February 25, 2015
Lithography with Pudy Tong – Q & A
Written by Laine Groeneweg
To most folks, the world of print and printmaking seems like a completely foreign planet, dotted with clusters of strange lingo and great plains of technical jargon. Most of us know a “print” when we see one, but many of us don’t know how the heck it was made. Of course, the kind of print I’m describing isn’t one that comes from a computer printer, rather the kind of traditional prints that were produced pre-computer.
At Open Studio there’s a swath of artists continuing to produce contemporary prints using some of these traditional printmaking techniques. I wanted to begin a series of Q & A’s with some of these folks and get a bit more insight into what they do, why they do it, and hopefully garner a little bit more info on what’s what. As a start, I thought it would be fun to catch up with artist and lithographer, Pudy Tong, to get a sense of what’s involved in making an original lithograph print. Here’s what he had to say…
Hey Pudy! Before we get into the nitty gritty, can you tell me a little bit about lithography?
Pudy: Lithography is a printmaking method that relies on the fact that water and grease do not mix. An abridged description of the process goes like this: you draw in grease, ink up the stone with a greasy roller while a layer of water rejects the ink and keeps the undrawn areas white, run it through the press against a piece of paper, and voila!
Now that we know what lithography is, what exactly is it about this kind of printmaking that draws you in?
Pudy: The rich range of unique visual vocabulary that lithography provides keeps me coming back time and time again: its ability to capture graphite and charcoal marks, the “tusche” wash [an analog to India ink made of greasy particles], its velvety blacks, the capacity to do high resolution photographic imagery in plate lithography…
WOW!! It sounds like there is a whole world of possibilities to make imagery with lithography. So how long have you been doing lithography, and how did you first get interested in it?
Pudy: I’ve been doing lithography since third-year university, circa 2006. I took both relief/intaglio and screen-printing during one compacted semester the year before. Lithography was the logical next step as I was already hooked on print at that point.
What makes lithography different than other printmaking techniques?
Pudy: In addition to how luscious lithographs look, I feel stone lithography is the most direct of all printmaking techniques. What you draw is basically what you get, just flipped backwards. Lithography requires less of the round-about ways to create an image for reproduction: the inversion in relief printmaking as you’re cutting out the negative space to arrive at the positive line, or the stop-out + etch that intaglio needs to build tone, or the demands in screen-printing to draw with the primary consideration of blocking light.
You print other’s work as well as your own, can you tell me a little bit about that experience?… challenges, favourite projects, etc.?
Pudy: Every image is slightly different and demands a different approach. It could be a simple as choosing between using plate or stone lithography, or as nuanced as making a minor correction to how I ink up the stone for that particular image. What I enjoy most about printing other people’s work is that initial challenge of setting a trajectory that would (hopefully) result in something that matches the artist’s vision. It’s also a very satisfying to nail a colour mix that the artist has only described in words.
Plate or Stone Lithography?
Pudy: Both! Well, plate if I’m really ~pressed~ for time! [har har!] Graining a stone, usually a meditative exercise, can feel tedious and stressful when one is rushing to complete a project.
Let’s talk stones! Since the stones in lithography are used over and over again by different artists, do you think they take on a personality, vibe, or history?
Pudy: Indeed! The ritualistic act of working on a given stone over time gives me a sense of tension that rotates between accumulation, loss and renewal.
Do you have a favourite OS Litho stone?
Pudy: Of course! There’s this one with a cute tiny fossil in the corner. Sure, it doesn’t register anything you draw in that tiny area, but it’s a nice reminder that you’re working on a geological artifact.
Printmaking and litho in particular has a lot of different variables. Sometimes things just don’t work out! Do you have specific a story like this? If so ,what happened? Any anecdotes?
Pudy: Nothing specific comes to mind because even when things do go smoothly, there’s this underlying sense of suspicion and anticipation of impending disaster. There’ll always be kinks, obstacles and surprises, however small. All that we can do is, in the spirit of that World War Two morale poster: “Keep Calm and Adjust Accordingly.”
I noticed the sculpture over the litho press,… what’s up with that?
Pudy: It’s a plastic figurine of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings who’s warding over our precious Griffin Press! Some printmakers become pseudo-superstitious people because there are times when one just couldn’t figure out what went wrong during the process, so one just has to conclude that the Print Gods were displeased. The shrines and trinkets help keep Them merciful.
What’s your number 1 litho tip?
Pudy: Don’t be intimidated; the lithographic process is not as unforgiving as you may think. Even though the bare stone at the initial drawing stage is very sensitive and will record every (un)intentional smudge, it is not set in stone [har har, Strike Two!] There are opportunities to erase and add to the image further down the line in the process.
Lithography used to be quite a popular method of print production. In 2015, where does lithography stand?
Pudy: Lithography is still super popular with lithographers! And its offspring remains the chemical principle behind high-end offset printing. And jokes aside, it is alive and well within the network of traditional print shops all over the world, being practiced by artists who enjoy the sensuality of working with one’s hands and who desire the particular surface quality that only lithography can offer.
If somebody was interested, how could they get started with lithography?
Pudy: With me @ Open Studio! PLUG PLUG PLUG!
Pudy Tong is an artist and printer working at Open Studio in Toronto. If you’re interested in learning more about what he does check out his personal website: http://www.pudytong.ca/. If you’re interested in learning more about lithography consider one of his classes at Open Studio!