I was examining several of my proofs up close today, and noticed that the grain of the tone was quite different in many of the proofs. In some proofs, the grain was coarse looking, while I found a few others that lacked the grain and looked significantly more refined. There proofs had an almost velvet-like texture. Even the color of the ink seemed slightly different; the coarser proofs looked more grey while the smoother proofs had a warmer, brownish tone. (the ink I print with is Renaissance black, a black ink that has a lot of burnt umber mixed into it)
I concluded that I’ve been over wiping many of my proofs, which is what creates that coarser texture. I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to it earlier, but upon closer inspection I could see that the difference is really quite dramatic. I had been frustrated by the coarser proofs because they lacked the subtlety in tone that I’m looking to achieve. It’s nice to know that it is simply a technical printing issue, and not because I am doing a bad job of the scraping the plate. Now I know that I have to stop wiping the plate much earlier to achieve that smooth velvety surface that I want.
I’m working on scraping the plates every day, even if it’s just for an hour or two at night. I’m going to the studio to print proofs every other night. The continuity I gain from this work schedule is so important. Each time I sit down to scrape a plate, I feel like I can remember pretty quickly where I left off, and this allows me to get back on track immediately.
I think I’m becoming more efficient with my scraping technique on the copper plates. My first proofs are further along than my earlier proofs. The overall contrast is better, and I haven’t been as conservative about digging in bright white passages. This really cuts down on the number of states I have to make to finish the print, which is a huge time saver.
I can tell that I’m getting in a strong work rhythm because I’ve found myself daydreaming during the day about the next time I get to work on my mezzotints. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. After a lull that definitely lasted far too long, I’m finally excited about my artwork again. With these mezzotints, all of the imagery has been worked out in advance, so I can focus exclusively on the technical execution. I’m fairly inexperienced with mezzotints, so I need all of my concentration aimed directly on the process. Every plate I’ve worked on is teaching me something new about the technique.
I was talking to some of my students yesterday about the importance of turning your brain off at a certain point in the creative process. Once the imagery has been established, it’s really just a matter of executing the work. The temptation to judge your work prematurely is always there, and I find that the majority of the time this just becomes a huge problem that keeps us from staying on task. For this reason, I’ve been trying to mentally zone out while working on these mezzotints. For me it helps to listen to something that will keep my mind preoccupied. I listen to music once in a while, but after a while I stop hearing it and it doesn’t hold my attention the way I would like it to. I used to listen to NPR a lot, but stopped after a while because many of the news topics were too depressing or upsetting. Lately I’ve been listening to stand up comedy recordings which work well because they’re light and entertaining, but keep me distracted enough so that I am not fussing over every little detail of my work.
I’m starting to feel my September deadline breathing down my neck. I’ve been working furiously on these mezzotints over the past few days, using every waking moment I can to work on the plates. For my September solo show, I need a minimum of 5 mezzotints finished, although I am going to do my best to finish more. I also need to build in a few weeks to have mats cut, which means I really only have about one month to get the work ready for the September show.
I had a whopping 6 continuous hours in the studio today, probably the longest stretch of studio time I’ve had in months. I proofed my first mezzotint, taking it through a series of 6 states. I have to remind myself to be patient with developing the image. The first proof always looks awful, and so many changes need to be made. Adjustments to the image have to be made in small increments to make sure that I don’t over scrape the plate. I have a tendency to use too much black, so I focused on expanding my range of greys. Another aspect I try to think about is the edges of my highlights, ranging from very crisp and sharp to soft and subtle.
Since I am only in the studio on Fridays, I am organizing my time so that I am able to take full advantage of the hours I do have in the studio. The great thing about these mezzotints is that their small scale makes the copper plates portable, and the scraping process is not messy. This allows me to work on the scraping process at home, so that I can focus all of my time in the studio exclusively on proofing the plates. I’ve been squeezing in an hour here, an hour there at night after I come home from teaching all day.
I am trying to be conservative with my first pass of scraping. With mezzotint, once an area is scraped you can’t make it darker, so it’s better to slowly build the highlights in incremental stages.
My pre-rocked mezzotint plates finally arrived this week, after waiting 2 months. (apparently, the manufacturer is overseas) After the long wait, it felt great to finally get to work on these plates. I’m basing these mezzotints on photographs of my beeswax face sculptures. Working on these mezzotints is very satisfying simply because the process couldn’t be more different than the 7′ x 4′ figure drawings I’m also working on. These mezzotints are only 4″ x 5″ which is so much smaller than anything I’ve made over the past few years. I am enjoying the level of intimacy and detail I’m able to experience while scraping the plate. The last time I worked with intaglio processes was back in 2006, so it’s wonderful to have a reason to return to printmaking after all of these years.