"Portals" Lithograph Process

Portals Lithograph Process

First, a little background...

"Portals" is an exploration of organic geometry found in succulents. After including flowers in my last lithograph print "Qualia" I realized I wanted to play around with more organic structures. (So much fun!)

I decided on succulents because they are beautiful, geometric and very precise but still natural and imperfect. They seem to be portals to a sacred realm, showing us innate universal patterns from which structures in this physical space conform to naturally. 

There are SO many different kinds of succulents, but I picked my favorite ones and arranged them in a way that you can see all stages of growth. There are individual leaves, propagated leaves, and of course the fully grown plants.

I'm super pumped to show you the process of this print so let's get to it!

Graining the Stone

As always, the beginning of a lithograph print starts with graining the litho stone!

I do this to remove the previous image that was printed from the surface as well as to level out the stone so it's safe to go through the massive pressure of the press during printing.

I use caborundum grit of various sizes (#80, #100, #180 and #220) to achieve my goals. You can think of the carborundum grit as loose sandpaper. Just like when sanding wood, I go in order from lower numbers to higher numbers. The #80 is the most coarse carborundum grit, and gets most of the previous image off from the last print.

grained blank lithography stone
I choose two litho stones, place carborundum grit and a small amount of water on top of the larger stone, then I take the smaller stone, place the two stones face to face and form a figure eight pattern across the stone’s surface. I move in this pattern in a very methodical and careful way, trying to make sure that I don’t grain one part of the stone more than any other part of the stone (to keep the thickness completely even).

Once the water/grit mixture is a milky grey color, and the stones become hard to move across one another, I rinse off all the water and grit and then repeat the process by adding more water and grit and making the pattern. The weight of the smaller stone above creates enough pressure and friction with the help of the grit to smooth the stone down even more.

I use each grit size around three times each, decreasing the grit size to smooth and polish the stone, making it a fabulous and receptive drawing surface. (Sometimes I have to do this more than three times per grit size, it all depends on the previous image, how level the stone is, if there is a dip in the center, etc.)

Now that the stone is grained and completely dry, I can move onto the next step.

Transferring the Image to the Litho Stone

The next thing I do is use iron oxide (rust) paper to transfer my image onto my stone. Iron oxide paper is one thing that will not show up in the final print, unlike graphite paper or carbon paper used for transferring. 

transferred drawing on litho stone succulentsI use gum arabic to block out all of the areas around the succulents that I want to protect from the drawing. This acts as a masking fluid in a sense and will protect the white areas from any tones or colors being laid down later. It also ensures clean lines and on a background that is white and clear of any messy marks.

After the gum is applied, the succulents are ready to be drawn!

Drawing on the Stone

I start applying even more of the gum arabic to protect the white areas/highlights in the drawing itself before laying down my first layer of rubbing crayon. I use rubbing crayon to create different greys within the image by layering it on the stone in between each new layer of gum.

drawing succulents on lithography stoneBelow you can see me applying rubbing crayon using pantyhose (probably the most random tool in my toolkit). I pull the pantyhose tight over my finger and rub pigment off of the rubbing crayon and then transfer this pigment onto the stone to create a light grey layer.

Next you can see that I put down more layers of gum on top of the lightest grey. This will protect these areas of the image and keep them a light grey in the final image, in the same way that the whites were saved before.

I do this several times for several layers with a lot of drying time in between and eventually the image becomes dark and hard to see. After I apply the final layer of rubbing crayon, the darkest darks are now included in the image. Now t’s time to etch!

Etching the Litho Stone

The only thing that can dissolve gum arabic is water or more gum arabic and at this point I don't want any water to touch the stone, so I use gum arabic (yes, even more) to dissolve the layered gum on the stone. 

With so many layers of gum on the stone, it takes about 30 minutes to dissolve it all before I can etch with nitric acid.

removing gum arabic from stone lithography
I measure out three half-ounce containers of gum arabic on the side and apply increasing amounts of nitric acid to the mixtures so that I can spot etch the image with three intensities of etching solution. 

measuring out gum arabic

Spot Etch?
This means that I will apply the hottest etch (the solution with the most acid) to the darkest areas, the medium etch on the mid-tones and I will use the lightest etch (the solution with the least amount of acid) to put on the lightest areas of the image, the areas with the most subtle grey.

Spot etching ensures that the image will come out like I want it to. I must be careful because if I get the hot etch on a light area it will burn away my image, but if I use a light etch on a dark area, it will probably fill in and become way too dark.

etching litho stone succulent print

This is the most important step in creating the litho, if you don’t get the etch right, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on your drawing, it won’t be right.

I let the stone sit for 24 hours or more to stabilize.

Preparing Paper

While I'm waiting for the stone to stabilize, I tear down a bunch of paper that I'm going to print on. I knew I was going to be printing this for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign and for that reason I tore down A LOT of paper so that I can make a bunch of awesome prints for the contributors of my campaign.

I use a ruler to measure out the size that I need and then use the straight edge of the ruler to tear the paper itself instead of cutting it. This allows me to keep the deckled edge, which for printmakers and paper lovers alike, is considered a very important aspect of the print itself. It shows the handmade nature of the print and that it was torn by a person not cut by blade or machine.

paper tearing and registration

Printing the Stone

I set up my stone in the middle of the press bed and pick out a scraper bar that is larger than the image itself but smaller than the stone.

The scraper bar is what applies the pressure evenly across the stone at a 90 degree angle. If a scraper bar goes past the stone’s edge it has the potential to destroy the scraper bar or damage the stone itself by applying pressure in the wrong places.

After getting all my other printing supplies together, I do a second and (hopefully) final etch on the stone to ensure its stability.

I mix up some black ink using two different blacks to get the right consistency for the job. I then spread out a bead of ink on my palette before rolling it out nice and evenly with my brayer. I now use my brayer to roll up the image with ink, making sure to apply a thin layer of water in between each pass over the stone. This keeps the ink from adhering to the white areas of the image and instead only sticking to the greasy sections that belong to the drawing.

After it is inked thoroughly and carefully, I put newsprint on top of the stone, followed by a plexiglass sheet (called a tympan) used to ensure the scraper bar slides evenly across the stone and paper.

I lower arm of the press which in turn lowers the scraper bar down onto the stone, and I crank the press bed until the entire image has been printed.

After I ensure the prints are looking good by making a few prints on newsprint (proofs) I move onto my fancier, more expensive paper that I tore down earlier. 

For each print I roll up the image three times, putting more ink on my brayer in between sets. I do this the same way every time to ensure that my prints are consistent as an edition. 

The Final Prints

The final prints are printed on white Pescia paper and measure 8.5”x10.5”. This edition includes only 20 prints.

This limited edition lithograph print is available in the shop.

portals black and white lithograph print

portals lithograph detail

I have also completed a separate print that includes hand painted details added with watercolors. This hand colored print is also available in the shop.

portals lithograph print watercolor

portals lithograph with watercolor detail

Share your thoughts with me...

Comment below to let me know what you think and what your favorite part of the litho process was!

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As always, have a beautiful day. :)

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