Making Limited Edition Prints: it’s not your typical print

When people meet me and find out I am an artist, they usually ask: “What kind of artist are you? Do you paint?”

While I am an artist who creates in a lot of mediums (and I do paint), one of my favourite ways of creating lately – block printing – is becoming a consuming passion. So much so, that I now often introduce myself as a “printmaker”. I find, though, people are not really sure what a printmaker is.

There are many different ways to create as a printmaker. Maybe that’s why it can be a bit confusing to explain. In its essence, my form of printmaking is a process where I transfer an original design or drawing onto a flat surface (in my case a “block” of wood or linoleum – thus the name “block printing”), then carve the design out of that surface, then ink the flat surface and make multiple art prints from it. This process results in “limited edition prints” or “original art prints”.

Linda Cote-Magpie Listening

“Magpie Listening” is my first print series to sell out: there no more prints available to buy.

The prints I make are not mass-produced. You have likely seen mass-produced “editions” of an original piece of artwork. The piece is reproduced digitally (scanned or photographed) then printed by a press or a special digital process that results in a high quality edition of the original, but in a limited number.

Technology today even makes it possible to print these art pieces on a canvas-like material.  Some “edition prints” (even in poster form) can be hand-signed by the artist, and can be lovely pieces to own. I have a number in my house that are reproductions of artists I admire. It is a popular way to offer works of art to the mass market for less than the original piece would cost. This, however, is not my process when it comes to block printing.

In my process, I create the original block, then hand-pull prints myself…every time. I handle each sheet of paper individually by hand, and make the art print impression by pressing it against the inked surface. (If you are a visual learner, a picture description of this process follows.)

My “limited edition” means that I only create a finite set of prints from one original block – usually around 30, and sometimes as few as 6 or 8 prints. While each print is roughly the same print, there are slight variations between each one because it is a hand process, not a mechanical one.

The original block is scored so that it cannot be printed from again.

This is truly what makes each one an individual work of art. Once the series of prints are hand-printed, the block is scored in some way so it cannot be printed again, and therefore the edition is “limited” to those art prints created in that original edition of prints.

Each art print is numbered in a sequence (say 1/12, which means the first print in a series of twelve), and each is signed by me. There are usually between two to five prints I save for my archive, and these are marked A/P for Artist’s Proof (AP prints generally constitute 10% of the total edition). These are kept by me (and rarely sold) so that I have an original sample of all the prints I make.

Limited Edition Block Print showing numbering, title and signature.

A Limited Edition Print is priced higher than a photocopied or digitally-reproduced copy of my work because you are buying an original handmade art print. I like to call them “multiple originals”. The value of these prints is that there are only so many in the series, and once all the prints are sold, no more will ever be printed.

This has just occurred with my “Magpie Listening” print. This series is now “retired” so there are only 15 people who own a print, plus my three artist proofs. The block has been cross-hatched so it cannot be printed at a later date.

Since I am a visual person (and a picture is worth a thousand words) I have included below a walk-through of my process for my Limited Edition Block Print entitled “Urban Bunny”.

Step 1: The design is sketched onto tracing paper so I can transfer it in reverse on the block.

Step 2: Using the tracing paper, the rough outline is transferred to my medium. This time, I am using an artist’s rubber.

Step 3: The image begins to take shape. It’s still difficult at this stage because you are carving white on white.

Step 4: More detail is carved out of the block. Note the image must be cut in reverse so that it prints “right way around”.

Step 5: Detail is checked to see if there are any final changes.

Step 6: Special permanent printer’s ink is squeezed onto a glass plate to spread onto the brayer/roller.

Step 7: Ink is rolled on the glass plate to create a very thin, very smooth coverage on the brayer.

Step 8: Once the brayer/roller is covered evenly with ink, it’s rolled onto the block in a thin layer, evenly distributed. This is the exciting part because I get to see, for the first time, what I have created.

Step 9: The paper is laid very carefully on the inked, wet block, then pressed gently with a burnisher.

Step 10: The back of the paper is gently rubbed by a burnisher made for this purpose (you can see the image through the paper).

Step 11 (Part One): The paper is carefully peeled back from the block. Any unintended movement at this stage can easily smudge the still-wet ink!

Step 11 (Part Two): The paper is carefully peeled back a little more.

Step 12: The full print is revealed and checked for quality.

Step 13: Each print, created by hand, is attached to my clothesline to dry without smudging.

Step 14: The prints are hung to dry for at least a few days; more often a week.

The final print of “Urban Bunny”: numbered, titled and signed.

3 responses to “Making Limited Edition Prints: it’s not your typical print

    • Thank you so much! I am definitely lucky to have a beautiful studio space to create. I appreciate your comments about my art…detail and simplicity are things I strive for! Your artwork is also so lovely. The flower drawings are so delicate!

  1. Pingback: Happy Hoppin’ Easter! | Musings From The Studio·

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