrix (the matrix being the plate, screen, stone, or wood-carved image) also printed it.  We do have some rare exceptions, but for the most part, it holds true.  Don’t, however, be put off by prints that are not artist-pulled.  Many artists, printmakers and non-printmakers alike, create a matrix and then have editions pulled by master printers–people who work very hard at learning specific techniques and who are skilled at getting the most out of their medium and can create beautiful, original, hand-pulled prints!

In summary–yes, WPG is a fine art gallery.  Yes, we exhibit only prints, but these are all original prints, pulled by the artist.  And yes, the prints shown in this entr are all original works of art, as are all the prints at the gallery.


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