Lithography is a planographic printing technique, which means the matrix is flat, not raised (as with relief printing) or incised (as with intaglio printing). The image is drawn onto a thick, smooth block of limestone (líthos is the Greek word for stone) with an oil-based substance. The surface of the stone is then dampened with water, which is repelled by the oily substance and rests only in the unmarked areas. Next, a roller with greasy printing ink on it is rolled over the surface, which sticks only to the greasy drawn areas, not the wet parts. In the final part of the process, the ink is transferred to a sheet of paper by running the paper and stone together through a press.

Escher only took up lithography seriously in 1929 but it quickly became one of his preferred printmaking techniques as it allowed him to make very tonal prints. Lithography was the only print technique in which Escher couldn’t print the works himself. After he had finished the drawing on the stone, he hired a specialist lithography printer to do the rest. Once the edition had been printed, the stone was wiped clean and sanded down in preparation for a new print.

After Escher died, his lithographic stones, mezzotint plates and wood blocks were all cancelled (damaged in some way), as per his instructions. Any posthumous print would then contain a defect, indicating that it was not printed or supervised by Escher.


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