Rocking the Mezzotints

Since I live with my studio, or in my studio, or all jumbled together with my studio –however you want to look at it– along with my 3 indoor cats, I try very hard to do my art in the most non-toxic way possible. So while I may re-print existing etching plates that I’ve made elsewhere, I will not bring a vat of acid into the house to make more. So how to continue using copper plates for printing?

Bring on the mezzotints! A mezzotint is a print made from a plate that has been given texture by using a mezzotint rocker. The rocker has a curved toothed edge, and you rock it back and forth across the plate.

Using a mezzotint rocker

To get an even tone, it’s a good idea to rock it in eight different directions. While this might be tedious for some, I find it somewhat soothing and meditative. Of course, since this is my first plate, I’m not working very large. We’ll see how I feel about it when I start making larger prints.
Eight different directions

If you printed the plate after rocking, you’d get a solid black print, with a lovely dense, rich black. The tone of a mezzotint is very tactile, and soft. And to get an image, you work backwards, in effect. That is to say, you start with this black tone and rub down the burr of the plate with a burnisher, eventually producing areas of white or gray. It’s somewhat akin to getting a white in a charcoal drawing by using an eraser.

To see some excellent examples of mezzotint work, I’d recommend visiting the sites of James Groleau or Craig McPherson. You can see how deep the tones are on these prints, and how magical an image is produced by bringing the light out of the dark.

Here is my plate so far:
Rocked plate

I have the idea and preliminary drawings for the image for my first-ever mezzotint. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying laying down the texture.
Rocked plate, detail

Author: Melissa

1 thought on “Rocking the Mezzotints

  1. Looks like an interesting process, can’t wait for your 1st print! Looking at the work of the 2 artists you cited, mezzitints allow for an extraordinary depth of light to dark. Especially liked McPherson’s work. Very moody.

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