Limited Edition Stone Lithography: An Original Art Form by Edna Hibel, 1992
My lithographs are original works of art created in multiple. Since 1966, when I started out as just a lark to satisfy an admirer who insisted that I “pull” only one stone, I have created 580 lithographs( as of 2001). Over the years, I have been enthusiastically caught up in the infinite possibilities and effects of the lithograph medium.
There seems to be much confusion as to the difference between an original graphic and a reproduction. An original lithograph is called “original” because every image is taken, or pulled, from the artist’s own drawings. On the other hand, a reproduction is usually printed from a photographic image made on a metal plate. This is an attempt to faithfully reproduce an original work of art.
An important difference between the two methods is that an artist has the graphic as the artistic goal when working on a original graphic. An artist is not thinking about reproductions, however, when working on an original work of art in some other medium. For this reason, an original graphic of an artist has greater artistic merit than the reproductions of an original work rendered by the same artist. In addition, each original lithograph is numbered, and the artist examines and signs each one, signifying that his or her aesthetic desires are satisfied.
In the following discussion, I show as concisely as possible the steps I generally take in creating an original limited edition stone lithograph.
Edna Hibel, born in Boston in 1917, is one of America’s most loved and versatile artists. Many critics and thousands of her devoted followers world-wide have compared her favorably to such renowned Renaissance and Impressionist artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Mary Cassat. Over the past seventy years, Hibel’s sensitive, yet powerful portrayals of humanity and nature in the mediums of oil painting, drawing, lithography, serigraphy, etching, and sculpture in bronze, crystal, and porcelain, have been exhibited in major museums on four continents. Hibel’s numerous fine art and humanitarian awards include medals of honor and citations from many heads of state, academic institutions, and religions, resulting in her being widely known as an ambassador for world peace.
Edna’s inquisitive and experimental nature, combined with her impeccable draftsmanship and love for beauty, have brought a poetic lyricism and delicacy to this original art form. Her experimenting inevitably leads to the creation of a large percentage of unique proofs, many of which Edna enhances further with many other mediums.
Lithograph stones are blocks of Bavarian limestone varying in thickness from about three to six inches. One method of polishing and graining the stones to the desired texture is by rubbing two stones together with sand and water in between.
Using wax pencils, crayons, and grease-based inks called tusche, I draw directly onto the polished and grained surface. Due to the stone’s grain, I can render my subjects in a wide range of tonal values. The size of a lithograph is limited by the size of the stone. Large stones are not commonly available.
Etching the Stone
When the drawing is completed, the surface of the stone is washed over with an etching solution composed of gum Arabic and a weak acid, usually nitric acid. The acid etches those areas covered by the grease and wax so they will accept the ink that will be applied, while the gum Arabic seals the rest of the surface so that when it is wet,it repels the ink. Here the master printer is spot etching to eliminate technical blemishes.
Mixing the Ink
The ink is mixed to just the right color and transparency under my supervision.
Moistening the Stone
Using a sponge, the stone is kept damp to make use of the incompatibility of grease and water.
Rolling the Ink
Ink is carefully rolled onto the stone, depositing ink only to those areas of the stone covered by the drawing. The skilled printer carefully judges the right amount of ink for each impression pulled from the stone.
Registration for Multi-color
For multi-color lithographs, a different drawing on another stone is used for each color. Here, the paper with a one-color drawing already on it, is begin carefully registered onto a stone that has another drawing inked with a second color. In areas where the colors overlap, delicate variations of tone can be achieved.
Pulling the Impression
The printing is usually done on a hand press with a sliding bed that moves under a wood and leather scraper. The scraper applies the extreme pressure necessary to achieve high quality impressions. Sometimes the stone breaks under the intense pressure. The impression pulled on the paper is the mirror image of the one drawn on the stone.
Perfecting the Drawing
As the first prints some off the stone, I “proof” them and make changes in the drawing, color of ink, and type of paper until I am enthralled with the results. The printer tries to make each print as much like the approved proof as he can, but the stones are sensitive, especially to humidity and temperature, so that sometimes it is most difficult to make uniform prints. The texture of the stones very from point to point requiring great skill and experience in applying the ink.
Each lithograph is hand numbered in pencil. I sign in pencil signifying my artistic approval. After the edition is pulled, the image on each stone is ground off, ensuring that no other impressions can be make.
Artist’s Edition: A particular combination of paper and ink colors that strikes Hibel’s fancy. A few impressions are printed for her own interest.
Artist’s Proof: (sometimes referred as trial proofs-One of the trial impressions pulled to see how the stone is printing and to experiment with inks and paper combinations to be used for the edition. For technical reasons, a leather proofing roller is used to apply the ink instead of the rubber roller used for printing the edition.
Artist’s Proof and Pastels, Pencil Crayon, Etc.: In producing a lithograph, before making any changes on the stone (or before doing the next stone for multi-color lithographs), Hibel works on the proof with pastels, pencil, paint, ink or crayon to see what the effects will be. This helps her to determine what changes to makes and how to proceed with the stone.
Bavarian Limestone– These are the stones first used to create musical scores by Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, in Bavarian in 1796. Dating back millions of years to the age of the dinosaurs, their compact, fine grain has not been duplicated by any other surface.
Bon a Tirer– The proof chosen by the artist to serve as the sample for an edition.
Collaye– In order to achieve certain high fidelity effects, Hibel occasionally chooses a very fine, thin paper. “Collaye” is an old process revived for her, whereby this fine paper is superimposed on another, firmer paper at the time the impression is pulled.
Edition-(sometimes referred to as Regular Edition)- A set of impressions consisting of one or more uniform sections that may differ in color, ink, paper, etc, from each other, but that have the basic drawing or keystone in common. The total of all the impressions in all the sections constitutes the number in the edition.
Etching– The process in lithography by which the artist’s drawing on the stone is prepared for printing. The stone is treated with a weak acid solution that contains gum arabic.
First State, Second State, Etc– After impressions are pulled from a stone, that artist can make changes or add to the drawing, and then pull further impressions. Each group of impressions made after the stone has been changed is considered another ‘state’.
Keystone– The stone that has the basic drawing in a multi-color lithograph.
Multi-color lithograph= Each color requires a separate stone or state of a stone, and the number of stones and/or states determines the number of colors in the finished lithograph. Each stone must “register” perfectly so that impressions will not be blurred.
Section (sometimes referred to as Series) A,B,C, or I, II, III– Because of the variety of effects she is able to achieve with the lithographic process by varying the papers, inks and transparency of color, Hibel often finds more than one combination that pleases her for a particular lithograph. Rather than eliminate all, but one section or series, the edition is developed into more than one section. For example: II 1/14 ed. 250 means that this is number one of only 14 impressions in Section II, and there are a total of 250 prints in all the sections of this subject.
Unique– A single print with a unique combination of colors and /or paper deliberately pulled to create an unusual impression. This is not a trial proof, or artist proof.
Unique and Oil, Pencil, Gold Leaf, Etc– A “unique” print that Hibel has then worked on or enhanced by her own hand with oil paint, pencil, crayon or ink. Those unique proofs that have been pulled on silk are frequently referred to as “silks”.