Lithography is a very traditional and careful process of making images. The entire principle of lithography is based on the fact that oil and water don’t mix. (This will come in handy later!)
This print was pretty involved due to the various processes used (stone lithography, polyester plate lithography, chine collé, etc).
In order to prepare the stone's surface to draw on, the litho stone must be grained down to a smooth surface.
This is basically like sanding the stone, but instead of using sandpaper, you're using an abrasive called carborundum grit (aka silicone carbide).
It is extremely important that the litho stone is completely flat and of a consistent thickness.
Any variation in the surface can cause the image not to print correctly or the stone can break under the intense pressure of the press. (Not cute!)
Next I took the flat, blank stone and transferred my drawing onto it. It's always important to draw your image backwards since it will be reversed during printing.
In this portrait, I wanted the figure facing the right, so I had to draw him facing left on the litho stone.
Using gum arabic and lithographic rubbing crayon, I build up layers of grey using a resist method. Rubbing crayon, like any lithographic drawing material, is greasy and will attract ink. This is the basic idea behind lithography as I mentioned previously.
After the drawing is done, etching the stone “fixes” the greasy image into the stone’s surface.
A very precise chemical solution of nitric acid and gum arabic is massaged into the stone for several minutes, then the extra is wiped away and the stone is left to sit for several hours.
This is a very careful part of the entire process, and one that can make or break your image. If you etch the stone too hot, the image will come out too light; if you don't etch it hot enough, the image will come out too dark...
Either way, you lose detail, and that's not cute.
He came out well! WOOP WOOP!
After the stone is etched, the greasy image will attract the greasy ink while the white areas will attract water and therefore repel the ink.
In between etching and printing, I tear all of my paper down to the right size and prepare it for printing. I mark each piece with registration marks so the paper can be dropped in the correct place every time and then I "calendar" it.
There is so much pressure required to print that the paper can stretch in the litho press! This can cause certain parts of the image to be mis-registered (not lined up) in the final image.
I make sure this doesn't happen by purposefully stretching the paper beforehand, also known as "calendaring" the paper. Sending the paper back and forth through the press without printing anything a few times does the trick.
I also mix ink now!
For the face I will be using black, but later I will print different colored layers, so I went ahead and mixed everything at once.
I love this color combination!
Before printing, the stone endures a second etch to really make sure the image is set and ready to print.
I set the pressure on the litho press for this specific stone. This allows enough pressure for printing the image well without damaging anything else along the way.
Now the stone is placed on the bed of a lithographic press; the old ink is wiped away, the gum removed, and oil-based printing ink is applied to the stone using a roller. The stone is kept damp using large sponges while the image is being inked up.
Because grease and water don’t mix, the greasy ink adheres to the greasy drawing but is repelled by the damp blank areas of the stone, allowing the background to remain white.
(I told you that point was important!)
After the image is inked, a sheet of paper is placed on the surface of the stone, followed by two sheets of newsprint and then a flat plastic board called a tympan. (The tympan allows the stone to go through the press smoothly and protects the print itself.)
Once all of this is done, the stone, paper, and tympan sandwich is sent through the press and the finished print can be removed from the stone!
I used a piece of plexiglass to create a pink to clear fade and printed this on the figure. This method of blending two colors on the roller is called a blend roll or rainbow roll.
You can see a faint double image on these guys created by dropping the heads in slightly different places on the plexiglass. I absolutely love the way this looks, so I cut out the figure around these blurred borders instead of right along the printed outline like I had originally planned!
I created and scanned bubble prints into Photoshop, created a background full of floating bubbles and transferred this onto a blank polyester litho plate (SMART plate) for printing later.
On a separate plate I used a Sharpie to black out where I wanted my background to be printed. I left some blobby blank areas for the bubbles to sit in, as well as space for the figure to rest in.
The last step in preparing the plates is to bake them on a hot plate to reinforce the drawing.
Using a very similar process as I did with the stone, I printed the background using another blend roll - this time it was a teal blue to lighter teal blue.
I sprayed the figures with water, painted Nori paste (rice paste) all over the backs and then attached them to the background paper using clear mylar and pressure from my hand.
This traditional printmaking technique of adhering an image to another sheet of paper is called chine collé.
I then set them all underneath heavy boards to flatten and dry overnight.
The last step needed to complete this varied edition was printing the bubbles using yet another blend roll, from purple to orange.
After the edition was completed, each print was then left to dry. Then they were titled, numbered 1-10 and signed.
In total, each print went through the press 5 times. Once during the calendaring process and four more times to add color layers.
This is a varied edition, so prints will vary slightly from one to the next.This is indicated on the print next to the edition number with a VE. The differences in edition are due to the way the blend rolls were added to the figure, creating a ghost effect when the figure was offset back onto the paper.
Since the figures have different "ghosts", they were cut out differently and then applied by hand onto the background paper. Examples of differences can be seen in the four prints below.
What do you think?
Comment below to let me know what you think about this print and tell me what your favorite part of the litho process was!
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As always, have a beautiful day. :)