Aviation Art has become one of the hottest sectors among fine art print collectors around the world. It is not unusual for a popular limited edition print by a leading artist published at around $150 in the mid-1980’s to change hands today above $4,000. There are some fascinating reasons for this which, if you are a military buff, you should know about.
The phenomenal growth in collecting aviation art prints has been driven largely by the massive interest in all aspects of the Second World War – a cataclysmic period in world history and one of great fascination to aviation enthusiasts. This interest, stronger today than ever, has spawned a thriving art industry as an ever-increasing number of aficionados collect paintings and prints depicting scenes from the greatest military conflict of all time. Heading the field by some measure is aviation art.
Limited Editions – the concept of creating rarity by restricting the number of prints made from an artist’s painting – have long been a magnet to art collectors. Backing one’s judgement by selecting the right artist, choosing the right image and watching the collection appreciate in value over time adds a thrill to the enjoyment gained by owning appealing print images. It’s this dual excitement that has driven the limited edition art industry for more than half a century.
Most artists are inclined to paint within specific topic areas such as landscape, wildlife, maritime, equestrian, and so on – categories known in the art world as ‘genres’. Because those who collect prints within a specific genre are generally passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, it is not difficult for these collectors to recognise which artist is worth collecting and which is not. This particularly applies to the subject of aviation art, the genre I know best, where the artist has the difficult task of combining technical and historical accuracy with artistic flair.
When buying aviation art prints, or any other topic for that matter, there are a few important things to consider: Foremost, it’s essential to choose only images you like and are going to enjoy. The personal attraction of a particular artist’s work, whether he or she is well-known or not, should always be considered before any investment potential you believe the art may offer. The pure enjoyment of art must always come first!
Many like to start out collecting the work of artists already well-known in their chosen genre, even though these prints usually cost more to buy. But it can be great fun to discover and collect the work of little-known painters whose work attracts you. Countless astute print collectors have recognised a young artist’s talent early in their career and later benefitted greatly from acquiring their work before they became famous.
Though a few artists publish themselves, generally limited edition prints are produced by established, reputable fine art publishers who understand the importance of using art grade acid-free papers, light-fast inks, and choice of the printing technique best suited to the artist’s work. These publishers also rigidly control the size of editions thus providing the degree of rarity essential to collectors.
Large editions are printed using the traditional lithographic process where the image is made up of tiny ink dots. These roll off big presses and prints are trimmed into edition sizes ranging anywhere between 500 and 850 prints – the latter being the maximum number recommended by the Fine Art Trade Guild.
Recently, due to the advance in new digital printing methods, small editions have become popular with collectors looking for greater degrees of rarity. Using a process known as glicee printing, artists’ paintings are reproduced, one by one, either on paper or canvas, using specially prepared light-fast inks applied as solid colour. The technique is so refined that a glicee print is difficult to distinguish from the original. Whereas with the litho process, where only large editions are viable, very small, sometimes tiny glicee editions are now available giving collectors a level of exclusivity they could only have dreamed of just a few years ago.
As with other genres, limited edition prints have become very popular among collectors of aviation art today, but it was not always so. While paintings of aircraft have been around since the dawn of flight, nobody had considered there was sufficient interest in aviation art to warrant the high cost of making prints till my company started publishing aviation subject prints in the mid-1970’s.
Focussing on the World War Two era, a period when there were infinitely more aircraft types designed and flying than at any other time in history, we introduced the idea of adding the signatures of pilots and aircrews to our aviation prints. This novel approach added historical value to the prints, caught the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and was largely instrumental in the growth of the aviation art genre.
Thirty years ago ours was the only aviation art publishing business, and you could hardly find a gallery that would stock an aviation art print on either side of the Atlantic. Happily, today there are publishers and galleries that deal in nothing else.
Whether your interest is aviation, wildlife, architecture, or any one of scores of other art genres, you will find collecting fine art limited edition prints by your favourite artists provides immense pleasure, and sometimes present an investment return that may surprise you! As art connoisseur Michael Craig said “Art on your wall is more fun than money in the bank”.