I’ve been experimenting with lithography on plywood since 2016, and thought it was finally time to share some of what I’ve learned on here. A lot of my findings build on a combination of my knowledge of stone lithography, and the hard work of other artists who have spent a great deal of time testing and honing the process, so thank you to all who have shared their knowledge with me though blogs, websites, emails and courses. I’ve posted a few links at the bottom.
I studied stone litho on a fellowship at Leicester Print Workshop in 2013/2014, which is where I heard about wood litho and made a mental note to follow it up. After I had finished the fellowship and no longer had access to stone, I started to think about other methods of making lithographs without all the specialist equipment. I was also really drawn to the wood grain you get with this process, (which would eventually lead to learning Mokuhnaga too), and had it in mind to use for a particular piece of work.
After quite a few test blocks, (some successful, others not so much!), the first piece of work I made using the technique was ‘Relic’, a composite print made up of 6 pieces.
This piece was the start of a series of images depicting tree stumps, (snags!), which I am still currently working on. The tones were achieved by using different dilutions of liquid litho ink, and by sanding back and cutting into the wood. This was done on plywood from B&Q.
Since making this piece, I have taught a good few short courses and workshops, honing the technique each time with more test blocks. Here are a few general things I have learnt during my experiments to keep in mind when doing plywood litho:
- Every piece of wood is different and should be treated so. Inking needs to be adapted for each block, even if they are cut from the same piece of wood. One might absorb more water than another, one might need more or less ink to get a good print. Feel what the block is doing and adapt.
- Manage your expectations! This isn’t a technique for those who want complete control over the final print. Embrace accidents!
- Think about the variables. This is the same with all printmaking. Wood species, litho drawing materials, press pressure, type of ink, type/dampness of paper, all affect the resulting print, and are all things which can be altered if you are not happy with the results you are getting.
- Litho crayon is the least stable drawing material, and charbonnel liquid litho ink is the most stable.
- Pine and spruce plywood can’t be used because of the high resin content.
- Runners the same height as your plywood need to be used on either side of the etching press when printing.
- The longer you can leave the gum on before printing, the better. The more heat and UV light you can give it, the better.
- Foam rollers enable you to control inking more and leave less roller marks than rubber rollers. They seem to act a bit more like a traditional nap litho roller.
Generally on the courses I run, we tend to get anything from 3 – 8 prints from one block. This usually improves over time when people get used the inking process, (it’s important not to be too heavy-handed). But usually the thing people really want to know is how they can extend the life of the block and get more prints out of it. Personally I like the fact that you only get a limited number of prints from a block before the image degrades too much – it imposes limitations which for me is a good thing – when its done its done, that’s it. No wondering whether I could add something or make it different, no leaving and coming back to it.
But it can be frustrating for people on the courses I teach when they only get 2 or 3 good prints from their block, so i’ve been doing a few trials recently, none with breakthrough success, but interesting results:
Last year I tried making 5 different blocks, treated the wood with various different substances, to see if any of them helped the image to stay put for longer without the background ‘filling in’ too much. Here are some photos of the results:
From left to right on each block the drawing materials I used were: Litho crayon, dilutions of stick tusche, dilutions of liquid litho ink.
I applied all the different substances to the block after drawing and before gumming. The block which seemed to hold up the best was the one treated with the dosa liquid. (Which is a shame as I’m vegetarian).
However, since then I have found that the things which seems to work the best out of all the the things I’ve tried, is heat and light. When I was teaching an ‘Alternative Techniques in Lithography’ summer school last year at Leicester Print Workshop, it was the hottest week of the year, and got up to a sweltering 38 degrees! To speed up drying times we put the gummed blocks out in the midday sun for a good hour. They printed better and more consistently than any others on any courses I’d run previously. On the next course I did at Leicester print workshop it was drizzly and a bit cold, so instead we put the blocks into the UV exposure unit and gave them a good dose of UV light. This seemed to work well too, with people getting 5-8 good prints from their blocks before the images degraded too much. Here are a few pics of the brilliant prints made by the lovely people on the course:
Finally, here are some links to sites and videos which helped me with my research into the technique:
There are many more…
It’d be great to hear about your experiments with plywood litho! 🙂