Talk like an Art Head: The Artist’s Proof


Guarding the Post

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Ron Lawson’s evocative paintings of the Scottish highlands. But when I first started working at Eduardo Alessandro Studios, I was so focused on selling them that I didn’t consider for a moment buying one myself.

Then one day the last copy of my favourite print was whisked out of the gallery under the arm of a very satisfied customer. You see, she knew she had bought the last copy – I had told her. I believe my words had been: “That one’s my favourite, and it’s our last copy, so you better snatch it up.”

Clever woman that she was, she took my advice and walked out of the gallery with what I considered Ron’s finest work – a sheep standing next to a postbox.

Come on, Ron doesn’t get much better than that! Brooding sky, stoic sheep, quaint red postbox – all brought together under the wonderfully humorous title, Guarding the Post.

I loved this little guard sheep, and now it was gone. I was too good at my job, it seemed, and had foolishly given up the prize.

The next day, I was still brooding over my loss. “They’re all sold out,” I lamented to my colleague.

“You know, sometimes there are a few Artist’s Proofs left you might be able to buy,” she suggested helpfully.

Artist WHAT?

“Before an edition is officially published, a few Artist’s Proofs are printed to test the printer.”

It turns out that these first copies aren’t included in the limited edition and are sometimes sold only after an edition has sold out.

Hope welled up inside of me. Might it be possible after all? To own a Ron Lawson print, a guard sheep and a quaint red postbox?

Imagine my elation later that week as I proudly strutted out of the gallery with my very own copy of Guarding the Post gripped tightly under my arm. This was a momentous occasion for me. I had never made such a purchase before, previously spending at most a few pounds on a poster. Now, I had been thrust into the world of art collectors, owning not only a limited edition print but an Artist’s Proof at that!

On the bus ride home, I felt as though I held an elevated position above everyone else, for I now owned an exclusive Ron Lawson print! (Okay, so it helped that I was sitting at the top front of a double decker bus.)

But now that I was an art collector (or so fancied myself), I had an Art Head responsibility to know more about the Artist’s Proof. Anyway, the history geek inside me needed to know!

So when I got home I sat the guard sheep down in its very own armchair, before hanging it, and did a little research.

Similar to a Remarque, Artist’s Proofs were originally pulled from the printing press at different stages of production for the artist to inspect. Rembrandt, for example, owned his own printing press and made numerous proofs of an etching at different stages in the printing process. He would even return to earlier proofs and rework them after he had published and sold a finished print.

Because Artist’s Proofs were pulled early in production, colours and lines were more vivid, creating more vibrant prints and adding to their value. With today’s technology, artist’s proofs are identical to the rest of an edition but are still considered more valuable because they come directly from the artist. When a print is published, about 10% of the prints are given to the artist, making them literally the “Artist’s Proof.” Occasionally these proofs are also given to the printer (which is perhaps where I got lucky since Eduardo Alessandro Studios publishes Ron’s work!)

Slowly I was becoming an Art Head and coming to understand the history of printing. Before I unveil my treatise on the history of etching, however, there are a few more terms I need to get my head around. Next time we’ll tackle the giclée.

Until then, I’ll nurse a glass of wine as I gaze at my Ron Lawson Artist’s Proof, marvelling at my leap from poster enthusiast to aspiring art collector!