Highlights of Thirty-Five Years
The 1970s
Figuration and Its Meaning
Conceptual Art and Its Affinities
The 1990s
Diebenkorn and Cage

Introduction | Printmaking Techniques


In 1962, Kathan Brown set up her first print workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area to create her own etchings and to print those of friends. In this community studio, Crown Point Intaglio Workshop, later called Crown Point Press, artists congregated to share ideas and equipment. There Brown introduced etching techniques she had learned during graduate study in London. Eventually, Brown began publishing prints by artists such as Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud, whom she admired, and in the 1970s she also printed for other publishers.

The development of Crown Point Press coincided with a burst of interest in collaborative printmaking between painters, sculptors, and other artists, and the skilled printers who produced editions of multiple original impressions. This approach has been embraced by artists interested in achieving effects available only in printmaking, but who eschew the repetitive work of edition printing. Crown Point has also distinguished itself by introducing printmaking to conceptual, installation, and performance artists.

Brown's early commitment solely to etching was unusual in the early 1960s, when most collaborative workshops specialized in lithography and screenprinting. Between 1982 and 1994, she also published woodcuts. Inspired by her love of travel and a fascination with Eastern philosophy, Brown invited artists to explore woodcut traditions that married avant-garde Western ideas to ancient Asian techniques.

Approximately one hundred artists have created twelve hundred etchings and woodcuts for publication by Crown Point Press, including several landmarks of late twentieth-century printmaking. A selection is included in this exhibition. Except where noted, all prints are Crown Point Press publications.

Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press has been jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which houses the primary Crown Point Press archive of publications from 1962 to the present, and the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery has recently acquired Kathan Brown's private collection of OK to Print proofs for prints dating from 1977 to the present. OK to Print proofs are the artists' authorizations for the editions, and they act as the standard to be matched by all subsequent impressions. They often are enhanced by printing directions and other inscriptions by the artist and/or printer, and may show pin holes and ink smudges that result from the printing process.

Introduction | Printmaking Techniques 

Printmaking Techniques

Of the four major printmaking processes -- intaglio, relief, lithography, and stencil -- Crown Point Press has pursued the two oldest: intaglio and relief. These employ traditions that have evolved over many hundreds of years.

Crown Point's emphasis has been on intaglio, a process in which the artist embeds an image in metal (usually copper) for printing. Intaglio methods include hardground and softground etching, which produce lines, and various aquatint methods, which employ granular acid resists to yield areas of tone. All require portions of the plate to be removed, eaten away or "etched" by acid.

Intaglio also includes drypoint, engraving, and mezzotint, methods that require direct physical action on the metal using such tools as needles, burins and gravers, rockers and roulettes, each of which yields a distinctive mark. Photo-sensitive materials and processes are also used to create intaglio images.

To print an intaglio plate, printers force ink into the grooves of the metal (whether etched or physically incised) for transfer to paper under immense pressure from an etching press. Multicolor prints usually require multiple plates, each carrying a part of the image.

Relief printing at Crown Point Press engaged the ancient woodcut techniques practiced in Japan and China. Artists' watercolors were sent to specialized woodblock cutters as models for carving the multiple blocks that carried the multicolored images. Printers then inked the relief or raised surfaces of the blocks, those parts that had not been carved away. Thus, relief printing is the opposite of intaglio printing.

The water-based inks used in the Asian woodcut tradition are transparent, yielding delicate surfaces in contrast to those of the western woodcut tradition that calls for denser oil-based inks. Images are transferred to paper, or, in China, sometimes silk, by pressure from a hand-held tool rather than a press.

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