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! 🙂
I’m excited to be running a few printmaking courses and workshops in the next few months covering various techniques – photo-plate and plywood lithography, etching, and Japanese woodblock printing (Mokuhanga). Still a few places available, and they’d make great gifts for the creative person in your life! More details below…
2 day course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop, Mirfield
Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd December 2018
11am – 5pm
This course will teach you all the basics of hard and soft ground etching, along with aquatint, to enable you to create a wide variety of marks and effects. Hard ground produces crisp, clean lines, while soft ground can create softer, textured, crayon-like lines and impressions. Aquatint is way of creating tone on an etching plate. All these techniques can be used in conjunction to create unique, atmospheric prints.
You will be etching zinc plates using copper sulphate solution, a less toxic alternative to traditional nitric acid. The course is led with a hands-on approach from the start, with the opportunity to produce a good number of prints to take away with you. You will also learn about paper, inking and registration techniques. This is a great course for beginners and those who need a refresher, and can act as a lead-in to membership of WYPW so that you can continue to use and develop the techniques you have learned.
Japanese Woodblock Printing (Mokuhanga) – Taster Session
Day workshop at West Yorkshire Print Workshop, Mirfield
Saturday 9th February 2019
11am – 3pm
Join me for a demonstration of Japanese Woodblock Printing (Mokuhanga). I will also be talking a little about my residency in Japan where I learned the technqiue, and showing some of the work I made during the residency.
Alternative Techniques in Lithography
5 day summer school at Leicester Print Workshop
Tuesday 23rd – Saturday 27th July 2019
10am – 4pm
Learn experimental processes with and without the use of a press over five days in this Summer School.
Join artist and printmaker Kathryn Desforges for an immersive 5 days of hands-on printmaking.
This course will teach you the basics of plywood and photo-plate lithography with an experimental approach, and a focus on using hand-drawn imagery, (although there will be opportunity to incorporate photographic or digital imagery as well).
Once you have to got to grips with the techniques involved, you will have the time to practice, and develop your work using either or both of these processes to create hybrid prints.
I’ve been in Japan now for 3 weeks, and so far it’s been fantastic! I started my trip with a couple of days in Tokyo being a tourist, then made my way to the Mi-Lab residence in Fujikawaguchiko to start the artist residency learning ‘Mokuhanga’ (Japanese woodblock printing).
The residence is in a really beautiful spot – near Lake Kawaguchi, overlooked by Mount Fuji (Fujisan!). It’s been cloudy for the last couple of days so he’s been hiding, but when he does pop up it’s as if out of nowhere…turn a corner and suddenly there he is!
The first week was very intensive, being taught all the basics of the Mokuhanga technique by Chihiro Taki – a Japanese printmaker who makes the most beautiful woodblock prints. (I recommend checking out her website: http://www.chihirotaki.com)
To start off we all did a little presentation about ourselves and our work, which was an opportunity to get an insight into each other’s art practice, and an understanding of why we were all there. Taki San then presented some of her work, and seeing her prints in the flesh really blew us all away – such subtle colours and textures. She then gave us a brief history of woodblock printing, and we got straight on with the technical stuff – covering ‘Iruwake’ (colour separation), the ‘kento’ registration system (the best, simplest and easiest way the register prints!), and introducing us to the tools we would be using to carve the plywood blocks – the ‘Hangi-toh’ knife, the ‘Maru-toh’ gouge, and the ‘Kento-nomi’ knife.
Taki San then went on to demonstrate the printing process. The block is inked up with watercolour or guache paints, using ‘Maru-bake’ and ‘Te-bake’ brushes, along with ‘Nori’ (rice paste- very important in the process). The damp paper is placed on the block, (prepared the day before), and a ‘baren’ is used to apply pressure on the back to transfer the ink to the paper. (This mainly happens through absorption – the fibres of the kozo paper ‘drinking’ up the ink from the block.) She also showed us the different effects you can get if you alter the amount of ink, water, nori and pressure used – including ‘gomazuri’ (sesame effect), ‘mokumizuri’ (wood grain effect), and ‘bokashi’ (gradient).
Phew! It’s a lot to take in, but so much fun and a it’s so exciting to be learning something which is so different from the kind of printmaking I am used to. Being here has made me realise that I haven’t had this much time dedicated to learning and creating work since university – 13 years ago!
This is the first post I’ve managed to write since being here, as I’ve been trying to spend as much of my time as possible just sitting at my desk and making….but I will try to post again soon, as It’s a good way of reviewing what I’ve learned.
I’ll leave you with a few images from the last few weeks. Thanks for reading 🙂
P.s. My apologies if I’ve spelled an or the Japanese words wrong!
A couple of weekends ago I ran the first ever Photo Plate Lithography workshop at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. It was great! It was so lovely to be able to introduce a new technique to the workshop.
It took a good few days of preparation to get everything ready and set up – as always with printmaking the only way to really know whether something will work is just to practice. So I spent some time making some test plates on our exposure unit, eventually coming to the conclusion that a standard exposure time of around 5-6 minutes is sufficient for most images. The plates I ended up ordering for the workshop and to sell in the shop were called ‘Europlate’, and a very nice chap at the company advised me on what would be best for our purposes. I also bought in some developer, which we mix down half and half with water for standard plate developing.
In the workshop we already use the Hawthorn Printmakers stay-open inks for intaglio and relief printing. It says on their website that they are also suitable for lithography, so I thought I would try using this even though I’ve never used them for lithography before. They actually worked well, although they do contain very high amounts of pigment, so it is necessary to extend them quite a bit with their ‘transparent ink’, especially for very detailed images. We printed the plates on our Hunter-Penrose etching press – bumping the pressure up a bit by putting a larger litho plate on the press bed, (as the plates are quite thin), which worked a treat.
We had a full course, and I was really happy to see a lot of familiar faces – members who wanted to learn the technique or had done it years ago and wanted a refresher, and also a some non-members who were completely new to it.
The day was fantastic – so enjoyable to be passing on the skills I’ve been learning at Leicester Print Workshop over the past year! And everyone was so excited by the ideas and possibilities that the technique generated. We’ve already had one member come in and start making plates since the course, and we’ve already got bookings for the next course at WYPW in March next year, here: http://www.wypw.org/shop/photo-plate-lithography-march/
Here are a few photos from the day…
Last weekend I taught my first Photo-Plate Litho at Leicester Print Workshop. It went really well – there were 7 students on the course, (one of which has already joined up as a member to come and do more!), and all had brought a great selection of images with them to work With. Some had brought digital images such as photographs and scanned drawings, printed as a positive onto acetate. Others brought hand-drawn images to work with, made by drawing onto transparent drafting film with materials such as pencil, graphite and crayon, and guache and acrylic paint for wash-effects. Very fine detail in both drawn and digital images can be picked up in this process.
The positive transparency is taped to the photo-plate, which comes pre-coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The plate is then exposed to UV light. The light is blocked by the opaque image areas, and passes through the transparent non-image areas. When the plate is then developed, the non-images areas wash away to leave bare metal underneath, and the image areas – where the light was blocked – stay on the plate. This creates the image on the plate.
Gum Arabic is then applied to the plate to help establish a chemical difference between the image and non-image areas. The plate is then printed by first washing off the gum, then keeping the plate damp while rolling on lithographic ink. The plate can be printed on either a litho press or an etching press. Damp paper is usually used to ensure as much detail as possible is picked up.
Plates can be printed in black and white or in colour, and some of the students from my course went on to do another day the next day with LPW lithography technician and artist Serena Smith, where they made more plates and experimented with printing a number of plates in register to produce multi-plate prints.
I’m really looking forward to teaching the Photo-Plate Litho course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop on 19th October.
Here are a few photos from the weekend…
So after a bit of a break during July, I’ve been back at Leicester Print Workshop in August, working on stones as usual. I can’t quite believe how the months are flying by. I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front recently, and I’ve got a big backlog of process photographs to upload, so I’ll be trying to catch up with that in the next few weeks and doing a few more posts.
I had some good news at the end of July – my application for funding from the Arts Council to help me complete the internship was successful! It was such welcome news to receive, and topped off an amazing, and very welcome, summer holiday! The funding will help me to use the remaining months of the internship to create a series of new lithographs for exhibition in 2 solo exhibitions in 2014 – one at the LCB Print Depot in Leicester, and one in the gallery at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. More details about these to come.
I will also be running and assisting on a number of workshops and talks during 2013 and early 2014 to help spread the lithography word – all detailed below…
Sat 21st September 2013
Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at Leicester Print Workshop
Sat 19th October 2013
Introduction to Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at West Yorkshire Print Workshop
Sat 26th / Sun 27th October 2013
Stone Lithography Weekend Workshop at Leicester Print Workshop (Assisting tutor Serena Smith)
Sat 23rd November 2013
Photo-Plate Lithography – day course at Leicester Print Workshop
Weds 15th January 2014
‘Stone Lithography’ short film screening and artist talk at Leicester Print Workshop
Tues 18th March 2014
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at West Yorkshire Print Workshop to accompany my solo exhibition.
If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my progress and where you can see my work, you can also sign up to my mailing list.
Another post to follow soon…