Students Experiment with Color Lithography Techniques in RISD Printmaking Studio

printmaking faculty member Juana Estrada Hernandez works with a student

“Try flipping your roller to even out the ink and then let the layers dry as you go,” says Assistant Professor of Printmaking Juana Estrada Hernandez. She’s working with sophomore Patricia Sauer 27 FD/PR, one of nine students signed up for her Color Lithography course. It’s a class workday in Benson Hall, where Estrada Hernandez moves from press to press offering suggestions and a helping hand.

“The process is really repetitive and requires a lot of patience,” says Sauer. “But it teaches you problem-solving skills, which I love. It’s all about resolving problems without ruining the whole plate you’re working on.”

Estrada Hernandez is new to RISD and says the students she has encountered thus far are “different: curious, ready to try things. RISD students are driven to make,” she adds, “and they’re used to working with their hands in an analogue setting.”   

a student mixes inks
two male students work together in the printmaking studio
Above, junior Kira Saks blends inks with a mixing knife; below, seniors August Maltzan and Luca Colannino work together in the color lithography studio.

In addition to creating prints with RISD’s heavy slabs of limestone, the students are experimenting with ball-grain and photo-lithography plates, which are less expensive and easier to use. “I’m teaching more contemporary ways of approaching lithography and expediting the layering process,” Estrada Hernandez explains. “They have access to this amazing shop at RISD, but it’s good for them to know about accessible alternatives for after they graduate. Photo plates are easier to find, and you can buy a small one for only $7.”

“Juana puts a lot of thought into affordable and accessible materials,” says junior Kira Saks 25 PR as they use a mixing knife to blend inks for the print they’re working on. “I’m making a variable edition of four three-color prints right now.”

Estrada Hernandez moves to another workstation, where senior August Maltzan 24 PT is helping fellow Painting major Luca Colannino 24 PT bring his vision to life. “All the prints I make are based on my paintings,” says Colannino, who is experimenting with a deep, metallic blue ink. Estrada Hernandez sees that he’s not quite getting the color he wants and suggests that he apply more pressure and use less water. “The plate should be damp but not wet,” she explains. “Try dipping just the corner of your sponge into the water.”

a student rolls a vibrant green ink out
a student and Estrada Hernandez hold up prints in progress
Above, junior Grace Fang uses pressure to roll out the ink; below, Sauer and Estrada Hernandez discuss a piece in progress. 

Nearby junior Grace Fang 25 PR is pulling proofs for her first layer of ink. “The image is a scene that I imagined,” she says. “I like to work with landscapes because they mirror the viewer’s psychology.” She’s trying to find the ratio of white ink to tint base that will allow the next layer to be visible. “It looks like you are troubleshooting your way through this, which is really good,” says Estrada Hernandez. “I like the sense of depth and the color palette.”

Estrada Hernandez says that each assignment allows the students to build different skills and to consider alternative ways of making. “I’m learning what inspires the students and how they’re using these techniques to enrich their evolving practices,” she says. “This project is about controlling opacity. Most of the students are using more layers than the assignment calls for and really going after it! It’s exciting to watch.” 

Simone Solondz
April 29, 2024

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