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Mezzotint is a form of copper plate engraving capable of producing continuous-tone images with a high dynamic range.
First, a field of burrs is raised upon the surface of a copperplate using a specialized tool known as a rocker. A rocker is a curved blade with serrated teeth that ‘rocks’ back and forth across the copper raising small burrs as it travels. The entire plate is rocked several times in this manner and in many different directions to create a uniform ground. This step is meticulous and even for modestly sized plates can take several hours. The burrs collectively act like wells that hold ink, and if the grounded plate were to be printed the result would be a deep solid black.
Once the ground is established, drawing is accomplished in reverse by selectively scrapping and burnishing. This action removes and polishes the burrs, thus reducing the amount of ink they hold. Scraping and burnishing can be done delicately and precisely to yield detailed drawings in a full range of tones.
Printing a mezzotint plate is done in much the same way as any other engraving or etching plate. The plate is rolled with printing ink until it is completely covered, and the ink is pushed deep into the plate. Then any excess ink is carefully wiped clean to expose the drawing. Dampened paper is then placed upon the plate and it is sent through a printing press. Under high point-pressure the paper is pressed deep into the recesses of the plate, and the ink is transferred onto the paper. Once the paper is removed, the plate can then be rolled with ink for another printing, or cleaned for storage or more drawing.