More mezzotint masqueraders

…sorry for the alliteration, but the title describes just what I’ve been up to: continuing the making of some very small mezzotint prints. All the mezzotint plates and prints I have so far shown you measure 5×6 cm, or 2 x 2 1/4 inches. Small, and therefore fairly quick to make, though the whole process is still undoubtedly hard work on the hands! And so I am getting used to this technique before I embark on something more ambitious… and gather together some pennies to afford a large ‘pre-rocked’ copper plate – which costs many times more than the plain pieces of aluminium I’ve been using for etchings.

So, this was my third attempt: a ringleted lady wearing what I now discover is not unlike the mask of a Medieval Plague Doctor, albeit a rather insubstantial version of the proper design…

Here is my original sketch (centre) and the ‘raw’ plate (right) with the design transferred onto it from tracing paper (left):

pre-rocked mezzotint plate and sketch
pre-rocked mezzotint plate and sketch

After some trial and error the first time I tried to trace an image onto a plate, I found that it is just about possible, if you use a lot of graphite pencil on the back of the tracing paper and press through fairly firmly with a biro. The trick is not to damage the plate by pressing too hard, of course!

So, 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 mezzotint plate
Burnished mezzotint plate

And the finished print:

Mezzotint engraving: 'Bird mask and Ringlets' by Nancy Farmer
Mezzotint engraving: ‘Bird mask and Ringlets’ by Nancy Farmer

This one is printing quite nicely now, having had, as with the others, to go back to my burnishing tools and work over more or less the whole image twice because it was printing too dark. This seems to be the one issue with mezzotint printing: how to get the very light tones light enough, while retaining enough black ink so as to preserve that lovely softness that I am liking so much. Here’s the next one that I’m still working on:

print from an unfinished plate: 'Curly horns and Ruff'
print from an unfinished plate: ‘Curly horns and Ruff’

This is what I mean about it being difficult to get nice light tones – if I take off too much ink before printing (on the right) I get light tones, but I lose the softness of the print on the left and it becomes a much harsher image… back to the workbench for more work on this plate.

Anyway, I have a total of five plates this size, so one more to go, and I’ll have some of them available to see – and to buy – at our Spring Farm Arts open weekend 11th – 12th February in about a fortnight’s time – come and visit if you are in the area, I shall as usual be exhibiting my work and ready to talk to anyone and everyone, in the Cider Barn Gallery.

And one last thing – in case you missed it on both my website and Facebook page… I submitted my ‘Fornicating Fairies’ pictures to the very lovely and up-market Art Erotica exhibition at the Cork Street Gallery, which has been running this week. Not only did the two largest drawings get hung, ‘Fornicating Fairies’ was also awarded the grand prize of the exhibition, about which I am still not only delighted but completely stunned! Here’s me last night at the Artist’s Reception, in front of the drawings which are rather more to the point than the merely risqué of some of my artwork:

Nancy Farmer at Art Erotica with the 'Fornicating Fairies'
Nancy Farmer at Art Erotica with the ‘Fornicating Fairies’

Sometime, I think I shall have to add these to my ‘proper’ website and find some way of warning people about their content! In the meantime, they exist in a little backwater called

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