Sunday, 7 February 2016

Just a print

Last Christmas I sent tiny etchings to some of my friends and family; each one was a numbered and signed print from a limited edition of 50. Most thanked me for their print but a couple thanked me for their 'card'. I smiled and nodded and fought back the temptation to ask anxiously if they had dropped it in the Christmas card recycling point at the supermarket, or cut it up to make a tag for next year's wrapping. How could I correct them without sounding like a bossy teacher or an over-sensitive artist? Finally one lovely friend phoned and gave effusive thanks and said she would treasure her little robin as a "Jane Duke original", but then corrected herself and said "... of course I know it's not really an original, but it is to me".
"No, no" I replied, "it is an original."
"Really?" she said, surprised and delighted, "Oh I thought it was just a print!"

Drypoint etching 6 x 6 cm

It's easy to see why there is confusion; despite having one of the richest vocabularies in the world, the English language still uses the same word to mean an original piece of art hand created by the artist and a scanned reproduction of an image run off on a machine. The problem has been exacerbated since the 1990s by artists selling giclée (inkjet) reproductions of their paintings as 'limited edition prints'. You can hardly blame the non-artist public for not immediately making the distinction. So what are printmakers to do to protect our craft? We can sulk and stamp and weep or we can quietly, determinedly and politely make it possible for people to see and understand what we do.

I enjoy giving short demonstrations at art events and in my studio during the York Open Studios weekends, and I also have leaflets on my stand at art shows, explaining the processes. I post step by step demos and photos of work in progress here on the blog and I have put a printmaking guide and a glossary of terms on my website. And then of course I also teach workshops for those who are curious enough to want to try for themselves.

I've now taken another step, and after wrestling with self consciousness and fear of making a hash of it, I stuck my phone in a clamp, switched on the camera and made my first YouTube video. Appropriately perhaps, it shows the making of that little Robin etching which was given out at Christmas and which brought some misunderstandings to light. I'd love you to watch it if you have 5 minutes.

Now I've made this leap I will be making more of these videos. I hope they help to spread the word about what printmaking is, on behalf of all printmakers whose work is so much more than 'just a print'.

At the time of writing the remaining 'Robin' prints in the edition can be purchased in my shop


  1. Fabulous!! I followed the link to this from a re-tweet and am so pleased I did. Hope your friends appreciated their "prints" next time!!

  2. If I were to use the phrase "just a print", I would be referring to a machine-printed giclee-print, but I can quite see how the confusion arises.
    I went to an exhibition of Escher prints a little while ago and was completely blown away by the technical skill demonstrated as well as the originality of the vision expressed. Given the limitations of the techniques I'm, if anything, more impressed by artist-printmakers than by painters...!

  3. That was very interesting, I had no idea you could apply more than 1 colour per printing. I thought you had to do each colour separate and line them up. Nicely made little video Jane.

    1. Thanks Peter :). The separate colours/lining up is typically a feature of relief printing where each colour will be on a different block (or the same block after more carving) - though just to confuse the issue you can ink relief blocks with multiple colours too. With etchings though it's not uncommon to apply more than one colour at once, and in collagraphs it's pretty much essential.

  4. Excellent post and video, have shared on Facebook. x

  5. I know nothing of art or art pursuits but I love the Robin, I miss them very much. We have them here in Tasmania, but not the same.
    So pleased to have come across this on Twitter

    1. Thank you Bec - but what a shame you don't get to see these little chaps in your garden.


I love to hear people's thoughts on this blog, but there may be a short delay before your comment appears publicly. Thanks for your patience.