Recently my Instagram contacts seemed quite interested in how mezzotints are made, 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 the process of preparing a plate very rewarding and ritualistic, and that it ultimately somehow adds to the poignancy of the image.
At the start the copper plate's surface is completely smooth. Preparing it for a mezzotint means roughening it up so that it will feel like very coarse sandpaper.
The tool used for this work 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. I have a 45 and an 85. The lower the count, the more it takes to prepare the plate but also the more shades of gray one can achieve, because the pits it will form on the surface are deeper.
The rocker needs to be sharpened regularly while preparing a plate, another skill I had to learn for this technique.
My rockers are mounted on a jig or a pole rocker to help me achieve a regular movement and protect me from excessive strain during the lengthy preparation. It is still a repetitive movement that ends up hurting my joints so I can't do more than a couple of hours 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 many passes (I do 40 to 50 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 produces some copper dust as it effectively removes a thin layer of metal at each stroke.
While I work I use a softbox light to avoid strong refraction on the plate.
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.