The fine art print is a much different thing from the reproduction print. Reproductions are used to copy original works of art. They are machine mass produced images of paintings and other such things. Fine art prints (such as etchings, engravings, lithographs, mezzotints, woodcuts, etc.) are images that have been created by the artist. The artist creates their artwork on a printmaking matrix (copper, wood, limestone, etc.). Each print is then inked and hand printed by the artist. These prints are either monoprints (one of a kind) or limited edition prints signed by the artist.
The mezzotint process achieves tonality by roughening the metal plate with a metal tool, a rocker. The small teeth of the rocker create tiny burrs that hold ink during the printing process. The rocked areas that are left alone will produce a rich black print, and areas that have been scraped and burnished (knocking the burrs down) will hold less ink, producing lighter values. The more an area is scraped and burnished, the lighter it will print. This process produces an image with a high level of quality and richness.
This is a steel tool with a beveled, curved edge, with many tiny teeth. Rockers vary in gauge (screen size) from 45 (coarse), 65, 85, to 100 (fine). These numbers tell how many teeth there are per inch on the blade. Rockers also vary in the width of the blade from 1/2 inch up to 6 inches.
These tools are triangular shaped tools made of high carbon tool steel, and come in a variety of sizes. The three sharp edges are used to cut off or scrape away the plate surface. The scraper is used to create an image and to making corrections on the plate. In mezzotint, the scraper is ideally the first tool to use once the plate is rocked. Since its sharp edge cuts the burr down, it is an efficient way to create tones in an image.
These tools are highly polished finish tools made of high carbon tool steel, and they also come in a variety of sizes. The burnisher flattens the burrs and polishes the plate surface. It can be used to create an image or to make corrections on the plate. The burnisher is typically used after the scraper, to finish polishing or smoothing an area of the plate.
Close up of rocked plate (you can really see the texture from the burrs here).
Rocking the plate is the first and most laborious step. Traditionally, the plate is rocked by hand as shown above. Rocking requires a significant amount of pressure and consistency. I have made pole rocker tools for my mezzotint rockers to help the process of rocking to be more consistent. The entire plate is rocked in 24 different directions, which creates an organic texture of burrs across the plate.
After rocking the plate, it is ready for an image. And once the image has been scraped and burnished into the plate, it is ready to be cleaned and printed.
Printing: Ink is carefully carded onto the plate, pushing ink into the textured surface. The entire plate is covered with ink. The next step in the process is wiping the plate. This is a delicate process, as it can be easy to over wipe the plate, removing too much ink from the image. As I gently wipe the plate with tarlatan, removing excess ink, the image begins to appear. When the plate is done being wiped, it is ready to be printed. The plate is placed on the press bed, inside the registration marks. Then the paper is removed from the tray of water and blotted. The paper is then lined up with the registration marks on the press bed, making sure that the print will be square and centered on the paper. Then the felt press blankets are placed over the paper and the inked plate is then run through the press under extreme pressure.