Home > A closer look > What exactly is an artist’s proof?
What exactly is an artist’s proof?
A closer look 27 Feb 2023

What exactly is an artist’s proof?

Like any other commercial industry, the art world comes with its own jargon and sector-specific terminology. The novice art collector may well find this confusing in the first instance! Yet as we shall soon discover, these terms help us navigate the contemporary art market and aid us in our quest to make prudent and valuable artwork investments. Today, Artsper is here to break down one of the key terms in print collecting: the “artist’s proof,” or as you may have heard it referred to by its French name, “l’épreuve d’artiste.”

Understanding the art of printmaking

Keith Haring, Pop Shop II (1), 1987 © Artsper
Keith Haring, Pop Shop II (1), 1987 © Artsper

The “AP” is a term which exclusively refers to printmaking. Therefore, it’s important to understand, at least in purely mechanical terms, how printmaking actually works. In short, printmaking is an artistic method which transfers images from a template onto another surface, and these can vary from papers to different types of fabrics. The template used for a printwork can be shaped however the artist desires. They might etch the outline of a landscape, they might carve a portrait into a lino template. Ink is then applied to the template and the image is transferred onto another surface. This is either by hand, machine, or screen.

Moreover the benefit to printmaking, aside from the aesthetic value of printwork, is that copies of the artwork can be produced en masse from one singular template. Naturally, the shape of the template dictates the image that is transferred onto the other surface. While this may sound obvious to the learned print enthusiast, this is precisely the goal of the “artist’s proof.”

What exactly is an artist’s proof?

AP numbering system © S&P Gallery
Artist’s proof numbering system © S&P Gallery

To speak plainly, the artist’s proof is best understood as a test print, through which the artist can assess the quality of the print. Indeed, the artist can effectively ensure that there are no faults, or wear and tear in the template from which the image is printed. It is generally the first 10-15% of the prints which will form the artist’s proof. They will be numbered, and separated from the limited edition group. Conventionally, artist’s proof prints are not sold at once, but might perhaps be sold subsequently to the main collection.

Why does the artist’s proof print matter?

Hush, Duality Silver Edition of 3 (Artist Proof), 2018 © Artsper
artist's proof
Hush, Duality Silver Edition of 3 (Artist Proof), 2018 © Artsper

Now, this process is significant for a number of reasons. In the days of effective digital and mechanical prints, it is easier to ensure that all copies of the artwork are of the same high quality. However, in the early days of printmaking, the artist’s proof verified that the artwork had no faults from its very first print. However, artist’s proof pieces are now an attractive investment for art collectors. This is because they are often the highest quality prints, and therefore regarded as rarer. This is of course provided that there is indeed no fault in the template. In this way, faultless artist’s proof prints are regarded as rare pieces of art. Furthermore, they will often cost significantly more than a limited edition piece, and therefore represent a more valuable print work investment.

Artist’s proofs are an integral part of the artist’s creative process, they may be a slightly different version of the final version. They are usually kept by the artist or sold under certain conditions, which makes them all the more special.

Looking for some prints of your own?

Matías Sánchez, Matias Sánchez AP print, 2020 © Artsper
Matías Sánchez, Matias Sánchez artist proof print, 2020 © Artsper

And there you have it! A quick introduction to some key printmaking terminology. You now know how the artist’s proof can have a significant impact on the valuation of a printed artwork! Are you on the hunt for the perfect piece of printwork for your home? Take a look at the classically-inspired lithography prints of Alekos Fassianos, or discover our selection of etched prints!