A first attempt at mezzotint…

mezzotint plate: 'Head of Medusa' by Nancy Farmer
Mezzotint engraving on copper. Size: 5 x 6cm

A brand new blog and a brand new process all at once! So, I have my website (http://www.nancyfarmer.net) for the finished stuff, and Facebook for flippant one-liners, but where to put something more substantial? Ah ha, a blog, I thought… Well, I shall give it a try, we will see if it lasts.

Coincidentally, the picture above is a brand new technique for me. I have been making etching prints for some time (http://www.nancyfarmer.net/gal_etchings.html), and have begun to borrow techniques from mezzotint, so I thought I’d try it properly.

So, what is a Mezzotint? It’s a form of engraving where the image is built up on a metal plate, which is then inked, and used to make hand-made prints. The plate here is made of copper. In this process in particular the whole plate is first roughened by working over it with a ‘mezzotint rocker’ – a toothed tool that is rocked over the whole surface of the metal in several passes in different directions untill the entire surface is roughened with little burrs. I must admit, I didn’t do that bit – I am waiting to see if the process works for me before I think about investing in a specialized and costly tool for the job. So the pre-roughened plate came to me in that state, and I have put the image in by burnishing – smoothing down the surface of the plate with steel burnishers, like these ones here:


…and occasionally scraping the surface of the plate as well, to remove the roughened burrs, though frankly I’m not very good at using the scraper….

So, the image shows up because it is shiny, against the rest of the surface, which is matt. When it comes to printing, I shall cover the surface of the plate with a very sticky ink and then wipe all the excess ink off again. Where the surface is shiny, the ink should come off clean, where the surface is rough the ink will stay in the pitted surface, and of course there are places in between these two extremes where some ink will stay.

The inked-up plate is then used to create a print with the use of a press: the plate is laid face-up on the press, and on top of it goes a sheet of paper, soaked in water and surface-dried so that it is pliable. On top of that go three very expensive and special blankets, and then the whole lot goes under the steel roller of the press, squashing the paper into the depressions and ink-filled pits in the surface of the plate, transferring the ink onto the paper and, one hopes, making a lovely image in the process. In theory. Like I say, I’ve never used the mezzotint process before, so I have no idea if what I end up with is going to be any good, but the inking and printing part is the same as printing from an etching plate, so that part of the process at least I am familiar with.

And that’s the thing about making hand-made prints in general – no matter how lovely the plate looks you never actually know if you’ve succeeded untill you print from it. We shall see next week, then….

The image, by the way, is from one of my paintings, ‘Medusa’s Gimps’ and you can see the whole thing on my website: http://www.nancyfarmer.net/im_medusas-gimps.html


  1. Very interesting …. The work tools look a wee bit savage ;-), look forward to seeing the end results here.
    Nice meeting you the other morning btw…

    1. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ and thank you for leaving the very first comment on my blog, too! The tools are indeed savage โ€“ you should see the scraper, it has the most evil point on the end (which I keep making unfortunate gouges with, so a little more practice needed!) …nice to meet you too!

  2. Wow. New art via a new art process! Such exciting news. It looks amazing. There’s so much detail. I really like it. I’m looking forward to seeing how far you push this. Thanks for bringing us, your fans, more marvelous creations! =o)

    1. Thank you Mgon ๐Ÿ™‚ …thanks also for the email, would have answered but it’s been a busy time! anyway, I will let you know how the results come out here, of course… cheers

  3. Hi Nancy
    That’s looking great so far – love Copper and I am sure you can do it – so exciting – seeing a work /technique in process and learning about it at same time bet you cant wait to see how it works out!
    Thanks for the blog email – will be able to keep even more up to date now !

    Periwinkle X Happy Yule to you and yours btw!

    1. And a jolly fine Yuletide to you, too Mandy ๐Ÿ™‚ xx
      …used to work in gold and platinum, hard to love copper after gold, but a couple of years doing etchings in aluminium and one comes to appreciate copper a bit more ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. […] HomeAbout Nancy Farmer's artwork A little fantasy, reality, satire, fetish, and lots of extraordinary characters… « A first attempt at mezzotint… […]

  5. […] I already explained some of the technique in previous posts, but here’s a little snap of the burnished plate (not finished, as it turned out): Burnished […]

  6. […] is created by etching the plate heavily and burnishing the highlights back in, in the manner of a Mezzotint printย (except the actual white of the faces – that’s metal left un-etched). The background […]

  7. […] the final print will look like, I hope… It’s kind of a hybrid technique borrowing from Mezzotint, and a similar treatment to Medusa and the Plums – the August picture I did some months […]

  8. […] pock-marks again, so that these smooth areas will print a lighter colour where I want them to (see this post for a bit more detail on burnishing). For burnishing on aluminium you need oil as a lubricant, but […]

  9. […] I promised this post was coming! While I was making the printing plate in the previous post it occurred to me that the mezzotint rocker – the tool that is used to put the texture on the plate first, produces a rather interesting line which might be reminiscent of the spiky hairiness of cats just on its own. The individual lines made by this tool aren’t usually seen in the final print – the idea is to ‘rock’ all over the plate in 8 different directions until you have an even texture of burrs and pock-marks, which are then worked into to create the image with a burnisher (see this post) […]

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