By Margaret L. Brown
Just as an artist signs a print to verify his or her involvement in the process, printers “sign” a
print with a chop mark. A chop mark is a stamp embossed on a print that identifies the printer or workshop, or in some cases the artist or collector. It may also be called a drystamp or blindstamp.
Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM—one of the world’s leading lithography workshops—uses an alchemist’s symbol for stone as their shop chop (3). Since 1960, it has appeared on all litho-graphs created at the institute and its predecessor, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. Each Tamarind lithograph also bears the mark of the individual printer.
In addition to producing lithographs, Tamarind has always been an important training ground for printers. In a two-year program, printer-fellow apprentices learn the technical aspects of lithography, collaborate with graduate students at the University of New Mexico and finally work with professional artists who come to Tamarind from across the country. When printer-fellows demonstrate professional-level proficiency, they design a chop mark that will appear on the editions they produce.
Bill Lagatutta has been the shop manager at Tamarind for nine years. He created his running reindeer chop mark (4) when he finished training in 1979. Lagatutta credits Tamarind’s program with offering the invaluable experience of working with many artists in styles ranging from abstract to realistic. “The more you work with different personalities and styles, the better printer you become,” he says. Other traits that good printers share are patience “it takes a long time to get from concept to final proofs”—and intuitiveness. “Artists come in for a two-week stretch, and the printer has to quickly figure out what they want to achieve,” says Lagatutta.
Stephen Britko trained at Tamarind in the early ’70s and opened Naravisa Press 17 years ago in Santa Fe, NM. His chop mark is the Russian letter B, signifying his Russian heritage (2). Britko’s clients have included Margaret Nes, Luis Jimenez, Dan Namingha, Paul Pletka and Steve Forbis. His relationship with the artists is a close one: “They need me and I need them to create the best artwork possible. Most painters don’t have the skills required to create their own prints; they depend on my technical and aesthetic expertise,” he says.
Britko begins the process by working out a contract with the artist detailing the size of the print, the number of impressions in the edition and the number of colors. “Some artists come in with a clear idea of what they want to do, while others like to get in the workshop and experiment,” he says. After the artist creates the image, Britko makes recommendations to help bring the print to life. His input can range from recommending types of inks and papers to suggesting deleting a portion of the drawing that he feels will detract from the printed image.
Jean Milant, another former Tamarind apprentice, founded Cirrus Editions in 1970 in Los Angeles. The workshop’s chop mark is two cirrus clouds (1). Over the years Cirrus has produced prints by such leading con-temporary artists as John Baldessari, Ed Moses, Bruce Nauman and Edward Ruscha.
Milant usually starts by visiting an artist’s studio and becoming familiar with his or her work. Next, he invites the artist to come to Cirrus and check out the facilities. Then the collaboration begins. “Artists are idea-driven and printers are technique-driven,” Milant says. “A good print is achieved when the printer uses technical knowledge of how the press, plate, paper and ink work together to bring the artist’s idea to life.”
Kathan Brown, founder of Crown Point Press, San Francisco, CA, says that in addition to technical knowledge, a printer must have a good rapport with the artist. “Printers have to be able to guide the artist without imposing themselves too much,” she says. “I can’t stress this point enough: It is a collaborative effort, but it is the artist’s work.” Managerial skills also come into play: Printers have to manage assistants, time and work flow.
Crown Point Press includes the name of the printer in charge of the edition underneath its stylized “CPP” chop mark. “I don’t think the chop is of much use though,” says Brown, “because few people pay attention to it.”
Nonetheless, for collectors who do pay attention, the chop mark helps to document the history of the print’s creation.
Featured in “Looking at Prints” May 1997