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Limited Edition Prints: Lithographic fine art printing process
By Al R. Young
The following photographs summarize the lithographic printing process by which Al R. Young and W. Wayne Kimball collaborated to produce 55 of the limited edition prints available from Al Young Studios. Wayne also collaborated with Ashton Young to produce a limited-edition of prints in 1999.
Limestone slabs, quarried in Bavaria, serve as the printing element, placed in the press bed, from which the prints were made. Each stone weighs approximately 100 lb., is 3 in. thick, and has a drawing surface measuring 16 in. x 20 in. Images for each limited edition are drawn by hand by the artist using lithographic crayons and other tools. Drawing on a 100-lb. slab of limestone presented its own set of challenges, to which Al responded by creating a drawing table designed specifically for his drawing technique.
Before drawings could be made on a stone, Wayne Kimball, a Tamarind Master Printer (Tamarind Institute, University of New Mexico, 1971), ground its surface to a fine texture.
Using a manually rotated disk, weighing 30 - 40 lb., Wayne works powdered abrasives evenly over the stone's surface. Four granularities of abrasive are used successively to achieve the fine grain required for the artist's highly detailed drawings.
In the foregoing photograph, Wayne works at a large, custom-made utility sink in which the stone rests on a grill of pipes. Throughout the grinding process, the surface of the stone is repeatedly washed and dried so that the integrity of its surface can be checked periodically, as illustrated in the following photo.
Wayne uses a metal tear bar, or straight edge, to verify that the surface of the stone is even. This is done by laying the bar across the stone at various locations. At each location a small piece of thin paper, or glassine, is placed under the bar. If the bar grips the glassine, the area is assumed to be flat. This test is performed repeatedly along the bar.
After the stone's surface had been grained and tested-level, it was ready for delivery to Al's studio, where it was mounted into the drawing table he designed and built for the heavy limestone printing elements.
As part of drawing the wax images on the stone, Al designed the configuration of images (reconciling their size, orientation on the stone, and the white space around them) so that each page of impressions printed on the stone could be torn into individual prints. The pages or impressions produced by means of each stone constituted an edition of prints. The Studios collaborated with Wayne to produce 14 editions of lithographic prints.
Al used lithograph (wax) pencils and knives to draw images on the stone. Inasmuch as oils of any kind on the surface of a stone (when it is processed for printing) behave like wax and become part of the printed image, great care was taken throughout the drawing stage to ensure that the hand did not rest on the surface of the stone. This and other considerations influenced the design of the artist's drawing table.
After Al completed the images, the stone was returned to Wayne's studio for processing. The time, craftsmanship, and labor involved in the long process that followed, is summarized in the remaining photographs.
Paper for each edition must be torn to an 11 in. x 15 in. size prior to printing. Then each sheet must be marked (on what becomes the back of the sheet) with registration marks. When placing each sheet on the stone, the registration marks are used to ensure that the sheet is properly positioned.
At this stage, the paper to be used for the edition has not yet been selected. Consequently, only enough paper is torn for the printing of samples. For example, white, gray, and beige papers were usually prepared so that Al and Wayne could review the images and make decisions about ink and paper in the full context of paper textures and colors.
Rosin is hand-brushed over the wax images on the surface of the stone.
Talc is sprinkled over the stone's surface to dry the wax images.
A mildly acidified solution of gum arabic is prepared. The strength of the solution, or etch, that Wayne prepares for a particular set of images depends on the range of tones used in the drawings as well as on the softness of the wax used to achieve those tones. This is one of the most critical steps in the printing process because of the extent to which a miscalculation can affect the images.
In the presence of the acidified solution, the grease of the wax images binds with the stone. After the solution has been applied, the stone is carefully wiped down.
Lithotine is applied to the stone's surface to remove the wax used to draw the images.
Asphaltum is applied, and adheres to areas where wax was located.
The leather roller is inked on the ink slab. Three ribbons of ink are applied to the slab. Six to eight passes are made with the roller, being careful to ink it evenly.
The stone is sponged with water preparatory to inking the images.
Ink is applied to the stone. The seam in the roller is an important factor to be dealt with during this task. The seam must not come in contact with the stone over an inked area (i.e., on an image), but must fall between the images. Furthermore, the number of passes and the direction of the passes of the roller are planned according to the images being printed.
Each torn sheet to be printed is laid onto the stone according to registration marks scribed onto the stone's surface.
After the printing paper is in place on the stone, a sheet of newsprint is placed on top of it. A tympan is then applied over the newsprint. The tympan comes in contact with the scraper bar of the press, and transfers vertical pressure to the printing paper so that the printing paper does not move. The scraper bar used to apply pressure to a stone must be adjusted to accommodate the height of each stone.
Pressure is applied to the printing element, or stone.
Wayne pulls the print.
Once a set of trial proofs has been printed, Al and Wayne evaluate them. Any adjustments deemed necessary are discussed, and decisions are made concerning the printing of the edition. For example, paper is selected, number of impressions, and other matters are finalized.
With the plan for the edition completed, paper is ordered and meticulously prepared. When all other preparations are in place, the foregoing steps, beginning with inking the roller, are repeated for each impression pulled from the surface of the stone.
After all of the impressions have been made, the work of tearing-down the pages begins. Here, Wayne uses a tear bar to separate the images printed on each sheet.
Wayne is tearing-down a printed sheet from Edition 9, which included 10 images on each printed sheet. Approximately 173 sheets were printed, and each sheet required 9 tears to separate the images into individual prints. That amounted to approximately 1,557 tears, not to mention the necessity of keeping track of the exact sequence in which 1,758 individual prints had been created.
In order to keep track of all of this, torn prints are stored on individually torn sheets of newsprint, on which Wayne also wrote, in pencil, the designation to appear on the print when signed (for example, artist proof, workshop proof, the print's arabic number, etc.). He also tore, by hand, and then folded each of the glassine sleeves needed to house each of the 1,758 prints.
Some prints, because of where an image is drawn on the stone, fall along the outside (deckle) edge of the sheet of paper on which the images are printed. Images, that do not fall along a deckle edge, have torn edges, which (because of the fibrousness of the paper, are usually not as smooth an edge. To help correct this problem, Wayne burnishes each torn edge of each print. On an edition involving more than 1,500 tears, that can add up to several thousand edges to burnish.
The quality of each print is examined as part of curating the edition.
If the size of the print allows, Wayne's chop is embossed into the margin of each print as the traditional signature of the printer.
Al signs each print.
Each print is then placed in a glassine sleeve and archivally stored with the rest of the edition.