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Lithography

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The word ‘lithograph’ means a stone print. This is a flat printing technique where the artist draws the desired motif with a greasy ink, called tusche, or crayon on a special limestone (Solnhofen Limestone). The artist draws directly on the smooth, flat limestone – hence the name flat printing because the image is drawn directly on to the surface rather than cut into the surface as with, for example, lino cut (relief printing). It is important to be completely focussed when drawing, since the lines cannot be erased or redone once the final drawing on the stone surface is complete. When the artist has completed the drawing the stone is processed using a complex range of chemicals before the ink is applied and the printing can begin.

The printing is done using a special lithography press. The lithography technique was invented in Germany towards the end of the 18th century. The lithography technique is based on the fact that oil and water doesn’t mix, and this is exactly what was discovered in Germany in the 18th century: That this particular type of limestone has the qualities needed to absorb and retain both watery and greasy ink. Limestone is the most essential tool in a lithography workshop and a seasoned printer has a special relationship with his stone. The relationship between grease and water is used to define areas of the stone where it can absorb (greasy) printing ink and areas where it repels the ink because it is saturated with water. During the actual printing process, the stone surface is kept wet using a fine layer of water, so the printing ink only sticks to the surface where the artist has drawn. Lithographs can be made as both mono and multi-colour prints.

Colour prints use one stone per colour, which means the stone needs to be completely cleaned before the artist can transfer their motif again, and then print another colour. This means, if there are 10 colours in a lithograph the stone has been cleaned, the motif redrawn, and the colour applied 10 times. This makes lithography a slow and difficult printing process, which requires the artist to work with professional lithographers. These specialist artisans know how to mix the colours, how much grease to add to the ink, and how thick the layer of ink should be before printing. Often several lithographers work together by the stone, printing, cleaning and applying the ink. This kind of teamwork can only be successful if the artist works with highly skilled specialists.

As with all types of artistic printing, every edition is numbered and signed. This means that if you buy a lithograph with the number 3/20 written on it you are buying the 3rd of a total of 20 prints. When the printing is completed for the number of impressions the artists wishes to print, the motif on the stone is destroyed, so that no more copies of this print can be created ever again. Therefore, a lithograph is a “true” work of art, which is only available in a very limited edition. Some experts can even detect whether a lithograph is printed at the beginning or towards the end of the process. The price of a lithograph is, therefore, significantly higher than for things like posters, and the price vary depending on the name of the artist, the size of the work and, not least, the edition size. The price of the individual print will be lower for a large edition. A lithograph should always be framed using high-quality glass to protect against bleaching and other damage.