Charles Ritchie, Daffodils with Astronomical Chart, 1996 working proof, mezzotint on Rives BFK paper, image: 11 1/2 x 12″.
Working in mezzotint is the exact opposite of watercolor in the sense that I am starting with a completely black ground and creating the lighter areas. Watercolor, my favorite drawing medium, is worked from the white page to the darks.
Mezzotint: Part 1
Daffodils with Astronomical Chart was created using a printmaking process called mezzotint. A mezzotint plate is pitted with microscopic depressions that can hold printing ink. Using an arced knife with a finely-serrated edge called a rocker; a copper plate’s surface is roughened uniformly so that if inked, it would print black (see image below). Keeping in mind that I am creating highlights on a dark ground, I smooth out the depressions to make grays and whites. The smoother the surface, the less ink it will catch, and the lighter it will print. A completely smooth area cannot hold ink and will print white.
I use special tools to accomplish the smoothing; a scalpel can shave away layers of metal and a burnisher can press down the roughened surface and polish it. The plates are worked in the my studio, but at various times during the process, I may stop work and ship the plate to my collaborator, printer/publisher James Stroud of Center Street Studio in Milton, Massachusetts in order to see my progress. Stroud rubs ink into the plate, removes excess ink with a cloth, and places the plate on the printing press bed under a dampened sheet of paper. When pressed together, the ink transfers to the paper to produce a test print called a proof. The proof is returned to me for approval. When the work is determined to be complete, a limited group of like impressions called an edition is printed and made available; or published. (To be continued)
Charles Ritchie, Daffodils with Astronomical Chart, 1996 edition print, mezzotint on Rives BFK paper, image: 11 1/2 x 12″
A copper plate being roughened with a mezzotint rocker.
Daffodils with Astronomical Chart is among the 65 works on view in the exhibition From the Inside Looking Out: The Journals, Drawings and Prints of Charles Ritchie, on view at The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, North Carolina State University, Raleigh from 21 August to 8 October 2008.
Note: This print was based on my earlier drawing from 1993-1995.