Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Drawing - Printing - Gallery Notes

Impression - State - Edition - Bon à Tirer

From: Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Works on Paper - Lithography

I N D E X - Lithography Techniques - Preparing the Printing Surface - Limestone - Zinc or Aluminum Plates - Drawing the Image - Tusche - Transfer Paper - Fixing the Image - Gum Arabic and Nitric Acid - Gum Arabic - Inking - Printing - Tympanum - Scraper Bar

Brief History - The Nineteenth Century - Alois Senefelder - First set of artists' lithographs was published in England in 1803 - Francisco Goya - Eugèene Delacroix, Theodore Gericault - Honoré Daumier - Jules Cheret - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Pierre Bonnard - Edouard Vuillard - Currier and Ives - Chromolithographs. - The Twentieth Century - Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Edvard Munch. - Pablo Picasso - George Bellows and John Sloan - Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood - Charles Sheeler - Federal Works Progress Administration - Graphic Workshops - Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg

Silkscreen [screen-printing and serigraphy] - Silkscreen Techniques - Preparing the Stencil - Cut Stencils - Block-out - Photographic Method - Printing the Image - Printing Unit - Squeegee

Brief History - Federal Works Progress Administration - Pop Art - Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein - Robert Rauschenberg - Photo-silkscreen - Frank Stella - Edward Ruscha

[Suggested Reading]

The collections in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs are shown in exhibitions that change regularly. For reasons of preservation, works of art on paper cannot be exposed to light for long periods of time. In addition, the size of the collections makes it possible to exhibit only a small portion at any one time. These selected exhibitions may focus on a particular period or artist, examine a certain technique, or follow a chosen theme.

Due to the nature of the changing exhibitions, this series of Gallery Notes does not discuss specific works of art on view. Instead, each one explains a certain technique and gives a brief history of its development, illustrated with major works form the Museum of Fine Arts collections. This guide will describe the processes of lithography and silkscreen, explaining each technique and giving a brief history of its artistic use. We hope this information will help you understand and enjoy the current exhibition.

L i t h o g r a p h y
Lithography is based upon the fact that grease and water do not mix. An image is drawn with a greasy crayon on a specially treated surface, traditionally limestone, now frequently zinc or aluminum. The surface is then treated to make the area touched by the crayon receptive to the greasy printing ink, while the areas left blank are kept wet to repel the ink. In lithography the printing surface is a smooth, flat plane, unlike relief printing [e.g. woodcut], in which the design to be inked is higher than the surrounding area, or intaglio printing [e.g. engraving, etching] in which grooves in a metal plate hold the ink and print the image. Lithography is thus called a planographic process. Since the printing surface does not wear out or break down rapidly, a large number of fine impressions can be printed from a single lithographic stone or plate. This made lithography highly suitable for commercial reproduction in the nineteenth century.

Lithography Techniques
Preparing the Printing Surface
The traditional surface for lithography is a slab of Bavarian limestone. However, because of the fragility, weight, expense, and limited supply of this stone, the use of alternative surfaces such as zinc or aluminum plates is increasing today. The printing surface is ground down with grains of sand, silicon carbide, or aluminum oxide to make it even and to give it a slight grain which will hold the marks of the greasy crayon. This grinding also usually serves to remove a previous drawing, as stones, and plates are used again and again.

Drawing the Image
The material used for drawing the image on the stone is a mixture of black pigment and some form of grease. It may be used in solid form, called lithographic pencil, chalk, or crayon or in liquid form called tusche, which is applied with a brush . The pigment can be applied thickly or thinly, scraped away to create white lines against black, and textured in various other ways. The final print will have exactly the same qualities of wash, line, hatching, etc. as the drawing on the stone, but due to the printing process, the image will be in reverse.

Artists may also draw on transfer paper, which, when placed face down on the stone, transfers the image to it in reverse. This image is reversed again as it is printed, so in the final print it appears as it was originally drawn. Many artists have preferred to work in this way, avoiding the difficulty of reversing the image and leaving the work with the stone to a professional printer.

Fixing the Image
Before printing, it is necessary to prepare the stone so that only the drawing will be receptive to the ink. The stone is coated with a weak solution of gum arabic and nitric acid. This seals the blank areas of the stone, making them receptive to water and repellent to grease. When this solution has dried, the stone is rubbed with pure gum arabic. This gum penetrates deep into the blank areas of the stone, though not into the image drawn in greasy ink or tusche. The stone is then washed with a solvent to remove the ink or tusche, leaving the stone slightly greasy where the image was drawn.

The surface of the stone is wet down with water, which coats the blank areas, then greasy lithographic ink is applied to the stone with a roller. Since grease and water do not mix, the ink is repelled by the wet, blank areas and drawn to the greasy areas, exactly re-creating the original drawn image. For each impression that is printed, the stone must be re-wet and re-inked.

The inked stone is placed face-up in the moveable bed of a press, covered with a dampened sheet of printing paper, blotters to absorb moisture, and finally a heavier, slick-surfaced cover called a tympanum. Together these pass beneath a "scraper bar" whose heavy, even pressure transfers the inked image to the paper. A good impression depends upon proper fixing with the gum and acid, even inking, proper pressure, and choice of paper appropriate to the image.

Brief History
The Nineteenth Century
In Munich in 1798, Alois Senefelder, seeking an inexpensive means of reproducing dramatic and musical scores, observed the special qualities of Bavarian limestone when he accidentally inked a small slab in his studio. He immediately recognized the commercial and artistic potential of his experiments, and in 1799 he was awarded exclusive use of the process in Bavaria. Knowledge of the process spread quickly, and the technique was further developed and refined. The first set of artists' lithographs was published in England in 1803 and contained works by such artists as Benjamin West and Henry Fuseli. From the beginning, printers were often instrumental in encouraging artists to experiment with lithography.

In 1825, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya, living in exile in France late in his career, produced a remarkable set of four large lithographs known as The Bulls of Bordeaux. Executed with lithographic crayon, these images also involve considerable use of rubbing and scraping. Several of the French Romantic artists, Eugèene Delacroix, Theodore Gericault, and others, recognized in lithography a medium sympathetic to the representation of dramatic and emotional scenes in a free and painterly manner, using soft, rich textures. In the journalistic caricatures of HonorÚ Daumier, gifted with a caustic wit and expressive crayon, lithography found its most popular use. Between 1830 and 1870, Daumier drew over 4000 lithographs for the daily and weekly Parisian newspapers, images such as the gently satirical Orchestra at the Performance of a Tragedy.

The last two decades of the nineteenth century were one of the greatest periods for the production of artistic lithographs. Technological developments led to the widespread use of color and the production of large-scale commercial posters, designed both by poster artists such as Jules Cheret and others such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose posters were part of a larger body of work. Lautrec, perhaps the greatest master of the lithographic poster, was one of many French artists whose style was influenced by the bold patterns and unusual perspectives of the Japanese woodcuts then in vogue. In Lautrec's cover for a portfolio of prints, his friend Jane Avril examines a color lithograph fresh from the press, the strong, flat shape of her cloaked figure balancing the intricate forms of the machinery. Other French painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard also produced superb portfolios of prints, capturing qualities of light and atmosphere and subtle color gradations with the help of the expertise of talented printers.

In the United States, firms such as Currier and Ives achieved great success with lithographs of popular subjects such as sports, historical events, and travel. Prints produced by Currier and Ives were printed in black and white, then hand-colored; other firms, such as Prang and Company, printed reproductions of paintings in color, producing prints known as chromolithographs.

The Twentieth Century
In the early twentieth century, German Expressionist painters such as Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner brought their bold individualistic approach to lithography as they had to woodcut, exploiting the expressive possibilities of both crayon and lithographic wash, as did the Norwegian Edvard Munch. Pablo Picasso worked successfully in almost every graphic medium, and his lithograph The Lobster takes full advantage of lithographic techniques. The image was drawn boldly and freely on the zinc plate with a brush and liquid tusche, using gradations of light and dark wash and creating a fluid bubbly effect in certain areas.

In America the development of artistic lithography in the early twentieth century was slow, due to a prejudice against the technique's commercial associations and limited access to printing facilities. However, a few artists did become interested, among them George Bellows and John Sloan, members of the New York group known as "The Ash Can School," who produced lively images of life in the city. By the 1920s, rural America was being depicted in lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. Later, artists such as Charles Sheeler, who emphasized the geometric forms and smooth surfaces of modern architecture and machinery in his paintings, were drawn to lithography for its flawless finish and even gradations from light to dark. During the Depression of the 1930s, the Federal Works Progress Administration funded thousands of artists, allowing many the opportunity to experiment in printmaking for the first time.

By 1960 the United States took the lead in the advancement of lithography as a fine art form, as important graphic workshops were established on both coasts--Universal Limited Art Editions [ULAE] on Long Island, under the aegis of the late Tatyana Grossman, and the Tamarind Workshop in Los Angeles under the direction of June Wayne. These, and the additional workshops they have since spawned, provide the opportunity for collaboration between artists and master printers, a collaboration which has frequently resulted in innovative prints of great technical complexity. Other printing studios experimenting with combinations of photolithography and offset lithography have further expanded the possibilities of this versatile medium.

This special relationship between artist and printer-publisher, which began with the inception of lithography, is seen today in works by such artists as Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg, and many others. In the print Land's End by Jasper Johns, a wide range of effects has been created through the varied application of lithographic crayon and tusche to the stone--scraping, rubbing, scribbling, even the print of the artists' hand is incorporated.

S i l k s c r e e n
Although invented at the beginning of this century, silkscreen [also called screen-printing and serigraphy] is based upon one of the oldest graphic principles, that of the stencil. A stencil is affixed to a fine meshed screen of silk or a similar material. Ink or paint is forced through the screen onto a sheet of paper, passing through the open areas in the stencil; it is blocked in the area covered by the stencil, and the corresponding area of the paper remains blank.

Silkscreen Techniques
Preparing the Stencil
There are three basic methods of making silkscreen stencil: the cut stencil method, the block-out method, and the photographic method.

Cut stencils: These are cut from a thin material such as paper or translucent film. Choice of material for the stencil is determined by both practical and aesthetic considerations. Film is currently favored for its durability and for its sharp, crisp edge, which gives clarity and precision.

Block-out: In this technique the design is drawn or painted directly onto the screen with one of a variety of materials, such as glue or lacquer, which then block the flow of ink. In addition to the freedom afforded by working directly on the screen, the block-out method can also provide painterly textural effects, primarily through the use of lithographic tusche and crayon. A design is drawn in tusche, a slightly greasy black fluid, on the screen surface, which is then covered by a hardening substance, such as glue. When the glue is dry, the screen is exposed to a solvent which dissolves the tusche. As the design drawn in tusche dissolves, the glue covering it flakes away. The rest of the glue remains, thus creating a stencil. Through this method, a variety of effects, such as stippling, spattering, and cross-hatching, may be achieved.

Photographic method: The stencil is made by using a photographic film in which areas shielded from light during exposure dissolve away in water. Not only can this process reproduce designs with photographic accuracy, it can also be used to reproduce photographs themselves. It is singularly appropriate for much contemporary art which deals with photomechanical images drawn from the mass media.

Printing the Image
A silkscreen printing unit can be of virtually any size. It consists simply of a four-sided frame, which holds a taut fabric screen, and a table to which this frame is attached by hinges. [The screen itself, originally made of silk, is now more often made of synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester.] First the stencil is prepared and attached to the screen. Paper is placed upon the table, held firmly in place by guides, and the screen is lowered on top of it.

A generous supply of ink is poured into the printing unit frame, the sides of which act as a well. A squeegee [a long rubber or polyurethene blade attached to a handle] is used to force the ink through the screen, which is dense enough that ink only passes through when forced by the squeegee. The printer scrapes the squeegee across the entire surface of the screen, squeezing the ink through onto the paper.

Complex designs may require a number of stencils, and printing in several colors requires at least one stencil for reach color. In these cases, each print in the edition will be printed from the same stencil before the printer moves on to the next. The ink must be allowed to dry on the paper before another stencil is printed over it. When printing in several colors, ink can be thinned to transparency, so that the color printed first shows through the color printed over it, or made thick and opaque so that a color printed later completely covers those below. To produce colors that blend into each other without a sharp division, the artist may place two or more colors of ink in the frame at th same time. The stencil is very durable, permitting editions of large size.

Brief History
The first patent for the use of silk cloth as the ground for a stencil was taken out in 1907. Within seven years, multi-colored printing had also been invented. For the first quarter-century of its existence, silkscreen was used almost solely for commercial purposes, providing an easy, inexpensive means of producing signs and cards.

Not until the Depression of the 1930s was the artistic potential of silkscreen recognized. The Federal Works Progress Administration encouraged artists to use silkscreen, in part because silkscreen made large editions possible and in part because it was a printing process any artist could afford. At this time, the term serigraphy came into use, in order to distinguish the artistic from the commercial process.

Despite its advantages, silkscreen did not attain great popularity among artists over the next several decades, perhaps because it remained too closely tied in their minds to commercial practices. Paradoxically, it was in part the commercial look of silkscreen which accounted for its sudden rise in importance in the early 1960s, the hey day of "Pop Art."

Silkscreen is an ideal medium for producing broad, flat areas of highly saturated color, the aesthetic of the commercial poster. As Pop artists in the early 1960s began to appropriate both the content and the appearance of commercial art, they turned to silkscreen as a medium appropriate for their artistic ends. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were both important innovators in the use of silkscreen. Its commercial appearance and associations were well suited to their imagery derived from packaging and comic books. In Lichtenstein's silkscreen Brushstroke, a free, "painterly" brushstroke is hardedged, poster-like, against an enormously enlarged screen pattern that alludes to the vocabulary of commercial photomechanical reproduction, an ironic commentary on art and mass culture.

The applications of silkscreen were not limited to Pop art. Robert Rauschenberg, whose drawings and paintings include photographs taken from newspapers and magazines as collage elements, used photo-silkscreen to achieve similar effects in prints. At the same time, artists practicing hard-edged geometric abstraction, such as Frank Stella, found in the precision of the stencil and the vibrant colors afforded by silkscreen an excellent means by which to translate their ideas into prints. California Pop artist Edward Ruscha also used crisp, geometric forms in his streamlined Standard Station, in which the sunset sky is printed with blended colors.

As in lithography, the close collaboration between artist and printer in the making of silkscreens is now an accepted practice. This collaboration and the innovations resulting from it are in part responsible for the popularity enjoyed by silkscreen over the last two decades. Recent work in the medium often involves the mixture of techniques, such as Robert Rauschenberg's combination of silkscreen and lithography.

S u g g e s t e d   R e a d i n g
Ivins, William M., Jr. How Prints Look . Boston: Beacon Press, 1958.

Peterdi, Gabor. Printmaking. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

Saff, Donald and Deli Sacilotto. Printmaking: History and Process. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1978.

Hind, Arthur M. A History of Engraving and Etching from the Fifteenth Century to the Year 1914. New York: Dover, 1923.

Ivins, William M ., Jr. Prints and Visual Communication. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969.

Mayor, A. Hyatt. Prints and People. Princeton University Press, 1980.

Exhibition catalogues of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This is one in a series of gallery notes on the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The entire series, including an introduction, four gallery notes for adults, and one for young people, is for sale in the Museum Shop. This gallery note was prepared by Wendy Tarlow Kaplan and Jeremy Strick.

© 1984, Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. Telephone 617-267-9300.

[From: Drawing Techniques, Gallery Notes P5 - Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.]



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