Printmaking, the art of creating a print and putting it on paper, spans centuries and many forms are still active in the art world, from etching to relief to silkscreen. But one form that is considered "the beast" of the medium, lithography, combines artistic "magic" with chemistry. Tennessee State University professor and printmaker Meghan O'Connor conducts workshops at Murray State and area high schools this week and on Sounds Good, Kate Lochte meets the artist, who gives a public lecture Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Clara Eagle Gallery classroom (weather depending) and printmaking professor Nicole Hand.
Meghan O'Connor began her career in printmaking with relief work, which is like using a rubber stamp except that one carves and creates their own stamps to make impressions on the paper. She then moved to screenprinting, which is like refined stenciling - many t-shirts are made in this manner. She then advanced to collography, the art of making collages on paper then sealing them with an acrylic medium, inking them and running them through a press with embossments. Finally, she moved to lithography, which she called "the beast of printmaking."
In commercial printing, a lot of the magazines that you read are created with a flexible metal plate. Imagery is created in a photographic manner: CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black or 'key'), then layered together to make a photographic image. It's then offset onto a rubber blanket and then onto printing paper.
With traditional stone lithography, instead of drawing on a piece of metal, one would use a chunk of sanded, smooth rock. The rock is porous and receptive to grease. She then uses a crayon (soap, animal fat, black pigment), essentially grease. When she places the drawing on the surface, it fills in those pores with grease, which tells those areas to become 'grease-loving.' After the drawing is complete, she coats the stone with gum arabic, setting the chemistry of the stone and telling the non-image areas to become 'water-loving' and the drawing to become grease receptive. In the printing process, keep the stone damp with a sponge, then move a roller of ink over the surface of the stone. The water rejects the ink and the grease soaks it in. Repeat the process as needed until the image is complete.
Through workshops this week on campus - some students have been able to attend despite the weather - students learn how to become professional printmakers by helping an artist publish their work, a tradition in printmaking. In the professional printing world, technicians help artists make a piece of art. The students act as O'Connor's assistant, picking up tricks and techniques.