Lithography: It's a Process
From printing with slabs of limestone to mixing pigment with linseed oil, there are endless techniques to explore and explain.
But today, we're going to zero in on one method in particular: lithography.
What is lithography?
Drawn from the ancient Greek word "lithos," which means "stone," lithography is a printmaking process.
Unlike other printmaking processes like etching or block printing, which require cutting into the substrate's surface using acid or carving tools to develop an image, lithography involves drawing on the surface of a substrate (often a slab of limestone, hence the name "lithography") with an oil-based medium like a special lithographic crayon or ink.
Artists from Edouard Manet to Elizabeth Catlett have turned to lithography at various points during their careers, possibly because lithographs are a savvier financial investment.
With lithography, artists can produce a lot of high-quality prints relatively quickly, earning back whatever production costs they sink into the work initially.
In lithography, even the simplest of images require an intense amount of effort and focus.
Once you have a drawing or a design in mind, then you can begin.
1. Apply your design
Secure a substrate (limestone preferred, though some lithographers use aluminum), and then apply your design to its surface using an oil-based medium like ink or a lithographic crayon.
2. Apply the necessary chemicals
Apply successive layers of powders, solutions, and solvents to your substrate. A chemical reaction will take place with the oil-based medium on its surface.
3. Wipe off the design
This is perhaps the most counterintuitive step.
The chemical reaction between your oil-based drawing and the blend of powders, solutions, and solvents that you applied in the previous step will create a stamp-like afterimage of your design on top of the substrate.
Wipe off the layers of material that have accumulated in the previous steps; all that you'll see is a faint image of your design, but rest assured, you'll be ready to print.
4. Ink and print!
Using a brayer, coat the surface of your lithographic substrate with an oil-based ink.
Lay the paper on top of it, and then run it through a lithographic press to distribute pressure evenly across the image. Remove the substrate from the press, and carefully peel the paper from its surface.
Voila! Your lithograph is complete.
Check out the video below for a more interactive view of this complex process.