Over the past few months filmmaker Bill Newsinger has been in and around Leicester Print Workshop, filming and documenting the lithography process. This film is the end result.
Working with Bill has been a pleasure – a funny, strange and intriguing process, with his endless enthusiasm for the subject matter always shining through.
From the start we both seemed to have a similar vision of how we wanted the film to come across, and I’m so pleased with the end result. The film portrays the lithography process exactly how I see it, and will hopefully help those who watch it to understand exactly what the process involves, and why I love it.
Big thanks to Bill for having the idea in the first place and being so cool to work with, to Leicester Print Workshop for being so accommodating and encouraging the collaboration, to West Yorkshire Print Workshop for allowing me the opportunity to take up the internship, and to Serena Smith for teaching me everything I was doing in the film!
I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, so to make up for that I’m planning on doing a good few posts over the next few weeks to try to catch up a bit!
This post documents my first go at colour printing from a stone:
- The first thing to say is that printing in colour is so different from printing in black and white. Each ink acts very differently, some being very runny and needing to be stiffened before use, others being so highly pigmented that lots of extender is needed to tame it a bit.
- Another thing I learned is that you very rarely use opaque white when printing in colour. It tends to dull colours down and decrease their vibrancy. Instead, the coloured ink is made more or less transparent using extender, making use of the natural luminosity of the paper being printed on.
- Paper stretch is a major factor when printing in colour and in register. This is especially noticeable when using damped paper to print onto. As such, dry paper is usually used. However this tends to result in not as much detail being picked up from the stone as when printing in black and white.
- In this case, I made a test stone by first applying gum arabic to the stone to mark it out in sections – wherever the gum was applied would not take the drawing. I then used a variety of different drawing materials to fill in each square, including hard and soft litho crayon, turps tusche (grease suspended in turps), water tusche (grease suspended in water), liquid litho ink, and techniques such as scratching into the gummed stone and rubbing turpsy black ink into the scratched areas.
- I then processed the stone and printed the first colour. It is important at this stage to ensure that each print you take is registered well. This is usually done using the pin registration technique, which I’ll do a separate post on in due course.
- I then re-worked the stone, using soap wash, pumice and scratching back, and printed the stone again in a different colour on top of the first print.
- When printing multiple stones in colour, you inevitably get colours mixing, and this is a very exciting part of stone lithography. It’s going to take a lot of practice to be able to accurately predict what the resulting colour will be when one is layed on top of another.
After printing my first stone, my next task was to re-work the image. This means that once a stone has been drawn on, processed and proofed, you can go back to it and make amendments by adding to or deleting the drawing.
Some amendments can be done during the proofing stage, and the stone can continue to be printed straight afterwards. However with others the stone will need to be gummed up afterwards and left overnight before proofing again. This all depends on whether the method you use is abrasive or not.
Non-abrasives: The stone can be printed straight away after using these techniques.
– Etching the image back. This has the effect of increasing the contrast in an image, getting rid of the lighter tones and tending to leave the darker tones. Using a strong-ish gum etch, (a few drops of concentrated nitric acid in gum arabic), paint the etch onto the areas of the image you wish to alter. If you don’t want to have a harsh line where you paint the etch, apply plain gum first and them work into it with the strong etch.
– Soap Wash. This method creates painterly marks which will print very dark with a slightly grainy effect, almost like an aquatint. Using a bar of ordinary household soap and some water, paint the soap onto the stone using a paintbrush. Use as little water as possible and dry thoroughly with a hairdryer, before quickly damping the area with a sponge and rock first of all with a non-drying black nap roller. The rocking ensures that the soap is not picked up and transferred to other areas of the stone. Keep rolling until the painted area is fully visible. This technique, as I have found out, takes a fair bit of practice to avoid the soap wash migrating and smearing everywhere when it is damped and rolled. If the area is too dark, a strong etch can be used to lighten it. Or, if a soap wash is used over an area of existing drawing, it can then be etched back to reveal areas of the original drawing underneath.
Abrasives: The stone will need to be gummed and left overnight after using these techniques, as areas of un-processed stone have been revealed.
– Scraping back the image. This deletes areas of drawing. Using the side of a scalpel blade, scrape away parts of the image. It may be necessary to scrape quite hard and create some dust!
– Pumice powder. This has the effect of lightening areas of drawing. Damp a nylon kitchen sponge scourer, dip into the pumice powder and scrub the areas to be lightened. The ink will be scrubbed off first, so keep going a little bit further after that.
I’ve gone a bit off-track with my posts of late – excitement about artist books took over for a bit there! So back to lithography. I’ve got a backlog of posts about various processes I’ve been learning. So here’s the first – printing my very first litho stone. (This was actually over a month ago now – how time flies!).
As promised, here is the first in my collection of artist books. It’s been fun photographing it. More to come soon.
1. “Construction”, by Thom Walker, 3 hard-ground etchings spread over 6 pages and hand bound in an edition of 12
This is one of the first ever artist books I acquired. ( We actually did a swap). I love the intricate, illustrative drawings, and although I have had it for a couple of years I only realised when I looked at it to photograph it that each drawing leads on from the next, and I always notice something new whenever I look at it.
Here is a little video of me printing a test litho stone last week. The image is made up of a series of squares in which I have used a different drawing material or technique to produce a different mark. I was really pleased with how it came out, but it might need a bit of etching back this week. It gets slightly tedious about half way through but bear with it! Hopefully it gives a little insight into the printing process, with some nice music as an added bonus. There’s also a photo of the finished print underneath.
This weekend I had a table at the Leeds International Contemporary Artist Book Fair, along with my friend Aimee Day, a visual artist based in London. It was a great two days, with such a diverse range of work, and so many inspiring conversations with people who really took the time to look at and ask about our work.
I came home feeling thoroughly inspired and energised to make new work. Having set myself a small budget, I also made a few purchases to add to my small but growing collection of artist books. Here are my new purchases in all their loveliness, along with the rest of my collection. Photographing them actually gave me the idea to do a post about each one individually. I’m going to try to do one every couple of weeks, so keep a look out…