Since the discovery of paper, artists have rarely been content to produce their drawings in single copies. They make prints by transferring the drawing onto ci .material which allows a more or less limited quantity of copies to be made. The principle of printing was used very early for textiles, before the beginning of our era, and it was known to primitive peoples before they came into contact with the more advanced techniques of modern civilization. Seals, or blocks, generally ornamental or with animal designs, were carved from wood, colored, and printed onto the cloth.|
Practically the only material used for writing and drawing before the fourteenth century was parchment, which is unsuitable for printing. Not until paper was available were the possibilities of printing drawings investigated. Very soon after the invention of the printing press, methods of "art" printing were evolved, making it possible even to surpass freehand drawing in delicacy and detail.
There are three different kinds of printing of the type in which the artist himself makes the block: relief, intaglio, and flat. In relief printing the design stands out, as on seals. This is the oldest technique, going back to textile block printing. In intaglio, such as engraving, the lines are cut into metal and filled with ink. The remaining top surface stays blank, that is to say, it is wiped clean after inking the plate. Moistened paper is pressed onto the metal plate and absorbs the ink from the grooves.
Flat printing exploits the mutual repulsion of water and grease. It is called
lithography because a flat piece of stone is used which can absorb both water and grease. The design is drawn onto the dry stone (often slate) with a greasy chalk and the surface is then moistened with water. Lithographic ink (a mixture of soot and linseed oil) is rolled onto it, and, being greasy, it adheres only where the grease pencil has drawn and transfers the design onto paper pressed onto the plate.
Lithography is the most recent of these printing techniques. It was invented by Aloys Senefelder of Munich in 1798. Lithography enables the artist to duplicate his work without any training in printing. He simply draws on the stone -in reverse image, of course - and leaves the rest of the work, which is quite mechanical, to the printer.
If the artist uses transfer paper it is even simpler; he need not reverse his design but has only to draw onto it with a grease pencil. The lithographer, prints off the original from the paper onto the stone, thus producing a reverse image of the drawing. The prints can reproduce the artist's drawing exactly. We say "can," because, as in all art, the artist should understand his medium and draw appropriately for it. However, anyone who can draw proficiently in soft lead or chalk should be able to do a lithograph transfer at first attempt.
Care should be taken, as it should in any pencil or chalk drawing, not to draw too lightly or too heavily, to avoid blanks or black smudges. The student will best bring off a perfect lithograph by first making a visit to the workshop and watching the whole process through. He will no doubt pick up some good tips from a friendly craftsman.
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