Imitating Chromolithography for the Steam Hobby
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A source for the high quality limestone needed for stone printing was not available in the U.S.; only stone imported from Bavaria met the requirements. Eventually lightweight zinc sheets replaced the stones; with proper preparation the sheets could be used to make large prints, such as posters.
Chromolithography was based on a “resist system” using separate slabs of stone for each color in the illustration. Wax or gum arabic was applied to those areas of the stone that were not to receive color. Ink was applied to the stone, paper was laid on top, rolled and printed. After the ink dried, the process was repeated and the paper was printed on another stone, applying a different hue. It was not unusual for more than two dozen stones to be used for a single image.
In the first step of the process, a sketch artist made a watercolor or oil painting according to the customer’s requirements. Next, a lithographic artist traced the illustration directly onto a lithographic stone with greasy ink or crayons, creating a black-and-white outline.
Transfer artists copied the outline on to as many lithographic stones as there were colors in the final image. The color (or stipple) artist decided on color and placement of ink and greased the stones accordingly.
The prover printed an image using the stones in a hand press to see if the image matched the original customer image. The pressman made the final work in a lithographic press; the paper was kept in alignment by small pins placed in holes along the edge of the sheet. Alignment was easily affected by temperature and humidity.
After the process was complete, special solutions were used to dissolve the images and the stones were sanded and readied for reuse.
“You can tell the difference between stone print and offset press by using a magnifying glass,” Dave says. “The stone print will have solid color while the offset press four-color process will show dots of color. Stone print is remarkable because of how precisely the artists did their work. There is nothing like it today. The color is very permanent and does not fade; it holds up extremely well.” FC
Read about the annual steam threshing event on Dave’s farm: “October Steam Day.”For more information: Dave Kemler, 1151 N. Deja Rd., Stanton, MI 48888; (989) 831-5692. Don Voelker is a freelance photographer and writer in Fort Wayne, Ind., specializing in tractors, farm equipment, historic sites, museums, barns and covered bridges. View his work at www.voelkerphotography.com.
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