| W H Y L I T H O G R A P H Y
I have a background in science, and as such I think there will always be a part of me that thrives off the technical methodology of creating work and the associated chemistry. I have been fascinated by printmaking as a process for a number of years as, for me, it sits at the interface of art and science. I was instinctively drawn to Stone Lithography, a process that celebrates the antipathy of grease and water on a planographic limestone surface. It is viewed by many printmakers as a strange, mysterious alchemy. To others, it seems peculiar why anyone would choose this method over alternative forms of printmaking that are more forgiving, more immediate, and less temperamental, such as screen print, lino and risograph. However, to Lithography lovers like myself, the aspects that are off-putting to others, are the very drivers of creativity.
Central to my practice is the importance of material and process as much as the finished article itself. I am connecting with something very ancient when I work with the stone, in the same way as I am whilst exploring the abundant natural world. This wonderfully organic printing process is where everything converges.
It all starts with the stone. I am working with a physical piece of the earth in order to create prints inspired by my own experience of, and relationship with, the earth. The limestone slabs all originate from a specific region of Bavaria in Germany - a metamorphic memory of the land’s history. Each step of the lithographic process requires understanding and careful consideration of the character of the stone, as if forging a relationship with it. Firstly, the surface of the stone needs to be grained, to a perfectly smooth and level plane, effacing any existing greasy imagery from previous printing projects – a step requiring considerable operator physicality but which augments the symbiosis between artist and material. Grease, in various forms, is used to create the image, either by drawing directly onto the surface or painting with the grease suspended in water or solvent. Care has to be taken at this stage as the limestone is sensitive to any grease that may interact with the surface, including oils from the skin.
The next stage of ‘processing’ the stone is where the interactions that are important to the final piece occur. Unlike other printing processes, the image and non-image areas are on the same plane and the separation needs to occur chemically. Called ‘etching’, the stone is stabilised and the non-image areas desensitised. Gum arabic and nitric acid are applied to the surface in specific concentrations. This interacts with the fatty-acid particles in the drawing, and the combination of grease, limestone and acid form oleomanganate of lime. When I consider this part of the process I think of ‘memory’. Essentially the etching processes can be seen as a way of encouraging the stone to remember which areas are grease-loving and will subsequently pick up ink when printing, and which areas will not attract grease. The oleomanganate of lime acts as the stone’s memory, with etching pushing the greasy component's particles further into the stone. The stone now needs to rest and take time to think, to develop, to consolidate.
Like any printmaking technique, the foundations must be established first, before true experimentation can take place. Every step of the process is volatile, requiring a great patience and the recognition that things may not go to plan, but this is where the magic occurs. As I grapple with the alchemical process and learn the intricacies and nuances of it, I have found my own language with the mark making - an organic fluidity that suits my thinking, and I have begun to be able to push and stretch the stone as a material.