Graining the Stone
As always in stone lithography, you must start by preparing the stone’s surface for drawing.
It is extremely important that the stone is perfectly flat and the last image and its greasy ghost has been removed from the litho stone's surface. You may think of it as sanding the stone, but instead of using sand paper I use an abrasive called carborundum grit and water to achieve my needs.
When it came to starting this print, I already had a small stone grained (score!) and decided to use it instead of graining another one.
Transferring the image to the Litho Stone
Positioning is key!
I need to make sure that the edges of the drawings were far enough away from the edges for three reasons...
So that whenever I'm applying ink to the stone during printing, the brayer has enough room to begin and end off of the image area.
So that the scraper bar (which applies even pressure from the press onto the stone) can slide over the entire image area and paper without falling off the edges of the litho stone.
- To make printing and registration easy by setting the images far enough apart so that I can print them as individual 5x7 inch prints or as a group on a larger piece of paper while giving me room for three sets of registration marks (one set for each figure, and a third set for the duo to be printed together).
I also apply gum arabic the edges of the stone around the drawings to protect the stone’s surface from any drawing material that could get on it. After graining, the stone is very sensitive to mark making and even fingerprints could show up in the final image if you're not careful! So it's always important to protect the areas you won't be using in order to keep them white and clean during printing.
Drawing on the Stone
Drawing on the stone involved the usual process for me, which is using a resist method to build up layers of grey. It's similar to using watercolor resist in watercolor painting.
I first block out the whitest whites of the drawing with gum arabic (just like I did with the stone edges) and then use my rubbing crayon to create a very light grey over the entire image.
Next, I take more gum arabic and block out more areas of highlight, this time in the spaces that I want to be a very light grey in the final image.
I let the gum arabic dry before adding another layer of rubbing crayon on the stone that creates a slightly darker grey.
I repeat this process several times, one for each shade of grey or black that I want. Some layers take two to three hours to apply gum to before I can let them dry and add more tone to it.
As this process continues, the image begins to be a bit of a mystery, since there is so much drawing material and gum arabic on the stone, it gets pretty dark.
When it gets to this stage, I really have to trust in the process and hope that I continue to block out the right areas.
Etching the Litho Stone
As I've said before, etching the stone correctly is imperative to keep the image true to the drawing and consistent over the course of printing.
Because of the way I create my image using layers of gum, I must first dissolve all of the thick gum on the stone before I begin the etch so that the acid can reach the stone's surface.
I do this by using even more gum! It takes about 25 minutes of rubbing the stone to release all of the gum arabic before I start the actual etching process...
To etch, I mix 3 different solutions of gum arabic with increasing amounts of nitric acid and apply it using a spot etch, which simply means that I am very careful to keep the different strengths of acid on the right part of the image (the hottest etch/most acidic mixture is applied to the darkest blacks while the lightest etch/least acidic mixture is applied to the lightest areas of the drawing).
In my case, spot etching is pretty important: if I get too much acid on light areas all of my subtle greys will be burned out and lost, but if I don’t put a hot enough etch on other areas, the image will not be etched enough and it will fill in and become very dark, again losing all subtle greys.
The gum arabic and nitric acid mixture is rubbed around carefully for a few minutes before the excess is removed using cheesecloth (the white fabric shown below) and the rest is buffed down into a thin layer to sit for at least 24 hours.
After the etching process is complete I can see a sort of preview of what the image will look like. I'm not too impressed with the dude on the right, but I decide to give it a go during printing to see if I like it.
Preparing Paper and Mixing Ink
I decide to tear a bunch of 5x7 inch sheets down for the individual figures, and also some that were larger so I could print both images at once.
Registration marks are added to the paper now as well, these are small lines on the back of the print that line up perfectly with lines created on the stone in order to set the paper down in the right place every time.
I pre-stretch (aka calendar) my paper so it doesn't stretch while printing by running the paper through the litho press a few times without printing anything. This allows for better color registration (lining up multiple layers) later on.
Colors that seem good for this print included some purples, teal, coral and hot pink that I have sitting around the studio. (Gettin’ crazy!) All of these colors are mixed first how I like them, then modifiers are added to make the consistency and tackiness work for litho stone printing.
Printing the Stone
I prepare the press by finding a scraper bar to use for my image and adjusting the press pressure for my particular stone.
I prepare my ink and brayer by creating a thin line of ink on the ink slab and using the brayer to roll it out into a thin, consistent layer. After this is done, the brayer can be used in rounds to transfer ink from the slab to the stone for each print.
I use Johnson's paste wax to remove the ink on the stone and then flood the stone with water to break down all of the gum arabic that has been protecting it up until this point, throughout the drawing process and etching process.
Using the inked brayer, I roll up the image 3 separate times, charging the roller with more ink and sponging the stone to keep the white areas damp and ink-free in between each set.
The idea that drives lithography is that grease and water don't mix, so by keeping the stone damp, I am able to roll up the greasy image area with ink while protecting the damp, white areas from ink.
For each print made, the stone image is rolled up with more ink.
The paper is placed on the image, the backing and tympan is placed on top, the scraper bar lowered, and the stone is rolled through the press where a shit ton of pressure transfers the stone drawing to the paper. After a few proofs (trial prints on cheap paper) I decided to start printing on my good paper.
Below you can see me using my registration lines to line up my paper in the correct spot.
Shortly after I start printing I decide that I'm not too fond of the dude on the right hand side, so I stop printing him and focus on the left image.
Adding Color and Making One of a Kind Prints
I print a good amount of black images before deciding to switch it up a little bit. I take my mixed colors and on another ink slab I create a gradient/blend roll on the brayer by mixing the two colors in the middle.
I take off the black ink from the stone using mineral spirits and water before rolling up the images with the new color.
After a few proofs, I place the already printed black images back onto the stone in register to print color over top. This allows for chromatic blacks and more subtle aspects of the drawing to show up alongside the greys from before.
I mix it up by adding different colors to the already printed black images and by creating complete color images from two blend rolls.
I really want to play around with this print and the variations I can create from a single image, so I print some in black then added color, some that are color only, some prints are overlayed with drawings from different stones of mine and on some I take my palette knife and scrape ink across paper itself!
I finished out the printing process with a small edition (8) of black and white prints as well as a variety of one off prints that got a little crazy and experimental.
All prints are printed on white Pescia paper and are 5x7 inches.
Edition of 8 printed in black, hand signed and numbered.
What do you think?
Comment below to let me know what your favorite part of the litho process was!
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As always, have a beautiful day. :)