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MHS Library | Printmaking

Lithography: definition

Lithography works on the principle that grease and water repel each other. There is no carving involved. The artist draws on a stone with a greasy crayon and then covers the stone with a thin film of water. The oily ink will stick to the greasy image but not to the water-covered areas (Frank Curkovic)

Lithography originally used an image drawn (etched) into a coating of wax or an oily substance applied to a plate of lithographic stone as the medium to transfer ink to a blank paper sheet, and so produce a printed page. In modern lithography, the image is made of a polymer coating applied to a flexible aluminum plate. To print an image lithographically, the flat surface of the stone plate is roughened slightly—etched—and divided into hydrophilic regions that accept a film of water, and thereby repel the greasy ink; and hydrophobic regions that repel water and accept ink because thesurface tension is greater on the greasy image area, which remains dry. The image can be printed directly from the stone plate (the orientation of the image is reversed), or it can be offset, by transferring the image onto a flexible sheet (rubber) for printing and publication.

As a printing technology, lithography is different from intaglio printing (gravure), wherein a plate is either engravedetched, or stippled to score cavities to contain the printing ink; and woodblock printing, and letterpress printing, wherein ink is applied to the raised surfaces of letters or images. (Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of nature) Lithograph

Divan Japonais, 1892-93. Toulouse Lautrec.

Divan Japonais, 1892–93
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901)
Lithograph printed in four colors on wove paper

See more artists and art using lithograph here.

An aristocratic, alcoholic dwarf known for his louche lifestyle, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec created art that was inseparable from his legendary life. His career lasted just over a decade and coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of nightlife culture. Lautrec's posters promoted Montmartre entertainers as celebrities, and elevated the popular medium of the advertising lithograph to the realm of high art.

Read more about Toulouse Lautrec here.

Lithography and artists using lithography

Richard Parkes Bonington (Lithograph)

Richard Parkes Bonington, English (1802-1828)

Tour du gros horloge, Évreux

Drawing on the lithographic stone is done with a variety of drawing materials. One of the most common of these drawing materials is the lithographic crayon. Bonington used the lithographic crayon with remarkable virtuosity. As you move around this image you will see subtle tonal passages, probably done with the flat side of the crayon (the subtle texture you see in the details is actually the texture of the lithographic stone on which Bobington drew). You will also encounter many details drawn by the artist with a highly sharpened crayon. Finally, you will find areas where Bonington has worked back into the lithographic image with a needle, scratching through his drawing and directly into the stone. These scratches print as fine white lines. A good example of this latter technique can be seen in the clock face. (Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas)