Lithographs (literally, “stone drawings”) are based on the principle that water and oil repel one another. To create a lithographic print, the artist draws on a hard, flat surface—usually limestone—with an oil-based material such as lithographic crayon, which is then chemically “fixed.” Next, the stone is washed with water, which covers the blank areas but is repelled from the image. The greasy printing ink is rolled over the stone, adhering only to the image, while the ink is repelled by the blank wet areas. Finally, paper is laid on the surface and pressure is applied to create the lithographic print, which is a mirror image of the original drawing. Color lithographs simply repeat this process with multiple stones, each dedicated to a different color.
Lautrec’s first lithograph, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, used four separate stones and inks: black, yellow, red, and blue. Additional colors were created by the layering of these colors, as may be seen in the purplish tones of the foreground figure, and the greenish hues seen on the floorboards. Lautrec also used the technique known as crachis (spatter), which creates mists of color, similar to the effects of airbrushing. This effect may be achieved by either shaking a brush over a sieve, or by running a knife along the edge of a brush to cause the paint to spray. Lautrec’s poster uses three separate sheets of paper to create an image that is almost two meters high and over a meter wide, dwarfing the size of traditional posters of the period and adding to the advertisement’s bold tones and graphic style.
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