What I Learned at Ox-Bow.

What I Learned at Ox-Bow
   This is not a paper, but rather a list of the procedures that I learned during a one-week class in lithography at Ox-Bow, taught by Mark Pascale.  Lithography is very complex, and this is by no means a complete treatment of this method of printmaking.

1.     In my novice opinion, lithographs are a result of art and science in which one must develop an intuition about what to do next. It is a series of puzzles that the artist has to solve, often at lightening fast speed.

2.     Sometimes, in spite of your best effort, it fails. One cannot control the weather.

3.     Oil and water do not mix.

4.     Oleo-manganate of lime:  The hydrophobic (scared of water!) sub-layer of a lithographic stone created by the grease from the surface drawing and reinforced by the etch. When the stone is inked, the ink adheres only to this area on the surface. [1] I think this means that the grease protects the stone from the etch, so that those areas are slightly raised and the other areas are bitten back by the acid. Those areas that have grease are protected and will accept the grease of the ink during the printing process. Ink likes grease, not water.

5.     Nitric acid and gum Arabic make the stone less accepting of grease, so that those areas of the image that have been etched are free of grease, are strong against it and accepting of water. Those areas will not gather grease during the printing process.

6.     Some things about stones:
1.     The stones are limestone, mined in Munich.
2.     They are sometimes yellow, medium gray and warm grey.
3.     Warm grey is best.
4.     Some stones have fault lines. The fault lines don’t affect the image.
5.     If the stone gets too thin it may break or not print.
6.     Beware of the wedge shaped stone.
      Grinding the stones:
1. Stones can be ground using a levigator, which must be smaller than the   stone, or by grinding a smaller stone on top of the larger stone.
2. Whichever method is used to grind the stone, it is done in a figure 8 pattern. Don’t push down when you grind, just push the weight of the stone.

3. The top stone should be rotated every so often (every 5-7 turns or so).

4. Start with #80 Carborundum grit, especially if there is a stubborn leftover image. Keep stones wet, but not puddled with water.

                 5. Rinse thoroughly, squeegee and fan dry with a litho fan.

6. When the stone is dry, test for levelness by laying strips of newsprint or phone book paper over the ends and middle of the stone. Lay a leveling bar across the three pieces of paper.  Be sure to make the leveling bar face the same way each time you use it on a stone. Try to pull the strips out. If they give even resistance, the stone is level. If one or two pull out too easily, then the stone is not level. Beware the wedge shaped stone.

 7. After grinding twice with 80, move on to 100 grit. Stay with 100 until the stone is level.

8.     When the stone is level, proceed to polish the stone with 180 grit, 2 cycles.

9.     Check for scratches. If there are none, continue polishing with 220 grit for two cycles. A much smaller stone can be used for the final polishing.

10. When the grit is milky it is time to rinse and grind with fresh grit.

11. Stones can break if not leveled properly.

12. Bevel the edges of the stone by using a course file, to make a 1/8 to ¼ “ bevel. Follow with a finer file and round the edges. This gets the edges out of the way of the roller during printing.

13. Cleaning the files after using them is lithorific.

14. Wear boots and a plastic apron during the grinding process, to avoid soggy feet.

Making an image on the stone:
1.     Stones can be drawn on using litho crayons. They come in different hardness levels. Higher numbers are harder than lower numbers, and are not as sticky.  Stones brand crayons are not soluble, and Korn’s crayons are soluble in hydrocarbons and water.

2.     Rubbing crayons and tablet crayons can also be used to draw on the stone. According to Mark, beautiful drawings made with litho crayons are lithorific, too.

3.     Tusche Washes:

1.     There are 3 forms of tusche. Tusche comes from the German word tuschen, which means to touch up with color or ink.
a.     Paste tusche comes in a can.
b.     Stick tusche: dissolve in water (distilled) or solvent. When it dries, leaving water marks, it is called retriculation.
c.      Liquid tusche: autographic ink or liquid tusche. Liquid tusche is better. Very black. Apply with ruling pen or brush.

4.     To mix paste tusche: put .25 oz of water into the can and mix until a very black solution is formed. Test on paper and stone to see value when dry. Don’t use a brush that has been used with gum Arabic.

5.     Three value recipes:
a.     Light wash: 20-25 drops in .25 oz. of water.
b.     Medium grey: 45 drops in .25 oz of water.
c.      Black: 60 drops in .25 oz of water.

6.     If the edges of the image are masked with gum, use only lithotine washes. Water will dissolve the gum and make a mess.

7.     Let washes set for at least 24hrs. Otherwise, the stone won’t have enough time to absorb the grease.

Etching the stone, first etch:

1.     Rosin and talc the stone:
a.     Dust on the rosin and brush around the image.  Buff off and save the excess.
b.     Repeat with talc.

2.     Mix the etching solution. A typical etch is 8 drops of nitric acid to 1 oz. of gum Arabic. As I understand it, the greasier the image, the stronger the solution that is required to etch it properly.

3.     Apply the etch to the stone, dumping it on all at once, and move it around with either your hand or a soft brush, or a small sponge dedicated to etching. Move the etch about the stone for about 3 -5 minutes.

4.     Remove the excess gum with a dry cheesecloth or sponge. Use a second dry cheesecloth to buff the stone dry. Try to create a streak free, smooth layer. The drawing should feel tacky, sitting on top of the dried gum film.

5.     Clean up. Stone must rest for at least 30 minutes, but can rest until you are able to proceed.

Printing and roll up preparation:
1.     Clean the slab and roll out the roller. To clean a roller, one must scrape and roll.

2.     Use Senefelder’s Crayon Black ink.

3.     Scrape, do not gouge (scraping is lithorific, I assume) a small amount of ink out of the can onto the slab.

4.     Work the ink until it is soft and pulls up threads when lifted. Working the ink is called “knocking it up”.

5.     Using magnesium carbonate (mag) can make the ink stiffer if needed.

6.     Apply the ink to the slab in a strip, using a painting knife or spatula.

7.     Scrape off the “bead” of ink.

8.     Roll out the ink to the width of the roller.

9.     Let the roller spin a bit at the end of a roll, so that different areas of the roller get charged.

10. The ink slab should be a thin, even distribution of ink.

11. Charge the roller about 10-12 times.

Before the roll up: 
1.     Clean off drawing with lithotine, until no traces of the drawing are left. Rub with asphaltum diluted with lithotine and buff dry. There must be no streaks.

2.     Do this outside, or in an area with good ventilation.

3.     If streaks happen use a little lithotine to even out the asphaltum.

4.     Fan dry.

5.     Wash with cold water, using first soft towels and then sponges.

Rolling up:
1.     Roll up stone with crayon black ink, very stiff.

2.     Roll three times in one direction, then switch to another direction, again rolling three times.

3.     Keep the stone damp by sponging water on with a large pore sponge, and mopping it off with a small pore sponge.

4.     Continue rolling up and sponging until the stone looks “up to color”. Usually, three complete cycles of rolling are enough.

5.     Clean edges using snake slip.

6.     If the image looks good, move on to second etch.
Second etch:
1.     Increase acid ratio by a few drops.

2.     Rosin and talc the stone.

3.     Apply the etch to the stone, dumping it on all at once, and move it around with either your hand or a soft brush, or a small sponge dedicated to etching. Move the etch about the stone for about 3 -5 minutes.

4.     Remove the excess gum with a dry cheesecloth or sponge. Use a second dry cheesecloth to buff the stone dry. Try to create a streak free, smooth layer. The drawing should feel tacky, sitting on top of the dried gum film.

5.     Clean up. Stone must rest for at least 30 minutes, but can rest until you are able to proceed.


1.     Prepare the press and materials:

2.     Tear paper to size and mark the back of paper with center and border marks. Stonehenge does not work for lithography. Arches and Rives both work fine.

3.     Do the same with sheets of newsprint, for use as proofing papers.

4.     The printing side of the paper is more textured and has a line next to the deckle.

5.     To mark center: line up paper, back- sides up and deckles together. Fan the paper down and mark the centers. Put a cross mark on one end to mark the leading edge of the print.

6.     Choose a scraper bar, which should be larger than the image but smaller than the stone.

7.     Grease the scraper bar and the tympan with tympan grease.

8.     A tympan is a plexi-glass sheet that is laid upon the stone, over the papers. The scraper bar slides over the tympan to print the image.

9.     Clean slab and roll out roller.

10. Get press kit ready:
 Two clean bowls: one empty, for squeezing out sponges, one with clean water.
 Two sponges: one with large holes for applying water, one with small holes for sponging off.
Processed stone placed on the press bed, centered under the scraper bar. Can be held in place by a bridle or blocks of wood.
Grease and grease knife.
Cans of ink.
Printing and proofing papers.
Rags or paper towels
Edge cleaning solution: ½ oz. gum Arabic, 1 oz of water, 6 drops of phosphoric acid.
11. Place stone on the press bed, centering under scraper bar, bracing it from behind with blocks of wood.

12. Mark the travel on the press bed with tape, so you know where to start and when to stop cranking.

13. Set the pressure on the press:
a.     With no pressure, engage lever and lower the scraper bar until it is hard to turn the pressure crank anymore.
b.     Then add a bit of pressure.

14. Remove the ink with lithotine.

15. Apply asphaltum base. Let dry.

16. Wet the stone to remove excess asphaltum.

17. Start sponging and inking cycles.

18. When the image looks “up to color”, print a proof on newsprint.

19.  Place printing sheet face down on the stone, followed by 2 sheets of newsprint.

20. Place tympan on top of papers.

21. Crank to print a proof.

22. Scrape off grease from tympan and scraper bar, and remove tympan.

23. Repeat until ink is up to color on the paper.

24. Switch to good paper.

25. Use edge-cleaning solution if needed.

26. Print edition.

27. Clean sponges every 2-3 prints.

For making an “erased “, or reductive image on a litho stone:
1.     Mask out the margins of the stone with gum Arabic.

2.     Rub with lithotine diluted asphaltum and dry well. There must be no streaks.

3.     Fan dry.

4.     Wash with cold water and soft towels, then sponges.

5.     Roll up with crayon black, very stiff.

6.     Rosin and talc.

7.     Draw/erase image with snake slip.

8.     Etch with 6-8 drops of nitric acid mixed with 1 oz. of gum Arabic.

9.     Move the etch gently about the stone for about 3 minutes.

10. Remove the etch with cheesecloth.

11. Roll up

12. Rosin and talc.
Apply 2nd etch and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Can be left indefinitely.

13. Remove ink with lithotine.

14. Apply an even layer of asphaltum and dry.

15. Use water to remove asphaltum.

16. Keep stone wet and start proofing.
Paul Croft’s Stone Lithography contains an explanation of this technique.

Counter etching:
    Counter-etching is used when the stone needs to be re-sensitized to grease after an etch has been applied. Etching “closes” the stone. Counter-etching re-opens it so that the image can be altered.
In a counter-etch, citric acid  (granular monohydrate) is added to water.
1.     Mix 10 oz. water with ¼ teaspoon of citric acid crystals.

2.     Apply solution to the stone, keep it moving for 1 minute to 90 seconds.

3.     Apply three times.

4.     Rinse with water and lightly squeegee.

5.     Blot.

6.     Fan dry.
Clean up:
Bowls can be washed with vinegar. Unused ink can be saved in wax paper. Clean tympan with vinegar as well. Scrape roller, clean slab and inking knives. Put Vaseline around edge of ink cans to make lid easy to remove and to keep ink fresh.
Store prints flat, under something heavy (especially if the paper was damp) with sheets of newsprint in between, to prevent the ink from offsetting onto the backs of the other prints in the pile.

Trouble shooting:
There are probably a hundred other things that I don’t know about saving an image. There are so many variables, it probably takes years of experience to know what to do in every instance. The following techniques were things that I saw Mark Pascale do to fix images during our class at Ox-Bow, or are from the paper Notes on Control of Images by John Sommers.

Dry rolling:
     If an image isn’t taking ink during printing, dry the stone and quickly “snap roll” the stone, by rolling ink on and quickly off. As I understand it, this encourages the image to accept more ink. But, one should always warn a student before performing this action, so that they don’t bite off their hands in an anxious fit.
    I think that dry-rolling also happens by accident, if the printer lets the stone go too dry before inking. Snap rolling can fix it, I think.
Ding Dong Daddy (not from Dumas):
To etch a really greasy image: The Ding Dong Daddy: Super strong etch of 36 drops of acid to 1 oz. of water.

Making a “Make Ready”:
      If the printer has the misfortune of having made an image on a wedge-shaped stone, small irregularities can be compensated for by constructing a “make ready”. To do this, create a compensating wedge of paper under the thin side of the stone by laying pieces of paper arranged in layers so that the paper gradually builds up extra width under the thin side of the stone.
Things that can be tried for a darkening image, from the gentlest to the harshest:[2]
Add magnesium carbonate to the ink, to make it stiffer, reduce tack and greasiness.
Gum massage: If a particular area of the stone is darkening, gum massage can clean and etch the area.
1.     Pour gum Arabic on the affected area and massage it with a sponge. The image should lighten during rubbing.  Rub for a few seconds.

2.     Rinse with water.

3.     Complete roll-up.

4.     Print a proof.
Gum Pounding:
Gum pounding is a more severe method of application of gum to an affected area. Whereas gum massage is a slow gentle method, gum pounding is fast. Its effect is to pull the ink out of the spot and force the gum into the stone. This should be done only on an image that is close to being fully inked.
1.     Pool some gum in the affected area.

2.     Pat the area with a sponge.

3.     Massage the area.

4.     If it still isn’t working, increase the force from patting to pounding.

5.     I know that sounds ridiculous, but I can’t think of another way to put it.

6.     This option should be used sparingly.

7.     Frequent use of this technique can cause an image to burn out.
Snap rolling: Rolling a wet stone quickly with little down force can pull ink off a stone.

   Lithography seems to be a very complex way of printing an image, but it is also fascinating in that it is a mysterious blend of art, science and alchemy. The procedures I have outlined are only the rudimentary steps involved in creating, printing and saving an image on a litho stone. I am looking forward to learning more about how to make lithographic prints.


Croft, Paul. Stone Lithography (Printmaking Handbooks), Watson-Guptill (February 1, 2003)

Sommers, John. Notes on Control of Images, The Tamarind Papers, vol. 4:39-41.

University of Richmond Museums, Looking at Prints:

[1] http://museums.richmond.edu/lookingatprints/glossary/index.html
[2] Sommers, John. Notes on Control of Images, The Tamarind Papers, vol. 4:39-41.