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.


Jamal Ahmed

It certainly is wonderful to have a friend who is a photographer and who gives you easy access to his collection. This is based on a photograph taken by Anil Advani for his SOFOBOMO project. Jamal Ahmed, also a friend, is very well known and with 41 solo exhibitions, a prolific Bangladeshi Artist.  You can read more about him here.

Jamal Ahmed

Approx 12″ X 18″ charcoal in my sketchbook.

Manic March & KMP 11

to market.jpg

Lots happening lately.

1. Submitted an entry for the March WWAO online exhibition “Our Art, Our Selves : Selected Self Portraits hosted by Robin Hernandez.

2. Photos or Life self portraits up at The Portrait Party.

3. Committed to making and posting 40 pieces in March at the 30dayartist. When I signed up there had been no other art commitments in March.

4. An invitation to exhibit with SHAKO ( a group of leading Bangladeshi artists ) to mark International Womens Day – March 7th & 8th came as a pleasant surprise. Will post photos of the event on Maya. I will be exhibiting 2-3 pieces and one of them is expected from the framer tomorrow and they then need to be rushed to the venue!

5. The two women show “Friends and Faces” will run from March 16 to the 31st. This was initially planned for mid Jan. Photo update on Maya on the 17th. Waiting on a couple of pieces for this too.

6. Heard unofficially that the UNWA auction of 24 paintings raised around 3,20,000 taka and mine contributed approx 27,000 taka. All the money raised has been handed over to the Hurricane Sidr Relief Fund. We will be getting letters soon with the exact details. Brochure photographs have been lying ready and will be posted in a day or two….. on Maya 😀

I leave for a 20 day holiday on the 28th 😀

Digital study which I’m marking as KMP 11.

KMP’s are skill building exercises advised by Kevin Macpherson in his book Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color. I started these in 2007 and am continuing with it in 2010. If you want to know more about this set of exercises click here.


friend series

I’ve been feeling very restless lately. I think it was ten days ago when last I worked on my piece for the portrait swap. At first I was waiting for some feedback and now I dont even know what it is that I’m waiting for!

In the meantime, I pulled out this photograph of a friend of mine and had a go. Using acrylics after a break and once again having a problem with blending.  Gave up before the hour was up as the board was warping with all the water I’d added. 😀

For the first time I used watercolour brushes.  Of the two I preferred the synthetic one to the sable but I found the longer tips and shorter handles a bit difficult to use and added a bristle brush to the mix.  Still trying to paint loose without too many details.

8″ X 10″ acrylics on illustration board

Colourful Bangladesh


I take reference pictures of scenes and subjects that I would like to paint. My focus, in the past, had been on friends and family. It’s only after arriving in Dhaka that I’ve started taking photographs of the daily activity around me in the streets. I prefer to take photographs during the golden hour in the afternoon. Usually the snaps are taken while whizzing past in a car. Here’s one which I’ve saved inspite of the blur. Something in it appeals to me.

Creative Drawing & Art Appreciation – 2

Hard at work

Todays lesson was about expressing emotions using line and then using spontaneity in making an “action” painting.

sorrow   rage
Spontaneity and action

Homework is to do more of these with a title for each piece and an analysis of what we see in the results.

We found the small coffee table restrictive and by the time the second exercise came around the chairs were deserted for the floor.

How to take a candid photograph with a point and shoot?

Art morning at Susannah's

Recently there was an interesting post on Photodoto about Photographing people in public places by Elizabeth West. I had left a comment asking how I could go about getting candid photographs. Most of the ones that I’ve taken on the streets of Dhaka look posed. Mainly because the folks in our part of the world are very friendly and the minute they see you taking photographs they’ll come up and ask you to take one of theirs. Like this one on top.

Elizabeth replied to my comment saying that I should try and be inconspicuous and take photographs before people noticed you. I found that I had been doing this already. The problem with this approach was that I needed to be in a car and usually zipping by, shooting whenever I got the opportunity. A lot of moments get missed, some turn out out of focus but you do get an occasional gem. The one below doesn’t fall into the gem category but is one where i haven’t been noticed.


Another way of taking sort of candid photographs was to be part of a group of photographers and then look around for subjects who are not looking at you. I discovered this a few months ago. I’m usually on my own when I take photographs and so have been able to try this method out just twice. The photograph of the two children below is one such example.


One other method suggested by Alexander, in the same thread and one followed by professionals, was to stay in one location for a while till people had lost interest in you and then take the kind of photographs you need. These would make for some truly candid photographs and it is something I plan to try.