"Qualia" Lithograph Process

qualia lithograph process title image

It is my intention to demystify the amazing process of lithography and creating prints, so here is a step by step process of creating "Qualia".

For an in depth look at the inspiration behind this image and the definition of qualia, check out part 1 of this post, or continue on for a visual walkthrough of creating this print!

This print took a crazy amount of time to create so I don't want to wait any longer before sharing it with you! 

Graining the Stone

Graining the lithograph stone is essential for preparing to draw on the stone’s surface. The stone must be completely flat and level all the way through or else the parts of the print will not actually print, and in the worst case scenario, the stone can break while going through the press due to the immense pressure.

The stone is grained through a process of creating intense friction between two flat lithographic limestone pieces, by placing carborundum grit and water in between to facilitate the graining (sanding down) of the top layer of the stone(s). This removes the previous greasy image that was printed beforehand, and prepares the stone for a new image by opening up the surface to be receptive to mark-making again.

Transferring the Image to the Litho Stone

After the stone is completely dry, it's time to transfer the image using iron oxide transfer paper.

It's basically like good old graphite transfer paper, but instead of using graphite you're using rust. If you were to transfer a drawing onto the stone using a pencil it has a possibility of ending up in the final image, but when you use iron oxide paper it's possible to produce lines on the stone that don't show up in the final image after it is etched and printed. 

transfer of drawing onto stone

After the image is transferred, it's time to protect the sensitive white areas (the border in this case) with gum arabic and get to drawing!

Drawing on the Stone

Below is a time lapse showing the application of one layer of the drawing. You can watch me use rubbing crayon to push down a smooth layer of grey before going back over the drawing with more gum arabic to block out the sections that I want to remain the same grey. This is the premise of creating the entire drawing.

Below you can see the drawing transform with its multiple layers as the image begins to get lost in a mess of rubbing crayon and gum arabic. The ending is an almost indecipherable mess of a drawing that will reveal itself in the next step...  

Etching the Litho Stone

After the drawing is finished, I must dissolve all of the gum on the stone before I can begin etching. This way the nitric acid mixture is able to get all the way into the surface of the stone so the chemical reaction can take place. This image specifically took about 30 minutes of rubbing consistently with extra gum arabic to dissolve all of the gum that I used previously.

I then put together 3 different mixtures of gum arabic and nitric acid and placed them in very particular spots, called spot etching, of the drawing to alter the chemical makeup of the stone’s surface and effectively “burn" the image into the stone. I used cheesecloth to remove any excess and buffed down the stone to leave only a thin layer of the gum mixture to dry on top.

Preparing Paper

At this point, the stone must sit for at least 24 hours, so I stay productive by tearing my paper and mixing my ink for the upcoming printing process. 

I must admit that tearing my paper involves more than what it sounds like...

After getting all my paper to the right size, I add registration marks; this just means that I add pencil lines to the back of the paper that correspond to lines on the stone so that I can line up the paper the same way every time. 

Next, I send my paper through the press with a shit ton of pressure to pre-stretch the fibers in the paper. The technical term for this is calendaring paper. If I didn’t do this, those registration lines would mean nothing later because the paper would stretch and change sizes in between colors!

This way, the paper is stretched on purpose, not on accident, and this works out for me! Fancy stuff.


Printing the Stone

Below you can see the actual image on the stone during the printing process. This is what it looks like after it has been rolled up with ink several times and is ready to have paper placed on top and sent through the press to make an actual print.

I love the way the stone looks every time, even more so than the print itself. There is something about the drawing that feels more alive on the stone.

lithography portrait on stone
Following, you can see the whole inking process that happens for each individual print. I roll ink onto the stone three separate times in a set of three for each print. I ink the stone this way for each print so I can keep the edition of prints consistent and well printed, with not too much or too little ink!

Whenever that's done it's time to place the paper on the stone using the registration marks I explained before to keep it in the right place. I then put two or three sheets of newsprint (used as backing material to protect the good paper) and the tympan (a piece of plexiglass slick with grease or Vaseline to help the scraper bar run smoothly across the paper and stone) down on top of the litho stone, lower the scraper bar and send it through the press. After the stone has passed through the press I lift the scraper bar I can remove the print and reveal the final image!

I love the way the black and white print turned out, but I very quickly decide this print was in need of some color...

fresh prints and litho stone

Watercolor Color Variations

I really want to play around with different colors for this print so I decide to do some watercolor variations to see what direction I want to pursue. I do several different variations in paint before deciding to go with a blend roll of pinks, coral and teal over the whole image.

making watercolor variations lithograph

Mixing Ink

I take my time to mix just the right colors for what I want. I play around with different amounts of transparent additive to get the right feel and make sure to make a draw down (color swatch) and label how I created the color just in case I have to make it again.
 mixing color for lithograph

Editioning Color and Making Varied Prints

I create a blend roll by placing my various colors on the slab in an order I choose, and then rolling out the ink slowly while moving the roller from side to side just a tad to blend out the stark contrast into a smooth transition of color.

creating a blend roll for printing lithography

While printing, I decide to take some of my watercolor variations and print the blend roll over top. It made for a really nice color situation, creating variations of yellows, oranges and greens that were not there before!

color variations of lithograph prints

I’m very happy with the way these prints turned out!

Final Prints

All "Qualia" lithographs are printed on white Pescia paper and are 9x12 inches. 

Color Edition of 6, hand signed and numbered.

Available in the shop.

qualia lithograph print
Watercolor Varied Edition of 4, hand signed and numbered.

qualia lithograph print watercolor variations

qualia lithograph print variations detail
The one of a kind, hand colored prints are also available in the shop.

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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