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Top tips for buying prints

Karen Demuth

When it comes to starting a personal art collection on a budget, the limited edition fine art print market is a good place to begin, says Karen Demuth, Head of Graphics at Flowers Gallery, London.

Collecting is an incredibly rewarding experience, but knowing what to invest in when you’re starting out can be a challenge. Purchasing affordable works by graduates at their degree shows or from emerging artists can be a good entry into the world of collecting, but offers little in the way of security and demands a seasoned eye for new talent. Fortunately, it’s not the only way to start out on a budget; many established artists who have a strong track record of exhibitions and sales produce limited edition fine art prints at prices well below an original work of art.

I have always thought that the prints market is an exciting place to invest. Even in the originals market, works on paper have traditionally been very keenly priced, making watercolours much more attractive to new investors on a smaller budget than oil on canvas. Within the lesser known area of limited edition prints, there are some wonderful pieces being produced by well-known artists that are still very affordable.

Choose a print that you love
I always advise new collectors that first of all you have to love what you buy. It should speak to you personally, and stay with you long after you leave the gallery. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and I’ve come to realize that fashions change, which is probably a good thing, but I certainly wouldn’t follow trends.
Prints can be created by artists who usually work in a variety of different materials, so there is a good chance that one of your favourite artists may have created a print at one time or another. For instance a sculptor may make prints because he or she wants to experiment with new ideas quickly and on a smaller scale. Over the years, Flowers has introduced a number of artists to printmaking who had never done it before, like award-winning painter Tai-Shan Schierenberg, and Royal Academician Stephen Chambers, who is now very well known for his prints.

Get help from the professionals
Developing an eye for quality is something that emerges over time through sustained looking, which is why galleries play a crucial role in helping collectors to discover what’s right for them. The staff will have spent all of their professional life looking at art, developing their knowledge of what is good and what will have lasting value. Behind the scenes, they will also be helping to secure that future, by ensuring that the artist is being shown in the right environment, exhibiting abroad and at art fairs, and included in current museum exhibitions. I recommend finding a gallery contact that you get on well with and spending time to build a relationship. Once the gallery knows what you like, you’ll always be front of mind when something interesting becomes available.

Visit the Print Fairs
The number of art fairs devoted to prints, multiples and works on paper demonstrates the increasing interest in this area of collecting. Flowers has just participated at Multiplied, a new fair put on by Christie’s during Frieze week, which was fantastic. Some fairs specialise solely in prints, such as the London Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy, which attracts very knowledgeable buyers (next on in April 2015), and the New York Print Fair, which has just taken place this November. You can find out about other international fairs here: http://www.ifpda.org/
Galleries edit what they present at a fair – you won’t get to see all of the work available, because no one wants their stand to look too cluttered. However, it’s a great chance to meet a broad selection of galleries and get a sense of the work they represent.

Choose from Small Editions
Steer clear of big editions and ensure that the size of that edition has been determined before the purchase. I believe very strongly in advising artists to keep their numbers low, because it’s wonderful for everyone, including the investor, when a print sells out!
There are very tight rules for editions. The artist decides from the outset the number of prints they’re going to make. An artist or gallery can’t decide afterwards to increase the number because the sales are doing terribly well – once the edition is confirmed, that’s it. There is usually an additional 10% called the artist’s copies or proofs, which they are at liberty to keep, sell privately, or gift to museums.
Usually all of the prints are the same, although some artists, for example Tom Hammick, may make the creative decision to make variable prints within the edition, which is part of what makes his work so extraordinary. However, contrary to what some people may think, there is usually no difference in quality between #1, #2, #3, #50 or the artist’s proof.
The exception to all of this is the monoprint. The joy of a monoprint is that the artist only makes one print. This of course means that they are often more expensive because they are unique, so it really depends on your budget whether they are for you. Once the artist has made the decision to make a monoprint, he or she can’t go back on that decision and reproduce it in any other way – there can be only ever be one.

Buy early
Editioned prints don’t set out to be expensive, but they may end up that way. The prices should, and do, go up as the edition starts to get sold off, therefore I would certainly encourage an investor to get in there early. We’ve found that some prints have become relatively expensive, although they didn’t start out like that.

Make sure your print is an authentic edition
An authentic edition will be signed and numbered. Even artists that don’t like signing their work will sign and number a print. If either of these things are missing, I would certainly ask questions.
Very occasionally, something strange appears. For instance, a throwaway piece that an artist did on the back of an envelope may end up in an auction house. A good gallery will have a close relationship with the artist, and will be able to find out directly where it comes from and verify its value.

Conserve your print carefully
Galleries will always give advice on framing, and usually work closely with a professional framer. A lot of people prefer to buy their prints unframed as the choice is usually very personal. If you arrange for your own framing, it is important to check that they use conservation grade materials to fix the print within the frame. To store prints safely is very simple – they should be laid flat, wrapped between acid-free tissue paper and placed in a drawer out of the light. A print should only ever be rolled for transportation home from the gallery and not for storage.

What I wish I’d bought:
I still love everything that I’ve bought over the years, it’s the things that I didn’t buy that I regret. There are some beautiful Michael Rothensteins that I overlooked originally, and now I really wish I owned them.

What I’d recommend now:
This year we had a lot of interest in new works by Carol Robertson at the fairs. It’s exciting when quiet works like her Edzná series, which are all about light and sensitivity to the landscape, can make an impact in the busy environment of a fair. It’s a real credit to the work.

The Print Show is a new exhibition featuring limited edition prints by gallery artists at Flowers Gallery, Cork Street. The exhibition runs until January 3, 2015. www.flowersgallery.com

Flowers Graphics from left Barbara Bosi Imogen Wright Karen Demuth Photo Credit Antonio Parente Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

Flowers Graphics from left Barbara Bosi Imogen Wright Karen Demuth Photo Credit Antonio Parente Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

This article was written by Karen Demuth, Head of Graphics at Flowers Gallery, London.

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