Friday, December 21, 2012

The Essentials of Extracts

In the last big series of posts, Rainbow Reverie, I collected notes and examples about most of the the various forms of anthotype dye I've experimented with. I've figured out at least one good dye for every color except red and I feel pretty good about that. Almost as important as what substance you use to create your dyes is the method you use to extract the pigment from the original material.

There are a lot of different ways to do this and each one has its ups and downs, so I'm going to cover the most common methods. Hopefully this won't be a very long post, but it should be helpful.

Use a regular blender (not one you use for food) to puree the substance and render it down into ooze. I suggest adding either water or alcohol to dry substances (leaves, twigs, dried berries, etc) so you don't burn out your blender. Don't add too much or you'll dilute the dye, but just enough to make sure the matter in the blender is reduced to a soup. This is my default method for extracting dye because it retains all of the object, including fruit skins which often have a lot of pigment in them. It also doesn't induce any chemical changes as boiling might.
Once you've blended the base matter down to a soup, you can choose to either use that soup directly as a dye or further reduce it. Reduction will be covered as its own method of extraction below because it tends to change the final dye a good bit. Keep that in mind. For comparison purposes, blending is simply that: tossing the dye-matter into a blender, adding fluids if required and using the resulting paste/soup as a dye.

This method is only suitable for powders such as turmeric, woad, indigo, alkanet and madder extract. The idea here is that you take your powder and add alcohol or water to it in order to produce a fluid of whatever viscosity you want. The thicker the paste, the stronger your color will be. When working with powders, I find this simple method to be the best. It doesn't provoke any chemical changes, it's fast and it's simple. Why mess with a good thing?
Pay attention to your level of dilution and what you use to dilute the powder. Water will take longer to dry and give weaker colors. Alcohol dries faster and gives brighter colors, but leaves behind a lot more pigment that can collect on the surface of your paper and end up as loose dust. Trying to remove this loose dust can end up staining the whites of your paper.

I have read many guides to anthotypes that suggest boiling your dye-matter before trying to extract the color. This seems to be a hold-over from textiles procedures where heat is actually required to cause many dyes to work. This is not true for anthotypes!! The heat helps the dyes work if they need to absorb into fibers. We don't want the dye to absorb into the fibers of the paper, that makes it harder for light to break it down. Boiling seems to break down the pigment in a few organic dyes, making them duller. I have also noticed that boiled dyes take much longer to expose. This could be due to the pigment already having been degraded by the heat or some other chemical reason. I'm not sure, I'm just reporting my findings.
I Do Not Recommend Boiling. It's rarely worth the time and effort involved, but there are a few dyes that just don't work without boiling. Mostly these are going to be dyes borrowed from textiles, like madder root. In order to extract the alizarin pigment from madder roots, you have to boil the roots. I find it much easier to simply buy extracts instead of the raw plant, but if you enjoy going through the extra steps, you're welcome to.
Your method of boiling will vary based on each dye you use. The basic idea is to use as little water as possible and watch very carefully to avoid your dye boiling dry. You'll end up with a brightly-colored soup, but the liquid is much more impressive than its stain results. Please, don't judge a dye by its color.

This can be considered a Step 2, because it can be used on a dye obtained through blending, mixing or boiling. The idea here is to remove as much extra matter from the dye as possible to reduce the amount of debris or residue left from the dye-matter and get a pure liquid dye. You can use cheesecloth to filter thick pastes like blended berry or leaf mixtures but for the powder-based dyes you'll need to use something like a coffee filter to get the extra powder out of your dye. You can double-filter thicker mixtures, first using cheesecloth and then running the resulting liquid through a coffee filter for extra clarity. I've found this can be quite helpful because the cheesecloth (maybe mine is old?) lets a lot of material through.
Be aware! Filtering your dyes will make them less vibrant. They'll be very pure colors, but not very saturated. You'll get rid of all the residue and debris, but sometimes those impurities can result in some very interesting textures in the paper. I suggest filtering half of any batch of dye so you can do a side-by-side comparison and figure out if you prefer the filtered result with the unfiltered result. In a few cases (please consult Flickr for more details), filtering your dyes can change the color entirely, which is another good reason to only filter half your batch and do a side-by-side.

I think the next post will probably be about the different ways to apply your dye to a substrate and maybe touch on substrates themselves? That might be two posts. Who knows?!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rainbow Reverie: Violet

Violet is a very easy color to produce for anthotypes since many of the things that make violet are cheap and easy to buy. There are only a few actual dyes, but there are several ways to prepare each one.

Alkanet with Soda test
Alkanet: This root is typically used as a textile dye. It interacts with pH values to produce a varying range of blues and purples. I wasn't interested in exploring it for use as a blue dye, so I used high concentrations of the powder and used baking soda to alter the pH of the alkanet-alcohol mixture. Without any soda, alkanet provided a red-violet color. With the soda added, the color shifts to a dull violet, adding a lot of blue. So far, I haven't gotten any results from exposure. I'm expecting the alkanet will take a long time to exposure because the dye is noted as being quite light-fast.

Blackberry: Probably the most flexible source of purple dye for anthotypes, blackberries can be used many different ways. If you just crush the berries and strain the juice without any dilution at all, it provides an intense, Barney-like violet. Diluted, the color is softer but the exposures are shorter. If you boil the blackberries before squeezing them, the color will be darker. If you filter the boiled blackberry, it reduces the darkness and shifts the color closer to a red-violet. As usual, boiling the dye will slow your exposure times and in general produce less useful results.
There are lots of possibilities and all of them give good results. Generally under a week for your exposures. Also note that blackberries respond well to moisture in the exposure, sometimes creating interesting halos if fresh plants are used and the exposure frame isn't sealed up tight.
There are so many permutations of blackberry, I'll just link my Flickr dye tests.

Blueberry, filtered fine
Blueberry: Now blueberries are right and pretty, but not the best dye. Don't try to boil the blueberries, you'll destroy all the pigment. Boiled blueberry dye produces almost nothing at all. Just straight puree is best; don't dilute the mixture with alcohol. If you rough-filter the puree with cheesecloth or a strainer, you'll get a dark blue-violet. Using a finer filter like a coffee filter will give you a truer purple and a lighter color, with faster exposure times. Overall, blueberry is pretty fast. Expect under a week in strong light to give good exposures. The field will fade to a bluish-brown.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Rainbow Reverie: Indigo

Indigo isn't a real color. Check back for Violet soon. Isaac Newton just wanted there to be 7 colors to fit with numerology. 7 days of the week, 7 notes in a musical scale, etc. Indigo isn't real.

'It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue.' -- Isaac Asimov

Rainbow Reverie: Blue

Blue was not a color I expected to be able to get from anthotypes. I've found one really good dye and two that are alright, but definitely not as good as I had originally hoped.

Indigo Dye Test
Indigo: An extremely ancient and well-known natural blue dye, indigo has a complex chemistry and needs a whole lot of additives to function properly. Still, the indigo powder itself is a bright blue and I had hoped that it would stain the paper pretty well. It did produce a strong color, but it's just barely blue at all. The actual color is a dirty blue-grey with a strong yellow undertone. No data on exposure times yet.

Red Cabbage Anthotype
Red Cabbage: A very simple and easy dye, if a little deceptive. Red Cabbage produces a bright violet liquid after you run the leaves through a blender with some alcohol. If you boil the leaves in water, then you'll get a much paler purple. Despite the liquid being purple, the stain is a bright blue. As usual, the stain created from alcohol is much brighter and stronger. Possibly because of the poor autumn sunlight, my exposures are averaging around 1 week, but the contrast is very nice.

Woad Dye Test

Woad: Like indigo, Woad is a long-standing textile (and skin) dye. Also like indigo, Woad requires some work to function properly. It does best in an anerobic environment, which was not something I had any intention of trying to create. Fermentation vats are fine for fibers, but not for anthotypes. Still, the powder was a nice color and I tried it just mixed with alcohol. The resulting color is a gunmetal blue-grey kind of like old jeans. There's a lot of grainularity in the color. I tried filtering the mixture, but that didn't work. The resulting liquid was thin and violet, leaving little color behind. Still waiting on exposure data for woad, but the base color is interesting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rainbow Reverie: Green

Anthotypes are a pretty green process; they don't use any caustic chemicals and no heavy metals. In most cases (and all cases for me, personally) they don't even use any artificial dyes. Natural plant products and alcohol are all that go into making the 'chemistry' used for the process. The exposure is sunlight and there's no development process or fixing at all.

That's all well and good, but today we're talking about a different kind of green. At I thought that green pigments for anthotypes would be really easy to come by; plants are green, right? Well, I tried just throwing green leaves, cut grass and shrubbery into the blender and making prints with the resulting muck. Nothing. There just wasn't enough pigment in most leafy bits to generate a lasting dye. Considering how hard it is to remove grass stains from clothing, I think there might still be potential there and the grass I was using was just too dry and dead. Very real possibility considering the lawns around here.

So, there was despair. Later, I was able to track down some potential subjects and tried them out. I've actually had a lot more success than expected! So, here are the green dyes that I've tested and the results.

Swiss Chard Anthotype
Swiss Chard: I found some folks working with this dye on Flickr and they'd gotten pretty good results, so I gave it a try myself. Boiling the chard leaves and using the water left over will give you a stain, but it's weak and pale, almost brown instead of green. Once again, I don't recommend boiling your anthotype dyes. When I stripped the leaves off the chard and simply tossed them in the blender with water (first) or alcohol (second test), the results were much stronger. Chard gives you fairly yellow greens, but they're bright and exposure times are nice and short. After 3 days you can expect the field of your anthotype to have faded to a tan and the image to remain a bright green.

Spinach: Before I came across chard, I tried spinach. I will be trying it again in the future, but the plant is closely related to chard and I don't expect the results to differ very much. My original results from spinach produced a stain so faint it was almost invisible before exposure and after it was exposed the result needed extensive post-processing to even be seen.

Spirulina: Fairly cheap to purchase, you can get spirulina at your local health store because it's some trendy new part of a healthy diet. Lots of plant-protein or something. For our purposes it's a dark green powder that readily dissolves in alcohol and will give you a smooth, bright green that hasn't got much yellow or blue to taint it. It's also pretty fast; exposures will vary but should be less than 4 days.

Red Cabbage: The color of the liquids here is pretty deceptive, and red cabbage is a dye that needs some fiddling to produce the colors you want. Baking soda (alkali) will alter the color of the liquid and the stain. I haven't tried acid, but that's on my to-do list. The raw liquid obtained from pureeing the cabbage leaves is bright violet, but dries down to a nice summer-sky blue. To get a green, you'll add the baking soda to your filtered liquid, which will turn bright blue. The blue liquid will produce a nice sea-green stain. If you use alcohol to dilute your cabbage, the color that results will be bluer. Using water gives you a more green cast. This gets a little complicated, so there's a chart!
Exposure times for red cabbage, no matter the color, are on the heavy end of the scale, at least a full week. This may be due to working in the autumn instead of the summer. The brighter greens may require a bit of tweaking in Photoshop to give the best detail; there are similar issues to turmeric and sandalwood with the intensity and brightness of the color hiding some detail. The boiled dyes also did not perform nearly as well as the alcohol-based dyes.

Blackberry Anthotype
Blackberry: Under normal circumstances, blackberry dye is purple. However, if you dilute the dye at a 2:1 ratio with alcohol, the stain is pale green and provides fantastic detail in as little as a single day of exposure.

Oak Leaves: Terrible idea. Ran them through the blender with alcohol, didn't stain at all.

Grass: Also a terrible idea. Considering how common grass stains are on clothing, though, I think the problem might have been that the grass I was using was just dry and sickly. I might have to talk to some landscaping people at a park or golf course and see if I can get some clippings.

Code Red!

As I mentioned in Getting Madder and Madder, I attempted to get true reds from the dye by soaking small samples of paper in each of the most promising dye pots. After two days, I retrieved the paper and dried it.

Success! The madder and chalk mixture had produced what I am comfortable labeling as a 'true red' stain. The other colors produced aren't bad, but I can mimic them through other dyes or application methods.
Now, while I am extremely happy to have found a technique that produces a true red, I still have strong reservations about madder root proving to be an effective anthotype material. In all the research I've done, I found that madder root was prized among natural dyes for its light-fastness. That's not a good thing for an anthotype. Light-fastness refers to how well a dye resists breakdown and fading when exposed to sunlight; a very light-fast dye will last a long time without visible fading or discoloration. Since the entire anthotype process is based on using dyes that do break down and fade away when exposed to sunlight, I am afraid that madder root won't give good results.

I still have some hope, because paper holds dyes differently than fabric does and part of the preparation of madder root for a fabric dye involved specific chemicals called 'mordants' which help the dye adhere to the fabric and retain color. Since the best result came from a mixture of madder and chalk, not one of the mixtures that contained alum (a mordant), I still may able to get decent results. The madder might also be affected by both temperature and moisture. When spring rolls around again and I get bright sun and high temperatures again, the results may improve.

There will be a test (already have sheets of paper soaking) to see what can be done during the autumn months, but as I said: expectations are currently low. If a nice result is obtained, that's awesome, but I don't want to build myself up hoping for poppingly red anthotypes only to get a month-long exposure time for a low-contrast, blurry image.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Flickr off? Flickr ON!

In addition to using this blog to record my alternative process experiments, I also scan my results and post them on Flickr with detailed notes. I like putting a few pictures on here, because pictures are pretty, but there are far more of them waiting in the wings. If you're interested in more information, you can check out these links!

Anthotype Dye Tests -- the Flickr Gallery where I store all my un-exposed dye swatches and master sheets for comparison and reference.

Anthotypes -- here are the final results of all my labors, the actual prints created by all this anthotype research and experimentation. Many of these are adjusted in Photoshop, but I'm fairly sure I marked all those as 'post processing' and there are numerous examples of before-and-after comparison to show just what kind of editing I do. I might love alternative processes, but I think the digital age has a lot to offer.

Photostream -- I also have galleries of my Cyanotypes and Cyanovellums, my Lumen Prints and a few other odds and ends. Feel free to browse around!

I end this post with a pretty picture.

Getting Madder and Madder

Nuts to you, madder root. According to numerous sources, this was the dye used by the British and it was the reason the "redcoats" were red. With various mordants, specifically alum and chalk, it is supposed to deliver a rich, crimson red. I think history is lying. Of course, some of that could be a result of me trying to use the dye on paper instead of fabric, but my tests on fabric didn't come out that good either.

I've tried many different methods of mixing madder root. I gave a brief over-view of the struggle in my Rainbow Reverie: Red post, but I feel the need to go more in-depth. This is an extremely troublesome dye and given all the effort I've put into it, I want to document clearly why I think it's just not worth my time to continue investigating.

My first attempt at madder root was to purchase actual roots. Following instructions from the supplier, I chopped the roots up, soaked them overnight, ran the through a blender to chop them even more and then slowly raised them to a simmer and kept the there for over an hour. The water that resulted was nice and bloody, but left virtually no stain at all on paper. It did soak into fabric pretty well and I even added some alum to that mix. However after exposing the dyed fabric for a week, I had no decent image. What is there may actually be the result of water from fresh leaves soaking in and washing off the dye. So, overall, my attempt with using the roots themselves was a bust. Still, I've decided to try again and have some roots soaking right now.

I later learned that madder root can be purchased as a concentrated powder, so I ordered some of that. It arrived and was distressingly brown. Right off, I mixed some of the powder with alcohol and tested it. Not terrible, but not red.

Further testing ensued, with the madder powder being combined with chalk (crushed sticks, not actual chalk which is on a list of things to test with later now that I know that chalk isn't chalk), baking soda (to raise the pH), citric acid (to lower the pH), cream of tartar (a suggested mordant) and alum (another mordant suggested for true reds). I tried microwaving the liquid, simmering it for extended periods of time, dripping the liquid through a coffee filter to remove the particles and applying the dye as a thick paste. I got a lot if different results (see below), but none of them are red. They're certainly reddish, but not red. At this point, I'm pretty sure that madder just isn't where I need to go for a true red in anthotypes. The problem is, I don't know where else to look.

Beet juice is supposed to be a great red food dye, but when I make the liquid, it brushes on as a bubblegum pink. I tried adding vinegar as suggested in some recipes and it gets a bit darker, but not too much. Previous experience with boiling dyes tells me that if I try reducing the liquid down, it'll ruin the pigment.. but I might have to try anyway and see what happens. I can always get more beets.

The last really well-known red dye from a natural source is cochineal, also called carmine. It's gathered from crushed insects native to south-central America. I don't want to deal with the process required to extract the dye from the bugs, and the little things are expensive. Really, really expensive. Maybe sometime in the future, or if I can figure out a way to order it through the university... but until something like that happens, cochineal is just out of my range. Plus, it seems to require some work as well and I'm not certain if it could be used for dyeing paper.

There's something called 'lac', which is from India and is related to cochineal, but it's either just as expensive as cochineal or even more expensive. I have the same concerns about if it would work on paper because as far as I can tell, lac requires chemical shenanigans to release the colors. It also seems to favor red-violets instead of true reds.

So, for the moment, I'm lacking a real red. I may just have to deal with that, but I have two last hopes before I give up on the color.

1) I am attempting to make that second batch of madder dye from the roots. I will be SURE to follow the dyer's directions as carefully as possible, not skipping any steps or shortening anything. Once I obtain the dyebath, I will then try soaking the paper in it, using it on fabric and also reducing some of it down via simmering (not boiling) to paint onto paper.

2) I'm going to try soaking some small paper samples in my current batches of madder and see if extended exposure to the dyes gives better results. I may also test this with fabric.

If you were wondering what all this experimentation yielded, well, I've got a lovely table of the results so far right here.

Rainbow Reverie: Yellow

Yellow is not a difficult color to get from nature, but I've only experimented with a few yellow dyes because the nature of the color is the same, no matter the source. Yellow is freaking bright. It makes it difficult to see the resulting images and produces low-contrast results. For any yellow anthotype, I will typically adjust the color in Photoshop by about 10%, making it more orange. Whatever my subject is, the visibility and detail jumps dramatically with this simple change.

Despite that, yellow colors are easy to get and the two main dyes I use to obtain them are very simple and straightforward. There are numerous ways to adjust them so that you won't need the Photoshop adjustment. It can, in fact, be worked right into your dye.

Filtered Paprika Dye Test
Paprika: While the spice itself is orange and it can be used to create an orange effect if applied to the paper as a thick paste, paprika creates yellows when diluted into a liquid. I've created two different yellows through different means of preparing the dye.
The first is a goldenrod color, gentle and creamy, which is created by using a coffee filter to drip alcohol through about 2 tablespoons of paprika. The collected liquid is pale orange and exposes in 2-4 days.
Second, you can simply add the paprika directly to the alcohol until the saturation point is reached. This liquid will still appear orange, but when painted on the paper it will only leave a few streaks and bits of residue that can be brushed off when the paper dries. The yellow created this way will be very pale, but still give decent results in 2-3 days. In order to increase your visibility, simply add a little sandalwood or madder root to your paprika. You can experiment with other

Turmeric Dye Test
Turmeric: This is one of the easiest and most reliable dyes I've used for anthotypes. You can buy it at almost any grocery store or supermarket. If you have a local farmer's market, sometimes you can purchase it there very cheaply, too. Turmeric is a spice and perfectly safe so no worries about getting it in your mouth or on your hands or all over your kitchen. It's sold as a thick, golden powder. Diluting with alcohol forms a liquid that is your dye. Just a little alcohol will produce a yellow so bright it hurts the eyes, while high dilutions give muted, pastel shades.
Your exposures with turmeric can be as quick as 2 days (high dilution) and as long as 2 weeks (low dilution with poor light), but will average around 4 days for a good image. As mentioned above, the yellows of turmeric don't provide much contrast and I regularly sift in a bit of sandalwood to my turmeric to give more golden hues that provide better visibility. You can also do a double coat on your paper with a thin layer of blackberry first, and this will also give you more ruddy images that show up quite well.

Our next color is Green, which can be tricky, but is a lot of fun!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rainbow Reverie: Orange

Installment 2 is here and today we're covering the color Orange! This is going to be a short entry, with some notes for the future.

I've tested two successful orange dyestuffs: Paprika and Sandalwood, both of which can be used to produce other colors. However, since this is the entry on Orange, we'll focus on preparing those dyes to create... well, orange.

Paprika Dye Test
Paprika: In order to produce a strong orange, you will need a lot of paprika diluted with just enough alcohol to make it a spreadable paste. You want it clumpy and full of paprika. Unlike the powdery sandalwood and turmeric, paprika is gritty and granular. It won't dissolve into the alcohol. That's alright, it will produce an absolutely brilliant orange if you use it in the grainy, paste-like form. Exposure times are pretty good, 3-5 days or so. Be sure to let the paper dry fully, then just take a paper towel or your finger and wipe off the excess paprika so you have a smooth surface to print on.

Sandalwood Dye Test
Sandalwood: This is a really easy dye to work with, and very flexible. As already noted in the Red section, if you use only a small amount of alcohol to dilute sandalwood powder it will create deep rusty, red-orange shade. Using more alcohol lowers the intensity, giving you a range from salmon pink-orange down to a pale gold-orange. Sandalwood can also be softened with a bit of turmeric to create more golden, yellow-orange shades. No matter how you prepare it, the exposure times are very fast. Expect 3 days to give a good result, with times decreasing down to 1 or 2 days if diluted with strong enough alcohol dilution.
I do suggest diluting sandalwood a good bit, or breaking its color up with another dye such as turmeric or red wine. By itself, at high concentrations, the color produced is so strong and vibrant that the resulting prints are actually hard to see. You get better contrast if the color starts out weaker.

Carrots: I tried shredding carrots and using the result to create a dye. It certainly produced a thick, bright orange liquid, but it was useless. When applied to paper, the carrot juice didn't leave more than the faintest stain. Even soaking paper in the juice didn't provide a noticeable color. Tried it with fabric, too, and still no results. Conclusion: carrots are good to eat, not to use for dye.

Annatto: Some folks that I've corresponded with on Flickr and have used annatto, which is a south american spice, and gotten good oranges. I just recently ordered some (it hasn't arrived yet), and will be testing it out myself. According to other artists, the spice is diluted in alcohol or water just like sandalwood or turmeric, and takes 3-5 days to expose. It produces soft, vibrant oranges that are a bit easier on the eyes than pure Sandalwood.
UPDATE: My annatto arrived very quickly, and I set to work testing it out. I purchased a powdered extract version of the plant, not the whole anise seeds. Diluted with alcohol, the annatto powder does as expected and produces a variety of oranges from a bright tangerine to a soft pastel. The powder leaves a bit more debris than sandalwood, but can be coffee-filtered so long as you don't mind losing a lot of the vibrancy. Otherwise, just wipe off the dust when your paper is dry.

Tune in again soon for YELLOW: the Happy Color!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rainbow Reverie: Red

Now that I've got at least a few dyes that produce each color of the spectrum, I'm going back in detail to review the properties and preparations for the most effective of the dyes and mention the ones I tried and found lacking. Color by color, I'll go through my anthotype library.

Today, we start with Red. When I say 'red' what I actually mean is pink. I've found a single deep red-orange and many shades of red-violet and pink, but none of the dyes I've tried have actually produced red. I still think that there may be one out there. I have a suspicion (listed below), but no confirmation as of yet.

Strawberry: Initially, I had high hopes for strawberries. They're so colorful, after all. The problem seems to be that when rendered down either with crushing or chopping or boiling, the resulting liquid is primarily composed of the inner, pale flesh instead of the outer skin of the berries. It gives you pale, pale pinks that show some images after 5-7 days, but at low contrast. The really annoying problem with strawberry dye is that it doesn't keep. It rapidly transforms itself into a gooey mass of green-white mold. I don't think my usual solution to mold (mixing with iso-alcohol) would work, because strawberry dye is already so pale that diluting it would just ruin the whole thing.

Raspberry Dye Test
Raspberry: This dye comes very close to being purple, but it's also pretty pink, so I'm listing it under Red. It can be used either undiluted for stronger color, or with alcohol for pastel shades. As normal with undiluted dyes, the exposures are fairly long: 5+ days to get a good contrast in your prints. Your field will fade down into a brown-violet, leaving the red-violet object behind. Raspberry dye tends to have a big issue with seeds and bits of berry-skin being left behind in the dye, bigger than other dyes. Don't worry too much, it can be rubbed off while the paper is drying.
You can boil raspberry dye to reduce it down, or you can boil the berries themselves before blending them. You can also boil the berries and smash them in the boiling bot to extract the dye that way instead of using a blender to puree them and then straining the puree. In general, I do not recommend boiling your dyes. There will be a post going into more detail on how to prep different dyes, more detail on this there.

Beet: I've only tried canned beets, and have a suspicion that they may have been tainted with artificial colors or additives. I will be trying regular beets eventually, but the results from canned beets weren't particularly encouraging and I've seen other people work with beet juice for anthotypes and not enjoyed the results. Beet juice gives you strong, bright pinks, a few shades brighter than what I'd call "bubblegum"... maybe more like cotton candy, or strawberry frosting. It exposes fairly quickly, 3-5 days giving good results. The only reason I don't like beet juice is just that I'm averse to the color. I prefer darker, stronger colors. The pink that beet juice gives is just too... pink. Totally a personal call; the dye itself has no big problems.

Madder Root Dye Comparison 
Madder Root: There are two forms of madder root: a powder and actual roots. I've experimented many times with both methods, and only the powder has produced any results. I tried mixing up the dye from the roots by following various online tutorials, but the liquid produced (while a gorgeous crimson) didn't stain paper at all and was incredibly light-fast on fabric. So, I ordered some powder which arrived quite recently. No exposure results so far, but several dye swatches were produced. Consulting various online resources about madder root, I tested various additions to the dye to produce different colors. Alum, chalk (turns out I used the wrong kind of chalk), cream of tartar and baking soda (for an alkali). I ran across some suggestions to use citric acid to create oranges, but I have lots of oranges and not many good Reds. The chart above lists some of the various combinations and methods used to adjust the color of the madder powder.
Edit: Further testing has shown that it is possible to get a bright red color from madder root by soaking the paper for 1-2 full days in the dye. More details here.

Sandalwood Anthotype
Sandalwood: Primarily, sandalwood produces oranges. If used at the strongest concentrations, where the dye is almost a paste instead of a liquid, sandalwood is so orange that it turns into a dark rust. The drawback here is that the exposure times are fairly long, minimum of one week. Even at long exposures, the contrast is pretty low. Post-processing can easily adjust that, but purists may be disappointed in the results.

Red Wine: The easiest anthotype dye, bar none, because it can be used straight out of the bottle. There's no mixing or measuring or filtering required. All you need to do to create a red wine anthotype is buy some cheap cooking wine, paint it onto the paper and expose. Red wine can produce images within 3 days, but it does better with more time. Ideally, give red wine at least a week of strong sunlight. You'll get a dull, faded orange background with a very soft pink-red subject. I do not recommend red wine as an anthotype dye because of the incredibly pale colors produced. The visibility and contrast is quite poor. However, it is fairly consistent and easy, so people just starting out may want to try it for themselves before moving on to more complex dyes.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Crazy Cool Colors

When I first started researching anthotypes and the possible dyes used to make them, I immediately found that there are very few ways to create natural, plant-based dyes that fall into the cooler part of the color spectrum. Many plants create yellows, oranges, red-pinks, purples and browns. There are very few natural plant-based dyes that create blues or greens.

At first I thought, well that's stupid, most plants are green, why can't I just grind up their leaves? Well, most plants that I tired simply didn't produce much of a color, even ground up and reduced to a paste. While searching around Flickr, and then again reading Malin Fabbri's new book on Anthotypes, I learned that chard seems to give a good, strong green. Researching other natural dyes, I came across some ideas for using red cabbage to produce a blue and learned that an algae called spirulina is used to tint soaps and candles green.

So, I went to the local health store to buy the spirulina (it's also a herbal diet supplement) and hit the local grocery store to get the chard and the red cabbage.

Chard was a bit tricky to work with. The instructions I had run across suggested boiling it to produce a stronger color. This was in direct contrast to my earlier observations that boiling dyes seems to break down the pigment and give a weaker color. My experiments with chard basically confirmed my earlier theory: the boiled chard solution was pale and brownish. I do not anticipate strong results.

I tried putting shredded chard leaves into the blender mixed with water and got a reasonably strong solution, strained through cheesecloth to remove the plant matter. My results were far stronger, again as noted in earlier experiments, when iso-alcohol was used instead of water. Chard seems to produce a very nice, soft green that fades to brown when exposed to light. That gives a good contrast between the image and the field.

Spirulina hasn't been exposure-tested yet, but I've mixed up a solution of the algae (it's a dark green powder) and iso-alcohol that gave a good, true green. It's a bit bluer than the chard solution and a tiny bit darker. Expecting good things from the mixture.

The red cabbage was a very surprising idea. I actually found it on a blog about all-nature food coloring alternatives. The original recipe, once again, called for boiling. Already suspicious, I tried both boiling the leaves and blending them into paste. By itself, the red cabbage renders an intensely violet dye, but when applied to paper it dries from violet to a pure sky blue, a truly gorgeous color. The boiled dye produced virtually no results, but the blended (diluted with alcohol) mixture is great.

The food blog entry was about creating blue dye from red cabbage, and in a liquid form the red cabbage is violet. So the food blogger noted that adding alkalinity to the cabbage dye (baking soda) would convert the violet liquid into a deep blue solution. It does! It's amazing! Hold up, though. Just as the violet liquid dries into a sky blue, the navy liquid from the baking soda-cabbage mixture dries a different color: teal. It's an absolutely amazing blue-green and I can't wait to see what it looks like after exposure!

I am SO excited to get these mixtures into frames, but it will have to wait until after the weekend. I will be scanning the test sheets before exposure to document the colors. I'm working on a more orderly approach, with double the records, since I'm in the process of compiling together what might become a book on anthotypes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Time to Dye

One day exposure!
I've been having really, really good results from the more dilute dyes, the ones with much higher levels of alcohol than normal. They're exposing in 1-2 days instead of 3-7 and still retaining good detail. Turmeric exhibits the same issues of color visibility, but the rest are working really well.

The problem with turmeric used by itself is that the resulting image is so yellow that it's hard to see. A slight hue shift in post-processing can make the image dramatically better simply by reducing the amount of yellow by about 10%, moving it to a more orangey hue. The same result can be achieved in the anthotype itself simply by including about 30% sandalwood in the mixture, or a light coat of blackberry juice on top of the turmeric.
10% more orange

Blackberry juice with lots of alcohol (about a 2:1 alcohol to juice mix) is, as I've mentioned before, green. This green dye produces a very fast exposure; I got a perfect exposure with visible detail like leaf veins in just one day of bright light. One day. That's mind-blowing for anthotypes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Confounding Condensation

My very first anthotype ever had a really interesting result. The yellow halo is a product of the moisture in the leaves leeching out into the paper and washing away some of the pigment. However, I've not been able to replicate this. I recently tried another batch of anthotypes using fresh blackberry juice, prepared the same way as the original batch, no halos.

So, I'm fairly sure there are two culprits:
The original anthotypes were exposed outside, in the direct heat of the scorching Southern sun.
They were not in picture frames, but smooshed between two plates of acrylic, allowing air flow.
No halo.
I tried putting my picture frames outside, but no dice. I tried using two plates of acrylic inside, no dice. I think it needs both the airflow of an open frame and the blazing heat of the sun to produce the results I want. I will be trying this soon! I'm especially hopeful because another recent experiment with silk dyed in madder-root produced a moisture halo.

Oh, that's right, I never mentioned that test result. Why? It sucked. Maybe I picked a bad plant, because the leaf I used ended up virtually transparent by the end of the seven day exposure. Transparent leaf means there wasn't any light-blockage and the resulting image is almost invisible. Plus, the madder root stubbornly refuses to give me a good color. Also, it's transformed into a mess of green-brown-white fuzz.

I think I'm done with madder root for the time being, it hasn't been of any appreciable use yet. Maybe when I get around to my next project, where I buy raw wood and felt it down into my own hand-made cloth, then dye the cloth and make anthotypes on THAT... then I might use the madder root. Maybe. Probably not.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blackberry Booze Surprise

I got around to grinding up some blackberries for a new batch of dye. This time, I didn't boil the blackberries, I just blender'd them straight out of the freezer. The boiling seemed to alter the dye's color and properties last time I tried it, so this time I skipped it in an attempt to replicate early successes with blackberry dye.

There was enough of the blackberry puree to split in half: one batch is about 2 parts blackberry to one part rubbing alcohol, the other is the inverse. The blackberry-heavy solution produced expected colors: deep blue-violets that are standing up pretty well to light. I expect long exposure times on those tests.

An alcohol-heavy solution, however, proved surprising. The dye is green, as you can see in the test to the left. Much like the alcohol-heavy batches of sandalwood and turmeric dyes, it reacted much faster to light. A three day exposure produced the example seen here. I'll be trying another for five days fairly soon, just to see if I can get some better contrast.

The blackberry-heavy solutions are still exposing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Alcohol Makes Things Better! Sometimes.

Test #2, Sandalwood.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I set up a new crop of anthotypes recently. I've now pulled all but two of them after some very bright, very sunny days. Mixed results!

These anthotypes were all printed using a much, much greater amount of alcohol than normal. Up till now, I've simply poured a small amount of the powder or what-have-you into a bowl and added just enough alcohol to make the mixture liquid and paintable. This time, I added a buttload of alcohol to the powder in a mason jar, attempting to reach the saturation point instead of heavily over-saturating the mixture. Why? Because I was tired of wasting pigment when the alcohol evaporated off and left me with a dust-covered sheet of paper.

The results so far:

Test #1: Mixture of turmeric and sandalwood. This is the most disappointing of the tests. It may be due to being pulled early, but when I checked it after two days, the field had bleached almost totally away. Problem being, the image itself isn't very visible either. May be the result of the turmeric's characteristic eye-burning-yellow color, when hue-shifted in Photoshop, the image is much more visible, but still not the best.

Test #2: Pure sandalwood, an extremely successful result. Three day exposure gave me a faintly visible pale orange field and a moderately bright image. A 10% bump in the darkness levels with Photoshop got me a nice, dramatic image with a pleasant color. Much better than the burnt-orange-red of high-concentration sandalwood which is almost as hard to see and enjoy as pure turmeric. The high levels of alcohol really shine with sandalwood, it seems.

Test #3: Another pure sandalwood. Virtually identical results as with Test #2, but this one has a darker spot in the center of it. I sat the paper on top of a water bottle to dry, and apparently the cap of the water bottle left a darker area for some reason. Somewhat annoyed. Image integrity very nice, though.

Test #4: Pure turmeric with high alcohol. Not a bad image result, though as with most turmeric images, it benefits from a hue-shift towards orange. The hue-shift makes the image stand out more and reduces the burn on your retinas from staring at the collected essence of the color Yellow. Boring composition makes me hate it, though.

Still waiting on Tests #5 and 6. Planning to give them two more days of exposure.

Test #5 is a boiled blackberry dye, with increased alcohol content to prevent spoilage of the berry juice. The juice at this point is nearly a year old and should probably be thrown out, but the aged juice has a very different color profile than fresh, so I'm hanging onto it. Smells funny.

Test #6 is a double-coated mixture, one layer of boiled blackberry, another of sandalwood. The resulting field color is a reddish-orange instead of the pure orange of sandalwood or the dull violet of boiled blackberry. The leaves used in this anthotype (virginia creeper) have begun to desiccate and shrink. Not happy about that, because it'll give me fuzzy edges on the image. Waiting to see final results before declaring total hatred, though.

EDIT: Ah-hah! I forgot one! There's another test currently in the works. I had a square of heavy linen soaking in boiled madder-root dye. Instead of following all the proper madder-root procedures, I just ground up the roots and tossed them into a pot of boiling water for a few hours, and collected my pretty red water. The linen soaked in it for ~24 hours and is now exposing. Should be ready in another week. I like to give fabric anthotypes a long, long exposure time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New I-lumen-ation!

Test #1, Crepe Myrtle
I got my hands on some Kodak Polycontrast IV RC paper a while ago and decided to test out a few sheets of it as lumen printing material. I've used Kodak Polymax in the past and its one of my favorite types of lumen paper, so I was hopeful.

So far, in both my tests, the Polycontrast has produced a brown-red background with violet-maroon images, VERY pretty. One print, left out in light after exposure, has darkened to a blue-violet in the image, with an almost black field.

Test #2, Hydrangea
Compared to the Polymax, which tends to produce brown fields with red-pink images, I think this paper is a little less dramatic, but still very nice.

My scanner isn't doing a very good job of capturing these lumens acurately. I may need to buy a new one; there's some kind of horrible, streaky residue that seems to be between the two sheets of glass that make up the scan-plate. I've cleaned both sides of the scan-plate, but the residue remains the same. The scanner hasn't got any problems capturing my cyanovellums or anthotypes, the residue only shows up when scanning the large, blank backgrounds of the lumen prints. It's very distressing. I may need to start imaging them with a camera.

It's Been A Long Time

Test #4, most successful test!
Test #1
But now I'm back! Not from outer space, sadly. Today's topic is cyanovellums. I coated a bunch of different sized pieces a few days ago and have been slowly testing different processes on the resulting prints. Borax bleaching on cyanovellums produces a really interesting result: the blues turn orange.

  1. No color shifts, but the bleaching turned the dark blue a mottled cyan-green, with large patched bleached almost fully away. The original image retained its blue color, but was rendered visible where previously it had been almost hidden.
  2. The 'field' of the image turned a brilliant orange, and the image itself bleached fully out, leaving semi-translucent vellum without any coloration at all.
  3. The 'field' turned orange as with the previous test, but the image itself retained a blue-gray coloration, a very nice contrast.
  4. Results identical to #3

I haven't figured out what causes the difference between 1, 2 and 3/4. Oddly, 3 and 4 were bleached the longest, each one soaking for at least 8 hours. I would have expected them to leave no trace of blue at all, but they were the only ones to hold the blue color. Very odd.

Test #3
With the result for Test #1 being not very pretty, I decided to use it as a subject in my next test: two-step toning of cyanovellums. It was already bleached, so that was the easy part. I brewed up a solution of SuperTea! and proceeded from there.

To make SuperTea! I brewed 8 family-sized bags of Wal-mart brand Black Tea in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes in the microwave and let the tea steep for two hours. I then squeezed the bags to get any extra liquid out of them. The SuperTea had evaporated down to about 16 oz of liquid by this point. 

Test #1: post-borax and post-super tea

I allowed Test #1 to soak in the SuperTea! for about two hours. The vellum stained heavily, but the image redeveloped about as expected. It's now a very dark blue-black, with the image a more mild tan. No reddish color shift as experienced with cyanotypes that have this process applied when printed on paper.

I've got lots more work ahead with my cyanovellums, but at the moment most of my frames are taken up with six new Anthotypes that'll be cooking for the next week! So excited to see the results!