The confusion about the word PRINT

The confusion about the word PRINT

A Chronic…..


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I was approached last year by a young Mexican fellow who had visited our website. Basically, he was enquiring about the possibility of acquiring a work by a Cuban artist. Upon receiving the price, around $ 1,000 US Dollars, he replied that he had never paid more than $ 20 for a print. With due respect, he commented that he sought the price was ¨exaggerated¨ and apologized if he could not proceed with the purchase. I then embarked upon justifying the ¨high¨ price of the work, as I would absolutely hate to leave someone with the wrong impression about ourselves as a gallery.

I had immediately realized the fellow did not understand the concept of a print or, more specifically in this case, of an engraving. He hadn´t grasped the fact that there is a technical difference between the print we offered and the prints he had purchased for $ 20. Our product is an original hand made and hand produced work while his is a mere ¨xerox¨ reproduction he could easily get from any computor printer. So, what do I mean by ¨original hand made and hand produced work¨ he asked me?

The term print means to impress, through a mechanical process, the transfer of a text or an image, onto, say, a sheet of paper. Now this is a rather simplistic and incomplete explanation. So let´s start from the beginning.

Stage one: an artist creates an image on a sheet of metal by engraving it on the surface with the help of a needle, just as someone´s initials or coat of arms on a signet ring.

Stage two: the surface of the sheet of metal is covered with ink, then wiped clean just enough as to only leave the ink inside the groves ¨carved¨ to form the image the artist created.

Stage three: a sheet of paper is laid on top of the sheet of metal (the paper has previously been softly damped as to facilitate the absorption of the ink)

Stage four: the sheet of metal with the paper are passed under a heavy press, to ensure the ink is absorbed on the paper.

Stage five: the sheet of paper is delicately pulled up from the sheet of metal and hung for a few hours to allow the previously humidified paper to dry completely.

Then the artist will sign his work, number it and, if he feels like, write a title: all this in pencil.

This is a very simplified explanation of the processes of printing but I was hoping to explain in simple terms the very basics of the subject. There are other techiques in printing such as woodcut, aquatint, lithograph etc. But I would prefer to reserve this for another chat.

Yet my Mexican fellow was grateful for the ¨enlightment¨, even if, as he wryly said, he would think again about buying the print and might get in touch later.

Patience is a virtue …

Thank you for reading me.


François Valcke.

Manager and Curator.


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