I was recently interviewed for a podcast in Italian ( out soon) and I thought I could write down my questions and answers for English speakers.
How much time does it take to prepare a plate ?
This is always the first question I get but I feel it is not much of an issue.
Mezzotint is well known for taking a long time but egg tempera or photorealism in oils too are laborious techniques. Making a mezzotint shouldn't be presented as an heroic endeavour: yes, rocking a plate is a zen practice but you can also be more prosaic and catch up with the latest Netflix series !
So my answer is simply that it takes the time it takes, and I enjoy every minute of it !
For those who want numbers, rocking a 20x25 cm plate takes about four hours with a pole rocker ( see below).
What do you use to rock your plates ?
I rock my plates with two different rockers. I have a large 85 gauge (gauge means teeth per inch) rocker that does most of the work. I do about 30 passes with that one, in every direction.
I then rock a dozen passes with a 45 gauge rocker.
The pits that the 45 rocker makes are deep, hence the plate will yield more grays. Imagine a gray scale from black to white: you get more “stops” when you work with a lower gauge count. If used on its own the 45 rocker would need way more passes to rock the plate properly, and it's not a good choice if you want very fine details.
By using two rockers I find that the surface is not as regular, once printed: dots and lines from rocking remain visible. This is what I want for my prints, but maybe it's not to everyone's taste.
How do you avoid injuries when preparing the plate ?
The game changer is my pole rocker ! Not only it makes rocking easier but also quicker by about a third.
I strongly recommend the one engineered and produced by the french artist Remy Joffrion as it is very versatile. The end of the pole is mounted on a tripod so it can be easily moved around and adapted to any table. There are two different ways of placing the hand while rocking and it works with both hands. Remy has even tested it with the help of a physiotherapist to improve the ergonomics.
It is also important to take frequent breaks while working to relax your arms and shoulders.
(note: Remy’s website is a little outdated, no web shop. You need to email Remy to arrange a purchase. The price is about 280€ + P&P: worth every penny !)
How often do you sharpen your rocker ?
I sharpen it whenever I start a new plate. If the plate is more than 15x10 cm I might sharpen it again half way through. I use a round sharpening stone with a few drops of water rather than oil. I also use a sharpening jig that keeps the angle of the blade constant. Julie Niskanen, who makes the jigs, has a "how to" video here.
How do you bevel the plate ?
Before I start rocking the plate I use a bevelling tool that I got from Matthieu Coulanges (his tools are beautiful ! In time I built a collection of them). Once the plate is rocked I do a little more bevelling, then I file the corners with a fine jeweller file and finally I polish the sides with a burnisher.