Lithographic Prints
Leveled and smoothed pieces of limestone with a metal disk, and used water, ink, and a press to pull prints from the limestone's surface.

A lithograph is a print, made by running a sheet of paper through a press on top of an inked stone or plate. Most mass-produced printed items are lithographs, but they're produced with modern plastic or aluminium plates instead of the thick limestone blocks used in traditional lithography.

Printing from a stone is much more of a process than using a modern plate. First, the stone has to be ground down, levelled, and smoothed, using a granulated equivalent of sandpaper, lots of water, and pressure from a heavy metal disk, spun across the surface of the stone. Once the surface is prepared, artwork is drawn or transferred onto the stone with greasy, water-resisting materials.

Next the stone is etched, with a solution that repels ink, but only affects areas of the stone that haven't been drawn on. The greasy areas are then cleared with a solvent and filled with printing ink. And finally, prints are pulled one by one by placing paper face down on the stone and running it through a high pressure printing press.

As much as I enjoyed making fine art prints, I was really inspired by the many modern processes based on lithography. In fact, I loved lithography so much I decided to pursue it as one of two studios in my second year at Beal.

Halftone chart for transferring digital artwork
Etching chart for non-traditional lithography mark making tools
Collaborative experimentation with soap and ballpoint pens, with Owen Law

I started printing by working out the technical challenges of the medium. I made test prints comparing different mark making tools, graphic transfer parameters, and etching solution strengths. These etching charts were a great reference point for further prints.

Drawing with a mix of pencils, pens, and markers
Mixing photo transferred figures with hand drawn elements

I tried drawing on the stones with the different pencils and markers I'd tested, and found that combining hand drawn media and digital images helped me express my ideas best.

Lithograph printed from transferred digital imagery
Lithograph printed on a broken stone

I experimented further with the intersection between digital imagery and the primitive stones I was using to make prints. The print shown above was damaged both digitally, through intentional file corruption, and physically, as it was printed on a stone that had nearly split in half.

Film strip lithographs at high halftone resolution

I tried pushing resolution boundaries for photo transfers by attempting to print strips of developed negatives. I wanted to see how tight I could make the halftone, and I ended up printing at eighty lines per inch, which was subtle enough to be difficult to pick out without a magnifying glass.

I was really happy with the end result — the halftone pattern was no longer visible, and the transition between tones was much softer.

Two-colour lithograph
Two-colour lithograph

Halfway through the year, my instructor starting sourcing modern polymer plates, which can be run through a laser printer and then printed from directly with lithographic inks. These plates let printers skip the gruelling work of sanding and levelling the stones after every print, though they didn't have quite the same old-school appeal.

Monochrome and colour variation lithographs

I ended up using the polymer plates quite a bit, to quickly experiment with multiple colours. They made it a lot easier to print full-colour images. The print shown below combines cyan, magenta, yellow, and black for a wide spectrum of colour.

Lithograph printed with process colour

While at BealArt, I also experimented with Rhonda  →, a really neat 3D line drawing tool. I exported the 3D line drawings and rendered them in Blender, to get the two angles needed for stereoscopic depth.

I spent a lot of time getting the colours right for 3D glasses — I wanted to isolate each colour to each eye perfectly, as even a little bit of interference made viewing a lot less fun. I produced my own 3D glasses using coloured acetate and paper to get complete control.

Digital red-blue stereo print made with Rhonda

Once I had the colour calibration down in digital prints, I wanted to mix the old in with the new. I mixed my own inks for the left and right channels, and printed another 3D line drawing from a lithographic stone.

Red-blue stereo lithograph made with Rhonda
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