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The actor Alois Senefelder (center) made a name for himself as the founder of modern commercial printing through the invention of Lithography in 1789. For over a century the process was used for a variety of purposes from the reproduction of famous paintings to the production of all sorts of multi-colored commercial printed goods such as this cigarette packet 'Snow Belle', booklets and posters. Interestingly, the first lithographic press was derived from an etching press. Lithographs, left: Renoir 'Chapeau', top right: Toulouse Lautrec: 'Clemenceau Mayer'. Bottom: 'Flag', Jasper Johns, mixed media, 1954-55, MOMA

Offset Printing: nontoxic   Polyester Plate Litho   Litho Toner Wash    Waterless Lithography

Lithography has been cherished as a unique medium by many artists and printers since its invention by Alois Senefelder in 1798. The public love lithographic prints created by the greats, ranging from Toulouse Lautrec to Jasper Johns and Jim Dine, and print studios such as the Tamarind Institute in New Mexico celebrate the unique lithographic language of artistic expression. Lithographs convey a delicate, subtle, and fragile aesthetic that continues to appeal to artists and art lovers alike.

The principle of lithography:

Lithography uses simple chemical processes 

to create an image. For instance, 

the positive part of an image is a water-repelling 

("hydrophobic") substance, 

while the negative image would be 

water-retaining ("hydrophilic"). 

Thus, when the plate is introduced to a 

compatible printing ink and water mixture, 

the ink will adhere to the positive image 

and the water will clean the negative image. 

This allows a flat print plate to be used, 

enabling much longer and more detailed print runs 

than the older physical methods of printing 

(e.g., intaglio printing, letterpress printing).

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder 

in the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1796. 

In the early days of lithography, 

a smooth piece of limestone was used 

(hence the name "lithography": "lithos" (λιθος)

 is the ancient Greek word for stone). 

After the oil-based image was put on the surface, 

a solution of gum arabic in water was applied, 

the gum sticking only to the non-oily surface. 

During printing, water adhered to the 

gum arabic surfaces and was repelled by the oily parts, 

while the oily ink used for printing did the opposite.

The original form of lithographic printing - stone lithography -

relies on a particularly harsh chemical mix of asphaltum (a tar-like product),

rosin, pure nitric acid, and mineral spirit solvents.

Many of these materials are suspected or known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Cancer, brain disease, birth defects in offspring, and infertility

are known health risks of this 18th century form of printing.

Lithographic lime stones carry no toxic risk aside from the obvious lifting hazard. Many of the various volatile chemicals that are applied to the stone surface, however, are very toxic.

In the general public there is little notion of the very significant health risks inherent in the medium. Insiders in the printmaking profession know that traditional stone lithographers have a greatly increased risk of contracting cancer, and of suffering through lengthy periods of illness - even of dying prematurely as a result of the insidious toxic exposure that daily long-term lithographic practice can entail (see article 'Not dying for their art'). The recently published 'Tamarind Techniques Manual' by Marjorie Devon lists 19 carcinogenic substances that are used regularly (see list below).

The inventor of the process Alois Senefelder, who developed the method to commercialize the printing of musical scores (think Mozart's music) was already aware of unpleasant tar fumes and possible health risks of his invention, so as a caution he termed the process 'Chemical Printing'. Beware: in this method your are dealing with harsh chemicals, not just benign drawing materials. This original term was soon replaced by the term 'Stone Printing' or 'Lithography' by Parisian artists and printers who were enchanted by new creative possibilities and the prospect of making fortunes...and so the emphasis shifted away from the known hazards of chemistry to the romance of drawing on stones. Drawing on paper is very safe, so why should drawing on stones not be?

According to the 'Tamarind Techniques Manual' 19 carcinogenic substances are used (with extensive safety precautions) in Tamarind's lithographic practice: Acetone | Asphaltum Gum Etch | Ammonium Dichromate | Anco Litho Wash I and II | Asphaltum | Blanket Wash | Denatured Alcohol | Shellac Solution | Lacquer Thinner | Lithium General Purpose Grease | Mineral Spirits | MS (Shellac Solution) | Naptha | Paint Stripper | PN Red Developer | Spray Paint Enamel | Talc

Today, thanks to the work by innovators in lithography such as George Roberts and Nik Semenoff the entire vocabulary of lithography, including subtle crayon marks and earthy reticulations, can now be very successfully replicated in other media such a Polyester Plate Lithography, Waterless Lithography (which is still evolving), and perhaps surprisingly also in Water-based Silkscreen and in Intaglio Type. In most of these media the porous surface of a stone is substituted with a slightly rough transparency which allows for the same subtlety of detail and mark-making.

Rather than printing from the imaged surface directly, an intermediate photo-exposure process is often used to transfer the image to the printing plate. This replaces the dangerous chemical processing necessary in stone litho, and ensures that the printing substrates are stable and able to print larger editions. In essence, artists have adopted the same approach pioneered in the offset printing industry, where the imposing but temperamental lithographic stones (that are unsuitable for large-scale industrial use) were replaced with grained metal plates and then photo-mechanical image transfer over a century ago.

The book Tamarind Techniques for Fine Art Lithography by Marjorie Devon lists important toxicological data and professional safety measures recommended to practice Stone Lithography with relative safety, and gives an up-to date overview of the medium. Polyester Plate Lithography by George Roberts (2001) instead champions the sole use of an intrinsically safe system of lithography. Emily McCoy: Polyester Plate Lithography Collage, 2010

Polyester Plate Lithography

Lithography, Cancer Risks, and Safeguards

Anecdotal and medical evidence suggests that long term practitioners of stone lithography are prone to contracting various forms of cancer. Already by the early 1990s it was understood that a multitude of measures was required to practice Senefelder's method with any reasonable degree of safety. The manual 'Making Art Safely' co-written by Merle Spandorfer, Deborah Curtiss and Jack Snyder M.D., and first published in 1993, recommended that three levels of protection were needed to protect the lithographer from harmful vapors:


1)   individual respirator

2)   a general dilution ventilation system  &

3)   additional local fume extraction at any source of airborne contamination,

           including the lithographic press.

petroleum-derived solvents when used indoors require the use of effective ventilation / local extraction 
and a personal respirator with organic vapor cartridge

Only a combination of all three of these measures would suffice in safeguarding against the highly volatile, corrosive, and reactive chemicals needed to process stones. The Tamarind Institute confirm the necessity of these requirements in 'Tamarind Techniques', by Marjorie Devon': 'Two types of ventilation are necessary for a workshop in which toxic materials are used: a high quality air-exchange system and local exhaust hoods.'

But even today this type of comprehensive protection is found only in the most safety conscious lithographic studios, such as Tamarind. Some less safety-aware educational institutions and print shops may fall short of the need to educate their students sufficiently about hazards and possibly don't meet requirements - or are unaware of the need - to install effective local extraction to remove all toxic VOCs. Some also do not provide respirators where needed, or maintain a 'stonewalling' attitude towards progressive nontoxic methods and non-hazardous process substitutions. In some instances students are willfully put at risk out of fear of change.

Out of concerns over public health, the fields of science, toxicology and industry have made massive advances towards the goal of complete elimination of toxic VOCs from consumer products:

Today, the emphasis has shifted from hazard management to hazard avoidance.

In Stone Lithography pure nitric acid is poured onto the stone

during processing. Often this is done without the use of

extraction or use of a respirator, exposing the artist directly

to highly noxious fumes.

Art schools should not ignore contemporary health-requirements by asking for certain traditional media - for instance Stone Lithography - to be exempt from what is now believed to be good and safe practice. Many of the materials that were classed as 'suspected carcinogens' in the 1980s have since been re-classed as being 'known carcinogens' - agents that are known to cause cancer - and their use is no longer recommended. Amongst these are most petroleum derived solvents and the various tar products utilized all across traditional printmaking.


Edvard Munch
'A sick person dying'
Lithograph with crayon and tusche

on blue textured rag paper
47 x 62 cm

printed by Auguste Clot
Paris, 1896

Staedel Museum, Frankfurt



Toxicity, and New Directions

for Ink Washes

The great attraction of stone lithography lies in its ability to replicate the repertoire of the medium of drawing, from crayon marks to solid or reticulated ink washes and dry-brush marks. The German word 'Tusche' means 'India ink' - and India Ink is nontoxic - but its lithographic equivalent is highly toxic because of its tar and Naptha content. The lithographer Nik Semenoff set out in 1984 to find a nontoxic alternative. During his sabbatical year he discovered the use of dissolved photocopier toner as a viable alternative. Nik Semenoff's account of his discovery can be found on the following page: Litho Toner Wash.

Since then, the method has been adopted and expanded across a variety of media by other innovators such as Keith Howard, Carol Robertson, Dan Welden, the paint makers Lascaux, and by the Tamarind Institute. The photocopy toner wash method is now widely used in lithography, silkscreen printing, and intaglio. The process is no longer solvent based so artists can enjoy the pleasure of working with grainy washes, solid black brush strokes, and dry brush effects without exposing themselves to noxious fumes. The main precautionary measure required is wearing a dust and particle mask when mixing the toner particles into solution. Best purchase a ready made solution such as Lascaux black wash medium.

Smiling Spider by Odilon Redon, 1891


The method requires the use of specialist sheets of acetate or transparency, such as 'truegrain film' that allow for wet brush work to register faithfully and without unwanted 'beading'. These reprographic films can be expensive, but materials such as frosted inkjet acetates or hand- sanded sheets of acetate can be used as a cheaper alternative. Once the image has been drawn the transparency is exposed to a photo sensitive emulsion, such as a photo-litho plate, a polyester plate (transfer via photocopying), a coated silkscreen, or a photo polymer plate (intaglio type or solar plate). 

The results can be stunning and often are virtually indistinguishable from a traditional stone lithograph (especially when using lithographic printing media). All non-stone lithographic media, such as ball grained aluminum and zinc plates, offset litho plates, and polyester plates can - surprising to some - be printed on both lithographic and intaglio presses. The printing industry now offers a range of nontoxic planographic printing systems for imaging, plate making and printing, and artists, art schools and master printers are encouraged to research and utilize these new developments in their own practice.

Toner-based Reticulated Ink Washes

samples of reticulated wash work using photocopy toner. (left): Donna Adams - wash for intaglio type | (right) wash for waterless lithography by Nik Semenoff.

VOC Fume Extraction at Source

There are ways to remove toxic VOCs and acid fumes at the actual source, i.e. the surface of the stone. Companies such as the Swedish firm NEDERMAN make custom-fixed or portable extraction systems with flexible hoses that they claim provide sufficient protection - especially if used in conjunction with respirators and dilution ventilation. These systems also have filters that capture VOC residues, so that environmental requirements can be met. Some well equipped and more safety-conscious lithographic studios (for instance Tamarind) have similar fixed systems with flexible hoses suspended from the ceiling.

Image shows the Nederman 'Gas Cart'

Lithographers are often attracted to the medium because of the pleasure derived from drawing onto the stones. Not wishing to hamper the fluidity and freedom of the technique can also make practitioners reluctant to use the kind of heavy-duty, sometimes cumbersome protection measures outlined here. No doubt some may be thinking, "If Senefelder didn't wear a mask, why should I?" Articles such as 'Not Dying for their Art' (University of Kentucky) remind us that ignorance is no protection.


The toxicity of tar, asphaltum,

and solvent-based

Drawing and Printing Media

The extensive use of a variety of tar and asphaltum based products is central to Stone Lithography. Perhaps somewhat euphemistically, the medium is always quoted as being based on the mutual rejection of grease of water. This is only true when looking at the repulsion of ink and wiping water. To a similar degree the medium is also based on

the mutual rejection of Tar or Asphaltum and its Distillates  -  and Water

A) First the image is created using lithographic drawing media

     most of which are nontoxic wax formulations (litho crayons etc.),

     with the exception of solvent based Litho Tusche which is highly volatile and toxic

B) Then the mutual rejection of (greasy) tar-based varnish and water

     during printing allows for ink charging,

     and for crisp and stable reproduction of the image

This is how it works: After drawing, the greasy drawing media are removed with solvents, and most of the drawn details are replaced with a thin coating of tar/asphaltum-derived varnish. This then forms the main printing surface that strongly attracts the stiff oily ink, whilst the etched stone surface remains water-attracting and non-printing. The water loving properties of the porous, non-printing areas are enhanced through chemical processing:

A strongly water-loving surface (hydrophilic) is formed through etching any exposed lime stone areas with nitric acid during the 'counter etch', (nitric is classed as poison); this creates a permanent layer of calcium nitrate salt which is then sealed, and refreshed during every print run, with a coating of gum arabic, (gum arabic is nontoxic).

What is Tar? Tar-products are derived from coal tar. Asphaltum or bitumen products (sometimes also called tar) are derived from crude oil. All these complex hydrocarbons or PAHs are used in printmaking, and have been found to be carcinogenic.

A Cancer Study by the US National Toxicology Program:

Download the full pdf on the web site of the US National Toxicology Program: click here

From left to right: Tar spreading in road construction; the industry is currently switching to non-tar alternatives to help protect the health of their workers. / A typical tar/asphaltum based hard ground solution / a tar ball found on a beach / An illustration of typical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - benz(e)acephenanthrylene, pyrene anddibenz(ah)anthracene. (Wikipedia) / (right) Lithotine and Litho Tusche

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), also known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, are potent atmospheric pollutants that consist of fused aromatic rings and do not contain heteroatoms or carry substituents.   [2]Naphthalene (White Spirit | Mineral Spirit) is the simplest example of a PAH. PAHs occur in oil, coal, and tar deposits, and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning (whether fossil fuel or biomass). As a pollutant, they are of concern because some compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic (WIKIPEDIA).

Note: Carcinogenic = causing cancer | Mutagenic = damaging sperm and egg | Teratogenic = causing birth defects


Printmaking Revolution                Handbook by Dwight Pogue   2012                                     Printmaking Revolution

This brand new book offers insights

into an exceptional new body of research

which is set to revolutionize the field of lithography.

Lithographers are amazed by the quality, creative possibilities

and environmental benefits of the new system.

Lithography - reinvented!

New Advancements in Technology, Safety, and Sustainability

'A tome of the newest advances in printmaking for today's environmentally conscious art students, master printers, teachers, and artists' (Amazon)
Etching, lithography, and screenprinting shouldn't be harmful to the artist or the planet. With cutting edge, never-before-published advances in printmaking media, Printmaking Revolution provides artists, students, and teachers alike with safer, environmentally friendly and non-carcinogenic methods for creating beautiful prints. Inside, teacher and professional artist, Dwight Pogue offers groundbreaking information on embracing green, petroleum-free, nontoxic materials that comply with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements. With new alternatives for the modern era, and work by some of today's most notable artists, including Janet Fish, James Rosenquist Walton Ford, and Louisa Chase, this book truly revolutionizes the techniques, materials, and processes of a time-honored medium.

About the Author  Dwight Pogue is a professor of art at Smith College, where he has taught printmaking and drawing for 25 years. He is the founder and director of the Smith College Workshop, which, since 1984, has brought some of the country's most celebrated artists to Smith to collaborate with master printers in creating limited edition prints. A Fulbright recipient and professional artist, Pogue has work in several national juries exhibitions, as well as private and public collections. He lives in Northhampton, MA.

The company D&S offer a nontoxic lithographic processing chemistry

'Superior Replacement for Asphaltum and Plate Lacquers. Excellent hard ground for etching' (Graphic Chemical Co)


Is it time to leave the Stone Age?

A few years after the article about Ferstman and Zirkle was published,  Ross Zirkle sadly died of cancer. Alarmed by the obvious hazards but still determined to capture the qualities of lithographic print, more and more artists are turning to a totally new system of lithography which replaces stones with polyester plates. The offset industry too has introduced safe solvents and plate processing chemicals, and the green offset printing industry (using safe inks made from soya oil and other natural sources) has made huge advances and is poised to overtake petroleum-derived printing in the marketplace.


Polyester Plate Lithography

Polyester Plate Lithography is an excellent example of how a completely nontoxic chemistry using acrylics is not only possible, but a much practiced reality - thanks in no small part to the groundbreaking research carried out by George Roberts at Boise State University in the late 1990s. Many safety conscious lithographers are also experimenting with Nik Semenoff's WATERLESS LITHOGRAPHY which, although not yet fully VOC-free, also offers the benefit of enhanced safety compared with the traditional process. The offset printing industry was first in adopting polyester plates as a lithographic medium, and waterless silicon-based printing is poised to become a new standard, offering improved safety and ease of use while maintaining the highest quality.



Orange Oil: A revolution in safer solvents

Twenty years ago, many solvents such as "odorless" thinners and turpenoid seemed like the safer solvent substitutes of the future, but more recent studies have shown that the neurotoxin safety record of these products is nearly as poor as the one for aromatic petroleum-derived spirits. Fortunately, we now have a much viable alternative to petro-chemical solvents in the increasing range of solvent products derived from D-Limonene, or orange oil. Two decades of research into this powerful "new" solvent has shown that it has far superior safety credentials when compared with its petroleum-derived cousins.

Many companies are now capitalizing on the hidden potential of orange peel by producing safe citrus solvents on an industrial scale. In 2002 the aircraft manufacturer Boeing was able to replace most of its petrochemical solvents with D-Limonene based alternatives, and many other industrial fields are poised to follow suit.

Other, equally promising safe solvents include the soy and corn oil-based solvents and oils that are increasingly being adopted by the commercial printing industry, both for cleaning and for ink manufacture.




Lithography: Its Past, Its Future

The intrinsic dichotomy of grease and water is the principle behind lithography, a fact which explains why, traditionally, the medium has been so closely linked with the grease loving, but toxic petrochemical solvents. It is perfectly conceivable that all the harmful mineral spirit based solvents of lithography such as lithotine, acetone, stone wash out, drawing tusche etc., can be substituted with safer alternatives such as citrus solvents, ethanol, and detergent solutions. In my estimation, a few years of dedicated research could easily attain what some believe to be unattainable: the goal of safe stone lithography. This would certainly be in keeping with Senefelder's intention for his magical new process of 'Chemical Printing'. 

Johann Alois Senefelder,

Inventor of Lithography

Born 6 Nov 1771, Died 26 Feb 1834

'May my invention become known throughout the entire world by benefiting mankind in manifold ways through exquisite (printed) goods. May this only ever serve purposes of refinement, but never be abused for purposes of evil. May the almighty father grant this! May the hour be blessed in which I invented lithography!'



Lithography stone and mirror image 
print of a map of Munich



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Not Dying For Their Art
Alicia P. Gregory

Odyssey, Fall 2000

The following article was published in 2000 and is reproduced here with the permission of the author and editor of Odyssey Magazine for the University of Kentucky, and Gerald Ferstman. Ross Zirkle died in 2007.

"Nobody should have to die to make art." That's the bottom line for UK (University of Kentucky) art professors Gerald Ferstman and Ross Zirkle. These devoted printmakers are creating non-toxic techniques to keep their craft alive. "Printmaking is part of the nature of man, the desire to leave an impression or mark that he was here," says Zirkle, an assistant professor who came to UK in 1997.

Toxic elements first seeped into the printmaking world with the invention of oil paint, Zirkle says. New, often hazardous, chemicals were needed to break down oil-based inks. Common household chemicals like turpentine and lacquer thinner (for example, nail polish remover) are among the more than 100 toxic substances used by traditional printmakers. Some of the known side effects from continuous exposure to these chemicals, many of which are carcinogens, include birth defects, central nervous system damage, asthma and emphysema, systematic poisoning of the lungs, liver, kidneys and heart, nervous disorders, skin eruptions and dermatitis, and damage to the mucus membranes and upper respiratory tract.

"My grandfathers were both pressmen for newspapers," says Zirkle. "One developed dermatology problems from handling inks and eventually died of cancer."

Ross Zirkle (left) and Gerald Ferstman at their metal press

As a research fellow at the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico, one of the most prestigious lithography schools in the country, Zirkle worked with an artist who had cancer in an arm. "She told me that of the five women she had stayed in touch with for 20 years since they were in art school together studying printmaking, four had developed cancer," Zirkle says. "The ratio was too high not to suspect that it had something to do with what they were exposed to in art school."

"There's just too much evidence now to ignore the toxic nature of these chemicals," says Ferstman, an associate professor who has spent two-thirds of his 30-year career at UK developing safer printing techniques. "Some art programs have been fined heavily by OSHA and the EPA, and there have been lawsuits by students who've suffered nerve damage they claim was caused by their exposure to chemicals. It's a liability most schools aren't willing to risk anymore."

"A lot of schools are dropping printmaking altogether," says Zirkle, "or offering it only as a sub-line, not on the same par with painting or drawing."

Not many institutions can afford the expensive ventilation systems required by federal legislation, Ferstman says. "When I came to UK, we installed a ventilation system that was adequate for the acids we were using. Last spring the fire marshal came through and said our facilities were substandard for acids, and we could no longer use them. Fortunately, I'd developed a safe etching ground and am now using a salt etch that works well, so the program could continue.

The art of printmaking is really the art of process - a combination of artistic vision and chemical know-how. "Students look at printmaking as a kind of chemical laboratory of magical events because the process is so far removed from most people's knowledge of art," says Zirkle. "Printmaking uses medieval processes in a digital age, which just makes this stuff seem more mysterious than ever."

"Printmaking as we know it will change," Zirkle says. "In a few years you may see some Macintosh G4s lined up along the wall and things will be made digitally, but actually making a plate with your hands, involving yourself in the rhythm of running it through the press each time you pull an impression - that kind of experience will be lost unless something is done." "A press can be used for 100 years. You buy a computer, and it's obsolete in three," says Ferstman.

Not all artists and academics embrace nontoxic printmaking, say Ferstman and Zirkle. "At the most, 25% of schools and universities are using nontoxic techniques," Ferstman says. "A lot of people are still holding onto the traditional ways because they don't want to be re-trained. The older generation seems to feel the old ways are not so bad, it's just a matter of having the right facilities." Traditionalists aren't willing to invest the time to experiment with nontoxic alternatives, he says. "They'll use something that's more toxic, more dangerous, more of a liability, because they know exactly how it works," says Zirkle. "That's been a problem with the nontoxic movement in printmaking. A lot of products that came out were mostly hype, they didn't work well, and a lot of people bought them and got burned, and then they said, 'Well, this stuff doesn't work'."

"Artists have never been as concerned with their health as they are with the results of their work," says Zirkle. "The burden of proof for change has been difficult. Not only do Jerry and I have to prove that our stuff is safer, we also have to prove it works as well as the traditional ways."

Their research involves a lot of trial and error. "People want products; they want the science of success. They don't understand that sometimes you can work for a long time and learn things, but you don't come up with a product that's workable," Zirkle says.

The researchers are now looking for a water-based ink that can be used in all printmaking techniques and are experimenting with improving and adapting new non-toxic products. Zirkle's research centers on waterless lithography. "In traditional lithography, water is used to repel oil-based inks from the non-image areas of the printing surface. In waterless lithography the non-image areas are covered with silicone that will also repel ink," he explains. This isn't any fancy kind of silicone - it's the kind you buy at the hardware store to caulk your bathtub. "While I was at Tamarind, I became intrigued by the possibility of using water-based inks with the waterless printing process. Today we have a very workable system of ink and modifiers that provides a safe, economic and reliable alternative to oil- and solvent-based lithography."

Water-based inks print more detail than is possible with oil-based inks and are safe to use even without gloves, Zirkle says. And another important advantage is time. "Clean up is so fast with water-based inks (just soap and water) that you can often clean up and print the next run in the time it would have taken you to clean up one solvent-based ink run. This new, faster process allows more time for experimentation and more color runs, which should produce better prints which are actually cheaper to print." In four weeks, he says, his Beginning Printmaking students are printing color, a feat that with traditional lithography would take them up to four years to achieve.

UK printmaking teachers and their students discuss their latest works. From left to right: Emily Whipple, Teresa Koester, Ross Zirkle, Joyce Probus, Gerald Ferstman, and Helene Steene.


"When you teach printmaking to kids you've got to make it as user-friendly as possible," says Zirkle. "And they want results. They're paying tuition to make art, and they want things to work. The burden's on us entirely to be able to troubleshoot for all the problems 30 kids might generate."

But Ferstman says the students also generate useful ideas. "A lot of times they try things I wouldn't have even thought of doing, and they work. It's good that they see us experimenting with new materials and that that attitude transfers to them somehow so they understand a little bit about what research is."

Ferstman and Zirkle's work is supported by a network of like-minded artists around the world. One of their favorite collaborators is Nik Semenoff. "He's an inventor," Zirkle says. In addition to a number of novel rollers for printmaking, Semenoff created a salt etch - Ferstman's key interest - the first good alternative to using acids to do etchings. "This strong salt is a lot safer than acid," Ferstman says. It's not 100% non-toxic - after all, it has to eat through metal - but there aren't any harmful fumes."

He's spent the last six years developing safer etching grounds - a mix of ink and chemicals into which the image is etched. "In the summer of 1997, I began experimenting with water-based ink as a substitute for traditional etching grounds, because of their carcinogenic qualities and flammability hazards," Ferstman says. "This new ground could be applied to copper, steel, aluminum, bronze, iron, and zinc etching plates, with excellent results. The only problem was that removal required strong detergents and ammonia. By adding a commercial water-based silk screen extender that is set with heat, I was able to come up with a new ground that washes off with just warm water and dry laundry detergent." In addition to applications for etching, Ferstman has been able to adapt this ground for silk screen printing.

"I was in the first class to use Jerry's new soft ground," says Joyce Probus, a student who earned her bachelor's degree in fine arts last summer. "This process is a catalyst to getting down to the art-making as opposed to being inhibited by a lot of steps and chemicals."

Another Semenoff innovation - a way to use and reuse the backside of commercial aluminum printing plates - has allowed the UK professors to operate their shop at a fraction of the cost that other universities incur. "We are able to print from the backside of plates that we get at salvage for free. And when it comes right down to it - are our students producing as nice a print as students at other universities using premium materials? More often than not, our students are actually doing better because they don't have to choke on the cost of the materials. We give them as many plates as they want," Zirkle says.

And the UK students' work is often excellent, evidenced by the fact that they have been accepted into some of the nation's most prestigious graduate printmaking programs. "In the first waterless lithography class I taught at UK, we had three students get accepted in a national juried competition celebrating 200 years of lithography," says Zirkle. "Our students' work was shown side-by-side with the work of artists who have been the mainstay at juried competitions for twenty years. These were all first-semester students." In 1998 Zirkle's students had a ground-breaking opportunity - they printed lithographs for Ecuadorian artist Nelson Santos with water-based inks. Graduate, Helene Steene, says the way Ferstman and Zirkle teach is a source of inspiration.

"These teachers can bring ideas out of every individual and encourage experimentation." "A lot of process-related work is problem-solving, and there's a lot of problem-solving in all art-making," says Joyce Probus. "You learn to direct the process instead of the process directing you. I've never faced a blank piece of paper without ideas as a result of getting to work with these new techniques. It's been an excellent opportunity."

Alicia P. Gregory, Associate Editor 

Lee P. Thomas, Photographer

Odyssey covers the latest research advances, innovation scholarships, and outstanding people that are part of the University of Kentucky's $300 million-a-year research enterprise.

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