"Veuve Amiot / Cremant du Roi" by Leonetto Cappiello
Whilst all the artwork on the Addicted website is a favourite, in the upper echelon of the fave-scale you’ll find our Leonetto Cappiello original vintage posters. Made by the big daddy of the vintage poster universe, these lithographs from the 1920s are absolutely stunning and frankly, look damn good for their age. So, as you may well have guessed by now (pretty sure the blog title gave it away), this week we’re exploring the lithograph and how to recognise one when you see it - and we managed to plug our vintage posters in the process 😀
What Is A Lithograph?
Grease is the word…
Lithographs are very popular in the print world. They are a distinct type of printmaking based on the inability of oil and water to mix.
The general process for a hand lithograph begins with the artist drawing directly onto a flat stone or metal plate using a lithographic crayon or pencil. The image is then chemically treated to set it. An oil-based ink is applied to the drawing where it adheres to the crayoned lines. To prevent the ink from smudging, water is wiped onto the unpainted areas. From this drawing the prints are inked and pulled.
Separating the different types of lithography
To help with identifying a lithograph, you first need to know the difference between a hand lithograph and an offset lithograph.
As described above, a real, hand lithograph is made when the artist directly draws on the printing element, such as aluminium, stone or Mylar, before inking and pulling the print.
By stark contrast, offset lithography is a commercial, high-speed printing process. To begin with, a commercial printer photographs an original art piece - such as a painting or drawing. Once this is done, its colours are converted into a combination of four (Red, Yellow, Blue and Black). After this step, negatives are made for each, and photographic plates are readied for the printing of the image on large, high-speed presses.
“Would you recognise the Litho in the line up?”
One of the biggest tell-tale signs of a lithograph of either type is the absence of the indent of a printing plate, as can typically be seen on an etching or engraving (having said that, it isn't unheard of for some lithographs to be given a false print mark to give the impression of one of these alternative print types – slippery little suckers!).
A line is a dot that went for a walk
Another good way to determine a hand or offset lithograph is to look at the print using a magnifying glass. A hand lithograph will show a random dot pattern. Inks used can also lie on top of others (racy!) giving a more vibrant appearance.
If, however, you are viewing an offset lithograph, you should see indications of mechanical reproduction. The major sign of this will be 'rosettes' - the very small circles that occur when the dot pattern of each colour is combined as part of the printing process, much like smaller versions of the dots from old newspaper comics. These dots can be seen either with a magnifying glass or sometimes with the naked eye, and provide a giant clue that a camera / mechanical process has been used.
To sum up:
- There are two main types of lithograph – hand lithograph and offset lithograph
- Oil and water don’t mix
- A hand lithograph is produced by hand
- An offset lithograph is produced by machine
- Identification is all about the dot patterns. If you observe randomly placed dots, you’re looking at a hand lithograph. If the dots make a pattern, then you’re seeing an offset lithograph.
We hope this has been helpful and has inspired you to look closely at lithographs.
To leave you, here’s an interesting titbit:
C. Escher, one of the world’s most famous graphic artists and considered a master of lithography made a total of 448 lithographs during his lifetime - and reportedly hired a professional lithographer to print his stones because it was such a tedious process.
And there you have it, outsourcing 1900’s style.
That’s all folks! ;)