Spartanburg artist inspired to create S.C. Coastal Lithography Project

Spartanburg artist inspired to create S.C. Coastal Lithography Project

We’ve been following Artists’ Ventures Initiative grantee Jim Creal as he launches an ambitious project to capture the beauty of South Carolina’s coastal habitats. Here’s an update from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

(Image: Pritchards Island: Forest Section, from Creal’s barrier island series.)

Jim Creal has been doing lithography for only about 20 years, but he’s been in love with the South Carolina coastline pretty much his entire life.

Now, the Spartanburg native is combining those passions into a unique visual art series that he’s calling the South Carolina Coastal Lithography Project.

“I just turned 60, and I want to leave behind a body of work that I’m proud of,” Creal said recently at his home studio just off South Pine Street.

“But I’m also hoping that it’s a body of work that other people will be proud of. I would like for (the lithography project) to show off what spectacular habitats we have on this coast.”

The project involves the creation of new, original lithographs in which Creal aims to capture the mood, spirit and diversity of 25 sites along the South Carolina coast, spanning everything from barrier islands and dunes to estuaries and tidal inlets.

“If you show that off to people who aren’t as fully aware of how wonderful and rich and interactive all these places are, maybe you’ll increase their awareness,” Creal said. “And maybe, then, you can get them to say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s not develop this place. Let’s let it be. Let’s preserve it for our children. Let’s let them see what we saw.’ ”

Many of the sites that Creal has chosen for the project are well known, such as Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet. But he’ll also travel to several lesser known sites, some of which are accessible only by boat.

“I think most South Carolinians know the beach and have been there at least once,” Creal said. “They’ve stuck their toes in the sand and played in the water. And they know that it’s beautiful.

“But what they don’t really know is what it’s like to go walking through a maritime forest. Those are the kind of things I want to show them.”

After photographing the flora and fauna of the sites, Creal will create hand-printed, lithographic images based on the photographs. The entire process requires plenty of patience on the artist’s part and is a lot more painstaking than it might seem.

“Lithography is a very, very twitchy print process,” Creal said. “I would consider it probably the most technically demanding of the print processes for fine art. You have to work within very narrow tolerances in order to pull off printing an edition.”

Lithography is a printing method that’s been around since the late 1700s but is rarely used by artists today.

Using the time-consuming method, Creal will make drawings on a grained limestone block from which he will chemically process the image and make an edition. He said that some pieces can take months to complete.

“The process is pretty ferocious, and sometimes I’m not sure I really want to be a lithographer,” Creal said. “But I love the moment when the drawing on the stone comes alive. It’s like the Frankenstein moment: ‘It’s alive!’ And, so, you live for that moment. And then the printing of it also requires a huge amount of concentration.”

Creal said limestone blocks make extraordinary drawing surfaces.

“You get a texture similar to a fine drawing paper,” he said. “However, the stone can allow me to do a few things I can’t quite achieve with a drawing paper.

“I can build really rich, beautiful textures and tones on the stones that I can’t seem to accomplish just working on a piece of paper.”

A unique aspect of lithography is that it enables the artist to create multiple original prints.

“It’s designed to be able to make editions, so it’s distinctively different from a photocopy,” Creal said. “And while absolutely incredible reproductive prints can be made now, it’s not the same as having a lithograph.”

Creal used an analogy to demonstrate why an original lithograph is preferred by art collectors.

“Let’s say your family was fortunate enough to have received a letter from Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago,” Creal said. “He took the paper out, he dipped his quill in the ink, he wrote on it, he folded (the envelope), he sealed it and he mailed it to you. Would you rather have that, which he touched in every possible way, or a photocopy of it?

“And I think that really explains the difference. (With lithography), my hand is involved intimately in every step of the creative process from the beginning to end to make an original print.”

Creal, whose work in lithographic, etching and monotype print processes has been exhibited in numerous solo, individual and juried exhibitions, is an award-winning visual artist with a BFA degree from the University of Montana.

He teaches in the S.C. Arts Commission’s Arts in Education Program and received a S.C. Arts Commission’s Artist Venture Initiative grant in 2010, which allowed him to set up his Spartanburg studio to produce stone lithographs.

To get started with the South Carolina Coastal Lithography Project, Creal launched a Kickstarter campaign in which he sought to raise a minimum of $5,000, just enough to cover the barebones expenses that it would require.

The campaign was successful with Creal reaching his minimum goal within three days of its launch. By the time it ended in mid-December, he had raised more than $9,000. That amount is not enough to complete the ambitious lithography project, but it’s a healthy start. Anyone who still wants to contribute can contact Creal via email at

Creal said he’s thankful for the support of each of his donors as well as two friends, Stephen Stinson and Jim Cullen, who helped him create a video to promote the South Carolina Coastal Lithography Project.

“I’m really excited about the project, and I look at it as perhaps one of the biggest adventures of my life,” Creal said. “I think it’s going to be great. I’ve got places up and down the coast I want to explore, and I’m going to meet people that know an awful lot more about the coast than I do.

“It’s going to be a whole learning situation for me, and I really hope that the project can live up to the potential that it has.”