Today it is Tuesday, every evening on Tuesdays I drag my exhausted frame to the Graphic Centre, to do three hours of gruelling hard work, with the single purpose of producing a few worthwhile prints.
On Tuesday I do Lithography, or translated from Dutch: ”Stone-print” This is because you use a very special kind of very fine stone to make your print. This specific sandstone can only be found in a quarry in the south of Germany, a place called Solmhofen. The exceptional fineness of the sandstone quarried here makes it possible to make beautiful pictures on the polished stone, which can then be reproduced in previously impossible numbers. This printing process was invented in 1796.
It has also made it possible for some of the most amazing fossiles to be preserved. Many very delicate dinosaur bodies, sometimes with fur or feathers still visible as they imprinted on the sand when the stone was still sand. The most impressive and well-known of these is the beautiful archeaopterix, a real missing link! This fossil shows all the hallmarks of a small dinosaur combined with those of a bird.
Back to printing:
The whole process is very time consuming, but when everything is in place, and you have a good day, you can quickly make your prints. First you have to wipe the stone clean from the previous drawing. This is done by grating the stone with special abrasive carborundum-powders used in increasing levels of fineness. Here you can see W. grinding a really BIG stone. A smaller stone, like the one I’m showing next takes about one hour, one and a half to grind. You have to be very careful that the grinding doesn’t make a dent in the middle of the stone, or at the sides. If this happens you can’t print. So we check this during the first grind regularly with a metal ruler.
When the stone is clean and smooth, we take it to another room to dry. We don’t wait for the drying; we use old hairdryers to speed things up! Then we etch the stone using ”Strong Gum”, This is Arabic gum laced with nitric acid. This will prepare the surface for the drawing. The first thing is to paint a border on the stone with Arabic gum. Your drawing must always leave room for a substantial border on the stone, because the leather ‘rijfer’ (sorry I really can’t find a translation for this) has to be smaller than the stone. (Its on the photo) Anyway, The Arabic gum protects the stone. any fatty sustance like fingerprints will be visible on the print later on.
Here you see the beautiful Krause press we are lucky enough to use at the Graphic Centre. In the middle of the circle, you can see a small bit of wood, just sticking out underneath the metal is a thick leather strip. This is the ‘rijfer’ it will press the paper to the stone and thus transfer the drawing on the stone to the paper.
Now you can make your drawing. I’ve made a simple drawing with a special Lithography crayon. The drawing is dusted with talcum powder, and then covered with Arabic gum and left for 12 hours at least. We artists rely a lot on Arabic gum and are really pissed when there is another war/struggle/upheaval in the middle east, because that will mean there is less Arabic Gum coming our way, and we poor artists have to pay high prices to get our hands on some.
This is the stone covered in dry Arabic gum, next to it is the sketch I used for the drawing. I don’t transfer the drawing; I just draw it directly on the stone. The nice thing about Lithography is that it will reproduce exactly my drawing lines. It is very direct.
As you prepare for the printing of the drawing, you have to first prepare the paper: it must be of the right size, and often you might like to soak it in water first, then it has to dry off again. The test-paper is also prepared and the paper that goes on top of the printing paper is cut to size. A dish with water, laced with a small dash of Arabic Gum, and a sponge, is placed in a handy spot, and the pen-ink which I’m using is rolled on to the roller. Every kind of printing calls for a specific printing-ink.
Now we take the stone itself to the washing space again, and spray it with water and add turps to it.This cleans off the Arabic Gum, and the turps clean off the drawing. The drawing is very faint now. From now on, the stone has to be kept wet at all times! We take the stone back to the printing-studio, and roll the pen-ink onto the stone. The drawing now comes back again. The whole trick of Lithography printing is based on water and fat, and the (oily) ink wanting to stick to the greasy drawing on the stone while leaving the wet part completely clear. when a bit of the stone has dried the ink will stick on the stone and you’ll have to clean the stone immediately, or the stone is ruined and you’ll have to start all over again!
The wet stone now remains on the press and is rolled again before every print. The paper is placed on the stone after it is rolled with a fresh layer of ink. four to five pressure papers are placed on top of it, on top of that goes the grey plastic sheet. The stone is then placed undermneath the ‘rijfer’ which is pressed down with great force, by the metal handel, you see a part of it on top of the photo., and everythink is then rolled forwards. You can see the little bits of white tape we use to mark how far we can roll the press. The pressure is só great, that if you roll the press too far, the stone gets catapulted away from the press. You could kill somebody doing that! Or worse: break a valuable Litho-stone!!! Behind the Krause, you can see the Roco-press. Chances are, one of your friends is printing on that one! It’s not the best arrangement, but we don’t have a lot of space. It takes at least 3 to 4 prints before the ink is settled enough for the really good prints to be produced.
The printed paper is placed into a drying frame.
The finished print.
And framed. I gave this one as a present to the lady of the farm where Tarq and Rabhar are stabled. She looked after them and cleaned their stables while I was immovably stuck on the couch with my ankle!