Saturday, December 28, 2013

Blogging for the Baron: Slated For Next Week!

Yeah, I took a bit of a break this week on account of Christmas. I've done virtually nothing photographic for several days, aside from teach my sister how to use her new Nikon D3000. That meant when Thursday rolled around, I had nothing to blog about. Honestly, even if I had, I was wiped out from Christmas anyway and wouldn't have gotten anything up. Friday, I cleaned up my studio and organized my collection of lumen papers and anthotype dyes. My parents gave me an awesome new collection of the cutest little tiny Mason Jars to keep dyes in. I'll have to take a day or so soon to label everything and transfer the really low-volume dyes (indigo, woad, spirulina, etc) to the tiny jars.

Anyway, all that. I still haven't made any new lumens or anthotypes. So, today, I'm dedicating my blog to Baron Samedi and hoping he doesn't decide it'd be funny for me to get run over by a car or something. We cool, Baron? Hope so. I don't have any tobacco or rum (I have bourbon?) to offer him, but I've got some nasty pennies laying around.

What's the blog going to be about today? Actually, it's going to be about ideas. Cheap ones. Now, see, when I do actual photography-with-a-camera it's generally small object photography. Taking pictures of things I've made or found, mostly. Having a small studio space means I don't get too complex. I don't own a seamless. I make my backgrounds out of alternative resources. Today seems like a good day to talk about those.

Tiny felt turtle on a silk shirt
Old shirts and pants make great backgrounds. I have about six pairs of jeans and dozens of shirts, especially shirts from my mother and sister that they don't wear anymore. If you don't have any handy fabric-loving family members, there's always thrift stores. Silk shirts are especially nice, since the back of the shirt provides a large, solid area to work with. They come in lots of colors and after being worn and cleaned several times, they tend to lose that ludicrously-shiny appearance that new silk can have.

Black velvet makes a great background because of the way velvet absorbs light. It throws back very little shine, even under intense light. This is great for jewelry or anything else bright and shiny, where you want the background to absolutely disappear. I imagine white velvet would work great, too, but I've never tried it. Velvet is kinda expensive, though. My solution? A thrift store in Atlanta back when I was visiting for SPESE. I grabbed a velvet slip, sliced it in half and now have about a square yard (it was a really small slip) of black velvet that cost me $2. Velvet at the fabric store can run upwards of $10/yard. Since I do mostly small objects, a square yard is more than enough for me, most of the time.

Tiny felt Totoro on Polyfill
When I want a white background, I generally use a sheet of high-quality drawing paper like Stonehenge or Rives BFK. These papers are extremely matte and, like the velvet, throw back almost no shine or glare. They fold and bend easily, but won't ever ripple or drape like fabric. For a no-horizon seamless sweep, these nice papers are great. Plus you can roll them or store them in a sleeve. They're great! Very durable, too, and if they get dirty you can generally clean them with a decent-quality eraser.

I've also found that white polyfill (fluffy stuff used to fill stuffed animals or fluffy blankets) is a great background and spacer material. You can light it from behind or underneath to get a real 'glowing cloud' effect. Plus it's very posable and supportive for light objects like jewelry and small textile crafts.

ArtisanDice polyhedrals on natural slate
The title of this post, though, comes from one of my favorite backgrounds: slate. It's a great rock and it's very cheap. There's a little food mart / home store around here (Hillbilly Produce) that sells landscaping slate and I buy natural stones there for a few cents a pound. Generally I buy rocks maybe 1-2 feet in any direction, 1-2 inches thick. They have great texture and colors. Very subdued, but nice variations of blues, greys, browns, reds and oranges. If I want something flatter and maybe brighter colored, home improvement stores like Home Depot sell slate flagstone tiles for about $7 per pack of five square foot tiles. Or you can buy them individually if you just need one or two. Not only are the tiles great by themselves, they're great for using to 'extend' the natural rocks. You can put the tiles in the background and they blend in perfectly with the more textured stones, especially if you use a low depth of field. I like using slate when I want a more visually interesting background that will be complementary to my subject, but not detract. It's also great for wood, since it provides a nice contrast. It can be used to give things a vintage, rustic feel as well.

That's all for today folks! I might be back soon with an unscheduled entry, to make up for today's rambling craziness and the lack of holiday on-time-ness. But maybe not! With Grad School Applications looming, who knows?!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blogging for Freya: Life's Hard

Hello, my lovely little spiders. This is the latest I've ever been with a weekly blog and it's because I'm a big fat sack of sad. I tried to be a Real Adult and got my hopes and dreams promptly smashed by artist statements, online portfolios, pay stubs, W-2 forms, calculators and words like "references", "application fee", "copay" and "deductible." It was all very harrowing, and I retaliated against the world's cruelty by reading internet comics for 48 hours and trying not to try. Then I made cookies, did art and kicked myself in the balls until I felt better. Or at least until I was able to convince myself I felt better. I think Allie Brosch summed it up really well.

Anyway, that's over. I've been finding it harder and harder to get myself to experiment and actually do art, which makes it harder and harder to write this blog since I have nothing exciting and amazing to report. Part of that is the weather and the season. I work with plants and there aren't a lot of plants around in the winter. A few, yes, but not many. The sunlight is also duller, the days colder and typically cloudier. Exposures take a lot longer, and since it gets dark earlier, I have less time to do them anyway. It's just a bad season for my chosen type of work.

Now, all that said, I have been doing some experiments. Slowly, painfully, but they're happening. For my Birthday (woo?) I was given two packs of very cool lumen paper. Harman Direct Positive paper and some Ilford Warmtone RC.  I'd been wanting to try another warm-tone paper for a while. They tend to have really cool effects when fixed, as opposed to neutral-tone papers that generally have very disappointing effects when fixed.

I may also save some of the Ilford Warmtone and try chromoskedasic sabatier once I get back into the university darkroom in January. This is a really fun process that makes for some awesome chemigrams, or can be combined wit regular contact printing! I discovered that process in a workshop with Angela Wells, from ECU, back at SPESE '13. It was very fun, but it DOES need a darkroom and certainly isn't as home-friendly as my favored processes are. Still, pretty cool stuff!

Tonight, I wanted to talk about the Harman Direct Positive paper. It's pink, y'all. Totally pink. Bright, Barbie-and-Bubblegum pink. Straight out of the box, it's instantly pink. I have no idea if, like color photo paper, it turns instantly upon exposure to light, or if it's actually supposed to be pink and that goes away when you develop it? No idea! It's pink. It's also really sloooow. We are talking 2-3 day exposures for a lumen print. That's insane. Seriously insane. I left a sheet out for two cloudy days and saw no change at all. It took a third full day of bright sun to change the paper. Today I left another sheet out and after five hours of bright, sunny weather, no change. It's the slowest lumen paper I've ever heard of at all. I contacted another experienced lumen printer about it and he agreed. He went so far as to say he didn't consider the paper useful for lumens at all. I'm not sure I agree yet. I hope I don't, since that was expensive paper and now that it's exposed to light, lumens are all it's good for....unless I try chromoskedasic sabatier on it? HUH. Might do.

When the Direct Positive paper finally does start changing, it isn't that dramatic. The bubblegum-pink shades into Barney-purple and finally into a dull blue. Moisture seems to cause it to bleach back to white, which may be interesting when spring rolls around and there are fresh plants to use again. I'll probably put further Direct Positive experiments on hold until spring, honestly. See what it does with better light, heat and subject matters.

That's all for now folks! Hopefully I can get moving on all the many things I have to do before January 15th and make some of my dreams come true. Oh, crippling fear of change, you're so crippling.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Sighs and Size

First off, two hurrays. One, I turned 27 yesterday and that's pretty cool. I haven't managed to drop dead or poison myself with photo-chemistry, yet. Two, I'm actually posting this blog on Thursday instead of Friday. I'm sure Thor is very pleased with me. He must be, since the last few days have had tons of sunlight. It's just been great. Cold as balls, but great.

I had an unscheduled post earlier this week about my Cyanotype Totes project and how that was going. I also talked a lot about functional art vs non-functional art, selling art and other things. It was pretty fun. For today's post, I'm really just planning to talk about the results of the second half of that functional art experiment: my silk scarves. We'll see how much I stick to the plan.

Let's get this out of the way, shall we my spiders? I do not feel any of the cyanotype scarves are successful enough to sell. All of them are defective in one way or another. Only one of them is even partially acceptable. This was my first time dealing with cyanotype chemistry on large textiles and I learned a few things. I've mentioned them in passing in earlier posts about this project, but I'll recap briefly here.

First Problem: I did not dry them correctly, resulting in moisture gathering across a crease near the center of each scarf. The moisture prevented the chemistry from setting correctly, creating a white line down the middle of all four scarves. There is no way I know to fix this after the fact, so I had to just deal with it. In the two long scarves, I was able to hide this flaw. It still bothers me.

Second Problem: I was not prepared to deal with the size of the scarves. I don't have glass big enough to cover them or backing large enough to handle them. This meant I was either forced to go glass-less, as on the two squares, or expose in sections as on the two long scarves. Without glass, my images are low-contrast and blurry. Exposing in sections results in uneven tonality and exposure, and makes it easy to accidentally reverse one section. That happened both times.

Third Problem: Silk isn't easy to document. It's extremely reflective and so bright that individual threads tend to show up clearly, making the fabric look gritty or coarse instead of smooth and, uh, silky. I got some better results with later shots, but anything close up isn't too thrilling. It's also just bloody hard to shoot scarves. They're big and hanging them up flat is hard because they want to shift and move around. They don't even look that good hung up flat, and they isn't how they're meant to be seen or used. I wish I had a mannequin or dressmaker's dummy to model them, but I don't. I may be able to get a friend to model them at some point, though.

Generally, I'm just not happy with the scarf experiment. It was a lot of work, trouble and materials for results that I'm not a fan of. I might try again later; I do have some ideas on how I could deal with the difficulties I encountered. Drying them properly isn't that hard, ironing them properly is something I can learn. I've talked to some folks that do fabric cyanotypes regularly and gotten a good bit of advice. You can use spray adhesive or silkscreener's adhesive to keep the fabric flat and in place while laying out your negatives/objects. You can buy a cheap glass door from the home improvement store to use for your frame. Cool stuff like that. It's just that the more extra items you need and the larger everything gets, the more I think cyanotype scarves may not be that great. I haven't even tried selling any yet; I have no idea if there will be any demand. Maybe if my totes go over well, I'll try scarves again.

One idea I'd like to play with is applying the cyanotype chemistry to only areas of the scarf instead of across the entire surface. I could dye the scarf before applying the chemistry, then put several images on the scarf in different locations. Each different image can be exposed and developed on its own, even sequentially. That'd take a lot more time because of having to go through the whole process of applying chemistry, let it dry, exposing it and then developing it, all for each individual image. The final result might be really cool though, since I can use different dye techniques on the scarf before the chemistry is applied and get really fun backgrounds.

If you want to view all my current photos of the scarves, check this Flickr Gallery. There are detailed comments about each scarf on Flickr.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wherein Functional Art Is Appreciated

Whelp! I mentioned in my last post that I was working on a series of cyanotype-printed tote bags as part of this year's Christmas gifts. It didn't take long after starting college with a Fine Arts major before my family and friends realized that for the rest of eternity, they'd be getting Art for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. I'm gunna put other gifts inside the tote bags, but this way the bags themselves are gifts.

Cyanotype on textiles like bags, shirts and scarves are permanent, washable and fade-resistant. If they do fade, all you have to do is stick them in the dark for a day or two and they regenerate. Once they're well washed once or twice, there's no chemistry left to bleed onto any thing else you wash them with. They can be washed according to the directions of the underlaying textile, no extra care required... except that if you use alkaline soaps on them, they'll get bleached and turn yellow. Ok, so some extra care required. Still, not very much extra care and if they do get bleached, just toss them in a bath of tea and now you have a lovely toned cyanotype shirt, scarf, bag or whatever. Plus, if you tone them, your base textile picks up a nice color. You can even do cyanotypes on pre-dyed fabric for an interesting color contrast!

I must confess that my motives in making these totes aren't entirely gift-related. I wanted to do these as a test run to see how the process worked, how much time it required and how difficult it was. It wasn't hard at all. Coating a dozen of the bags took maybe two hours, and each one needed to be exposed for about two hours. I tried less time, that's why some of these are more of a Carolina Blue than a Midnight Blue. Sunny days are best, too. I did have some washing issues, but I resolved them pretty easily by the end of the run. Gentle washing in the sink with constant agitation, or a hose run across the surface continually. It takes about 10 minutes to wash each one enough for it to be done. A quick peroxide bath to finish oxidation and done. Grand total of about 2.5 hours for each tote, but honestly the exposure time isn't really a big deal considering I can do other stuff while they expose. I only have enough glass to do three at a time, though.

So, why am I doing all this if not just to make awesome Christmas gifts? Because I'd like to sell them, of course. See, here's the thing. You sell someone a print and they either hang it up and admire it for a while before it eventually fades into their mental background, or they love it while they're buying it... but they don't have anywhere to put it. So it goes in a box, or gets left on a table for years. I am guilty of this. When I go to conventions and trade shows, I love seeing people's prints. I'm blown away. But I don't have a big house to decorate, and wowsers, I have my own art that's hanging up everywhere. It's really hard for me to hang other people's art up. I have prints that I adore, and they never see the light of day. It's also bloody expensive to frame art. I have a huge wood-cut print that is one of my favorite pieces of art; it hangs right in the center of my bedroom where I see it all the time. I constantly admire the workmanship. I am friends with the artist. It's not even editioned, it's an artist proof she sold me cheap because we were taking a class together and I helped her with acid etching in exchange. I love it. But it isn't framed because it's friggin huge. It's 24x30 and I can't afford to frame it properly.

You know what happens when you sell someone a bag or a bracelet or a pin or a scarf or literally anything they can physically use? They use it. Because of that, people buy that stuff a lot more often. Decorative objects are gorgeous and pretty, but they're not functional. If I'm buying something, I'm a lot more likely to buy something functional. Case in point: I love woodwork and exotic woods. I don't buy them because they're expensive and generally they'd just sit on a table and gather dust. I have dozens of carved elephants I inherited and they do exactly that. I collect semiprecious stones, they do the same thing. I like having them, but they don't do much aside from take up space and look pretty. So I control my spending to avoid becoming a crazy hoarder and having bunches of gorgeous stuff everywhere. The only exotic wood art I've ever purchased are Artisan Dice. They're gorgeous and functional because I can actually play RPG's with them. The set I bought even showcases color theory, a major component of my teaching curriculum.

So, basically, that's why I'm trying to learn to combine photography and functional art. I want to sell my work, and I want people to enjoy buying it. I love making prints, and I intend to try selling those too. I just don't want to only sell prints. I want to sell useful things, because I know those won't just go on a wall and disappear. They'll be used. They'll be out in the world, and they'll get admired by other people. Someone might stop a customer of mine and ask where they got that amazing tote, or scarf, or shirt. That'd be awesome. Even if that doesn't happen, at least the owner of my functional art product will use the item on a regular basis.

On a less commercial level, I also love making functional objects because I'm making something. Not just a print, but a real and physical thing. Back in college, I tried to take one physical art classes just to break up all the photography. I took one class of textiles and two classes of metalworking. I wasn't particularly good at textiles or metalworking, and I'll never be a master crafter, but I enjoyed them. The feel of having a final, useful product at the end of your artistic labor is dramatically different from having a print. I like that difference. Even now, without access to metalworking tools or textiles supplies, I still try to make use of my skills. I do felting by itself as well as to produce fabric for my alternative processes. I hand-make paper sometimes, I make polymer clay carvings and make my own costumes for when I go to conventions. Even when I do traditional (digital) photography, I generally build my own still lives instead of doing portraiture or landscapes. Building things, making objects, is very different from just creating and capturing images. It's good to do both.

I'll do another post soon about the scarves that I tried to make. They did not work out as I hoped.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Really, Thor? Clouds?

I would say that I intentionally delayed today's post to spite Thor because he ruined my plans. But, no, I didn't because it's not wise to spite lightning-tossing steroid-abusers and because actually, I just fell asleep about 9 PM and woke up just now at 3 AM. Hurray...

Seriously, Thor did ruin my plans. I had hoped to finish up a project today and get it documented, but that didn't work. As part of my Christmas gifts this year, I purchased some unfinished tote bags and silk scarves from Dharma Trading. Ten totes (they sent 12 for some reason, but I'm not complaining), two 22x22 square scarves and two 8x54 standard scarves. I've coated all of them with cyanotype chemistry and been working on creating gifts by exposing photograms onto the scarves and totes. That requires sunlight, Thor! And lately, nothing but clouds. Today was a horrible, dark, grey day of drizzle and wet. I couldn't even do long exposures or document the ones I finished on Wednesday. I'll just have to hope that Freya is in a better mood and her day will be clearer.

Toned cyanotype scarf.
Note the pale crease down the center.
I've already learned some valuable lessons about making cyanotype textiles. The scarves, for example, are all defective. I dyed them in the active chemistry solution, but when I hung them to dry, I hung them over plastic hangers or a line of acrylic rope I strung up in a closet. Since those substances are non-absorbent, the extra chemistry gathered on top of the hangers and left a moisture-rich line across the scarves. There's a crease on each scarf where it rested on the hanger, and when developed that line leaves a pale streak across the scarf. I'm having to pull some stunts to make it less visible in the final result. Next time I'll use safety pins to hang the scarves to dry without having anything touch them. I don't have an area large enough to let them dry flat in the dark.

There has been another issue with the scarves: size. They're big and I am not really set up to deal with exposures much larger than 8x10. Even 11x14 is difficult, since I typically document my images by scanning and my scanner doesn't handle 11x14 paper. I don't have any sheets of glass 22x22 or larger, and I really don't have much in the way of backing board that size, either. That makes it rather difficult to get good contact between the scarves and the objects used for photograms, since I can't put pressure to keep them flush. In the second scarf (I've only done one square and one traditional, so far) I tried to solve this problem by exposing it in sections. I marked off small rectangles with blue painter's tape, and used black bags to protect unexposed sections of the scarf during exposure. This way I was able to expose 1-2 rectangles of scarf at a time, using much smaller glass. The finished scarf has a film-strip appearance of individual 'frames' of small groups of leaves. I was also able to cover up the moisture-crease in the scarf under one of the tape lines. I'll be doing the same for the second rectangular scarf. The second square scarf... presents a challenge that I have not yet worked out a solution for. I'm still kicking myself about a stupid mistake on the first film-strip scarf: I accidentally put leaves in the last frame upside down. Arrgh.
First tote. Blobby failure.

My experiments with the totes have been much more successful.
I've had two failures, both due to issues unrelated to the coating and development. The first tote I tried worked fine as far as coating, exposure, development and drying went. The problem is the plant I made a photogram of, sea oats, was blobby and the poor contact between the plant and the tote resulted in an indistinct, blurry mess of an image. Sad, but not the result of a flawed procedure. The second failure was simply because the glass I used to press the leaves down on the tote slid off and shattered, letting the leaves blow away. The result was a pure blue tote with no image left behind at all. That's what happens when your photogram object blows away during the exposure. All the rest have come out pretty much as expected.

Having fun with a failed tote
I've had some issues with staining, but I think this is due to the totes being rather difficult to wash in my regular-sized sink. If I had proper darkroom sink, or was working outside with a hose and a tray, I think these problems wouldn't be an issue. They've been fairly minor anyway. I have two totes left to expose, and I don't anticipate any issues. That should give me a final count of ten finished, good-quality totes. Since that's how many I ordered in the first place, I'm pretty pleased. The two extra totes that ended up in the order somehow have served an excellent purpose by absorbing the failure rate of the process.

Documenting textiles presents its own set of challenges, which I'll discuss once the project finishes. If you want to see the results of this project as I post them, you silly spiders you, check out my Flickr gallery: Crafts. Ignore the metalwork and felt projects, I guess. Photographing them was pretty fun, though.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Teaching Spiders 1

EDIT: Faaaarts! This blog post took way longer to write than I expected. I swear, I started writing at 11:15! Don't smite me, Thor!

Today, for those web-spiders crawling my blog from servers based in the USA, is Thanksgiving. It's vaguely traditional that today Americans remember things we are thankful for, then tell the internet how thankful we are for them. It's kind of a way to show off the things we have, so other people can admire how much we have and how thankful we are for them.

I personally am thankful that I get to be a teacher. I'm an adjunct professor most of the time, and the rest of the time I teach at local art centers and do my own private classes. I love teaching eager students about photography, design, art and how they all come together to make the world a better place. Every time I go to work, I'm thankful that I was able to be in the right place at the right time and know the right people to get my job. In all honestly, I am not qualified for my job. I don't have a Master's degree so I'm literally not qualified. I lack the appropriate scholarly qualification. I still do a great job, don't get me wrong, but it's a minor miracle of the sentient universe that I have my position, and I am incredibly grateful to whatever agent of destiny was responsible for arranging things thus.

Instead of just saying all that, I'm going to show it. Today kicks off a new segment of the blog: Teaching Spiders. And today, my digital arachnids, I'm going to teach you how to make lumen prints. I'll be doing more of these Teaching Spiders posts, sometimes as part of my Blogging for Thor series and sometimes by themselves. Use the tag system to find them all, hopefully there will be a bunch at some point! I'm going to do general how-to's like this one, and also more specific question-and-answer. I've already done some of these (way before Teaching Spiders was a thing) for Anthotypes. I'll adjust tags so you can find them!

Now, I some time today shooting pictures to illustrate this process. Way more time than you'll think, once you see them. Partly, that's because I did it at night when it's dark and my workroom is (intentionally) poorly lit. Partly, it's because I don't have much practice at illustrative photography. Mostly, it's because I realized these steps are so simple that a monkey could follow them. Since you're all hyper-intelligent code-spiders from the interwebs, you'll be fine.

Before we start, let me make a very important note: You Can Do All Of This In Regular Light. Lumen Printing Does Not Require A Darkroom Or Light Closet Of Any Kind. Though, if you plan on using a specific pack of paper for darkroom and lumen printing, you will want to open it and remove some paper while in the dark, obviously. However, lumen printing works just fine on exposed, expired and otherwise ruined paper. I keep all my lumen paper in a box in the kitchen. I never use a darkroom for it at all. It's all been totally exposed and is worthless for darkroom printing. I care not even the tiniest bit.

Step 0: Gather the Materials
You need three things to make a lumen print: a picture frame, an object to make a print from and a sheet of photographic enlarging paper. You can have more things, some very helpful, but those are the basics. In fact, the whole 'picture frame' bit is optional. You just need something to hold your object in place on top of your photo paper. That can take a lot of forms, but we're doing a very basic lesson here. So, use a picture frame.

Step 1: Choose Your Paper
The brand of paper you choose will determine the colors of your print. Each brand has a slightly different cocktail of chemistry in the emulsion and in the paper base. These react to light differently and produce the colors of your image. Some papers are blue, others are pink, red, brown, violet, green, indigo, or orange. Pretty much any color you want, there's some brand of paper out there that will produce that shade. The best way to find out what papers you enjoy is experimentation!

Step 2: Choose Your Object
This is pretty simple. We're doing a basic lesson here, remember that Spiders, so go with something flat that will fit in your picture frame. Feathers, coins, keys, jewelry, lace, cut paper, negatives, plants, flowers, leaves, bits of string, etc. Plants tend to produce particularly interesting lumens because the moisture inside them leeches out and onto the paper. When moisture interacts with the chemistry in the paper, it makes new colors. Remember that, it can be super fun!

Step 3: Load your Frame
Front-Glass Regular Frame
Double-Glass Frame
Ok, this gets a tiny bit tricky. How you load the frame depends on what kind of picture frame you have. Some picture frames have two sheets of glass and no real "back" at all. These are actually my favorite kind, because then I can put the paper down first, face up, and arrange my objects on the paper easily before laying the covering sheet of glass down. I've included a photo of that, for reference. For contrast, there's also a photo of a traditional frame being loaded. Those are a bit harder, since you have to arrange your objects on the glass and then put the paper down behind them, and close the whole thing up while hoping you don't accidentally nudge anything out of place. On my regular frames, unless they have a very tight fit already, I fill the back in with paper towels or some sheets of cheap craft store felt. This ensures full contact between my object and my paper.

Full contact is very important for detail. Anywhere there is light or no contact between your object and your paper, light creeps in. This results in blurry, fuzzy areas around the edges. You may like this, since it can give the appearance of 3D form to your prints, but you should probably start off with keeping everything nice and flat. Get crazy and experimental with partial contact later.

Step 4: Place In Sunlight
I'll actually update this later with a photo, because I like using the back of my car for this and it's kinda fun. Honestly, it doesn't matter where you put your lumen print to expose, it just needs sunlight. Exposures can range from a few seconds to several hours. This is a bit frustrating for rule-oriented people who want a hard time limit so they know the print is "done", but there isn't one. A lumen print is "done" when you like the color it has turned. The longer you leave a print out, the more it will change. Some papers turn totally different colors as they expose more and more. I have a favorite paper that starts off gold, then turns ruby red, muddy brown, neon green and finally a deep emerald. It's pretty awesome, and I decide on a case-by-case basis which color I want.

So, basically, stick your lumen print in sunlight and then wait until it looks pretty. Remove from sunlight and...

Step 5: Remove from Frame
Uh, open the frame back up and take everything out. This is super-simple. Remember that your print is still sensitive to light at this point, so best do this inside and out of sunlight.

Step 6: Really, this is optional, but not for me. Document everything. Document how long the exposure was, what day it was on, what the weather was like, what kind of paper you used, what object you used and if it was a plant was it dry or fresh? Document everything. This way if you want to repeat your process you have some incredibly faint hope of doing so. Lumens are very unpredictable because they respond so closely to so many different factors like time of day, humidity, weather conditions, brightness of the sun, angle of light, moisture in the object, etc. It's very, very hard to reproduce a lumen and downright impossible without good notes.

Scanned Lumen Print of a Dogwood
Step 7: Document the Image
Now take your pretty lumen print and either scan it or photograph it at high-resolution so you have a permanent image of how it looks. You may want to make several scans or photographs, and maybe use both methods. These files will be your only permanent record of the print's original appearance.

Optional! Step 8: Fix the Image
Drop the print into regular photo fixative for 5 minutes. You'll notice a dramatic shift in color and, probably, a loss of detail. Generally warm-tone papers will retain most of their color, or even become more colorful after fixing. Other papers can lose some or all their color and some or all of their detail. It depends entirely on the brand of paper. I generally do not fix my prints, except for certain papers that I've found respond really well to fixing. I'll make some notes on that in a later Teaching Spiders post.

The End!
If you fixed your image, you now have a pre-fix product in your digital files and a post-fix physical product in the print itself. If you opted not to fix, you have your files. You can keep the original print in a dark, archival box, but even heat and time will cause the print to alter slowly. Either way, enjoy your lumens and have fun!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Blogging for Thor: I Don't Know Days

It's Janelle Monae!
Sorry, Thor. I was totally blasted out after the amazing Janelle Monae concert I was at Wednesday night. It was super awesome because during the finale song, she got the audience to sit down and walked out into the crowd to finish her song. She stopped right next to me and ended up sitting on my shoulder for a while. So that photo over there, that isn't zoomed in. That's her from zero inches away, because she's literally on top of me. It's crazy. Then I had my friend that came to the concert with me spend the day, and it was fun. I was so tired that I actually passed out and didn't recover until after midnight.

Anyway. I also got some experimenting done before the concert. I wanted to test some of my theories regarding the use of textured acrylic. I painted the acrylic with black paint and rubbed it off, leaving only the recessed areas covered in paint. This way, the patterns in the acrylic were much more pronounced and produced a far stronger shadow on the lumen print than the un-painted acrylic did. The result was about what I had hoped for originally. You can see the first test, here to the right. The lack of pattern around the lower left corner is due to the acrylic not being held down evenly. I'm going to cut some 8x10 sheets so I can place them in frames. Cutting this kind of acrylic isn't hard, but it isn't very easy either. It likes to fracture unhelpfully, so I'm going pretty slow and trying to take a lot of care.

After checking to confirm that my modifications to the acrylic would work properly, I tested the painted acrylic on a real print. The results are here, seen to the left. Again, the same issue in the lower left corner. Incomplete contact with the acrylic. I like the results for adding texture to the background of the image, but I worry about how much detail may be lost due to pattern interference on the leaf itself. I'll have to do more exposures and check the results. Still, this has been very encouraging!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Snarly Snaggle of Progress

Last week, I talked about some ideas I was working on for more advanced lumen printing. Not advanced technically, in the sense of how the printing itself works or the colors produced or the image making itself, but conceptually more advanced than photograms of leaves on solid backgrounds. I don't want to stop working with leaves or stop doing photograms. I don't have any desire to get negatives involved with this process. That's not how I want to go.

I'm wanting to create a multi-layer effect by introducing texture and value in the image beyond the leaf itself. Instead of just documenting how a leaf looks, I'd like to use the leaves to create my own work that takes more than just the placement of the leaf into account. I've been pondering ways to do that. I have some textured acrylic sheeting, the kind that goes over florescent light bays, and I tried using that instead of glass during a lumen exposure. Only the very, very faintest traces of texture were visible in the background of the print. I think that was partly due to me just putting the acrylic on top of the exposure frame instead of having it in direct contact with the paper; the light was allowed to diffuse instead of being directed clearly against the paper. Also, even with the texture, the entire acrylic sheet is transparent.

Next to-do experiment is to rub black paint onto the textured acrylic, then rub it back off. Hopefully that will bring the texture into stark relief and create veining or other patterns across the surface of the print next time I try. I might also just try cliche verre backgrounds, creating my own texture with the paint or ink applied to smooth glass or acrylic sheets. I've considered fabric with stains or dye as well, especially heavily textured fabric like rough muslin, handmade felt, burlap or raw silk.

I also want to try combining scanograms with lumen prints. I've done that before, by making a lumen print of a plant, then making a scanogram of the plant with the lumen print as the background to the scanogram. I think I can take it further, though, and incorporate them into each other. Using the mosaic style of lumen printing, cutting small sheets of paper and exposing them individually under different sections of the plant, I can highlight certain interesting areas of the plant with lumen printing, and use a scanogram of the entire plant to connect these lumen tiles.

Even while writing tonight's post, I considered what might happen if I soaked some of my handmade felt in a puddle of Liquid Light? Or what if I mix Liquid Light and acrylic gel medium together to get a soft, flexible plastic that has light sensitive material inside it?

It's a pity that fixing lumen prints tends to work so poorly. I think it'd be fun to do some work along these lines that incorporates the physical prints as objects, especially with vellum, felt or other interesting surfaces.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Getting It Together

I did my first mosaic-style lumen print this week, on the only really sunny day I got. It didn't come out bad, I suppose, but it isn't very interesting. First off, the image only makes sense at all if all four pieces are viewed; the small tiles are not independently well-composed and interesting. So really, what difference is there between cutting the sheet of paper into four pieces, and just having used the one sheet? None, really, except how I can display the image physically.

Bah. That isn't what I hoped for. So now I've had this other idea! I can actually mix-n-match brands of paper. Since each type of paper produces different colors when working with lumens, I can create a single lumen image that displays different color profiles. That'll be fun!

also want to try not making all the exposures at once, but instead making them sequentially. Basically, instead of arranging four (or however many) tiles of paper under a single object and exposing them together, I'll expose one tile at a time. The minor variations in exposure time, weather conditions and alignment will make each image slightly unique. That will also be fun!

The biggest challenge facing me, I think, is making each one of my tiles an interesting visual experience all by itself. I have some ideas there, too, since I've been able to create some pretty wild backgrounds on my lumen prints using water and debris before. I'm going to try that again, this time combined with an object. Really going to be taking my lumens to the next level, on multiple levels! Know what that means? All The Fun.

Cheers! And hey, look, I blogged in time to appease the Wrath of Thor!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Blogging for Thor: I'm Bad At This

Man, cold medicine really messes with you! I can also attribute my failure to blog on Thursday to my recent discovery that AmazonPrime offers the entire first season (which is the best season) of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest for free streaming. So, that's pretty awesome.

For this week, I don't have anything about teaching or about lumens, anthotypes or cyanotypes to report. Instead, I have something to admire. At SPE this year, I was introduced to S. Gayle Stevens who works with wet plate collodion. One of the most interesting things I saw in her presentation was a simple way of combining multiple small tintypes together into diptychs, triptychs or even larger mosaic-like compositions. I then ran across more of a similar idea on Flickr, finding some work by an artist named Michelle Smith-Lewis.

This mosaic style of image creation could help bypass some of the limitations I work with, like a scanner that can't handle paper bigger than 10x13 and the small size of my contact printing frames. Working like this will also make for some more flexible ways to deal with the rare and expensive papers that I like to use. Instead of devoting entire sheets to large images, I can create multiple images, each able to stand on its own, that fit together into a greater whole. That's pretty awesome!

I'll leave you viewing one of S. Gayle's portfolios that focuses on the mosaic technique: Allegory.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate (and my cold will go away) so that next week I can get some examples of this type of work up!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Magic Ginkgo Branch

Lumen print from the Magic Branch
Collodio POP paper, 4x5
Recently, Charlotte was host city for the Society for Photographic Education -- SouthEast 2013 Conference. I was honored to be part of the conference, not only as a participant but as a presenter. I ran two workshops during the conference, covering my favorite topics: alternative processes. The attendees of my workshops made cyanotypes and lumen prints, even four life-size cyanotype murals and some extremely large (roll-format) lumen murals. It was amazing, awesome and great. That isn't what I want to tell everyone about.

No, instead I want to talk about things that happen because they do. During the conference, just before my first workshop, I was walking back from fetching some supplies in one building and taking them to the lawn where my workshop was going to be held. Mert Jones, the SPE volunteer photographer, was walking with me. We cut through behind a building and found a ginkgo branch laying on the ground. Not a little branch, a big one. A major limb, 3-4 feet long, with several sub-branches and dozens of leaves in perfect condition.

Not too strange, right? WRONG! There are no ginkgo trees in the area. None. Not in several blocks. And here was this perfect branch, laying right on the sidewalk I was taking to get to my workshop. It wasn't even right next to the road, it was a good 20-30 feet from the curb.

Lumen Print from the Magic Branch
Kentmere RC 5x7 paper
Most of the cyanotypes and lumen prints I do are photograms made with leaves, grass, etc. In case you don't know about ginkgos, they're a living fossil. They're the only tree of their type that exists anywhere in the world and nothing else looks anything like them. Their leaves are absolutely unique and gorgeous. And right one the day where I was going to do my first major conference presentation, standing up in front of other professionals and introducing them to my medium, an entire branch of this exotic species fell directly into my path.

Good things just happen. Not everything that the universe throws at you is going to be bad. Sometimes, when your day is already going well, when you're at the peak of your game, something will go right. Not wrong. The universe won't choose to remind you that you should be humble and thankful for whatever you can scrape together. Sometimes it fist-bumps you and says "Keep on keeping on, man."

I still have the Magic Ginkgo Branch. It's sitting in my lab right now, drying out. I've chosen a few dozen of the most interesting leaves that were in the best condition and I'm pressing them dry. After the rest of the branch dries out, I'm going to cut it up and make something out of it. Me and the Magic Ginkgo Branch are going to be friends, because it reminds me that the universe can be a pretty cool thing. Sometimes it can just do nice things for one, single person, without any reason. That's worth remembering.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Lumen 150!

Today I printed my 150th lumen. Well, at least my 150th lumen. I'm not exactly sure, because I made some tests that just didn't come out, or I did demos and never recorded them. However I've now made at least 150 lumens and have 150 in my archives. So that's a pretty big milestone. I might not be able to match the thousands of John Fobes, who has two different Flickr galleries because he hit a hard cap on one gallery! Still, I'm pretty happy with hitting 150.

These are two more of my lumen prints using Liquid Light painted onto parchment.  I even have a sheet of black parchment that I originally didn't think I'd have any use for. You can't print a cyanotype or anthotype on black, so I didn't think there'd be anything to do with it. I'm really excited to see what comes out, I'm just looking for a good leaf to use.

Coating still presents a problem, because even multiple thin layers are still showing considerable bubbles and streaking. Fresh foam brush and everything, working from a completely liquified emulsion, but still not a smooth coat. I'm not sure if that's simply a result of applying the emulsion to parchment, but I think it's just me being bad at coating. Hopefully my coatings will improve with practice. Despite the bad coating, I did get photographic-level detail on Lumen 149. Check it out!

I am a little sad that these thicker coats also seem to result in darker, blander backgrounds. I'm gunna do some experimenting, but the backgrounds turned this violet-black color almost instantly upon exposure to the sun. None of the cloudy cyan-lilac-pinks that showed up when doing quick exposures on single-coated vellum.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Liquid Lumenation

Lumen print on vellum,
3 hour exposure.
I was recently able to obtain some Liquid Light, which is a liquid photographic emulsion. It comes in a thick, gelatinous white fluid. The idea behind Liquid Light is that you can paint it onto almost any surface. Wood, ceramic, metal, glass, bone, cloth, whatever. It's a really fun concept and I've seen it used quite well by some other photographers. They were using it as intended: for exposing traditional photographs onto non-traditional surfaces. I'm less interested in that than using it for Lumen Prints!

You're supposed to heat the gel by sitting the bottle in hot water, but then it melts down into a runny, milky liquid. I'm still trying to get the emulsion to a medium consistency where it's spreadable, but still tacky and thick. It does not like sticking to metal, though I had some luck with glass and more luck with vellum. I'm trying to ponder other possible substrates... I do have some bones laying around....

Lumen print on glass, scanned with
a black background.
My first attempt was on a small piece of glass, 2 inches square. It's from a very tiny picture frame that I wasn't planning on using. I didn't heat up the emulsion before applying it, so it didn't spread very evenly. That was compounded when after the exposure, I had to wet the surface to get some residue off the back where the emulsion had glued the glass down to the cardboard surface I was using to coat on. The emulsion started to come off before I could hair-dryer it back into place. The final result isn't bad! The glass sheet has, however, now deteriorated. I tried coating it with a UV-resist spray to see if maybe I could display the glass in its frame... and no. No, that didn't work at all. Now I have a solid maroon sheet of glass with an interesting texture. I might be able to sand off the emulsion and try a new image, though. Sanding the glass would probably help the emulsion stick better next time.

Lumen print on roofing tin
After the glass, I attempted several times to get a good coating applied to some sheets of roofing tin I had left over from a tintype workshop back in college. This time I did heat the emulsion and it ran like water, sheeting right off the metal. That was rather infuriating. I ended up dumping a good 20-30 milliliters of emulsion down the drain, I couldn't get it to stick to anything. I finally did get a coating onto a sheet of the tin, but only by using fully cooled emulsion and even then it was patchy and streaky. Ugh. I know that you can get liquid emulsion to stay on tin! I've done it before, I have SAMPLES! I have to figure out how to heat the emulsion to the correct consistency so it's sticky enough to stay on the metal, not just sheet off, and not clump up. While I enjoy the streaky appearance, I want to get the same level of detail in these Liquid Light lumens that I get in paper lumens. I don't see why that would be impossible, since I know that Liquid Light can reproduce photo-quality prints when used according to standard instructions. My coating just needs to get better before I'll be able to reach that level of clarity. I might talk to some people like Aspen Hochhalter at UNCC or Phil Moody at Winthrop, both of whom have experience with liquid emulsions. I think Laurie Schorr might have some too, I'll have to ask!

Lumen print on vellum,
3 minute exposure.
Lumen print on vellum,
3 hour exposure at dusk.
The most recent tests I've done with the Liquid Light are on vellum. I ordered a whole new pound of scraps from the nice folks up at Pergamena and haven't felt very Cyanotype-ish lately. So, why not use it for lumens? Some very fun results so far, and I'm going to try double coating the vellum next time, as well as pinning it down like I do when coating for cyanotypes. These three first tries were completely covered coatings, like my earliest cyanovellums. It's really, really hard to tell when you've fully coated a sheet of vellum with the Liquid Light, though, because the vellum just soaks up the emulsion and leaves no color behind. Cyanotype chemistry stains the vellum yellow, but this stuff is virtually clear. You can only tell by seeing where the shiny-sticky residue remains, and that isn't always easy in low-light environments. I may have to start working under brighter conditions and screw premature exposure. There certainly is a lot more color variation in the lumens on vellum than on glass or metal.

If you're interested in seeing bigger scans, you can view the full-size images on my Flickr! They're tagged "liquid light" if you're viewing this blog post... from the future!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Blogging for Freya: Ends & Beginnings

Dear Internet Spiders, you may have noticed that my blog this week is being posted on Friday, not Thursday. I decided to make a little bit of a change and so I'm dedicating my regularly-scheduled blog post to Freya, not Thor. Why? Well, the last few days have been a very challenging time for me and Freya is all about renewal and happy endings. Thor, we'll get back to you next week. Don't smite me, bro.

I've been teaching at the Light Factory, a photographic museum and education center in Charlotte, for a bit less than a year now. I taught an Introduction to Photoshop and was trying to get some Intermediate and Advanced Photoshop classes set up. Twice I was able to run alternative photography workshops at the Light Factory, teaching students about anthotypes, lumen prints and cyanotypes. I was looking forward to expanding those workshops, doing more of them and developing second-level workshops about toning cyanotypes, processing lumens digitally, that kind of stuff. Taking the processes a bit further, you know? There were other classes I wanted to teach and had pitched successfully, just pending a good time to schedule them. Things like bleaching and heavy-metal toning of silver gelatin prints, or a LiquidLight workshop where students could make photos on fabric, glass or other fun stuff!

These things shall not come to pass. On Monday, the Light Factory suspended all operations and terminated its staff. There are noises being made that the shut-down is temporary, but that is not the impression I have received. If the Light Factory survives, it will be in a new format, new location and with a new administration. It won't so much survive, as die now and come back later.

After 41 years of promoting photography, teaching students and inspiring visitors, the Light Factory has failed and fallen. I am honored to have been part of it, even if for a brief time.

The educators and staff I worked with at the Light Factory are amazing people, and I'm not going to let the closing of a facility stop me from continuing to work with them. I'm not going to let it stop me from teaching either. I'm going to be looking into ways to continue teaching, the same kind of lessons and workshops I've been doing. There will be challenges, because I'll have to coordinate everything myself instead of just showing up and saying words at people until they learn things. I'll need to find spaces for the classes and somehow gather new students. How? No idea. I'm bad at social networking.

I wish all the best to my friends formerly of the Light Factory, and all the best to my students that are just as sad to see a place they learned so much fall apart. We'll still make things work, they just have to change now.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It'll Change Your Life

This is a direct follow-up to my last post, Whittling, where I talk about my experiences trying to introduce my students to alternative process photography. It came across pretty bleak, according to various readers. There was some good discussion on Facebook, in the group, but again it seemed like folks were getting a very negative impression.

So, let me clear a few things up. I am not really discouraged by my results in teaching alternative processes. I teach them to my university students, I've done adult workshops for the Light Factory and been a visiting artist doing demos. No matter which group I'm teaching, I get basically the same results and reactions.

My students love alternative processes. They think the lumen print is magically amazing as the paper changes color right in front of their eyes. After just a few minutes in sunlight, they have ghostly images that came to life in full color. Cyanotypes are hands-on, easy and fast. Watching your first cyanotype develop is awesome, and everyone ooooo's when that cap of hydrogen peroxide finishes the development in a splash of midnight blue.

So why was I talking about how my students aren't going to continue using the knowledge I give them, and comparing alternative processes to archaic hobbies like whittling, baking and sewing? Well, because that's all true. My students enjoy the workshops and demos. They enjoy learning something new, and getting a chance to try something fun and out of the ordinary. During the demos, they're having a blast and really getting into things. They like coating the paper, get excited thinking about what they'll use to make their exposures. They like seeing the cyanotypes develop in the water, or peeling off the leaves to reveal their lumens.

I really enjoy doing my demos, workshops and lectures. It's just as much fun for me to show people new things, watch them have fun with chemistry and light, show off skills that are rare these days and maybe plant some seeds of further interest.

What I was talking about in the last blog was that after the demo or workshop ends, my students go back to their everyday lives. I don't get requests for further information, or emails asking where they can buy the chemistry to make their own cyanotypes. No follow-ups asking for good places to buy darkroom paper in order to make their own lumen prints. No questions about what kind of plants work best for anthotype dyes. It's possible that some students just google all that on their own and might very well be out there printing up a storm, but I don't think so.

There are blacksmithing demonstrations at the Renaissance Faire, and they're super-fun to watch. Despite that, there are not many blacksmiths. It's pretty awesome to go to a workshop or gallery class and glaze a clay pot. That doesn't mean you're going to become a potter. There are only so many hobbies a single person can have. Even simple ones that don't require a big investment of money or time (like the basic alternative processes) still take an investment of mental energy. Many folks just can't make that commitment. They're into paintball, soccer, World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, playing instruments or blogging about the best kind of plants for a semi-arid environment.

Personally, I took two courses in metalworking and became almost decent at basic silver- and copper-smithing. I truly enjoyed metalworking, and if I was given a chance to attend a workshop or demo, I would. However, I don't do metalworking in my spare time, even though I certainly could coldform copper pretty easily. I also very much enjoy experimenting with clays and dyes, even textiles. When given a chance to try something new out related to those interests, I do it. At some point, I plan on learning to make ragdolls. I'm not going to become a sewing expert, though. I'll probably never buy my own sewing machine.

Why is it so hard to get people interested in alternative processes? It really isn't. It's easy. They're awesome and fun, simple and pretty cheap. The hard part is changing someone's life so that alternative processes become part of it. Not everyone who goes scuba diving becomes a scuba diver. Not everyone that goes on a camping trip becomes a weekend camper. We, as people, generally enjoy trying fun new things. We even retain the knowledge of how to use them, and might occasionally want to do them a second or third time. What we don't do is incorporate them into our lives as cornerstones of how we express ourselves or spend our free time and disposable income. That is a big, big change to make in your life and such changes don't come along often.

So I don't despair when my students don't become alternative process enthusiasts. I don't expect them to. It'd be super awesome if one of them did, but that may not happen for years. It's already pretty rare that any of them become photographers, much less a particular type of rare and archaic photographer. That isn't bad. They're doing other awesome things, like growing flowers or riding bikes, or shooting people with paint.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Whittling

Hello, Internet Spiders. You're doing well? That's nice. Let's talk, shall we? Yes, I also enjoy cataloguing the internet with my artificial awareness, but onto other topics.

I've been teaching for about three years now, and each time I teach my basic photography class, I offer extra credit assignments. They're simple alternative processes: anthotypes, cyanotypes and lumen prints. This semester, because I shifted things around, scanograms will also be extra credit. Not really relevant, but they're a non-traditional approach to image making. I teach these processes because they're easy things to do at home. They don't involve complex equipment, dangerous chemicals or anything else too crazy. No need for darkrooms. Most of my students are not going to become photographers. None of them are majoring in arts, they just want to get better at taking pictures, or they have to take an art class, or they just think it'll be fun.

Even the easy processes I teach probably won't get used again. Not even really simple one (anthotypes) that doesn't require anything at all in the way of exotic supplies. So, what is it about alternative processes that even attracts people in the first place? It's not the ease, the cheapness or the lack of equipment required. It's that they're fun to do. They're a hobby. Something you have an investment in, emotionally. The process is why they're fun.

Yes, the image itself is nice, but you can get nice images digitally. Digital is faster, easier, cheaper and uses even less equipment. With only a computer and a simple editing program, you can turn any photo into a gum print or cyanotype or whatever. Apply some filters, layers, whatever. It's easy.

We do alternative processes for the same reason some people whittle their own utensils, or sew their own clothes, bake their own bread or their own cookies. It's not because your bread is manifestly better than what you can buy, or is faster or cheaper. It's probably NONE of those. You do that type of work because you enjoy doing it. And if you don't enjoy doing it, if making bread doesn't make you happy, then you won't bake. You'll go to the store like everyone else and buy your bread.

I think that's why my students don't show much interest. They've got digital cameras and cell phones that can take better photos, way faster. The process doesn't really intrigue them. I keep showing them because maybe, sometime, I'll have a student that loves it and wants to learn more. I can't make someone enjoy something, I can only teach them how it works.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sorry, Thor! Also: Life.

Dear Internet Spiders That Read My Blog,

I failed today. I was doing so well, and then bam. Failure. I got distracted today, didn't have a blog lined up and by the time I remembered today was Thursday... Thursday became Friday. So, this is the first time I've missed by Blog for Thor. Probably going to get struck by lightning or something. Darn. Oh well, maybe he'll forgive me if I blog before I go to bed. It's still "Thursday" if I haven't been to sleep yet, right? Right. It's just really late Thursday night.

So lets level, Internet Spiders. This hasn't been a great time lately.

A bunch of workshops and classes that I'd like to run don't have enough interest to get off the ground. I don't know anything about promoting anything. I'm terrible at social media, and worse at, uh, whatever the real-life equivalent of that is. Society, I guess. Yeah, bad at that. I don't really know anything about raising awareness of art courses and getting people excited about them and willing to pay money to learn things. That probably makes me a terrible teacher, but maybe I'll be lucky and it just makes me a terrible promoter.

Some of my recent experiments have come out crap. I already talked about how I managed to burn the butts off some of my prints with a dry-mount press. Then instead of fixing the problem, I just tried again and got more burnt prints. So that actually was kinda depressing, even if I made sure to use prints I wasn't a big fan of.

I tried getting some chlorophyll prints to work, but apparently chose the wrong kind of leaf? I had a negative on this leaf for three days and it shows almost no fading at all. It did manage to impress the faint outline of a rectangle on the leaf, meaning that now when I want to use that leaf for a lumen print, it has a ghostly rectangle on it. I don't like that. I'm gunna have to get a new leaf, which is a bummer cause it's a gorgeous leaf.

A recent batch of lumen test prints ran into issues when it decided to go all murky and cloudy in the middle of my exposures and stay that way for the rest of the day, and then rain the next morning. Even some of my expensive collodio paper was out getting tested and came back iffy. There was so little sunlight that even a 14-hour exposure (full afternoon and full morning) shows less detail and development than some 4-hour exposures I've done on sunny days. That's useful data, I suppose, but not really encouraging results.

With autumn finally arriving, there's going to be less and less sun. Not to mention less heat and humidity. Attempting to print cyanotypes or anthotypes during the winter has always been a losing proposition for me, since I don't have an indoor UV unit to do the cyanotypes and the exposure times for anthotypes can jump up to a month or more. Hopefully I can keep working on lumen prints, I'll just have to take into account the weather conditions more carefully.

Not everything has been bad. It's almost time to send in applications for graduate school, and I'm excited about that. I did get some very useful results on my latest experiments with Kodak Polycontrast IV RC paper. Not very interesting results (the paper is kinda boring), but useful ones. Next semester I get a third course to teach at the university. Not only does that mean more money, but it's a whole new challenge and I'll get to work with photo majors for a change.

So, you know, life. Challenges, failures, successes and progress. I'm going to keep blogging for Thor (seriously, I won't miss next week!) and I'm going to keep working on my experiments and notes. I'm going to keep teaching as often as people will pay me to do it, and keep looking for new places and new people that want to learn.

Incidentally, if you want to pay cashy money to learn esoteric and archaic photo-reactive image-making techniques, let me know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Writing is Hard, Bergger is Weird

As I mentioned recently, I'm staring on an index of lumen printing papers. What color palettes you can expect from a paper, any special effects it has if exposed under different conditions (wet, underwater, fresh vs dried plants, etc), that sort of thing. The most extensive testing so far has been on Bergger because of one reason: Bergger is poorly labelled.

Bergger NB - 10 minutes
Now you, being the web-crawling spider-drone that you are, may question what Bergger is. Bergger is a fairly common brand of photo paper, owned by a French company. I've got two types of Bergger paper. The packs were a gift from a friend who wasn't going to be doing anymore darkroom work after she graduated ECU. Thanks, SexyMama! She gave me a pack of 11x14 Prestige Variable NB fiber paper and one of 8x10 Prestige Variable CB fiber paper. NB stands for "neutral base" and CB stands for "cream base". The only place this essential difference is noted is in small print on the front label. Two little letters and that's the difference between warm tone and regular paper. No different packaging, no different brand name, just two letters. Super Annoying.

Both of these types of paper have demonstrated some fairly significant range in their possible colors. Mostly the other paper brands I've worked with are at least vaguely consistent. There are variables if you get moisture involved, yes. Some of the papers give a radically different color if you work with extremely short exposures. Bergger is fairly unique in that the difference between a short exposure and a long exposure isn't just a deepening of color, it's a complete tonal shift. Whole new palettes of color will show up.

Bergger Variable NB has at least two distinct phases. A short exposure, under 20 minutes, will give you a pale butter-yellow in the highlights and a rich amethyst purple in the shadows. It's a very nice, very strong contrast. Medium exposures, from 40 minutes to 2 hours will turn the yellows to red-oranges and the purples to maroon and brown. True long exposures on Bergger Neutral Base haven't been tested yet, but the difference between a 40 minute exposure and 90 minute exposure suggests that the orange starts to darken to red and the background goes from maroon to greenish-brown. No moisture tests so far, but that's on my to-do list.

Bergger CB pre- and post-Fixer comparison
The Cream Base paper is entirely different. Extended exposures (4+ hours) are extremely monochromatic, basically pale blue and white. The blue is deeper in shorter exposures, which is a bit strange. Shorter exposures have a slight violet cast to the blue. Generally, I've found the CB paper rather boring. When exposed to moisture, it turns bright red or maroon. Now, when you fix the CB Bergger, the print takes on very different qualities. The shadows turn into a brilliant combination of soft orange and violet, while the highlights are bright gold. The colors, once again, are brighter on a short exposure than they are on a long exposure. Kinda weird.

When I start formatting things properly, I'm going to organize this information more fully. Think of this as a preview of the sort of information that will be in my catalogue once I get it assembled. It's slow going, articulating what I've learned in a formal, simple way. That's never easy for me. I'm so much better at stream of consciousness with interwoven smart-assery. After all, I write my blog as if talking to imaginary readers and sentient web-spiders. Yeah, being serious and straight forward isn't my strength, but I feel like the catalogue should be simple to read and access. It's a challenge. But it's one I can beat. I'll probably post a sample spread in the next few weeks.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Fixing Follow-Up

Quite recently, I talked about my views on fixing lumen prints. Yesterday while I was at the Light Factory I did some more experimentation on some lumens that I wasn't particularly thrilled with. In all but one case fixing them removed detail, color and vibrance from the images. So, here's the side-by-sides.

I got some feedback on the Collodio lumens I showed last time, with the general feeling of 'why are you complaining, the fixed ones look better!'. Well, that isn't really the point. The point is they look different and drastically so. Better or worse, a fixed lumen print is distinct and unpredictably different from its unfixed version. The change is also permanent and irreversible.

In the end, my advice isn't "Never fix lumen prints" but rather "Make sure you have multiple high-quality, large-size digital copies before fixing any lumen." Sometimes fixing your lumen print will create a lovely, fascinating image. Mostly not, in my experience. Mostly my experience tells me your fixed prints will be flatter, have less color, less contrast and less detail. Some papers, like the Collodio and (apparently) Bergger Prestige NB take the fixer fairly well. They seem to be an exception. The main thing is: even if you like your fixed lumen print, keep print-quality records of the pre-fix stage because that will be a different image.

Oh, and these do look crappier than the unfixed prints, all except for the last one that I quite like. If only the hot press I was using hadn't decided to attack the prints and leave them scarred with vile black residue and strange white streaks. Oh well, that is why I used prints I wasn't particularly fond of. If anyone wants full details on these prints, including larger versions and information about the paper, exposure and all that jazz, you should check them out on my Flickr. So here's a link to that!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blogging for Thor: Going Green

An anthotype works by using natural pigments that break down under light. Where your pigment is protected from light, it remains dark; where it is exposed to light, it fades to a paler shade. This creates a positive image. Normally anthotypes are made by taking these pigments out of their natural source, purifying them, and applying them to a substrate. That isn't technically necessary. One of the early ancestors of the anthotype process was a technique popular in 19th century France where fruit intended for table settings was placed in sunlight behind intricately cut stencils. The stencils would shape the light, and the surface of the fruit would fade, producing patterned surfaces.

Sweet Potato Vine leaf imprinted on a Hosta Leaf
So, really, there's not a need to remove the pigment from its original source. That idea has been developed to extremely high levels by artists like Binh Danh, who his process a chlorophyll print. What he does is take a leaf (or many leaves) and places a negative on top of them. The sunlight breaks down the chlorophyll in the leaf (only works if the leaf is removed from the tree, obviously) and you end up with the green color preserved where the light was blocked; everywhere else the leaf fades and turns pale creamy yellow.

Chlorophyll printing is a cool, fun process. It actually tends to be pretty fast for an anthotype process; it prints in just a few hours if you use the right kind of leaf. If you use the wrong kind of leaf, it can take days and hardly show up at all. So far I've only tried a few kinds of leaves and my best results are from big, thin leaves like hosta and caladium. Thicker, fuzzier leaves don't tend to fade as well. It can record detail very nicely. I've been able to see some pretty decent tonal range in the leaf prints, but the results are more dramatic with strong contrast and easily identified shapes. If your negative relies heavily on subtle textures and delicate shading, it probably won't return a great result. You are, after all, not dealing with a traditional photo-sensitive metal salt process.

Chlorophyll prints are something I plan to experiment with further. I really like Danh's idea of using multiple blades of grass together as a mat to create a large area for exposure. He preserves his chlorophyll prints by casting them in clear resin. I have no idea how that would affect fading, since the resin is still transparent. Then again, I have no idea how archival the chlorophyll prints are in the first place. Dried leaves can keep their color for a fairly long time, after all.

As a final note: I am almost certain this process won't work on evergreen foliage or on autumn leaves or already-dead leaves that have lost all their green. I'm pretty sure the chlorophyll needs to be intact to make this type of print work. Who knows, this fall might prove me wrong!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

There's a bit of a debate in the (admittedly small) lumen printing community when it comes to your prints. The two sides are "Fix 'Em" and "Don't Fix 'Em". I'm decidedly in the "Don't Fix 'Em" camp, and I have strong opinions on why. Since this is a fairly common issue facing people that are just starting to explore lumen printing, I'd like to address both sides, the pro's and con's, then sum up my position and the justifications I have for it. Here goes!

Why is this even an issue? If you don't fix a silver gelatin print, the image is destroyed by light. Same thing, right? But no one argues against fixing silver gelatin prints. The different is that in the lumen process, fixing has a drastic and sometimes unpredictable effect on the appearance of the print. Fixing a silver gelatin image doesn't work that way. An un-fixed silver gelatin print looks exactly the same as a fixed one. Lumen prints can lose detail, bleach or even change their color palette completely during the fixing process. It's entirely possible to remove a print from the fixer that bears only a passing resemblance to what you put into the fixer minutes earlier. So by fixing a lumen print, you're not just ensuring that print can be displayed and maintained archivally, you're may be totally altering the appearance of the image.
Pre (left) and Post (right) fix versions of the same print

I will say that the change is not always drastic. There are certain brands of paper that show only a slight to medium amount of fading in the colors after fixing. However, there are others that shift to an almost entirely new image. The only way to check what will happen to your specific print is... to fix it. And there's no going back, of course. No undo button, and no "cancel process" command. Unless you have a high-quality scan or photograph from before fixing, your lumen's original post-exposure appearance can be forever lost.

"It's Broke! Fix it!"
This may actually be the more common opinion. I haven't done any polls on the subject, but it comes up quite often in online guides for how to do lumen prints, and appears fairly often as questions ("Is this fixed?") in online communities for alternative processes. The reasoning behind this position is that your print isn't finished until it's fixed. Until a lumen has been fixed, just as with any silver gelatin print, it will continue to expose and degrade under light. Unfixed lumen prints aren't just non-archival, their lifespan is measured in hours.

Pre (left) and Post (right) fix versions of the same print
As I've mentioned before, possibly briefly, I've encountered a strong feeling among alternative process printers that the final result of any alternative process is the physical print, which needs to be made as archival as possible. For folks that view the print as the final product, that's totally understandable. I've always gotten a strong impression that a big part of the appeal of alternative processes for lots of folks is that they're so far removed from the digital age where everything can be reproduced and recreated. It's a process of craftsmanship and handiwork as much as it is one of image making. I get that. So, yeah, of course people who view alternative processes as a kind of physical craft will want a solid, long-lasting physical product at the end of their printing.

So that's why they want to fix their lumen prints. Some online guides I've read basically say that lumen isn't finished until it's been fixed. The 'original' appearance that you see when you take the image out of the exposure frame isn't finished anymore than a cyanotype that hasn't gone into the water bath. It's basically a latent image that needs to be fixed before you can see what it "really" looks like.

"It Ain't Broke! Don't Fix It!"
And here's my side of the argument. Let me preface it by saying that I do not consider the end result of alternative processes to necessarily be a physical product. For me, alternative processes are another set of tools to create an image. That image, not any single piece of paper, cloth, skin or metal is the final product. As a result, I am far more concerned with keeping the integrity of the image, through whatever means necessary, than I am about keeping the integrity of the physical print. I don't care if my print turns black and crumbles into ash so long as I have high-quality photographs and scans of it recorded first. With those scans and photographs, I can make as many copies of my original image as I want. Photography, after all, is a reproductive medium. It's designed to make multiple copies of images. That's basically the whole point of photography.

Pre (left) and Post (right) fix versions of the same print
I have no specific problem with fixing lumen prints, but I do not believe that fix is a necessary step in the process of creating a lumen. As with all images, traditional, digital or alternative, I believe the image is the final product and whatever number of steps are required to achieve the desired visual appearance of your image is the correct number. If you want to fix a lumen print, do it! If you want to keep its pre-fix appearance, scan or photograph it! Or take the best of both worlds and do both. First scan and/or photograph the image, then fix the image. Now you have both a print and your original image! Woo! This is my preferred approach for certain lumens and other alternative processes. If there are specific traits of the physical print I want to display (texture, metallic surfaces, unique feel of the material, etc) then I make a scan to preserve the image at my preferred stage, then treat the final physical object as a second image entirely.

In the "Fix It" camp section, I briefly mentioned latent cyanotypes. I should not that I also consider pre-development cyanotypes fair game for scanning and recording. Sometimes the bright green image on an undeveloped cyanotype can be particularly arresting. I don't see any reason to treat that image, however transitory, any differently from a lumen print. You can take this as further evidence of my craziness, if you disagree, or nod along sagely if you're in my camp.

So, Is It Broke?
It all comes down, really, to deciding what your desired end result is. An image? Or a product? If you want your image, then at whatever stage in the process your image looks like you want it to, stop there and use whatever means needed to record the image in a permanent fashion. If you want a product, follow whatever steps are needed to make your print as archival as possible and simply acknowledge that the earlier stages of the image will not be permanent.