Paper lithography

12 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Paper lithograph by Alexander Archipenko

Paper lithography (lithography on paper, lithographie sur papier, Dutch: papierlithografie) is a lithographic printing technique that belongs to the manual planographic printmaking family. Instead of applying the drawing directly to the stone – as with the traditional litho – the drawing is first made on paper and then transferred to the stone.

Technique description
The first step in making a paper litho is to draw the desired image on a paper with a greasy material like tusche or chalk. After the drawing is made, the paper is put between moistened papers for several hours. This is done to make sure that the paper absorbs a sufficient amount of water, but without getting too wet.
One has to guarantee that the paper used for paper litho does not absorb the grease from the chalk or tusche too fast. This is why one gives the preference to a special kind of paper – called autographic paper. This paper has a greaseproof cover layer (consisting of white gouache or paste for example) on one side which is solvable in water and does not absorb grease. The drawing does therefore not permeate in the paper.
Now the stone to which the drawing will be applied is made smooth and greaseproof by washing it with a mixture of nitric acid and alum. When this mixture has dried, the stone is warmed with hot water or an electric heater. To improve the grease absorption, a thin layer of white spirit is spread on the stone.
The next step is to put the moistened paper face down on the stone, the layer of white spirit not having totally dried yet. The stone is now being covered and put several times through the press. The stone absorbs the grease from the drawing, which lets off because of the paper’s dampness. One can however not wait too long with transferring the drawing to the stone, because otherwise the paper will absorb too much grease.
After moistening the paper again, the paper is carefully removed from the stone. Parts of the greasy chalk or tusche used for the drawing remain on the stone, though not that clearly visible. This is why on uses a sponge with pen ink and white spirit to rub the drawing into the stone. At this stage it is still possible to change or adjust the drawing by scraping or drawing.  When one is satisfied about the drawing, the stone gets washed and dried again. The final step is to fix the drawing to the stone with asphalt or rosin.

The paper litho has certain benefits compared to the traditional lithography. First of all, it is possible to use the paper litho as a “reservage” technique. By covering areas of the drawing with a protective layer of white gouache or casein paint, the parts containing the protective material will not be visible on the stone. Instead of this protective layer, one can also place templates between the drawing and the stone.
Secondly, it is much easier to draw on paper first and not directly on stone; the lithographic stone is vulnerable, rather heavy and difficult to treat. One has much more freedom when using paper first.
Finally, because the drawing is transferred twice – from paper to stone and from stone to final print – one does not have to create a mirror image, like it is the case when drawing on a stone directly.

Description of the instruments, machines and chemicals used for paper litho
Stone, (autographic) paper, tusche/chalk, asphalt/rosin, casein paint/ white gouache, press, water, damp papers.

Aloys Senefelder (1771 – 1834) invented the traditional lithography. The paper lithography was a popular printing technique in the 19th century, but no particular inventor can be assigned.

History of the use of paper litho
In the 19th century, lithographic artists started using paper lithography. At first, the paper litho was not considered a real graphic technique. The artists J. Whistler (1834 – 1903) and Sir F. Haden (1818 – 1910) have however proven in court that the paper litho in fact is a real graphic printmaking technique.

Related techniques
Related to the paper litho is the transfer lithography.

Van der Linden, F. De grafische technieken. De Bilt, 1979.

By: Eva Veenendaal


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