The Art of Collaboration
4 October 2002 to 27 January 2003

Introduction | selected works | checklist | themes | learning

Helen Frankenthaler 'Other generations' 1957 oil on canvas Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler 'Other generations' 1957 oil on canvas Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Helen Frankenthaler click to enlarge


Utilising the Gallery's outstanding collection of international prints, Big Americans documents printmaking at a key 20th Century workshop frequented by significant artists of the day who worked with Master printer Ken Tyler - a major figure of the 'Print Renaissance' in post-war United States of America.

Background to the Artists in the exhibition
Who is Ken Tyler?
What is a print?
Glossary of terms
Downloadable student worksheets and visitor's trails


Background to the Artists in the exhibition


Who is Ken Tyler?

Since 1965 Ken Tyler has presided over a flowering of American printmaking. He has been able to transform the original print from an object produced by relatively simple processes into a medium as highly valued as painting or sculpture.

Tyler sees the role of the printer as being essentially collaborative. His technical originality and daring and his ability to nurture the artistic temperaments of a large stable of artists has led to the production of many innovative and remarkable prints.

Over the years Ken Tyler has worked with many of America's most famous artists. Josef Albers, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney feature in this exhibition.


What is a print?

In the context of the Big Americans exhibition a print is not a photograph or a mechanical print like a poster or post card; it is a hand made print taken from a matrix which can be lino, wood, metal or through a stencil. Each image is created separately, but can be one of a group of identical images called an edition. A Right to Print proof or RTP is the master print that all the prints in the edition have to match.



Printmaking is generally divided into four major areas, relief, intaglio, planographic and stencil. Outlined below are traditional methods of printmaking, but other contemporary methods are also used by Ken Tyler.

Relief printing

This is one of the earliest print techniques dating from the late fourteenth century. The block, most often made from wood but more recently from linoleum, is cut with chisels and gouges so that the areas to be inked stand in relief. The print is made either by rubbing the back of a sheet of paper placed over the inked block or by vertical pressure in a press.

Intaglio printing

The print is created by placing damp paper over a sheet of zinc or copper which has lines cut unto it and then passed through a press. The ink which stays within the lines is conveyed to the paper under pressure. As the surface of the metal is polished it does not make an image. The lines can be made with sharp instruments or with acid. If acid is used the print is called an etching.

Planographic printing

Lithography is a planographic technique as the surface is smooth, the image is created by the antipathy between oil and water. A greasy liquid or crayon is applied to a smoothly polished stone or specially prepared metal plate. As no pressure is required the effect can look exactly like a drawing. After fixing the image the printing surface is dampened so that when oily ink is applied it will adhere only to the drawn image and be repelled by the rest of the stone or plate. Paper is placed over the inked surface, a metal sheet is lowered on to it and a scraper drawn across to transfer the image to the paper.

Stencil printing

Stencilling, in which colour is applied through an area cut out of a metal or oiled paper mask, is older than woodblock printing. During the twentieth century it has been adapted to screenprinting, sometimes called serigraphy. A gauzy fabric, originally of silk but more recently of synthetic or even metal mesh, is stretched tightly on a frame. The stencil, which may be made of cut paper, glue or a photographically developed film of gelatine, is fixed to the mesh, blocking it in some places and leaving it open elsewhere for the passage of ink. To make a print, a sheet of paper is placed underneath the frame and ink is carried across it by a rubber blade known as a squeegee.


Downloadable student worksheets and visitor's trails

Primary Students

Secondary Students