KCAD Grad Shares Her Experience in the World’s Leading Lithography Program

Posted January 3, 2024 in Studio Arts, Alumni, Printmaking

After completing the world’s premier program for lithography, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University alum Katherine Westbrook (’22, BFA Printmaking) is on a mission to help give the centuries-old artistic medium new life in the 21st century.

The renowned Tamarind Institute of Lithography at the University of New Mexico is widely credited as the modern steward of lithography, a method of printing invented in 1796 in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone or a prepared metal plate and then transferred to another surface via chemical reaction.

Woman wearing glasses and a black t-shirt leans over a table to manipulate a large rollerKCAD alum Katherine Westbrook rolling out a 32-inch blend roll at the Tamarind Institute of Lithography

In Tamarind’s Printer Training Program, a select group of students—no more than eight in total are admitted each year—expand their technical and professional skills while helping other artists explore lithography’s vast creative possibilities. Spending a year immersed in the medium only deepened Westbrook’s appreciation of it.

“What I find the most endearing about lithography is how complicated it is,” she says. “You need a very technical understanding to be able to execute it successfully, and even then, you still mess up sometimes. But the joy of lithography for me is the versatility of it. It can look like a graphite drawing or painting, or it can be very graphic, almost like a screen print.”

A woman painting a clear coating on top of a piece of artworkKatherine Westbrook etching a stone at Tamarind

Becoming a master printer goes beyond technical expertise. Westbrook also learned how to manage a studio environment, communicate with others, and solve the inevitable problems that arise during the creative process.

“I was expecting the rigorous training in technique, but we got trained in so much more: life skills, business practices, time management, and everything that you would expect professionally,” she says. “It’s about approaching things calmly and very methodically, with a clear understanding of what you're doing on every level.”

A woman wearing a tan apron grinds a stone in preparation for artistic useKatherine Westbrook graining a stone in preperation for drawing at Tamarind

Westbrook had ample opportunity to put her training to the test. She and her fellow classmates were in constant collaboration with four University of New Mexico art students and two established artists, all from different creative disciplines and with little to no experience in lithography.

Working with painters, drawers, and sculptors, Westbrook soon discovered that no two partnerships were alike. “It's really fun to work with artists outside of printmaking because they have such a different way of thinking,” she says. “It helps grow the medium when you're working with someone who doesn't necessarily understand it. That's critical if we want lithography and printmaking to continue to develop.”

Throughout the program, Westbrook learned to intuit other artists’ needs and help them get comfortable with lithography. She developed a process of giving them a small test stone to experiment with, tweaking the materials and techniques until they found a combination to their liking, and then scaling up to the full-size project. With the end result being large-scale prints with multiple colors and layers, that initial time and labor paid off handsomely. As Westbrook says, “The exciting part is getting to see their faces as you pull a proof!”

A print of a flower

(above): "I give all my worries to the ground and tress," a four color lithograph created by Katherine Westbrook and collaborating printer Arikah Lynne (image courtesy of the artists)

(below): "Abominable Mystery," a four-run, six-color lithograph created by artist Rebecca Cook under the guidance of Katherine Westbrook (image courtesy of the artists)

An art printing shower a sillhoutte made of flowers

Those rich experiences inspired Westbrook to start thinking about how she could make lithography more accessible to other artists. Despite its rich history, the artform remains a bit arcane and out-of-reach for many aspiring printers.

“You have this big chunk of limestone, and this big, big press, a bunch of toxic chemicals, and all of this technical knowledge that isn't available to most people because you can only get it through education, literature that’s behind a paywall, or word of mouth,” she explains. “I don't think that's reasonable if we want to see this medium continue on into the future.” 

Westbrook’s solution: developing a curriculum to teach lithography techniques to other artists through a streaming workshop—a task she managed alongside her education. Over 100 people from around the world joined her first workshop to learn about tusche wash, an advanced lithography technique. Through step-by-step demonstrations, she showed how to prepare the materials and control the chemical reactions to achieve the desired results.

an art print of a bird with long, spindly legs

(above): "Empty Escape from Restless Fatigue," a three-run, five-color lithograph by Katherine Westbrook (image courtesy of the artist)

(below): One-color lithograph created by Katherine Westbrook using subtractive techniques (image courtesy of the artist)

a print of reeds

The opportunity to share her knowledge and answer questions from the art community resonated deeply with Westbrook. While she plans to continue printing in her own studio, she’s also determined to keep widening the sphere of understanding and engagement by leading classes or workshops that help people meet lithography where they are.  

That spark she feels from connecting with other people, whether they’re established artists or just beginners, is something that will continue to shape Westbrook’s career. She’s currently establishing a lithography practice and workshop at San Jose, Calif.-based art studio Visual Philosophy that she hopes to use as a platform for her creative and educational pursuits.

“Knowing that I can do way more than what I could even a year ago--I don't want to keep this knowledge to myself,” Westbrook says. “I want to continue to spread it, and we have a whole new world of opportunity in front of us when it comes to how to do that.”

From KCAD to Tamarind to collaborations with the wider world, you can learn more about Katherine Westbrook and her work at eastcreekpress.net or @eastcreekpress on Instagram. 

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