The key to a fine mezzotint lies in the preparation of the plate where the entire surface of a metal plate, usually copper, is texturized; this texture is called a ground. The mezzotint ground is achieved by the use of a rocker or by means of a small flat wheel called a roulette.
The rocker tool is made up of a thick, serrated blade with a handle. The blade is curved to allow the rocker to move from side to side. The end is fluted to allow the serrate edge (teeth) to penetrate the surface of the metal plate. As the rocker is moved in a pendulum fashion, from side to side and forward, it carves a series of dotted lines on the plate. Several thousands of tiny holes are needed to form an adequate ground, and every time the teeth penetrate the surface of the plate, it pushes out a small amount of copper, called a burr. The burr helps to retain the ink and creates the rich dark tones characteristic of mezzotint. I rock all of my plates by hand and although the process is physically demanding and time consuming, the painstaking preparation of the ground is absolutely essential to the success of the print.
I use mainly two types of tools to create the image: different size scrapers and burnishers. The goal is to reduce the burrs to various depths, which will determine the amount of ink retained, and establish the various tonal values that will form the complete image. The process of scraping and burnishing produces soft, subtle gradations of gray or white. Mezzotint is unique among graphic methods, because contrary to other intaglio processes, a mezzotint design is created working from dark to light, rather than light to dark.
All content and images copyright Denise Saint-Onge