A lithographer is an artist who uses lithographic printing or lithography as his medium. The term “lithographer” used to apply to any person who prepared the stone or printing plate in this process, but has evolved to apply to graphic artists who use this method.
Lithography is the basis for offset printing, the most common form of mass printing books, maps, posters and newspapers. In the art world, lithographers are recognized for their graphic designs.
Early lithographers carried out all steps of the printing process, from drawing the initial images, transferring the images to a polished limestone slab or a metal plate using oil-based lithographic crayons or a greasy ink, treating the printing plate with chemicals, inking the plate and making the prints. As printing workshops expanded, the work was divided until lithographers had specialties, such as proofing the print jobs.
Several artists have experimented with lithography because they found the images created through this process carried a depth or emotion not seen in other media. In 1913, Emil Nolde printed an image of a young couple in 69 different color variations, using three or four stones for each layer of color. Pablo Picasso enjoyed lithographs as a way to record the different states of his work, such as an illustration of a bull in 1945 that evolved into a Cubist representation. In 1960, William de Kooning created a lithograph on a large plate by applying special ink with a floor mop.
Lithographers have an admired skill, even as advances in technology allow images to be printed directly on printing plates like gigantic photographic negatives. The Tamarind Institute of Lithography at the University of New Mexico helped produce a book published in 2009, “Tamarind Techniques for Fine Art Lithography,” that covers all facets of this art from setting up a workshop to step-by-step techniques.
Reputable lithographers have been hired to mass-produce crisp head shots for actors and other publicity materials for films. Their fees vary by print size and number of copies.