I always find it very exciting to pull the first test print from a new plate, especially when I’m working with a new technique. I pulled a test print from the mezzotint plate I’ve been working and am pleased with the results thus far.
I’ve been applying the scraper and burnisher very lightly because I’m still developing a feel for how the scraping and burnishing affect the plate and it is better to work from light to dark than to try to recover dark areas lost.
The print is very dark but there is much subtle detail in the back that I intend to leave as is. Other areas I need to work further and bring the light into.
Detail from upper right-hand corner.
Here is a side by side view of print and plate.
I often work on more than one plate at a time. I enables me to work creatively in different ways. The mezzotint work requires a very methodical and precise way of working. To counter this, I started working on some collagraph plates. A collagraph (from the word collage) is a printmaking plate that is created through materials like mat board, paper, gesso, string and anything one can think of to create a texture.
To prepare the plates, I coat both sides of the mat board in gesso three times, letting the board dry in between each coat. I use the insides from mats I have cut so the edges are already beveled. When I begin to attach my materials I use either Elmer’s glue or acrylic medium. I only use the glue if the surface will not be exposed because the glue is water soluble.
For these collagraphs, I am working from a sketch. Unlike the mezzotint, I did not reverse this picture but am working directly from the sketch.
The base of the plate is mat board that has been gessoed and allowed to dry. The other materials I’m using are modeling paste, sandpaper, carborundum grit, thread, sand and whatever else I pull out of my materials box that will give me the texture I need. Collagraphs made this way require lots of dry time which allows me to go back to work the mezzotint during long periods of drying.
The second piece is being constructed from remnants of the first collagraph. I liked the shapes left behind from the materials I was cutting and decided to carry them over into another collagraph that would echo the shapes from the first.
Here is a close up of a piece of the collagraph 1.
After working the plate this past week, I inked and printed a test print. The ink was applied with a roller and worked into the plate texture with a clean piece of tarlatan, which is a stiff, open-weave cotton fabric used in printmaking.
For the print, the image I’m using is from a trip to Kyoto I took years ago. I worked out a sketch and then reversed the hand-drawn image on the computer to use as a reference while working the plate. I then drew the image on to the plate using the reversed reference. The thing to remember in printmaking is whatever is created on the plate will print in reverse. I wanted to keep the composition the same as in the drawing so I went through the effort to reverse it for the plate.
The tools I will be using for creating the image on the copper plate are a scraper and a burnisher.
The scraper will scrape the burrs from the surface plate to bring out the grey tones. The burnisher will flatten the burrs and polish the copper plate and create areas of white. You can see from the photo that the tools are tapered at the end, enabling one to work small areas and bring out details.
After my last post, a friend of mine expressed interest in this process so I decided to add more detail on how I’m creating the matrix plate for my mezzotint.
Here is a close-up of the serrations on the rocker.
This will give you an idea of how small the grooves are. When the rocker is “rocked” across the plate, those small indentations will pit the surface of the metal plate.
This is what is meant by “rocking”. It’s quite literal! The rocker is held perpendicular to the plate and rocked back forth while moving it slowly down the plate.
This is my “cheat sheet” so I can keep track of the directions of the rocking. Once the entire plate is rocked in each of these directions, the surface should be suitably rough and, when inked, it should print a velvety black surface.
This is the current state of the plate. Once I’m finished with the rocking, I will do a test print to determine whether any more work will need to go into the surface.
Starting a new project: mezzotint! Mezzotint is an intaglio process that uses tools instead of acid to create the image. Because I can’t have acid in my studio, mezzotint is an attractive printmaking method. The initial reference I used is Ross and Romano, The Complete Printmaker. Most of the other printmaking books I have are specific to collagraph and relief printmaking, but Ross and Romano do have a short section on the process of mezzotint.
Mezzotint is a drypoint method where the pits and burrs on the plate are created using a specific tool called a mezzotint rocker. The plate must be rocked in several different directions (at least eight) to create a surface that, when inked, will print as black. This can take up to six hours depending upon the size of the plate. One then goes into the plate with scrapers and burnishers to pull out the tonal values.
I had intended to use a zinc plate but, after consulting Ross and Romano and several excellent sites from artists who specialize in this process, I decided to use copper instead. Copper is recommended because of the metal’s hardness, which is key when one starts printing. I would not want to lose all my detail after one printing of my plate.
Here is a photo of my copper plate and my mezzotint rocker. Rockers come in various grades, depending on how coarse or fine you want your burrs to be. My rocker has a medium (85 gauge) screen.
The rocker is held perpendicular to the plate and “rocked” back and forth. If you look closely, you can see that the edge of the rocker is serrated.
This is a close-up of my plate after I rocked the surface in three directions. It looks a little like plaid to me, and it is a challenge trying to keep the lines even.
Printmaking enables the artist to engage in progressive experimentation like few other mediums. As such, my work often explores variations on a visual theme in order to capture just the right mood, or to reflect our own changing perspectives. My subject matter is often inspired by travel, but also finds root in day-to-day life. In pursuit of a faithful depiction, however, I never shy from a slightly abstracted treatment if effective in conveying the emotional subtleties.
I primarily work with etching and, in recent years, have focused on various non-acid methods, including woodbcut, linocut, collagraph, and solar plate, in some instances combining different matrices to achieve the effect I desire.