Please note: the Library will close at 6PM on Wednesday, December 6th
due to a private Library function
Currently on Exhibition
Printmaking: Bringing Historic Processes to the Present
An Exhibition of Work from the Center for Contemporary Printmaking
Fall 2023 – Winter 2024
In its most basic form, printmaking is the process by which information on one surface is physically transferred to another surface, typically flat, and often paper. Its origins have roots in prehistoric cave paintings, for which the artist placed their hand against a cave wall to use as a stencil while blowing ground pigment across it through a hollow reed or bone, generating the earliest-known repeated image. By 500 BC, Sumerians were carving unique images into cylinder seals which were rolled onto wet clay, using them to indicate ownership of goods for trade.
The development of paper in China frequently parallels advances in printmaking as it provided less costly materials for distribution. The structure of paper is important in that it must withstand the printing process while being able to hold the ink. Around 105 CE, a court official named Ts’ai Lun combined mulberry plant fibers with other fibrous materials to create the earliest version of paper, which became widely used because it made books more affordable. Around 200 CE, scholarly texts were reproduced from carved surfaces through a rubbing transfer process using paper and silk.
During the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), the demand for larger quantities of religious texts and governmental documents increased. Moveable type was initially created by Bi Sheng out of clay in 1041, with more durable wooden moveable type and metal type developed by 1297. Screen printing was also invented in China at this time as a way of transferring images onto fabric. The ongoing evolution of printmaking accompanied the spread of knowledge as the process and materials made their way across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, transforming the world.
Printmaking made its way to Europe in the mid-13th century, likely introduced by the Mongol armies moving west along the Silk Road who brought it with them from the Uighurs. By the 1380s, printed goods such as playing cards, religious images, block books, and textiles appeared in Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and France. By 1450, Johannes Gutenberg had completed inventing the printing press in Strasbourg, introducing movable metal type in Europe and embarking on his printing of what has come to be known as the Gutenberg Bible, completed by 1454-1455.
The first major European artist-master printer was a German engraver known only as the Master of the Playing Cards, working between 1430 and 1450. Unlike many early engravers typically trained as goldsmiths or armorers, they used printmaking to create art, paving the way for others. Albrecht Dürer (b.1471), the most well-known artist of the German Renaissance, was a painter and printmaker who worked in the processes of etching and woodcut prints and greatly influenced the course of representational art across Europe.
Lithography was accidentally invented in Germany in 1798 by playwright Alois Senefelder, when he realized that he could reproduce his scripts by writing them on a piece of Bavarian limestone using a greasy crayon and then rolling over the surface with ink. This process was used by artists to produce fine art prints, such as those by Currier and Ives, but took another 68 years for it to become a commercially popular process.
Technological innovations in the 20th century saw an explosion of mass production in printing, from offset and color printing to different typesetting methods and computer composition. Mainstream print media, underground zines, political pamphlets, and fine art printing are still important cultural forces today. While technical innovations continue to evolve, artists have often become the ones who maintain continuity with historic processes, and even with the more recent commercial processes that quickly become technologically obsolete, tethering them to the contemporary moment via their ongoing art making practices.
Curated by Kimberly Henrickson and Chris Shore, Center for Contemporary Printmaking.
Founded in 1995, the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, located in an historic landmark 19th- century stone carriage house in the Mathews Park cultural complex in Norwalk, is the only non-profit fine art printmaking facility of its kind open to the public between New York and Boston.
CCP offers workshops in all aspects of printmaking, hosts museum-quality exhibitions, and offers state-of-the-art facilities where artists can engage professional printers and realize editions. All exhibitions at CCP are free and open to the public.
Center for Contemporary Printmaking is a 501(c) (3) organization established to support and encourage serious emerging and professional artists in the creation of original prints and to educate the community to a better understanding and appreciation of prints and the process of printmaking. It offers both an historic and contemporary view of printmaking, encouraging traditional techniques as well as modern technologies.
PRINTMAKING PROCESS TERMS
INTAGLIO: Any of the techniques in which an image or tonal area is printed from lines or textures, scratched or etched into a metal plate. The plate is covered with ink, then wiped clean, leaving ink in the incised lines or textures of the image. This plate is then printed in a press on moistened paper. The paper is forced down into the area of the plate holding ink, and the image is transferred to the paper.
Aquatint: An etching technique that creates areas of tone through the use of powdered resin that is sprinkled on the etching plate prior to being bitten by the etching acid. The result is a finely textured tonal area whose darkness is determined by how long the plate is bitten by the acid.
Drypoint: Similar to etching, but the lines are simply scratched into the plate manually, without the use of acid. The hallmark of a drypoint is a soft and often rather thick or bushy line, somewhat like that of an ink pen on moist paper.
Etching: The plate is first covered with an acid-resistant ground through which the artist scratches a design with a stylus or needle, revealing the bare metal below. This plate is then immersed in an acid bath that cuts the incised lines into the plate. Etched lines often betray the subtle motions of the artist's fingertips.
Mezzotint: Invented around 1650, allows the printing of rich tonal areas of black and gray. The process begins by texturing a metal plate to hold a great deal of ink and print a solid black field. This is done with a tool called a "rocker", a large, curved blade with very fine teeth along its edge that punches fine dots into the metal plate to receive the ink. The next step is to scrape away the stippled texture where lighter passages are needed. Mezzotint differs conceptually from other intaglio methods because the artist works from black to white rather than white to black, lending itself to scenes with many dark passages.
Photogravure: The photographic negative (which may be of an artist's drawing) is projected onto a sensitized gelatin emulsion or carbon tissue that is transferred to a copper plate. After washing, the plate areas that correspond to the image on the negative are dissolved, and the plate can be bitten by acid as in routine etching. In hand photogravure, most used in printmaking, the copper plate is first prepared for aquatint etching. The result can closely resemble a traditional linear etching or soft ground etching.
MONOTYPE: As indicated by the name, it is a one-of-a-kind print. Pigments are applied to a smooth, non-absorbent surface over which paper is placed and run through a press to transfer the pigment, allowing only one pull of the image.
Monoprint: A print that incorporates a repeated element across impressions but otherwise has unique coloring or composition, resulting in a unique print.
Photomechanical reproduction: A variety of processes involving the transfer of a photographic image to a printing matrix, such as an etching plate, relief block, or a lithographic stone. The term is used here whenever it is not certain exactly which photomechanical process is involved.
Lithography: A printing technique in which the image is drawn on a very flat slab of limestone (or a specially treated metal plate). This stone is treated chemically so that ink, when rolled onto the stone, adheres only where the drawing was done. This inked image can then be transferred to a piece of paper with the help of a high-pressure press.
RELIEF PRINTING: Any print in which the image is printed from the raised portions of a carved, etched, or cast block. A simple example would be a rubber stamp. The term "relief print" is used when it is not clear which kind of relief printing has been used.
Woodcut: The most common relief print, usually carved in the plank grain of a piece of wood. After the relief image has been carved with knives or gouges, it is inked with a dauber or roller. It can then be printed by hand (in which case a sheet of paper is laid down on the inked plank and rubbed from the back with a smooth surface such as the palm of the hand or a wooden spoon) or with the help of a mechanical press.
Linoleum Cut / Linocut: A relief print carved into linoleum rather than wood.
Screen Printing: The stencil is adhered to a fine screen for support, and ink can be squeegeed through the screen onto paper. Can have a hard-edged quality caused by the crisp edges of the stencil. Also referred to as "silk screen" and "serigraphy”.
Pochoir: A stencil print that does not involve a screen. Usually, pigment is brushed across the openings of the template with brush marks often discernable.
Prehistory: In cave paintings, the artist placed their hand against a wall to use as a stencil while blowing ground pigment across it through a hollow reed or bone, generating the earliest-known repeated image.
Circa 500 BC: Sumerians were carving unique images into cylinder seals which were rolled onto wet clay, using them to indicate ownership of goods for trade.
Circa 100 CE: Court official Ts’ai Lun combined mulberry plant fibers with other fibrous materials to create the earliest version of paper, which became widely used because it made books more affordable.
Circa 200 CE: Scholarly texts were reproduced from carved surfaces through a rubbing transfer process using paper and silk.
960-1279 CE: Moveable type was initially created by Bi Sheng out of clay in 1041, with more durable wooden moveable type and metal type developed by 1297. Screen printing was also invented in China at this time as a way of transferring images onto fabric. Printmaking spreads knowledge across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
Mid-13th century: Printing arrives in Europe, likely by the Mongol armies moving west along the Silk Road who brought it with them from the Uighurs.
1430-1450: First major European artist-master printer, German engraver known only as the Master of the Playing Cards.
Circa 1450: Johannes Gutenberg has introduced movable metal type in Europe and embarked on his printing of what has come to be known as the Gutenberg Bible, completed by 1454-1455.
1471: Albrecht Dürer, the most well-known artist of the German Renaissance, is born. A painter and printmaker who worked in the processes of etching and woodcut prints, his prints greatly influenced the course of representational art across Europe.
1798: Lithography accidentally invented in Germany by playwright Alois Senefelder, when he realized that he could reproduce his scripts by writing them on a piece of Bavarian limestone using a greasy crayon and then rolling over the surface with ink. (This process was used by artists to produce fine art prints, such as those by Currier and Ives, but took another 68 years for it to become a commercially popular process.)
20th century: Technological innovations saw an explosion of mass production in printing, from offset and color printing to different typesetting methods and computer composition. Mainstream print media, underground zines, political pamphlets, and fine art printing are still important cultural forces today.
Libraries are platforms for lifelong learning, and the arts can serve as a portal for understanding ideas and issues. Intentionally situated at the heart of the action, our new gallery is a dynamic space for culture, designed to engage the broadest spectrum of library patrons. Exhibitions will be integrated with our professionally developed adult and family services programs and collections, to provide experiences that will educate and inform as they also challenge popular notions of the role of art in our world.
Exhibitions will run quarterly or biannually, developed internally with experienced guest curators to keep our offerings fresh and innovative. Visitors can explore chosen themes in diverse ways—by viewing original works, installations, or didactic displays, listening to recordings, watching videos, chatting with specially trained volunteer docents.
We see libraries as infrastructure for imagination—the key to building a better future. Our new building, including our art gallery, allows us to expand our reach in this direction.