Stone Lithography - Alois Senefelder
By: Cristina Clarimon Alinder
While visual media are quite diverse, one of the most important turning points came with the invention of the printing press. A true revolutionary creation, it opened up a whole new medium in the form of relief prints. For the first time, an artist was able to carve an image onto wooden or metal blocks, ink the block and impress it on paper. Furthermore, relief printing created the first kind of reproducible art.
The action of carving an image has its own challenges and the first results were quite unlike any other traditional techniques used until that moment. For instance, there is an intrinsic difficulty in reversing the image on the printing plate and it is a complex skill that requires great patience. The method of inking and printing on paper also requires significant dexterity and knowledge of a lengthy process with multiple steps.
In attempting to perfect his ability to engrave reverse images on copper plates, Alois Senefelder began practicing on cheaper slabs of Bavarian limestone. In addition to introducing the use of the limestone slab, Senefelder concocted a mixture of wax, soap, lamp black and rainwater that he used as a correction fluid on the copper plates.
Experimentation and a dose of serendipity brought together these two main elements specific to lithography. Senefelder realized that the use of his correction fluid on the limestone created a surface resistant to water. Oil based ink would not adhere to the wet stone. The basic concept on which lithography is based had been formulated. Senefelder proceeded to patent his printing method in 1799.
The appearance of stone lithography was the first printmaking technology that allowed the traditional artist to work using more familiar methods. Through lithography the artist could create prints that could rival an original painting in attaining exquisite detail, mood and color variations. It became exceedingly popular as a medium by the 1830s and it was widely used to create illustrations for books, as well as flyers and posters. It is still used today by artists all over the world.
The appearance of stone lithography changed the notion of printmaking in a radical way. Naturally, the steps involved in Senefelder's original litho printing process have been subject of innovation over the years. In time, they became the modern offset lithographic printing so popular today. Yet many artists still feel that Senefelder's traditional method allows for the artist's creative expression to really shine through. The original process is such that it incorporates individual and distinctive features into every single print. In essence, the images can never be truly replicated and each print is an original unto itself.
About the Author:
Cristina Clarimón Alinder is the owner and curator of ArtHaus66 Contemporary Gallery, an online art gallery specializing in the promotion of mid-career and established contemporary Spanish artists.
She believes that everyone should have the opportunity to view and collect beautiful, high quality yet reasonably priced artwork. Visit her contemporary art gallery to learn more.
For other articles and videos on this topic, please follow the links below:
Stone lithography was groundbreaking at the time of its appearance in the art world. It also open up the possibilities to the eventual development of the modern offset printing press.
William Blake is a polirizing artist. You either love his art or you hate it. His art is so dramatic that you have to react one way or the other.
The main metals used for etchings are sync and copper. Sync is easier and less expensive to etch, but copper plates are more resistant to wear and can print larger editions.
It is hard to imagine a world without the printing press. There would probably not be an information age now-a-days. Art and printing have always mixed.
Inuit printmaking has a recognizable style and imagery. It is simple in a primitive way, but it also represents a way of life.
When I was little, I used to look at the tedious lines in engravings and longed for color images, but as I developed as an artist engravings became a guiding light in my art.
One of the most enjoyable moments of street art fairs was when the show was over and the artists started swapping their artwork. One of my priced possessions is a small serigraph of a breakfast table.
Woodcuts are dramatic. They stop you on many levels. First is the contrast of blacks and whites, then are the stylized colors. They are simple in design, but beautiful to behold.
Etchings, serigraphs, aquatints, mezzotints, engravings, woodcuts, monotypes, and linocuts are giving way to the new form of printmaking: giclee prints.
I studied many etchers and often wondered why just a few of them kept etching throughout their artistic lives. It is not a simple process. Trying to control the way acid bytes a metal plate is frustrating.
I bought the biggest intaglio press I could afford. It was used. The first thing I did was take it to a metal shop to have bigger drums and a wider platten put in.
I used to spend days and days working on my etchings. Working the ground, the acid, the masking. Leaving the paper to wet overnight, running proofs. Now I walk to my Cintiq, press print, and a perfect giclee print comes out. Yet, I miss the old way!