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LIMITED EDITION LITHOGRAPHIC PRINTS FROM STONE

To mark the 200th anniversary of the discovery of lithography I produced two limestone lithographic prints from my French series. It is unfortunate that the tradition of this exceptional method has been largely abandoned. Limited "fine art reproductions" presented today are generally photographic plate copies. The added time, expense, and skill necessary to create a traditional lithographic image on unwieldly heavy limestone is a technique that has faded as has the artist’s role in manually creating his work, in reverse, on that stone. Cezanne, Matisse, Degas, Lautrec, and Picasso all used stone surfaces.

Happily, I found one of the few lithographers in the United States (Toby Michele of Angeles Press in Santa Monica) who still honors the traditional methods and employs a meticulously-prepared limestone surface to produce superior lithographic reproductions. The stones used at Angeles Press were used in France for image making over 175 years ago. I was thrilled to think that my images were to be pulled from the same stones that might have been used by the great masters of France and felt that the special qualities achieved with this technique were especially suited to my works. I found myself compelled to dedicate two of my French scenes to this renowned and historic method.

With standard photo lithographs of today the artist has little hands-on contact with the print or its production except for his signature. However, after each of my two stone surfaces were prepared by the atelier (each weighing over 1000 pounds), I personally rendered a reproduction "after" (or similar to) each of the original paintings (in reverse) on the stone with a special wax pencil and tusche. Finally, the stone surfaces were treated to bind the grease image to the surface. This image ultimately holds the hand applied ink used to transfer the image to paper. After hand pulling artist’s proofs and the edition of 100 from each stone, both surfaces were destroyed.

Some of my prints are sold in just the antique black ink giving the appearance of very old images, but others are hand embellished with Liquitex color pigments creating a muted and weathered style similar to each of my original works. This hand detailing of lithographs was made famous in the 19th century by artists such as Currier and Ives.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity to own a traditional stone lithographic print that is hand pulled and then hand embellished by the artist. These works will add a sense of history to your art collection as well as an interesting subject of conversation.

CAFÉ  D’ETOILE

Original hand pulled stone lithograph.

Signed, numbered, and embellished by the artist.

Edition of 100 on Arches buff cover.

Image size: 24 x 30 inches;

Paper size: 30 x 36 inches.

CHARCUTERIE

Original hand pulled stone lithograph.

Signed, numbered, and embellished by the artist.

Edition of 100 on Arches buff cover.

Image size: 24 x 32 inches;

Paper size: 30 x 38 inches.

A MORE DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PROCESS

WITH PICTURES

The two stones used to print my lithographs were prepared initially by removing the previous image with chemical grease removers and carborundum grit to grind off the top layer of the stone, first with course, then medium, and lastly with numerous fine grit applications.

 

After I inspected each of the prepped stones for imperfections, a forklift was used to place the 1000 pound slabs on the atelier’s table where I worked for a week on each image. I used lithographic crayons (grease pencils) to draw the image as well as lithographic tusche (a grease suspension in water for larger, solid areas) to render the finished image.

 

Remember, the images are rendered by the artist in reverse so any artistic stroke not done in reverse (i.e., any mistake) is permanent and will transfer to the final print. The liquid tusche that is loaded on a brush dare not drip on the surface as the artist moves from the tusche container to the area where it is painted. If that drip falls on the stone it will leave a drip mark on the final print. Even grease transferred from the artist’s hand will result in areas of ink on the final print. These issues must be avoided because they cannot be corrected unless the entire stone is re-surfaced which is a time wasting and costly endeavor.

 

Once the images were complete, the stones were treated to make them ready for printing. The completed images were dusted with chalk to protect the image during the application of gum Arabic and nitric acid to fix the image and non-image areas of the stone. By doing this the greasy areas (those that I drew) become repellent to water (hydrophobic) but will accept the oil-based ink, and the areas where I had not drawn (where there was just bare limestone) became porous and attractive to water (they were hydrophilic) and would prevent ink from adhering. Therefore only the areas where I drew in grease or tusche would accept the ink rolled on the stone and thereby transfer the image to the paper when it is run through the press.

 

The treatment of the stone with gum Arabic and nitric acid is called an “etch.” After this treatment there remains a 1mm thick “gum absorb area” where I have drawn the image. After treatment, the stone is left to dry overnight before a second “etch” is applied to ensure defined image and non-image areas. Water is wiped over the surface to keep it damp before applying non-drying black ink that adheres to the image area.

 

The stones are now ready for proofing. The stone is made damp with a sponge so the limestone holds water and will keep the ink from sticking and then the stone is inked with a roller. The stone is indeed ready to print, but its ability to print will increase during about a dozen proofs and inkings of the stone. These discarded proofs are done on newsprint.

When these newsprint proofs resemble what the artist has envisioned, it is time to print on fine art paper. I chose Arches cover in cream to resemble aged paper. For each print the stone is re-wet and rolled with ink. A piece of Aches cover is placed on the stone’s image and then a few sheets of newsprint are placed on top of the art paper. The stone which is now covered with paper is put through the press. After pressing, the art paper is peeled off the stone resulting in the first artist’s proof. Approximately 10% of the edition size is done as artist’s proofs (AP) on art paper. When the artist is satisfied with the image of these proofs a BAT (Bon à Tirer) is assigned. Meaning “good to print” this BAT print is the artist’s benchmark to show what the artist expects the rest of the edition to resemble. Subsequent prints that do not adhere to the BAT are destroyed.

After the full edition is printed, the artist will use a metal instrument to “strike” the stone by scraping a large “X” through the image and into the stone so no further prints can be made. The stone is inked for the last time and a print of the striked image is made for the atelier to hold as confirmation that the edition is limited to the number of images guaranteed on the print documentation and as indicated on each print.

Toby Michele and Lawrence Neumeister preparing the stone for proofing.

“CHARCUTERIE” after printing, signing, and numbering.

Lawrence hand embellishes the print with Liquitex pigments.

The final hand colored “CHARCUTERIE” print.

Party of pre-publication buyers to watch the “striking” of the stone images.

Lawrence uses a metal tool to scratch or “strike” an “X” into the stone image so no further images can be pulled from the stone.

Toby wets the stone after striking before the final print.

Under atelier owner Toby Michele’s skillful eye, Lawrence inks the stone after the “strike” for the final strike print.

Toby pulls the final “proof of striking” print of “CHARCUTERIE” before doing the same for “CAFÉ FLORE” the companion piece.