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!