Lithography could be considered one of the most autographic fine art printmaking techniques: an artist can draw on a lithographic stone or plate with crayons or brush in much the same manner as drawing on paper, a characteristic that is appealing to many artists. In traditional lithography, the artist uses slabs of Bavarian limestone or manufactured, grained aluminum plates which are printed on specialized litho presses. Whether working on stone or grained metal plate, the artist or master printer must also understand the etching chemistry required to fix drawing to printing surface.
Alternatively, some contemporary artists use polyester litho plates which have a hydrophilic quality or even xeroxed images on paper to print in a lithographic manner. Both traditional and alternative approaches rely on creating a printing surface where ink, when rolled across, is attracted to the greasy drawn areas and is repelled by dampened non-drawn areas, thereby exploiting the antipathy of grease and water characteristic of the lithographic process.
Lithography is considered a planographic approach, meaning images are printed from an overall flat surface, different from other techniques such as: relief prints where ink is transferred from the top surface of a gouged block (as in woodcuts and linocuts) or from raised surfaces of collaged plates; or intaglio prints where ink is transferred from incised or etched lines/ textures lying below the plate’s surface; or stencil approaches such as silkscreen prints where ink is pushed through open areas and where blocked areas remain unprinted. Like other printmaking techniques, lithographs can be printed in black and white or color, in layers of imagery, in combinations with other media or other printmaking techniques, extending an artist’s vision multiple ways.
For more information on making lithographs, please also see the links below:
An excellent Baltimore Museum of Art video of Brian Garner of Baltimore’s Litho Shop explaining how a lithograph is made.
MoMA’s interactive site re: Picasso’s prints. To see varied states of Picasso lithographs, follow the link for ‘Evolving States’
Information about making polyester plate lithographs