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What is an edition?

What do the numbers signed in pencil below a print mean? Is 1/10 better than 2/10? Are prints original works of art?

Edition tex below a woodcut print

An edition is a set of prints made from the same block or plate. Most editions are “closed” or “limited”, meaning the artist has made x number of prints and promises to never make any more. Sometimes the artist will destroy the block or plate to prove the point. But there are also "open" editions where no such promise is made.

I almost always make closed editions. For example, I printed ten of the image shown below. I numbered them 1/10, 2/10, 3/10, etc., along with my signature, the name of the print, and the date. I chose to make one additional print labeled A/P. This stands for Artist’s Proof, and its a copy that I intend to keep for myself.

Editioning a woodcut print

1/10 is not more or less valuable than 10/10, they are all worth the same. All prints in an edition are supposed to be exactly the same. However, they are also all made by hand, so that’s not exactly true, and it’s up to each artist to decide what degree of variance they are comfortable with in an edition. Any impressions that don’t conform to that degree of sameness are discarded.

The terms "limited edition" and "original artwork" are linked, but these two things are not the same.

Many artists make limited edition prints of their paintings. These are created by photographing the painting and making digital prints of it on paper, canvas, or some other material. "Giclee" refers to a specific version of this process. These prints may be of very high quality, but they are not considered original works of art; they are reproductions.

The art that I make are prints, but unlike photographed or scanned copies of paintings and drawings, each print is considered an original artwork, not a reproduction. This is because I printed them by hand, and because the printing process itself is integral, not incidental, to the image that results. The wood block that I carve is not the artwork, it's the means of producing the artwork—the prints.

You can learn more about this particular print here.


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