Friday, February 28, 2014

What Makes an Edition?

One thing I'm learning about printmakers - they love a good discussion!  I belong to some very active printmaking groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and the conversations are fantastic!  

Recently, in my "Prints and Printmaking Enthusiasts" group on LinkedIn, someone began a discussion about editions and edition varies.  She asked, "I'm sure this has been covered before but how does one number linocuts that use the same plates but in a completely different colo(u)r?"

I'm so glad this question was asked - if it hadn't been, I would've started the conversation!  As a relative "newbie" printmaker, this is one of those queries that has had me guessing for a while.  Even better - the answers were all over the place!  

A little history - according to Wikipedia (which is by no means complete, but will do for the purpose of this post), an edition is "a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This is the meaning covered by this article. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears. Most modern artists produce only limited editions, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered as say 67/100 to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size."

In this definition, it doesn't mention anything about the variations of an edition.  That's why the conversation over at LinkedIn has been so enlightening!  For example - this week I finished an edition of 15 from a rubber print I carved back in October.  I've been stuck with the winter "blahs" lately (we've been hit SO hard this year) that I just wanted to finish something!!  Here is what transpired:

I printed three each of the five colors and then sewed a border around each in a corresponding thread color. I kept the edition to 15, because the "block" is disintegrating and in my opinion, no longer in printable condition.  Part of the issue was the fact that I had to wipe the block after every third print, to prepare for the next color.  I probably would've been able to get far more prints from the block if I had stuck with the original color (brown), but I like giving people a variety and it was really fun to do.  :)

Now, to some purists this would NOT be an edition!  Each color would've been its own edition and should be labeled as such.  And because it's a rubber block and not wood or linoleum, and I used pigment ink, these things may also play a factor as to whether or not it's a "true" edition.  Over on LinkedIn, however, the answers would be as varied as my prints!  Some people stick to the "rules", others don't care one lick.  I guess I'm somewhere in the middle.

To my mind, at least at this stage of the game, I don't think it matters.  I am not a master printmaker (yet), and these are just fun little prints for sale.  Regardless of whether I carve my block in rubber, lino or wood (and I have done all three), I will number my editions for the amount of (good) impressions I've printed, so that the buyer knows that I only did 15 prints total (I've already retired the block for good).  My main concerns are these - whether I enjoyed creating the prints, and hoping that people like what I create.  :)


  1. Hi Mel,
    I don't think the materials you use have anything to do with an edition. You could just number them as one edition, but you could put EV (edition variable) next to each number. I have created essentially two different series from a large lino block I've carved. I used the same block, but ran two entirely different color series. I just gave them different titles. and numbered them separately. They look entirely different. I figure if I am ever successful enough for experts to fight about this... then I have arrived.

    Very niice image! -- your middle green one makes me yearn for spring. (Ice coming our way tonight...)

  2. Great post Mel! I had wondered the same and have read different things. I sometimes like to take an image and ink then print on different papers. I think of those as different editions.