When I recently posted some photos on the different steps to make a plate for a mezzotint my Instagram contacts seemed quite interested, so here's a more wordy breakdown of the process.
Because of the time scale involved in the work, most mezzotints are relatively small. Mezzotint plates can be bought ready made, but I find that the process of preparing a plate very rewarding and ritualistic, and that it ultimately somehow adds to the poignancy of the image.
The process starts with a plate with a completely smooth surface that needs to be roughened up so that it will feel like a very coarse sandpaper.
The tool used for this is a rocker, a metal blade that looks a bit like a herb chopper, but with tiny teeth, like a comb.
Rockers exist in different sizes and also with different teeth "density": the most commonly used have a "teeth count" from 65 up to 100 for the finest ones. I use an 85, that allows me to achieve a rich range of grays.
The rocker needs to be sharpened regularly while preparing a plate, another skill I had to learn for this technique.
My rocker is mounted on a jig to help me achieve a regular movement and protect my joints from excessive strain, although my shoulders still hurt so I can't really do more than one hour at the time.
Here below is the actual rocking of the plate:
The blade is gently rocked sideways and it slowly "advances" on the plate, leaving behind a series of microdotted lines. The plate is then rotated by a few degrees and the process repeated so that after the about 40 passes required to complete the preparation the surface is completely rough and lines are no longer visible.
The plate is now ready. Should it be inked and printed at this point it would result in a black rectangle. It is time to start scraping the lights out.
I draw the image on the plate in pencil and start working on making the surface smoother in the areas that will be lighter.
The lights are buildt slowly and the darks are carefully preserved. The scraping movements are short and sharp in details while longer strokes are used for larger areas. Scraping has to produce some thin dust as it has to effective remove a thin layer of metal at each stroke.
I use a source of diffused light for checking the progress.
Here below is an image of the print obtained from this plate, regrettably the photo does not convey how velvety the print looks on paper !
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco is an Italian painter living in London.