Expressivity through lithography

Expressivity through lithography

As for the artists, many people are aware that original graphic work and lithography constitute their own language, which is linked to continuous research processes in the field of expressivity and creativity. This is the case where lithography requires talent, skill and active participation throughout the creative and technical process.

Although some of the greatest painters, such as Durero or Rembrandt, even Guillem Mesquida made one of the first female nudes, the truth is that most lithographers were artisans who did not go beyond performing popular prints without too many artistic pretensions, and in most cases other craftsmen colored the prints by hand. It is curious, in the artistic field, that when Senelfender invented lithography, he was not aware of the expressive possibilities of this new printing system, and it was not until a few years later that the use of colors in the lithography, when Géricault, Goya and Delacroix threw themselves in the new technique and found an unusual printing system, full of tempting risks, a fact that in an incomprehensible way went unnoticed to the observers, obsessed by the reproducibility, by the art of masses and in definitive, for (Melià, 1989, p.3). Guillem Frontera also highlights that lithography implies the multiplication of the expressive possibilities of artists (Frontera, 1987, p.3).

According to C. Martínez (Martínez, 2013), who interviews José Fuentes[1], the world of lithography and the original graphic work opens up in an immense field of creation, since it is a world in constant evolution, considering that this technique it is the One that has evolved the most and has been enriched in the 20th century. Thus, many of the great artists have developed projects in original graphic work, and in a relevant way. Dalí, Picasso or Tàpies, all those who saw the original graphic work, and of course the lithography, formed a world that offered (and offers) unique creation possibilities. Nowadays, it should be noted that the positive effect in the field of creation is remarkable, and precisely thanks to the extraordinary results in the field of lithography. Artists have come to find the point of freedom that allows them to not worry so much about the market, as the freedom of creation and experimentation to get everything that interests them from technique and process. This lack of concern for the market also comes from the characteristics of lithography, and that allows the work of artists to have a wider market. This fact has been identified as the socializing capacity of the original graphic work: having several exemplars of a work allows the reduction of prices, which implies that a work is more accessible to buyers.

Referencing to the expressive possibilities, it is necessary to emphasize that the artist finds in the lithographic stone some possibilities of expression that other techniques deny him due to his strength and ability to penetrate the paper. J. Melià emphasizes that lithography does not affect the aura of the original character of the work speaking in terms of expressivity, because it is precisely this authenticity that can not be reproduced, but it is thanks to the lithography that allows to create a type of work authentic and original, that breaks the molds of the exclusivity that art has had and has in many occasions (Melià, 1989, p.4).

Guillem Frontera speaks of the surprising creative vigor of the technique and of the artists who work. The author refers to the contacts of most artists with the original graphic work, is limited in many cases to screen printing due to the ease of access to the technique. With lithography the situation of creativity is improved, which is why many artists have discovered a world that multiplies its expressive possibilities. The lithography allows creating a personal work, both in the process of creation and in stamping, recover the artistic sense of the original graphic work, discovering that this can not be a mere reproduction (Frontera, 1987, p.3).

Speaking of expressivity and creativity through lithography without referencing artists would be to stay halfway. Therefore, it is important to ask a series of questions to experienced artists in this technique and of completely different language. Artists who grow in the creative and research processes, with mastery of traditional stamping techniques aware that they are techniques with which each experience adds up.

To discover which are the expressive and creative possibilities that make possible lithography to be a special technique in the artistic field, questions such as: What makes lithography being a special technique? What makes the creative process different? What differences does lithography allow when it comes to expressing oneself artistically? Apart from these questions, it is also interesting the opinion of the concept of reproducibility of the image that the artist has, which we will discover next:

Regarding what makes lithography special, in the artistic field it should be noted that some artists conceive lithography as a merely reproductive art. It should be noted that for artists interested in the world of traditional stamping techniques and original graphic work, lithography has two aspects: on the one hand they speak of the challenge implied by the process of working through an indirect technique, where the final result always have something uncertain. On the other hand, referencing to the multiplicity of the image, which although it has no relation to the creative and expressive field, if it can be considered a positive but not a decisive aspect, as an added value that encourages artists to experiment with this technique. As indicated by the artists, the expressive capacity of lithography, the artistic field, has arisen over time, since its beginnings the function of the lithography was very different. It should be noted that today lithography has a very important aspect, the artistic one: what is achieved by drawing on the stone is not offered by any other technique. There are many artists who affirm that the world of traditional stamping techniques has a magical aspect, because when they lift the paper from the stone they ask themselves: wich is the result?

So, what makes lithography special is the “magical” effect of discovering the stamp when the wet paper is removed. Although the artist knows what he has drawn, the final result when they see the picture always varies, that there are never two exemplars exactly the same. When we talk about the importance of the added value of the original graphic work, we think that the work is both original and not unique.

Nowadays, the great majority of artists who work with the lithographic technique do not give as much importance to the reproductive act as to the results it offers. As well affirmed artists experienced in the field, the lithography does not reproduce originals, but it creates own works, thought exclusively to be created on stone.

Talking about what differentiates lithography from other techniques implies referring to the technical process. According to the artists who works the technique, lithography gives the possibility of discovering a different world. The results offered are always different from the work that can be done on paper or linen. Lithography is a special language because the same technique is capable of transmitting an infinite number of strokes, depending on whether the artist works with ink or with a pencil. It is this versatility that makes it more special.

In the creative field, it must be taken into account that the material of the work always conditions the design that will materialize (or vice versa), in any expression of the plastic arts, and this is what many artists affirm: when they paint on paper or the canvas, the creative process and the expressiveness always have to be adapted to the possibilities offered by the support, the same happens in the measurements or the format. Lithography does not change the author’s concept, like other languages, but the creative and expressive process varies. Therefore, we can say that the creative processes when working with lithography change, to such an extent that we can say that in some cases the change is drastic: lithography only allows, in the vast majority of cases and, according to the drawing of the artist, draw one color by stone. This means that if the artist wants to incorporate five colors in an image, she or he have to draw five lithographic stones, one per color. In the creative process, this means that they have to decompose the image into different layers, one for each color. And not only that: the artist has to invert the image: if the motive has to “look” to the right, it must be drawn to the left.

In this case, we can see how artists change the patterns of their creativity to adapt them to the technique. This does not mean changing their expressivity language, but they have to use other tools to arrive at a satisfactory result. Although the creative process is more laborious, in the end, the artists come to the conclusion that they are rewarded in the results.

As far as expressivity is concerned, the expressive possibilities offered by lithography are not found in another techniques. When lithography is used as its own language, the work acquires a certain strength and a different air, since the work is conceived for the stone and to be later stamped, and the artists have in mind the different possibilities that this offers, and that were not offered other techniques. Expressively, lithography provides a very difficult results to compare with other techniques, in the same way that we cannot compare an oil painting with a tempera. Thus, understanding what lithography contributes to an expressive technique, with the possibility of creating waters, sums of colors in different stones[2], creates works that have little to do (expressively) with, for example, oils on canvas. According to artists, they cannot express the same thing with oil as with lithography: they are different techniques and they express different things. In fact, it should be noted that artists consider the lithographic technique as a living element: an image is drawn, but the surprise effect is always there. They know what they have drawn, but they do not know exactly how it will appear: the intensity of the stroke, the waters … they know they are but it is always a surprise when they are seen on paper.

Esperança Llabrés


Frontera, G. (1987). “Cinco años del Taller 6A”. A: Frontera, G. (coord.), Obra Gràfica – Mallorca. Edicions 6a Obra Gràfica.Palma: Edicions 6a Obra Gràfica, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando y Calcografía Nacional. p. 1-4.

Martínez, C. (2013). “El poder de la obra gràfica”. En: Diario de Información. Nº s/n.[13/03/2019].

Melià, J. (1989). “El Taller 6A i la nova Mallorca”. En: Edicions 6a Obra Gràfica: Llonja. Palma de Mallorca: Govern Balear. p. 3-5.


[1]José Fuentes is a professor in a workshop of engraving traditional printing techniques.

[2]In this case we have to reference that the ink is not opaque, so is transparent, a fact that allows adding other colors, for example, with the stamping of a yellow motif and then a blue one, a third green color can be achieved, without the need to stamp a third stone.

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