Artists’ signatures are a big part of the way our art history and market function. A signature is always one piece in a larger puzzle, but a piece which can make or break the validity and the value of an artwork. This is a topic that I could spend hours on. In light of the fact that it is a major component I have chosen to split the topic up for various media so as to make it more easily digestible. So this blog is on the convention around signatures and printing. There are different ways of signing works depending upon the medium used.
- Use a sharp pencil
- Only sign the fine art print if you are happy with its quality
- Sign a limited edition print near the bottom right hand edge of the
- Mark the edition number and the edition size on the bottom left hand side (eg #5 /25 indicates the fifth print of a limited edition of 25 and that no more prints will be made)
- Title if appropriate – in between the signature and the edition number
- Sign any artwork which is to be reproduced as a giclee within the image to be reproduced (i.e. it’s best to avoid being accused of trying to imitate limited edition prints. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with giclee prints but they’re not the same as fine art prints which are hand-pulled)
- Use a monogram if you want to be traditional. The practice of signing prints with names is relatively recent.
- Sign using a pen. It makes the work more vulnerable to fraud as signatures can be printed – but pencil can’t!
- Sign if you are unhappy with the print
- Sign prints which are not hand-pulled and/or are unlimited editions of a reproduction in the same way as a limited edition fine art print. The convention to maintain the distinction between these two different sorts of prints is that
- limited edition fine art prints are signed and
- unlimited reproduction prints are NOT signed outside the image in a way which mimics the limited edition print
- DO NOT sign blank sheets of paper. Signing blank pieces of paper occurs when the economic value of the print lies in the signature. Certain artists (eg Dali) are well known for having done this in the past, which has led to the undermining of the secondary market for their prints.
Types of Prints: (information from angusfisherarts.com)
“An ‘edition’ of a print is a limited set of identical prints made from the same plate.
Editioned prints must be identical. If there is a discrepancy in quality, ink colour or even the paper is changed these prints should not be considered part of the edition.
Editions are labeled with the particular print number then a slash (/) then the number of total prints in the edition.
Eg. 1/10 – print number 1 from a total of 10 identical prints.
35/75 – print number 35 from a total of 75 identical prints.
As well as printing a numbered edition there are several other conventions that allow artists to label their prints to convey different meanings. These labels simply go in place of where the edition number would be (under the bottom left edge of the plate.)
A/P (Artist’s Proof) – Originally the artist was able to pull a number of prints out with their edition for personal use (e.g. if the edition was being retained by an agent). These are normally printed at the same time as the edition, are of the same high standard, and number up to 10% of the edition size.
B.A.T (Bon a Tirer) – The first perfect print to be pulled from the matrix is signed as the B.A.T. (good to pull). The edition and artist’s proofs are then matched up to this as it is printed. The B.A.T. usually remains the property of the editioning atelier.
T/P (Trial proof) – These prints are pulled to assess the development of an image. They are marked as trial proofs as they indicate the unfinished progress of a work. They can be worth large sums if they land on the market as they show an insight into the artists working methods.
S/P ( State Proof) – This is the general term covering all working proofs. It can refer more specifically to trial proofs being reworked after an image has been editioned.
H/C (Hors Commerce) – These prints are not for sale but are marked for commercial/business use such as display or promotion. They do not have to be signed by the artist
C/P (Cancellation print) – When the edition has been printed, the plate is defaced in such a way that it cannot be reprinted in the original manner. Often a print is pulled with a large score across the plate and is signed as the cancellation print.
Monoprint or monotype – This refers to the technique of printing a single painted image from a silkscreen or non porous surface such as a sheet of glass, metal or styrene. In either case, the print is unique and cannot be editioned.
U/P (Unique Print), U/S (Unique State), V/E (Variable Edition) – These labels all refer to the print being unique or containing unique elements that cannot be exactly reproduced in another pulling. These three labels are probably best replaced with using the simple convention 1/1 (edition of 1)
Imp. – From the Latin “impressit” which means “has printed”. An artist who has printed his or her own work may write this after their signature.
These are just some of the different labels that can be used when signing original prints. It is also worth being aware that conventions may vary in different countries.”