AGALAB week two

“Do I even know anything about lithography?”

This second week at AGALAB certainly had me questioning my life choices. My first three stones failed. When I say failed, I mean inking, processing, and printing disasters.

It’s hard when this happens, not because of the time you spent graining and preparing, or even because the drawing is an original that you’ll have to attempt again. It’s hard because it doesn’t make any sense, and that’s part of the process. In every book about stone lithography will be a paragraph, chapter or section about failure. Sometimes it happens.

I chose to start with three small stones, and simple drawings – one plain crayon, one crayon with a gum resist, one tusche stick wash. I processed the stones as normal, with freshly made gum, nitric acid, and ultra fresh sponges bought especially for the trip. I even had fresh cheesecloths, or “kaasdoekjes” in the local dialect. And, in the spirit of sustainability, health and safety, and my research grant, I used Geowash-K as a direct replacement for solvents in the processing.

I poured a very small amount of VCA onto the surface of each gummed stone, struggling to dissolve the original drawings, but persevering through a high degree of sheer will. I buffed as much off as I could, used some noir a monter to prime the images, hit the stones with a fresh wash of water, rolled up… and everything filled in. All three stones. All filled in. But also.. the images didn’t quite come up either. WTF? So not only was there too much grease on the surface, there wasn’t enough grease in the image?! It was a nightmare. A slick of inky grease clung to the surface of the stones, but the images themselves did not roll up well.

I’m going to admit a failure of research at this point. I didn’t photograph or film the disasters. In a moment of embarrassment, shame, fear, I didn’t document, didn’t want to admit what happened.

I went into automatic problem solving mode. I mixed a strong anti-tint solution, using citric acid as the studio did not store phosphoric. I broke out my emergency felt pads, brought along as a last minute “just in case”, but never actually imagining I would use them. I descummed, two, three, four times, trying to at once roll up the image, but also prevent the non-image areas from greasing over. I was grateful for the cool autumnal weather, but alarmed by all the other users in the studio, who were gradually become aware of my despair.

Eventually, some sort of semblance of the original images inked up on the stones, the surrounding area a bomb site of felt pads, water, gummy fountain solution, anti-tint, and the saddest fresh ”dirty” sponge, loaded with loose ink particles and grease.

I talc’d, gummed, buffed, and went for a long cycle ride. I wouldn’t come back until evening. The next few days, I would print my disaster stones, unhappy with each other them, still greasing over, still requiring absurd amounts of anti-tint, all the while drawing on my Very Big Stone in fear of the processing ahead.

Aside: I was unlucky – my time at AGALAB coincided with the departure of their specialist technician in the traditional etching and lithography department, so I had no staff member to consult. My understanding was that few people had had much success with VCA and lithography anyway, and I came to AGALAB knowing this would be hard, but maybe not quite believing it.

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