“I first turned to mezzotint in a dedicated way a couple of years ago. After many experiments with aquatint I still wasn’t achieving the deep, velvety black I was after.
You have to work towards those with aquatint, but with mezzotint that’s where you start. After that it’s a matter of keeping the darks intact. But there is a catch: it takes a lot of work to prepare a copper plate for scraping and burnishing.
To lay a ground properly you spend hours standing over it with a rocker to work and rework the surface. It’s one of those repetitive, meditative physical processes that have their own strange appeal. Prepared plates are expensive, so now I prepare all of my own. I use 2.5 inch 85- and 100-lines per inch rockers for grounding, a German scraper and burnisher combined, and 1 inch rockers for detailed areas and retouching. The tools are expensive but necessary (I made my own pole rocker out of a very old curtain rail).
Mezzotint is great on its own for chiaroscuro, but it does present the printmaker with a dilemma, and that is whether to rock the whole plate or just parts of it. This is where J M W Turner’s Liber Studiorum comes in handy. It’s a series of landscape and seascape compositions by Turner that were published as etchings and mezzotints. They show combinations of techniques: deeply etched lines, aquatint for some of the skies, and mezzotint for its distinctive rich and velvety quality that no other medium can achieve. Having studied the Liber Studiorum in detail at art college, I now combine techniques — I even use an engraver’s burin — and the result is more forceful imagery.
For my aquatinting I use a cardboard box, and to agitate the resin I use an old wood and leather bellows. I use Dutch mordant or ferric chloride for etching as they are much safer than nitric acid, but for aquatinting I use Dutch mordant.
Other mezzotint artists just scrape or just burnish, but I prefer to scrape first and then burnish. Which means ultimately you end up drawing with the burnisher — which is ideally suited to furry animals!”
Profile of the artist
Clive Riggs SGFA studied Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee after leaving the Army. His subjects were painting and printmaking (etching and screen printing). Clive subsequently trained as a teacher and taught Art and Design in further education colleges, and now works part-time in education and part-time as a printmaker. He is listed in Who’s Who in Art and Architecture and is represented by the Lawson Gallery in Cambridge.
Clive joined the Society of Graphic Fine Art ten years ago, and in 2013 won the Stabilo Award for a Work in Monochrome at DRAW 13, the Society’s 92nd Annual Open Exhibition, for his mezzotint Summer. His print Leaping Hare 2, the featured image of this article, has been selected for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London 2nd – 7th June 2014.
For more about the Liber Studiorum please follow this link www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/liber-studiorum-drawings-and-related-works-r1131702#entry-main