Examining Degas from up close one keeps finding extraordinary touches, the most sensitive marks and sophisticated composition choices.
Humbled by this example we proceeded to ink our plates and worked in the "dark manner" or "dark field" technique, which means proceed by removing the ink.
The plate needs to be covered by a good layer of ink which can than be wiped off with a bit of cloth or moved around with a brush ( the stiffer the better). Vaseline and cooking oil can be used ( sparsely!) to thin the ink and clean the plate. The plate is then placed on the etching press and printed on hot pressed watercolour paper.
I have to say things were made much easier by our model who had a strong presence and was set against the light thus being in strong contre-jour lighting.
When working on the plate it is quite difficult, particularly at the first experience, to predict the result. The darkness of the print depends upon the quantity of the ink, how dry it is and also on whether one chooses to print on wet or dry paper. Once printed a first monotype there is still time to rework the plate without having to obliterate the work previously done, and obtain a second pull.
Blotches of ink are always a danger because they are not very easy to spot on the inked plate and on the paper for a very dark flat stain, but I have to say that perhaps because of the slight improvement when the print is dry, or perhaps because after the initial shock one gets use to how the print looks after a while, I now notice them less.
This is another couple of prints from the last pose of the day. The lessons take place in the beautiful studio the chool has in Kensington Palace ( no I didn't bump into Prince Harry yet ) and there's a strict discipline. We start on time at 10 and plough on until just before 5 pm, lunch break is well timed and no phones allowed in the studio, so the concentration is intense.
As it happens often the best works are done towards the end, when weariness takes over and I am in a hurry to finish. I like these last two as I think I really loosened up.
In the second print from the same plate I started making marks in all directions ( compare with the first prints where most marks are vertical) and I had the feeling that I was really moving the ink round with an illusion of control.
As I peeled the paper from the plate I realised an accident had happened and something quite wonderful appeared. While in the first print I had carefully produced a good likeness of the model's head, in the second one I was being less specific and I wanted to treat the head with the same energetic marks I had used in the body without realising that there were some little blobs of ink.
After a first disappointment at the black blotches I became aware that one could read something else and that a man with a weird ferret mask had appeared. I am very fond of this mistake now !!