How Stone Lithography Works

The Artist

The artist uses litho pencils and crayons, as well as a greasy liquid called tusche, to create the image on the stone.

Photo courtesy Toby Michel
Litho pencils, litho crayons, tusche and brushes -- the basic tools of an artist working on a stone

Litho pencils are waxy and range in hardness from 0, which almost melts in your hand, to 7, which is brittle.

Peter Alexander is a well-known artist who lives in Los Angeles, CA. Peter has created a sketch of his piece and uses it as a guide as he is working on the stone.

Photos courtesy Toby Michel

As the tusche dries, it reticulates. Net-like features are left on the stone and show up in the final print, a characteristic unique to stone lithography.

From the artist's standpoint, you can see that the process of preparing the work is extremely natural. There is not a tremendous amount of difference between drawing/painting on the stone and doing the same on a piece of paper. There are a few things to keep in mind, however:

  • Anything that involves lettering has to be drawn on the stone as a mirror image.

  • Anything that involves multiple colors must be color-separated in the artist's mind, and the artist must prepare a different stone for each color. The printmaker must then ink, align and press the paper on these separate stones to create the final image. A complex image can have seven or eight stones.

  • Erasing a mistake is difficult, and a large mistake means starting over. Because there is little or no way to correct a mistake, Toby says, "The artist has to be willing to fly." Some artists, like Peter, create their entire work in an hour or so. Others spend days at a stone.