Phillip Chen, Drake University’s only print professor, teaches intro to lithographic printmaking in the hopes of saving this dying artform from extinction.
“It’s a process that a lot of people are no longer doing because it takes so much expertise to do it,” Chen said. “For instance, the local museum called the Des Moines Art Center, off West Grand — there’s a big museum out there — they gave us all their litho stones because they didn’t have anybody on staff who knew how to teach it.”
Chen said one reason this artform is on the decline is due to its difficulty.
“Of all the printing processes, lithography is considered the most difficult to do,” Chen said. “It’s the most chemical; we mix acids and measure their pH, and we assign different strengths of acids to different values of drawing.”
Despite its perceived difficulty, Chen said that lithographic printing can be taught in an easy-to-learn way.
“It’s really not that hard,” Chen said. “And it can be taught, effectively, in a similar way. It just scares people.”
Hannah Scoonover, a senior at Drake who took intro to lithographic printing last year, recounted some of the scary aspects of lithography, such as having to grind stone, using acids, and handling a “giant press that is super dangerous.”
“You have to be super carful,” Scoonover said. “And only professor Chen correctly knows how to make sure it’s enough pressure. Because if you put too much pressure you could crack the stone in half, and if you put too light pressure you won’t get anything on your image.”
Even though lithography is an intensive process that can seem daunting at times, Scoonover said that is exactly why she loved it.
“I loved the technique,” Scoonover said. “And I found that the process of doing the lithograph was part of the art as well, because there is so much work behind it.”
Scoonover said she put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears — minus the blood — into each of her prints, giving her a sense of accomplishment no other medium has before.
“I loved the class,” Scoonover said. “That class was actually the reason why I changed my major from painting to printmaking.”
Scoonover said she recommends that art students and students of any major wanting to do art take the class.
“It’s not as popular as painting or drawing,” Scoonover said. “And I just wish more people would get into it because I had so much fun with that class. And professor Chen is a great professor. I always suggest people to take him.”
Chen said that he recommends people who like to draw, or people who simply want to make art, take this class.
“It’s for people who want to make things,” Chen said.
“People who want to make things” includes Sophie Ernst, a first-year biology and psychology major who is interested in taking intro to lithographic printing, if her schedule permits.
“I definitely would be interested in it,” Sophie said as she worked on one of her woodcut prints for a current class, intro to printmaking.
“When I change my major to art and psych I’m going to see what the art one requires, and if I have choice credits, I’ll probably take another printing class.”
Ernst said she took intro to printmaking to cover her art AOI, but has found she likes it a lot more than she thought she would.
“I thought it would be cool, but it’s even cooler,” said Ernst.
Ernst said she is excited for the unit when her class gets to do lithographic printing themselves.
Intro to lithographic printing is available for next semester, spring of 2022. This class is for both seasoned artists and newbies.
“I took away all my prerequisites so you don’t have to have had two levels of drawing before you take this class,” Chen said. “In my book, I’m more interested in images that have really interesting concepts and thoughts and feeling, than that they are beautifully produced.”