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Lithograph alchemy

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

This post is on the kick off of my lithograph project which was inspired by our visit to Flagstaff Gardens. This project is not yet completed because prior to printing the studios shut down because of COVID-19. What follows is my musings on this so far unfinished project...

Wanting to do an image of an Aboriginal man’s face, as part of a tree collar, I am hoping that can use the project to immerse myself in technique exploration and mark making tests over an imperfect image. The imaging of bark, tin and skin will hopefully give me plenty of scope for exploring the use of painting with tusche in both turps and water, crayon, pencil, gum arabic flecks, gum arabic painting, stencilling, different line making and other methods of lithograph producing.

I have been inspired by the following painterly French lithographs and the way there are so many techniques which can make so many styles and aesthetics:

I have partnered with Meeyoung Lee and together we have learnt to move, sand, prepare, mark and etch our stone. To me, the whole process has been about exposing myself to the opportunities and limitations of this type of print. It is all about testing, exploring and learning. We have come across problems and confusion about the steps to follow along the way, but it has been a joy to develop our knowledge about the process and build our images together.

Meeyoung and I really appreciated the techs and staff who could point us in the right direction in getting the first and second etches completed. It really was a process with lots of moving parts. You can see by my notes that they were completely rough and working!

It has also been good to have Meeyoung's help in the studio as we learnt safe practices to work. We have to move the stones with kinda cumbersome trollies and it's fun to be paired with someone for this. Making sure we are making the right chemical adjustments, cleaning safely and having someone to help decode my scratchy process notes in my journal is also such a bonus.

Australian print artist Judy Watson says of lithograph, "Lithography is a really beautiful process where you work grease-based materials onto limestone slabs. I love pooling tusche washes, a greasy wash mixed with water, onto the stone and letting the wash reticulate so it dries out and releases the lines of what’s known as peau de crapeaud or skin-of-the-toad, wash onto the surface of the stone. The stone is made up of pores, pores of the skin or head of the brush, and the grease particles, like little dots, sit on top. And then you go through the etching process to try to make the ink receptive to the grease and the rest of the areas more water-loving and resistant to the ink."

Judy's words really resinate with me - the way of letting all of these natural materials collaborate and react against each other for a magical and surprising outcome.

It has been a privilege to be taught this old way of print making. There is a real beauty in its closeness to the natural state of stone, and the alchemy of water and oil.

I am completely unsure of how my image will print, but I excited about testing all the elements of mark making and seeing what I could use to what effect in the future. Printing can occur when I am in the workshops again after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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