Printmaking 101 :: Lithography

Map of Munich, lithography stone and print

Lithography was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder, a Bavarian author who used the technique to publish theatrical works. Lithography is based on the chemical repellence of oil and water. Designs are drawn or painted with greasy ink or crayons on specially prepared limestone. The stone is moistened with water, which the stone accepts in areas not covered by the crayon. An oily ink, applied with a roller, adheres only to the drawing and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone. The print is then made by pressing paper against the inked drawing.

lithograph, The Races, Manet

Today, offset lithography is widely used to produce posters, maps, books, and newspapers, but I am going to focus here on its history as an art form. In the early 1800s, the technical difficulties of lithography that had inhibited its growth as an art form were solved, and a few artists such as Delacroix and Gericault began to use the process. In the late 1800s, there was a revival of the form in France by artists such as Manet and Degas.

lithograph, Minaux, printed at Mourlot Studios

In the 1890s, Toulouse-Lautrec and other French artists began to use color lithography and it soon became an accepted form of printmaking. During the twentieth century, Mourlot Studios was founded and a great number of master artists created lithographs at the studio. Picasso alone created over 400 lithographs at Mourlot.

lithograph, The Bridge, M.C.Escher

More than other printmaking techniques, printmakers in lithography still largely depend on access to a good printer, and the development of the medium has been greatly influenced by when and where these have been established.  (wiki)

Like Intaglio, Lithography is an art form that is practiced in a printmaking studio, and is best learned from a master printmaker. I just found out that there is a printmaking center here in San Jose and I would love to take some classes there in the future!