Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Return to Production

Wet sponge, dry sponge. Sponge, sponge, sponge.

For two days at the end of January myself and Barry (current owner of Vincent Brooks, Day & Son) took part in a wonderful Stone Lithography course at the London Print Studios.

No matter how much I read about lithography I always struggled to understand the rather complex processes involved in 'chemical printing'. The course offered by the London Print Studios gave the perfect opportunity to get some hands on experience using techniques and machinery that have changed little in the past one hundred years.

The first day started with creating our image on the stone. This could be done free hand or by tracing an existing image using red conte 'carbon' paper. The crucial science bit is that all the drawing materials contain an amount of grease.

The image is then 'Etched' twice onto the stone.
Old Press, J Greig & Sons, Edinburgh
This process involves using varying strengths of acidic gum. The acid reacts with the unmarked stone causing it to reject ink and attract water. The acid that is applied to the drawn image will dissolve the grease into the stone making those areas attract ink and repel water. The stone is quickly inked after the first etch. This consolidates the greasy areas with a uniform layer of greasy ink. The second etch uses less acid and stabilises the image ready for printing.

Snap plus three (four fan pattern rolls from each of the corners)
Layers of ink were gradually built up using a fan pattern from each corner of the stone until we were finally ready to print a proof.

At last fully quality images started roll off the press, well, there was always one area that hadn't come out as dark as it should. Not enough ink, a slight dip in the stone?

White spirit to remove ink before changing colour
 To preserve the image another layer of ink was applied straight after printing (before rushing off to look the results!) This first inking is referred to as a 'snap'. Each layer of ink applied to build up the ink for the next print is snap plus one, two, three etc.

On the second day we had the chance to alter or add to our images. A blue ink was then used to show us the process of switching inks. Finally we used this second colour to add detail to a few of the printed sheets from the day before. This gave us a two colour image and showed the importance of the registration marks made on the paper and the stone.

The final hour of our two days was spent cleaning ink from the stone and graining it to remove the surface which has been chemically altered by the various processes of adding acid and grease. A giant heavy spinning disk called a levigator is used to grind the stone.  Sands of various causeness is added to slowly refine the polishing.

The levigator grains the stone 
 I've almost made the whole process sound simple but that is without mentioning the talc, gum arabic, nitric acid, etch ratios, buffing, asphaltum, naps, hot etches, tympans, and lots of sponging.

 The group of six worked really well as a team and everyone got hands on with every stage of the process.
For Barry, the smell of gum brought back boring Saturday mornings watching an old man go through the many monotonous stages of lithography. We both found the course very insightful and as informative as it was creative.

For those wishing to continue lithography the studios offer access to all the equipment and materials needed to take up the art form on a regular basis.

Barry left with his handful of prints. The first lithographs produced by Vincent Brooks, Day & Son since the 1970's.

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