Lithographs, what are they?

September 29, 2009

While most people I talk with know the term etching as an art form, they don’t really know what exactly is involved in this process of intaglio printmaking.  They usually understand the concept of a wood block print or relief printing, recollecting potato or linoleum block prints made is school.

But when it comes to lithographs, the confusion is rampant…and rightfully so.  There are two very different lithographic printing techniques and understanding them both will help collectors and investors of art make better decisions about their print purchases.

Some lithographs are considered as fine art prints, others are mere copies.

Stone or hand-pulled prints are created by artists who design their edition for the process of printing on a flat surfaced stone (litho) using oil base inks and the resistance of water.  Each color requires a different stone and a separate printing.

Prints that are only reproductions are offset lithographs.  This requires taking a photograph of any painting or drawing and having it printed at a commercial printing company.

The cost of creating a stone litho in time and supplies can be near $50 per print and more in comparison to offset lithos at one dollar and usually less.

First clue that the litho might be a fine art print… an edition of less than 250.  The hand prepared stone surface starts to break down in quality and integrity if more.

Second clue, the paper is usually heavier and watermarked.

Third, the image has a painterly quality.  Many artists who like to paint prefer this technique to create multiple artworks as it lends itself to painting rather than the carving required for a wood block print or linear/detailing of an intaglio edition.

Artists who are known for their lithography prints include Goya, Odilon Redon (one of my personal favorites), Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Picasso,  Jasper Johns, David Hockney, M.C. Esher and many of the Mexican muralists.

Fine art prints are considered original pieces of art.  It is an inexpensive way to collect top artists work.  Be careful of what I call cruise art.  The limited editions of Miro, Picasso and Dali are not limited, they are mass marketed and not hand pulled or authorized for the printing by the artists.  They will be worth a lot less than you pay for them.