Maywood’s Mezzotint Copper Plate
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INSTRUCTION GUIDE

Here you will find all the basic information needed to get started.
Mezzotint engraving requires a great deal of patience, skill, and a good eye for detail. Practice makes perfect so please contact me if you would like a free sample plate. Further sample plates are available in exchange for a signed copy of your finished print.

Drawing out the image

a) Pencil can be used directly on the plate or traced through from an original drawing. b) Similarly, carbon and other transfer papers may be used.

Engraving the plate

It is important to have a good source of light ­ the plate is best seen by reflected light. The angle of the plate to the light determines which rocking pass is revealed and it is important to check these different views. Charcoal dust lightly rubbed over the plate will give an idea of how the image will print, easily removed with a little soap and water. There are two basic ways of working:

a) burnishing involves rubbing selected areas of the plate with smooth, rounded or oval tools to flatten the burr. The more polished an area becomes, the lighter it will print. Burnishing is used to render softly graded tonal changes.
b) Scraping the burr by varying degrees uses a small sharp edged blade usually triangular in cross-section. The more deeply scraped, the lighter the area will print and is used to give sharper outlines and highlights.

Tools

A variety of tools can be used to manipulate the burr. Etching tools such as the scraper/burnisher and ball burnisher are excellent. However, good results can be obtained using a scalpel or small craft knife for scraping and a teaspoon handle or similar for burnishing. Dental tools are also very useful.

Printing

Essentially as in etching, although if the ink is too thick or tacky the plate may be difficult to wipe. Adding a little weak or medium copper plate oil to the ink and/or gently heating the plate will avoid the need for excessive wiping which will wear the image quicker. The best papers to use are fairly soft etching papers such as Rives BFK, Arches, Hahnemule and Somerset. Saunders H.P. and other watercolour papers are also popular but do require a little more soaking to remove some of the size. Generally more pressure is needed than for the same sized etching.

Health and Safety

Nowadays, growing concerns of health and safety have motivated many printmakers to actively seek alternative techniques. This has led to some interesting results, not only in making traditional techniques safer, but also in opening up new possibilities for artistic expression. Traditional mezzotint engraving is essentially a drypoint technique in that the image is created by purely mechanical means. There are no acids, corrosive salts, solvents, resins or heating required. The only risk is from the small amount of copper dust produced by scraping. This dust should be removed from time to time by tapping the plate vertically or using a soft brush. Copper can turn sceptic in contact with broken skin and may cause irritation of sensitive areas. Always wash hands after handling copper. Cleaning up of ink can be done with cheap vegetable oil as a safe alternative to turps. Provided these precautions are taken, mezzotint engraving is one of the safest forms of printmaking.