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Introduction to lithography

Lithography, invented for reproducing sheet music, is a unique printmaking process. It's based on the principle that grease and water resist each other. Artists love it because it captures the exact mark of the hand, offering a direct drawing process. Plus, it's versatile - you can draw in black and print in any color! Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

We're at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, started in 1945 by Robert Blackburn. Lithography was invented for the purpose of reproducing sheet music. Instead of writing it once by hand over and over and over and over, Senefelder developed lithography for the purpose of writing that orchestral arrangement one time, so it could be reproduced, so that it could be sold to multiple orchestras throughout cities throughout all over Europe. That's was its original intention. When an artist gets ahold of something that allows you to work in a new way, they will always take those tools and materials and use them for their own artistic purposes. That was the case for engraving. It was the case for relief printing or woodcut. It's also the case for digital printmaking now. Lithography is based on a very simple principle that grease and water resist one another and so what you'll see is a balance of the plate being dampened and then rolled over with a greasy based ink. It's the same as when you're cleaning dishes. If you've got a really greasy pan and you fill it up with water, you start putting water in it, it starts to pull away from the grease. The exact same thing is happening here only it's very finely controlled placed grease. One of the things that makes lithography so unique is that it actually is the most autographic of like all the printmaking processes. It captures the exact mark of the hand that moves across that surface. As a result, it gains the most clarity from a drawer's perspective from a direct point of view. All the other printmaking processes translate that mark into other ways versus it just being an absolute record of the movement of the hand in that way. So for drawers, lithography is a very freeing type of drawing process because it can be layered. You can draw in black and print it in green or you can print it in blue or pink. That level of freedom is only present in printmaking and that level of freedom with drawing, a direct drawing process, is only available in lithography.