Lithography is a method for printing on a smooth surface. In lithography the entire print block comes in contact with the paper sheet, and a chemical process confines the ink to the desired image on the block. This contrasts with relief printing where the ink is carried on a raised image, and intaglio, where it lies in the grooves of an engraved image. Because the print block is flat rather than relief, lithography is described as a planographic print process.
Lithography works because of the repulsion of oil and water. The image is drawn on the surface of the print block with an oil-based medium. The range of oil-based mediums is endless but the dexterity of the image relies on the lipid content of the material being used — its ability to withstand water and acid. Following the placement of the image is the application of an acid emulsified with gum arabic. The function of this emulsion is to create a salt layer directly around the image area. The salt layer seeps into the pores of the stone, completely enveloping the original image. This process is called etching. Using lithographic turpentine, the printer then removes the greasy drawing material, leaving only the salt layer; it is this salt layer which holds the skeleton of the image’s original form. When printing, the stone or plate is kept wet with water. Naturally the water is attracted to the layer of salt created by the acid wash. Ink that bears a high lipid content is then rolled over the surface. The water repels the grease in the ink and the only place for it to go is the cavity left by the original drawing material. When the cavity is sufficiently full, the stone and paper are run through a press which applies even pressure over the surface, transferring the ink to the paper and off the stone.
The advantage to lithography (for an artist’s point of view) was that he or she could draw or paint directly onto the lithographic material and avoid entirely the intermediate steps and craftsmen involved in engraving. Therefore, an artist’s drawing and a lithographic print made from it were nearly identical — no reworking or transfer to another medium was necessary. It also afforded, at the time, the most complete range of line color from white to black.
For the first time in history, an artist was able to send out into the world his or her own drawing, not in unique specimen but in editions. Each impression had all their personality, skill, and genius, with no recourse to intermediary persons and technological steps.
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
47 Water Street
Canada V6B 1A1
Toll Free: 1-888-669-8813
3 blocks from Waterfront Station
Between Abbott St. and Carrall St.
Monday to Saturday, open 10-6
Sunday and Holidays, open 12-5
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