Plywood Litho / Mokulito

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.

Desforges_Kathryn_Relic_Plywood_Lithograph

‘Relic’, plywood lithograph print, varied edition of 5, 142 x 121cm

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:

plywood litho test blocks

2nd print from each block, treated with Nori (rice paste), ‘Dosa’ liquid (animal glue and alum), milk, coke, and nothing (control block)

Plywood litho test blocks.jpg

final prints from each block before the image started to degrade too much.

dsc_0398

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:

https://daniellecreenaune.com/What-is-Mokulito-Wood-Lithography

http://ellyp.com/wp/mokulito-a-non-stop-printing-circus/

https://ninaoskarsdottir.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/mokulito/

http://mandyslitho.blogspot.com/2017/03/march-2017-mokulito-mokulito-is.html

There are many more…

It’d be great to hear about your experiments with plywood litho! 🙂


4 Comments on “Plywood Litho / Mokulito”

  1. Cathryn says:

    Hi Kathryn

    I am also experimenting with mokulito. I am a printmaker in Tasmania, Australia just getting back into printmaking after a 30 year break from art school where I majored in stone lithography. I have experimented with alternative litho processes like pronto (polymer) plates and kitchen litho (with aluminium foil and coke) where I can use the small etching press I have in my home studio. Mokulito sure is trial and error! I have had some successes, and agree with just about everything you have mentioned in your experiences. I have only used Tasmanian oak plywood (a type of eucalypt) so far but am trying to get hold of some of better quality or maybe some maple.

    Thanks for documenting your experiments with treating the wood with different substances and I am looking forward to trying some out. I can only just manage an edition of 5 or 6 at the moment.

    You might be interested in this You tube video I came across of a mokulito workshop done a few years ago here in Queensland by an old art school colleague of mine Barbie Kjar.

    Best regards
    Cathryn McCarthy-Ross

    • Hi Cathryn,

      Thanks for your comment, it’s so nice to hear from other printmakers about their experiments 🙂 And thanks for the video link, I’ve watched that one a few times already actually – there is not that much info about plywood litho out there, (compared to other techniques), so I have scoured the internet looking for videos and blogs that will help me. This one was great and they got really good results! Editions of 5 or 6 are about usual for me too. I think it does depend a lot on the wood – you should hopefully get a few more with maple.

      Do you know Danielle Creenaune’s work? She’s an Australian artist (although I can’t remember where in Australia she’s based) who works with litho – stone and plywood. She’s definitely worth following too, her work is beautiful.

      If you’re on Instagram it’d be good to link up so we can see what each other is up to – I’m on there as @desforgery.

      All the best,

      Kate

  2. Ginger0566 says:

    Hi Kate

    I have also done a fair bit of scouring of information about mokulito – what there is of it. I have just picked it up from watching videos and trying things out. I had already seen Danielle Creenaunes article on ‘What is Mokulito’. But had not seen the video on her website. Her work is beautiful. It looks like she mixes something in the gum arabic before she gums the plate (maybe nitric acid like in stone lithography? – it’s a bit hard to tell). Website says she is based in Barcelona.

    I haven’t been on Instagram very long but all the wood litho prints I have done are on there @cmrhobart. I have found you and am following. Look forward to seeing more of your lovely work.

    Cheers
    Cathryn

    • Hi Cathryn,

      I’m not sure if she mixes anything into the gum, she didn’t when she taught a course here a couple of years ago. She used to live in Barcelona but has moved back to Australia now. Obviously hasn’t updated her website in a while! What I have found most useful is leaving the gummed block out in direct sunlight for as long as you can, (much easier to do over there than here! )It really seems to really help the gum to do its work and keep white areas clear for longer. Ink viscosity is a biggie too. Thanks for making contact and also look forward to seeing more of your work.

      All the best,

      Kate


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