Richard is primarily a printmaker and draws directly into the copper plate (to the extent of lugging a box of copper plates away on holiday!).
In 'drypoint' the image is inscribed into the plate surface (in this case, copper), with a sharp etching needle. Depending on the force and angle used (and Richard likes to incise the surface very deeply - which, unfortunately, is rather painful on the fingers!) fine, sharp pieces of metal are thrown up either side of the line. This burr holds ink, as does the furrow created by the needle, and the result is a warm, velvety line.
The copper plate is then electroplated (‘steelfaced’) with a fine layer of iron, to give the burr the strength to withstand the printing process.
Inking up and wiping the plate is done by hand, before it is run through an etching press. Years of experience have taught Richard exactly how much ink to leave on the plate to achieve the specific velvety effect he wants.
The 100% pure cotton paper is printed damp so that it readily moulds itself to the plate and accepts the ink. His etching press is an antique; indeed the process has changed very little since the days of Rembrandt!
The plate is re-inked, wiped and run through the press for each print made, and thus each print will vary slightly.
Finally, after the drying process, each print is hand-coloured, signed and numbered. When the edition is completed, the plate is defaced or destroyed.
Etching, engraving, aquatint, drypoint and mezzotint techniques are all termed 'intaglio' - i.e. the image is held in marks made into the printing surface. A characteristic of intaglio prints is the 'platemark', an impressed mark around the image, caused by the plate and paper being forced together in the printing press.
The meticulous hand painting with carefully selected watercolour, - each colour chosen for its vibrancy with the rich drypoint line, often takes as long as the printing process.
So for example the ‘Perching Kingfisher’ will be one of an edition of only 100; each hand-printed, hand watercoloured, then signed, titled and numbered by Richard. There is thus no one original, as there would be with a painting. Each drypoint print is an original, each one being slightly different and sold in a limited edition. Indeed the art world refers to handmade prints as ‘original prints’, as they are not reproductions and not mass/machine-produced.
When the edition is completed, the plate is chopped up on the studio guillotine (formerly Sidney Nolan's) and recycled.