An introduction to: Planographic Printmaking

Well to our second introduction to printmaking! In this short blog series we’ll be taking a look at three families of printmaking: Relief, Planographic and Intaglio. Last weeks post on Relief printmaking included a short definition of printmaking – this week we’ll launch straight in with an overview of Planographic printmaking. These posts are intended as long term reference material for you to refer back to using the Draw navigator.

Main Image: 'Felix' by Scarlett Rebecca, kitchen lithography

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So what is Planographic printmaking?

We often associate printmaking with a textured plate in which the ink is held in groves or rolled onto raised surfaces. By contrast Planographic printmaking is the print process in which the ink is held on a flat surface before being transferred on to the paper, either directly or by offsetting, using an offset press. Planographic printmaking is traditionally most associated with Lithography, but also includes monoprinting processes that use a flat surface.

A lithographic stone being printed

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Lithography is the best known planographic printmaking technique. Invented in the late 1700s by Alois Senefelder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alois_Senefelder), it was originally used as a means of mass-producing documents before it was adopted as a fine art practice. The process utilises the fact that grease and water are immiscible and repel one other. Traditionally limestone is used as the matrix because of its equally water and grease accepting capabilities, but prepared metal plates are also popular. The printmaker draws their image directly on to the grease-accepting surface using a grease-based pencil or ink. Both the stone and grease drawing are treated with an acid solution to stop them accepting further grease and the stone is then dampened and rolled up using an oil-based ink. Where the inky roller touches the greasy drawing, it transfers ink and where it touches the damp non-image area it does not transfer ink as the water repels it. The process maintain the authographic integrity of the mark and is often considered the drawers’ print form, becoming popular with artists in the 19th and early 20th Century who hadn’t worked with more intimidating print processes before. Although any greasy medium can be used to make the initial drawing – from soap, to chocolate, to oil pastel - Chinograph pencils and lithographic crayons the most popular lithographic drawing tools. To achieve sharper line work artists often use the subtractive Manier Noir method of drawing, using scrapers and needles to work into a darkened surface. Inkier marks can be achieved using ‘tusche’ - a mixture of pigment and grease suspended in water that produces the recognisably lithographic reticulated washes.

Plate lithography is the lithographic process that uses a prepared metal plate of either zinc or aluminium as its matrix.

Stone lithography is the lithographic process that uses limestone slab as its matrix.

'Girl in Red' by Robert Blackburn, Stone Lithograph

Photolithography requires a light sensitive emulsion to be applied to the litho plate and a positive image to be exposed. Once developed, the positive image on the plate becomes receptive to grease. This is the basis of large-scale commercial lithographic printing.

Kitchen lithography is a non-toxic variation of lithography developed in 2011 by French artist Émilie Aizier, it uses aluminium foil as the printing matrix and cola or lemon juice as the etch.

'Poupoule' by Émilie Aizier, Kitchen Lithograph

Paper plate lithography or Gum Arabic transfer is a form of lithography in which a photocopy is the printing matrix. The photocopy is coated in gum arabic which desensitises the non-image area. The toner in the photocopied image accepts the ink so that the photocopy can be carefully inked up in the normal lithographic way, producing a very small and variable edition of prints.

Wood lithography or Mokulito is a form of lithography in which a woodblock is used as the print matrix, utilising the features of woodcut and lithography. The grain of the wood becomes a characteristic feature of woodcuts. Developed in the 1970s in Japan by artist Seishi Ozaku.

'Irises' by Oksana Stratiychuk, Mokulito

Monotype* is a planographic technique in which an image is drawn or painted in ink on a flat surface such as a metal or perspex plate. The nature of the process means the image itself cannot be reproduced exactly and so each print is a distinctive one-off.

'Some more of what’s to come' by Frances Stanfield, Monotype

Monoprint* drawing is a planographic technique in which a sheet of paper is placed on top an ink-rolled plate – it does not require a press. A pencil or similar tool is then used to draw on to the back of the paper forcing this area in contact with the ink underneath, transferring it to the paper.

'Sad Shower in New York' by Tracey Emin, Monoprint drawing photo (Tate Collection)

*Monoprint’ is a catch-all term that refers to any one-off print, whereas Monotype is a specific planographic process. A Monotype is a monoprint, but not all monoprints are Monotypes.

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Printing on a press

There are two types of press commonly used for printing fine art lithographs of all types: direct lithography presses (left), in which the paper is placed on top of the matrix (eg. stone, zinc plate etc.) and passed under a scraper bar which applies even pressure without itself moving and offset lithography presses (right), in which the matrix and paper are secured next to one another and a mechanical roller with a rubber blanket passes over the top, lifting the ink image from the matrix and printing it on top the paper.


Planographic printing at home

Monoprint drawing is easily transportable while monotypes and kitchen lithography plates can be printed using a baren, or the back of a wooden spoon. If you’d like to try planographic printing yourself our next Planographic Printmaking at Home course begins on the 1st Feb – it is suitable for complete beginners and is run by Scarlett Rebecca. Full details can be found here (https://www.draw-brighton.co.uk/timetable/event/190033).

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This blog post was written by Jake Spicer using technical notes by Scarlett Rebecca. It is part of the Draw Patreon learning resources and part of an ongoing series exploring printmaking. You can read the first post, focusing on Relief Printmaking here.

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90
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