Monday, May 5, 2008


Lithography: The Process
The following is an introduction to the process of making original, fine art lithographs and the methods used to care for them. Standards may vary at different workshops.
what is a lithograph? Basically, it is a print made by using a press to transfer an image that was created initially on stone or metal plate to paper.

Aloys Senefelder, who invented lithography in 1798, preferred to call it "chemical printing", since the process depends on the chemical interaction of grease, nitric acid, gum arabic, and water, rather than the stone from which the name lithography is derived.
Although the term can refer to commercially reproduced images, such as those on posters or in magazines, at Tamarind a lithograph is an image made by an artist who works closely with an artisan printer.

What 's the difference between a "print" and a fine art print? "Print" is the generic tem for an image produced in multiple. There are many different kinds of prints, including reproductions made from an image that already exists.
A truly "original" print, however, directly involves the artist, who uses the special qualities of the printmaking process--whether it is etching, engraving, serigraphy (or silk screen), woodcut, mezzotint, or lithography--to express his or her ideas.
Some artists print their images themselves. Others work collaboratively with a skilled printer, who discusses ideas and materials with the artist, and carries out all the technical requirements such as processing and printing.
In each case, what distinguishes the print as original is that the artist participated directly in the creation of the image and approves all impressions.

How does a lithograph differ from other fine art prints? Lithographs differ from etchings, engravings, serigraphs, and woodcuts in materials and process. As opposed to many other print processes which depend upon incised or carved lines, lithography is a planographic process that depends upon the mutual repulsion of grease and water.
For example, etchings and engravings are printed from a metal plate with incised lines while a lithograph is made from a chemically treated, flat surface. A serigraph is a silkscreen print, and woodcuts are printed from blocks of wood carved in relief.

How do you make a lithograph? To make a lithograph, the artist first draws an image, in reverse, on a fine-grained limestone or aluminum plate. For a one-color lithograph, this will be the only drawing. Each additional color will generally require a separate stone or plate.
Artists use the same kinds of tools they would for images on paper or canvas. However, since the basic principle of hand lithographic printing is the natural repulsion of grease and water, the crayons, pencils, and washes used in lithography have a high grease content.
Once the artist has finished drawing with the greasy black pigments, an artisan printer takes over and chemically treats the stones and/or plates to stabilize the image for printing.

Why don't the artists do the printing themselves? In general, although some artists print their own lithographs, many have neither the time nor inclination to learn about the complex chemistry of the medium.
At Tamarind, artists are free to concentrate on creating their images while collaborating printers attend to the technical requirements. Here, artists-in-residence work with highly skilled printers who have been trained in the technical and collaborative aspects of printing for artists. Often, artists rely on the printers' expertise to achieve their aesthetic goals.

How does the printing process work? After the artist has finished drawing on the plates or stones, the printer sprinkles rosin on the surface to protect the drawing. Then he or she powders the surface with talc which helps the chemical etch lie more closely to the tiny grease dots which compose the drawing.
The etch, which is a solution of gum arabic and nitric acid, is then applied to the stone and left for about an hour to combine with the greasy particles and the calcium carbonate of the stone.
The printer then removes the original drawing materials with a solvent, leaving the greasy image barely visible on the stone. The printing inks, which are also greasy, will adhere to the image area. The stone's surface is kept wet, which prevents the ink from adhering to non-image areas.
At the press, the printer sponges the stone or plate with water, rolls it with ink, and prints a series of "trial proofs": the same image with different color and paper combinations. When the artist is completely satisfied with the result, the final proof is signed by the artist as the bon à tirer ("good to pull"). With this as a standard, the printer is ready to pull the edition. At Tamarind, editions usually have fewer than thirty impressions.
Once the edition has been printed, the stone or plate is destroyed or erased, ensuring that no more impressions can be printed. The curator checks each impression against the bon à tirer, and the prints are embossed with Tamarind's chop (identifying symbol) and the collaborating printer's chop. Then the artist signs and numbers the impression.

What does "pull an impression" mean, and why do you refer to prints as "impressions"? To pull a print simply means to print an impression, and impression refers to any one of a number of nearly identical images pulled from the same printing elements.
in a multicolor print, how does the printer get the colors in exactly the right places? Generally the same piece of paper must pass through the press as many times as there are different colors. This process requires exact registration with each run, or pass, through the press.
Registration ensures that each color or component of an image is printed in exactly the nght area. The printer makes tiny pencil marks on each sheet of paper to be printed and lines them up to correspond with marks on each stone or plate. This way, each impression in the edition is consistent.

What is an "edition" of prints? Edition refers to all impressions of a particular image that are printed after the artist has given an approval to print. At Tamarind, the edition includes all numbered prints, the artist's proofs, the bon a tirer, which is given to the printer, and three impressions for the Tamarind archives. All impressions, including the trial proofs, color trial proofs, and artist's impressions, are documented.

What are artist's proofs? Artist's proofs (sometimes designated A.P.) are impressions just like those in the numbered edition. They are set aside for the artist's personal use. Tamarind limits the number of artist's proofs to a maximum of five or up to ten percent of the signed and numbered impressions.

Who determines how many prints will be made? Generally the artist and a printshop representative decide together before the edition is printed. At Tamarind, the number is rarely more than fifty numbered impressions and is often considerably smaller.
if all the prints in the edition are sold, do you print more? Never. After the artist signs and numbers each impression in the edition, all stones and plates are effaced. Stones are then resurfaced for future use.

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