A Lo Hecho, Pecho

Printmaking in general but especially Stone Lithography is a process driven printmaking matrix. You have got to love process if your going to draw on stone. I often get asked how a lithographic print is made so I thought I would do a post that walks through my process using a recently made print. First of all what is Stone Lithography? It is one of an any lithographic printmaking processes, zinc or aluminum, that takes advantage of the fact that oil and water will not mix. I draw with any grease or oil based medium directly on a limestone slab. Using a chemical reaction, called etching, I establish ink receptive areas and water receptive areas. Why limestone well limestone is able to be polished incredibly smooth through a process called graining. Almost all of the limestone slabs that lithographers use have come from the same quarry in Germany because of the fine and uniform quality of limestone found there. Why do I need a smooth uniform surface? Well because lithography is a planographic printmaking process. even though I etch the stone I am not making furrow into the surface of the stone. Rather the image rests on top of the surface of the stone. If we could shrink down super tiny and look at a stone and a zinc plate we could see the differences between a planographic technique and a intaglio technic which I've done in the handy diagram below. Ok so thats a decent very brief intro into stone lithography. 

I find many of the inspiration for my prints while walking around, often on a dog walk. We liven Peru currently and one day while exploring my new surroundings I came upon a bird perched on a sign that read, in spanish, No fishing in the lake. I thought this was hilarious and the bird, a young hooded night heron, was perched in such a defiant manner. I snapped a quick photo and was on my way. Since then I have watched this bird grow into an adult. Its color has changed as well as its size it is a truly cool bird. Of course I see it almost daily fishing in the lake. 

Before I start any print I do tons of drawings. For the amount of time that will be invested in a lithograph I want to make sure I like what I'm going to draw. Although  I can erase once I start drawing on the stone it is only to a certain degree. Above are some of my sketches.

The final print has 5 colors so I had a few options in how I could go about making the image. I could grain four stones and draw each layer separately but registration would be a bit more difficult and for this print it would of amounted to unnecessary work. I could also work in a reductive manner printing one color and then removing part of the drawing for the next layer. The image on the left might help in understanding this. Say I'm making a four color print my first layer is Cyan I print that and then remove on the oval shape from the image on the stone. The next layer I print is magenta but because I removed the oval shape the cyan from the previous layer will still show. I repeat this with each successive layer. I like working in this way because while it is fairly easy to remove an image it is hard to add to a stone once it is etched.  If I wished to add anything I would have to counter etch, otherwise know and good by grey, but that will be covered in another post. I don't want to get to far into the weeds just yet! 

Another reason I like to use a reduction method when printing multiple colors is that registration is relatively easy. Registration means the alignment of a layer to the one prior to it. One can do this in a number of ways I prefer in stone registration. This is done by engraving a 'T' in the stone itself and then drawing a corespondent mark on the paper I will be printing on. This mark will be lined up with the 'T' on the stone so that I am always putting the paper in the same place for each color/layer. I have found this method to be very accurate for printing multiple colors.

So now that I have my registration set up I am ready to start drawing. For this print I ended up using two stones. One stone was used for all the background images. and a final stone was used for the bird and the sign. I drew the bird first but printed it last. I did this because I did not want any other colors behind the bird and wanted the final image to trap all the others. How did I know where the bird would be on the final image if I was going to print it last? I made an outline drawing and then transferred it to the stone that would hold all the background images. The final image in the slide show shows how I block out with gum arabic the area where the bird image will eventually be printed.  

Once I had both my stones set up along with my registration It was just a matter of spending the next few weeks printing and image altering it and then printing the next image. In between colors/layers I needed to wait at least five to six days as it takes that long for the oil based inks to dry. It is funny because the actual printing of each layer is fast, in fact while printing I am moving very quickly, it is the set up and process that takes up all the time. The slide show on the right shows what each layer looked like on the stone. Keep in mind that to draw each layer I am really removing image from the previous layer. The final image in the slide show is the print without the final trapping layer of the bird. You can see the blank area where the bird will go. This was kept blank by blocking the area out with gum arabic initially. 

This whole process from initial photo until final print took about two months more or less. I think the final print turned out quite well. One of the goals, maybe the most important goal, in printmaking is that each all of the prints are the same. These prints are the ones that will make up the edition. I started this print trying to get 16 keepers. I ended up with an edition of 6. In other words I lost 10 prints in the process. This is for many reasons it could have been that the impression was not good, the registration was off, or the paper was damaged or smudged by dirty fingers. I go into any print knowing that the attrition rate can be high that is why I started with 16. I think that I might be particularly anal about my prints being the same but to quote the Tamarind Book of Lithography (this is the lithographers bible!)  "Any lithograph worth printing is worth printing well, in the finest way, on the finest paper, in accordance with the highest standards of the art." p. 14. An edition is how many prints of the image exist or were kept as good enough to sell. Traditionally any proofs or prints that did not make the edition are destroyed to keep the integrity of the final edition. You an tell a fine art print by what looks like a fraction often found in the bottom left corner. For example 1/6 would bean that the print is number one in an edition of six. Is does not matter which number one gets from an edition as by their nature they should all be the same. 1 of 6 was not necessarily printed before 6 of 6.

A Lo Hecho, Pecho basically means   be responsible for your actions. For me this relates to humans as stewards of the land. Are there no fishing in the lake because we have killed or made the fish inedible from our own actions? It also relates to the Bird, the other side of the coin, it is perched with a mischievous gleam in its eye knowing it is about to break the rules. Responsibility...

You can check out more of my work in my portfolio. Many of my prints are available for purchase in my Etsy store. A lo Hecho, Pecho is available for purchase.   

Cheers, 

Ben