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Stone Lithography

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

Working with Paul Croft. Litho as a mimic.

Even by printmaking standards, stone lithography is one of the more esoteric and impenetrable techniques. I had certainly never tried it and barely come across it before moving to Aberystwyth, but i soon discovered there is a dedicated fanbase and that it has been historically very prevalent for commercial uses (also plate lithography).

We're lucky to be well set up for it at Aberystwyth School of Art with a whole lithography workshop and tuition from an expert, Paul Croft. There is so much to say and after a few sessions I am hardly qualified, but I'll briefly go through the process of making my Tardigrade print.

1. Feel daunted by a vast expanse of silky flat stone to draw on. Materials are varied and individual including washes and greasy crayons. As long as water is repelled the etching process will create a mark wherever you make one (including greasy fingerprints).

Grained limestone before drawing.

The image still wet, it will take several hours to dry properly.

2. The stone must be etched with differing solutions of nitric acid. I am still not able to do this unaided as the strength used will be determined by the mark made. It is then washed off (the image alarmingly disappears), then rolled with ink (magically reappears!).

Paul Croft etching a different image.

3. To print the stone, the image is rolled again with ink and put through a high pressure lithography press. There are many pitfalls with printing (too much ink, dry stone, pressure incorrect), but beginners luck I managed a few good ones with some help...

Fresh prints in the drying rack

There are many small steps that I've not detailed (lots of gumming with gum arabic, for instance), but this is the basic process. The exciting thing about lithography for me is the use of the washes (tusche) which form such beautiful patterns as the pigment separates out during drying. It's also incredibly versatile and direct: painterly looks can be achieved but it works equally for bold and graphic images.

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