Use of the technique by other
European artists of the nineteenth century, such as Gericault and Delacroix, brought some prestige and acceptance to lithography
in the world of fine art.
Still many people saw it merely
as a less expensive means to own a work of art by a renowned painter. It also
was commonly used for commercial and popular purposes such as advertisement posters.
At the beginning of the 20th century lithography again fell into disfavor among the art world, but its commercial
uses were still exploited. More recently in the 20th century it found
a well-respected place among fine art techniques, and now is seen as an important technique with unique expressive capabilities.
The technique of lithography
(from the Greek for "stone drawing") relies on "the principle of the antipathy of grease and water." Generally, the stone on which the image is initially created is limestone.
The image is drawn on the stone with some greasy material. After the image
is drawn, the stone is dampened and ink is applied with a roller. The greasy
image repels the water and holds the oily ink while the rest of the stone's surface does the opposite. The stone is chemically treated after the image is created in order to enhance this effect. Some materials for drawing the image are litho crayons and pencils (containing wax, pigment, soap and shellac),
liquid tusche (similar in composition to the crayons but water soluble), stick tusche (a solid form), conte crayons, pens
and graphite pencils to name a few.
The finished stone is placed
on a bed that carries it through the press. The paper is placed on top of the
stone with some backing papers to protect it. A sheet of metal or plastic is
placed on top of all the materials and they are braced together. A roller underneath
that is turned by a handle moves the bed. This is similar to the intaglio press
except that a scraper bar instead of a roller applies the pressure from above. The
scraper bar slides along the greased metal plate pressing the paper against the stone so that it lifts the ink from where
the greasy drawing material holds it on the stone.
Color lithography is a more complex process
that usually involves multiple pressings, one for each color in the image. This
requires an extensive knowledge of color theory because the process requires the mixing of colors on the final image itself. According to one book on lithography technique, "The original color drawing should
be treated as a guide for the final print, not as a finished work to be duplicated exactly."
Different stones are sometimes used for each color but the same stone can be used for multiple colors.
Because of the equipment used
and the knowledge and skill required for the printing process, lithography lends itself to collaboration between an artist
and a printer. Even pulling a proof of a large lithograph requires two people. A recent exhibit at a gallery focuses on collaboration as an important aspect of the
production of prints. Working with a skilled printer the artist can know exactly
how to achieve certain effects and how the print can benefit most from the chosen medium.
As a result of the variety of the materials that can be used
and the versatility of the imagery that can be represented as the artist creates directly on the stone, lithography is an
excellent medium for modern artistic expression. What other printmaking technique
could allow Willem De Kooning to create such expressive sweeping forms as in his Untitled lithograph from 1970?