Feral Kittehs

Last Friday, I showed you a sketch that I've decided to turn into a zinc plate drypoint. Today, I'll take you through that process.

The original sketch was done on a 9'' x 12'' sheet of paper from one of my myriad sketchbooks. The plate I wanted to use was noticeably smaller, about 6'' x 8'', so I  started by putting the plate on  a blank sheet of paper and tracing it:

Next, I plotted out the major focal points on the page by drawing intersecting lines. These points would not only help me fit the drawing into the smaller space, but would also allow me to modify the composition to make it feel more balanced (hey, I have an artistic license, so I can manipulate proportions and placement if I feel like it).

With this grid in place, I then re-drew the composition into it to see how everything would fit on the plate:

Using this drawing as a guideline, I then went to work on drawing into the plate, where I recreated the scene through lines...

...lots of lines, actually.

I've done Plexi drypoints before, but this was the first time I'd tried my hand with a metal surface (I've done zinc etching, but in that case I'm drawing on hard ground, which is an entirely different experience). I've found that it's similar to drawing on Plexi, but the reflective surface makes it difficult to see what you're actually doing. I had to continuously rotate the plate at different angles to order to discern the lines I was creating.

The other main different between Plexi and metal drypoints is the burr. Plexi prints tend to have a pretty crisp, flat line quality, but with drypoints you get these metal ridges, or burrs, that hold additional ink and give your scene a soft, somewhat smoky character. These burrs wear down quickly in the press through, so drypoint editions are very small in comparison to etchings (we're talking maybe a dozen images). It is the drypoint's rarity, along with its distinctive aesthetic quality, that makes it so prized among print collectors and connoisseurs.

Anyway, on Tuesday, it was time to print. After inking up and wiping the plate, I printed the first state:

It's not the best drawing I've done, the brick arch above the door is uneven, for instance, but it's not the worst thing I've done either.

What I liked about the original scene was that it had a gritty character to it that encouraged experimentation with plate tone, so I made a point of not wiping the plate consistently. Some areas are quite clean, but others still have a lot of ink left behind to suggest the unkempt, derelict nature of the scene.

Aside from playing with plate tone, I had also printed the first state in order to see how the composition was looking in terms of its values and balance. I thought the door needed more contrast, so after adding some more lines, I printed off the second state:

This time that door has a darker value because I added more lines. I also wiped the cats more thoroughly (actually I over-wiped them somewhat) to help them stand out. Depending on how you wipe the plate, you can get two very different images.

I don't know whether I'm finished with this plate, in any case I won't get too many images out of it, but it's definitely helped me to better understand the visual possibilities of metal drypoints as opposed to Plexi. And frankly, after four months away from the press, I'm thrilled to be working with one again, and already have more projects planned than I'll probably ever finish.