Printmaking at Charukala – 1 – Lithography

Time is short and I should be packing but I’ve been sneaking across to the art college to take a few prints. After I was told that there will be a drought as far as printmaking is concerned in Colombo, I couldn’t stop myself.

Rokeya Sultana, a well known artist and a friend teaches at the Charukala Institute of Fine Arts and arranged for me to work there for a few days. The added excitement was that I had her for company as well as two talented and upcoming artists, Anis (woodcut) and Ujjol (lithography) for technical advice and help taking the prints. How could I resist an offer like that?Litho

The plan was to work through for 3 days, making two woodcuts and two lithos.  The woodcuts would be my first and the lithography process a special treat.  It is still done using limestone blocks brought from Germany a long time ago.  Charukala is one of the few colleges in the world that continues to use these blocks making it a rare opportunity.

I’ve now been there for 8 days with a few days off in between but still two more are needed to get somewhat done.  I’ve cut it very fine since the packers arrive tomorrow.  And if they take longer to pack than planned, I’ll have a few incomplete prints on hand.

Initially there were big plans to do something new and different from what I’d done earlier.    Designing a piece using photoshop to collage and compose, take a photocopy and then transfer that onto the stone.  In the end I just wanted to learn the process and began with a freehand drawing on the stones.  My friend Jayant had given me this beautiful reference of two monks sitting on the top of a hill talking and looking out into the distance.  I’m calling it “Old Friends”.  For the second stone I used a reference of Fatima that I was familiar with.  After the drawing I added a tusche wash to get tones.  What I learnt subsequently was that I should not have used both the litho crayon and tusche wash over the same area for shading as all those areas would lose the lines and the tones and turn into a flat colour.   I also learnt that it’s not WYSIWYG.  I wish I could do a couple more to put the learning into use.

Old friends - print

10 prints have been taken with variations of the first colour. I’m not sure how many will survive once the other two colours are added on. You always lose a few to registration problems etc.


While we were taking the prints we had a visitor. I recognized him as the model from one of Kuhu’s life drawing sessions and introduced myself. He was very interested in what we were doing, looked at the stone from various angles and then wandered off without saying a word.  Fatima is posing for the Sculpture students and she too dropped by to see what I was up to.

The last two times I did not record the process.  Even this time it’s been a bit spotty but I thought I’d share what I do have here.  I havent take shots of the cleaning, grinding process or the stone before working on it.  If I can remedy that I shall update it here.

There’s a very nice write-up on lithography on wikipedia.  For a better understanding do read that first and then have a look at the images below. I’ve put a small excerpt for the impatient folks : )

Lithography (from Greek λίθος – lithos, “stone” + γράφω – graphο, “to write”) is a method for printing using a stone (Lithographic Limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. Lithography uses oil or fat and gum arabic to divide the smooth surface into hydrophobic regions which accept the ink, and hydrophilic regions which reject it and thus become the background.

First you prepare the stone by grinding it with a flat stone and lots of water.  Then you draw / paint on the stone with crayons and use tusche for the washes to create the oily areas which will accept ink .  You can vary the tones using lighter or darker washes – less or more fat in this case.

Litho Litho Litho

The first image is of the stone after the litho crayon drawing (glass marker can be used too) and tusche wash.  Then the stone was prepared with a thin layer of gum arabic and left to dry for 24hrs.  Oil repels the gum arabic and it gets onto only those areas which are not greasy.  The next day a mixture of gum arabic with a few drops of acid was applied to the stone to etch it.  The acid only eats into the area where the grease is and the other areas are protected by the layer of gum arabic.  The image on the right shows the etched stone after it was cleaned using turpentine.
Litho Litho Litho
And then the ink was prepared on a flat surface and rolled onto the stone.  The stone was sponged repeatedly almost alternately using gum arabic (wait for it to dry) and then plain water to ensure that the ink did not catch in areas it wasn’t meant to.  The first image shows Ujjol rolling the ink onto the stone on the press bed. The second is of the inked block ready for a print.   If you see the process of printing you’d never believe that you’d get a properly registered print!  The 3rd shows Ujjol pulling the print.
Litho Litho Litho
The first pic is of the first print and the last of the 7th or 8th print.  With each inking the block pulls in more ink and the print gets darker.  To reduce the speed of darkening, Ujjol used gum arabic several times before each print.  I’ve put the stone with the original image for you to compare.

I’m still hoping to be able to go back for a few more variations to these prints.  Three with a pale, flat transparent colour on her body and then three with it over the whole stone.  I want to try and capture the colour of the stone.  Still considering other variations for the remaining few 😛

Update : July 26, 2009Found a link to a 1968 film on making woodcuts on the blog Woodblock Dreams and one on making Lithographs on Youtube.  Both very good and definitely worth a look.

After the prints with the first colour were taken the stone was washed with an alum mixture and prepared for the next colour. I painted out areas that were not to receive colour with a gum arabic liquid mixture. The areas without gum arabic were etched once more with a mild nitric acid mixture.


Then the stoned was wiped down with a bitumen mixture and then it was removed with turpentine.


A pale yellow colour was prepared and thinned down heavily with medium to give the colour transparency. The remnants of the bitumen mixed in to give a lovely brown colour which unlike the black colour lightened with every print taken.


A 3rd colour was put in to get the colour of the stone for the background.


6 thoughts on “Printmaking at Charukala – 1 – Lithography

  1. Pingback: Printmaking at Charukala – 1- Lithograph… « edm superBlog2

  2. Pingback: Update and a new post « edm superBlog2

  3. So glad you are adding these to the edm superblog. Great information and wonderful art.

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