Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blogging for Balthazar: Cyanotypes go Metal!

First Cyanotype Parchment Ring
It's a bit after Christmas, so let's celebrate with a new blog post! Yes, I took some time off for the holiday, and I just haven't really been mentally up to blogging. My dog's still not doing well after his surgery, and the holidays have been a bit hectic even aside from that. Plus, I think my family may have infected me with another bloody plague. I'm certainly coughing more than I should be.

Anyway, I know you're way more interested in photographic insanity than my biographical drama, Spiders. Let's get down to it.

Troy, one of the awesome guys who runs the Flaming Chicken Studio here in town, decided to put together a last-minute Holiday Art Sale. It went really well, despite the late date and some other events happening on the same day. In getting ready for it, I was working on some more of my attempts at making cyanotypes into practical art. The latest version of this has been cyanotype jewelry. Now, making my small cyanotype bones into jewelry has still proved too difficult for me to manage. I lack the equipment and skills to efficiently build bases, settings and findings. I was able to find another way, however.

Tracing paper templates to make the parchment blanks
I combined a ready-made, adjustable ring base with one of my cyanotype parchment prints. Using a bit of E6000 silicone epoxy, I just attached a tiny print onto the ring base, creating a wearable cyanotype. The process could use some improvements, like some kind of protection against scratching the print itself, but it works on a basic level.

After that success, I've gotten the supplies for further experiments. One of the biggest challenges is simply cutting the right size piece of parchment. It shrinks and expands slightly during the washing and drying of the print, so getting the cut parchment to fit exactly into a ring or pendant isn't easy. I'm hoping for some good results with this batch!

Paper blanks ready for coating!
Even better? This research may actually fund itself. If it goes well, I might even start using my Etsy store! Wouldn't that be crazy?

I don't know if I'll try to expose all of these, but I do want to get started right away. In the dead of winter, I don't have a lot of choices for floral samples. I might even print out some very small negatives on transparency or vellum paper and see if I can do some cyanotype jewelry with photographs instead of photograms. Wouldn't that be novel, Spiders? Actually using a camera?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Blogging for Freya: The Little Things

Poinsettia leaf under the microscope stand
It's been an exhausting week, Spiders. My dog had emergency surgery and his recovery is not going well. I found out that I didn't get a job I was really hoping to have for next semester. I'm still waiting to hear back about a grant for 2015, and I haven't heard anything from the admissions people at one of the graduate programs I want to apply for in the fall. It's just not been a great time lately.

But, I have still been working. For my birthday, my family helped me put together a microscope platform for my cell phone. It's a cool little project that I found on IFLS. The original video and instructions are available on Instructables. There are some limitations, and it certainly cost more than $10. It was about $30, total, though some of that was because I had to use alternate parts, and needed some springs to help stabilize the specimen stage. Still, $10 isn't a good estimate for this project.

Keep in mind that I'm saying it was $30 to build a microscope for my cell phone. That's pretty nifty. Yes, you can buy cheap digital microscopes for about $40, and there is actually a purpose-designed cell phone attachment for $15. This set up is fairly customizable, and you can add or substitute lenses for different effects. So, I'm fairly pleased with the concept. The results.. eh.

The platform, with slides.
A big issue with high magnification, using any format at all, is focal distance and focal length. The subject needs to be right up next to the lens to be seen, and your depth of field is practically two dimensional. We're talking way under a millimeter for this set up. I can focus on the top of a cube of loose salt, but not the entire cube. Yeah, I can't get a whole grain of salt in focus. It's too big. So that is a consideration, certainly.

The lens I used, stolen from a $2 laser pointer, is a bit smaller than the lens of my cell phone, meaning I only have a limited field of view. The edges of the laser-lens is visible in the cell phone images, causing extreme vignetting. Maybe the center 30% of the final photo is in focus. Zooming in at all causes severe distortion and pixellation. You can see that in the photo of the text from a US quarter, over on my Instagram. I've been tagging all the photos with this rig as #cellphonemicroscope.

It is theoretically possible to stack lenses for greater magnification, which actually allows plant cells to become visible. I haven't tried that myself, but all the issues with depth of field, vignetting and focus would be doubled along with the magnification. I really doubt the final result is worth the trouble, but I may experiment with it later.

Generally, I think this was a fun project, and I do enjoy playing around with it. I'm glad my family helped me put the stand together, and it made for a great birthday present. The image results aren't anything to write home about, at least not yet. It's certainly worth exploration, though.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blogging for the Baron: Horseapples!

Big bag of sawdust from Artisan Dice
Hey there, Spiders! Привет! I seem to be getting a lot of Russian Spiders lately, though I honestly have no idea why, but I have hundreds of visits in the last few weeks from Russia and Ukraine. In fact, Russia and the Ukraine make up about 30% of my total visitors. Again, no idea why. Still, I welcome you, my silent, slavic Spiders.

Today we'll be talking about a recent experiment made possible by the lovely folks at Artisan Dice. I've been following their Facebook page rather devotedly, and even spying on their LiveStreams. In fact, I've been inspired by some conversations related to their products before, resulting in at least one article on here. Anyway, they mailed me a big ol' bag of exotic sawdust. I might have been pestering them for some of the lovely, colored dust they make for a few months... ok, I totally was. You understand, right, Spiders? When you seem a gorgeous, exotic by-product like that, going to waste... argh! It drove me nuts.

Sawdust being drip-filtered
So now I have a big ol' bag of Bois d'Arc sawdust. Bois d'Arc is also called Osage Orange, Horse Apple or (more properly) Maclura pomifera. The plant is from Texas, but it has spread across most of the American South. The heartwood is a gorgeous, buttery yellow that can range down to a rich orange, mostly depending on the tree's age and the soil conditions it grows in. The sawdust I was given is bright yellow, and there's quite a bit of it.

Osage orange has been used as a dye for hundreds of years, first by native Americans, then by pioneer settlers. In order to extract the dye from the sawdust, I filled a mason jar with sawdust, saturated it in rubbing alcohol, and set it in a pot of simmering water for several hours. After an evening of simmering, I felt the dye was ready to decant.

I poured off the ready liquid through a coffee-filter lined funnel, then scooped out the sawdust, a third at a time. Each third was allowed to drip-filter, then made up into a coffee-filter sachet that I squeezed for the last dregs of dye. I added a bit more alcohol as I went on, making sure to keep the sawdust nice and saturated until I had packed all of it into the sachets and was able to 'milk' them individually.

After filtering the liquid out of the sawdust itself, I was left with about one pint of reddish-orange fluid. So far, I have only tested the dye on a single small sheet of Rives BFK, but I have a few silk scarves that I plan on dyeing for the holiday, and I'll be using the dye on some of those as well.

Osage orange dye in concentrate form, and on the test sheet
So far, no tests on exposure. I'm iffy on the practicality of osage orange dye for anthotypes; it has been noted as a fairly permanent dye. That generally involves mordants, though, and much longer heating times. There are a lot of factors, as with any dye, but my experience with madder root does not lead me to a great deal of confidence. Still, I like the color produced on the test sheet. It's a softer yellow than Turmeric, with a tiny hint of green in it.

In the future, I also want to do a test on the dye without any heating at all. Heating dyes has, in the past, caused problems. It was suggested for all the extraction techniques that I researched, but I'm going to see what happens if I simply soak some of the sawdust in alcohol for a week or two. That might give me a more anthotype-friendly dye.

Osage orange dye test, on Rives BFK
At the very worst, I have a new textile dye, and that isn't exactly a bummer. I'm also planning to mix up a glue or resin and use some of the sawdust as a bed for some of my cyanotype jewelry. Laying a small piece of parchment or bone, printed with a tiny leaf or flower, onto a bed of bright yellow sawdust seems like it'd make for a very nice combination. I just have to work up a proper mixture to adhere everything together permanently.

So, Spiders, give a big "thank you" to Artisan Dice for being so generous and providing me with such a fun substance to experiment with! Thanks, Artisan Dice! до свидания, Spiders.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Aggregated Datas

Hello, Spiders! I'm feeling much better, and even doing some more anthotype printing. It's slow going, given the weather and lack of sunlight, but I'll manage. I scanned a small crop (4 prints) and I'm labelling and sorting the information now. I may post some results later this weekend.

In other news, a huge survey of alternative process photographers was completed, compiled and released recently. It has some very interesting information! Check it out Over Here. That post is in English, but the rest of the blog is in Dutch, which I do not speak. Still, it's nice to see another active alt. process blog!

The biggest point of interest to me regarding the survey is the split on the issue of what is and what is not "alternative" photography. For me, silver gelatin and color film processing (as base processes, not modified by something like mordançage) are not alternative. They're traditional photography. Digital is digital, film is film and alternative is "other". It's a clumsy, messy grouping, but hey, it mostly works. Artists aren't very good at deciding what to call things anyway.

Even more than the simple debate about film being alternative or not, is the divide on what else is alternative. Judging by the reported statistics, there is a not-insignificant number of self-identified alternative process photographers who do not consider historical photographic processes to be alternative. If they're not alternative... what is??

Some very enlightening, and very confusing, data awaits.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Blogging for Thanks: Sick Again.

I'm sick again, dagnambit. Sorry, Spiders, I don't have anything this week, except a burning desire to banish all this stupid plague that keeps pestering me. Happy Thanksgiving, I guess.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blogging for Thor: A Reddy Success!

Success! First true-red Anthotype
Despite the weather, recent plagues and other negative influences, I've printed my first anthotypes in two years. Yeah, Spiders, it's been a long time since I printed any anthotypes myself. I've taught workshops on them, and given demos, written articles, but not actually done any printing.

Anthotypes take up contact frames for quite a while, and for the last two years I've been busy with lumen printing, cyanotyping and other techniques. Anthotypes just haven't really been on my mind.

I'm not sure what changed, but I think it was my visit to UNCC last semester, where one of the students decided to investigate the interaction of turmeric and soda ash. That sparked my interest, got me investigating on my own, and really put me back on track.

It's paid off. I finally have a red dye, which I've been crowing about quite a lot recently. More than that, it's a stable, easy to make, easy to apply, fast-acting dye that shows strong contrast. Everything I could ask for! Well, alright, it is a bit dusty, leaving behind a fair amount of solidified pigment when it dries, but I think altering the concentration of alcohol in the solution can fix that problem.

So, there you have it, Spiders. Two years, and my first anthotype is a stunning success. In red! It did take 12 days, but this is fall, so that's not un-expected. Low UV index and lots of clouds. No heat, either. Heat speeds things up quite a bit.

Pure Pokeberry dye
I also had three other prints exposing at the same time. A dried oak leaf on pure pokeberry juice, which turned out great (below), and two other prints made on red cabbage dye. I had whipped up a batch of the blue and green red cabbage dyes, getting an indigo instead of a blue this time, and decided to use some of them. Unfortunately, the red cabbage prints did not work out. They show almost no fading at all, despite the same 12-day exposure as the other two prints. I'm guessing there simply wasn't enough UV light to break down the red cabbage pigments. Those always were a bit slow, compared to raw berry dyes or turmeric/sandalwood which is what the red dye is mostly based on. Unfortunate, but unavoidable given the time of year.

When spring and summer roll around, I plan on getting back into anthotypes on a serious level. We'll have to see if I actually stick to that. I'm also very interested in working more with liquid lumen prints and chromo-lumens, but at the moment I'm focusing on my cyanotype bone prints and wearable art.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Blogging for Hel: Plagues :(

There's no blog this week, dear Spiders. At least not today. I'm sick. It sucks. Achey, fevery, sore. No fun at all, and it means I can't concentrate for very long before my brain wanders off.

I'll be back to blogging as soon as I fight off this biological invader.

Friday, November 7, 2014

STOP! In the Name of Red

TRIUMPH! 2:1:2 Pokeberry, Turmeric, Sandalwood
It's been 4.2 years since I started working with the anthotype process, and 3.5 years since I started to really hunt for a good red dye to use in the process. Guess what, Spiders? I found one! After some brainstorming and testing, detailed in the last few entries, I finally decided to try mixing together yellow, magenta and orange colors to produce a red.

As far as dyes go, that meant using turmeric (yellow), pokeberry (magenta) and sandalwood (orange) in combination. I've thoroughly documented turmeric and sandalwood as predictable, fast-fading anthotype dyes that are easy to use, easy to mix and work very well. I've got ample evidence from other artists that pokeberry shares these traits, even if it is harder to harvest and prepare (it's toxic, and it's a berry as opposed to a powder). The combination of all three should, I'm hoping very hard, be another quick exposure, high-quality anthotype dye.

A comparison of several different tests using Pokeberry
The best part? It's red. Really, really red. Not reddish-orange or reddish-pink. Nope, Spiders, not this time. It's RED. I am so excited. The only bummer is that I've discovered this in the fall, and the weather is just not my friend during the fall. Less sunlight, longer shadows, cooler temperatures, cloudier skies... it doesn't lend itself well at all to anthotype printing.

Still, I'm going to expose a test sheet starting tomorrow and see how it goes. Wish me luck, Spiders!

Oh, before I forget... the winning combination to produce a red dye was 2 parts pokeberry juice, 1 part turmeric, 2 parts sandalwood and enough rubbing alcohol to make the solution a thin liquid. It's still a bit grainy, but now that the color is tested, I can adjust the solution itself a bit to get better consistency. Ideally, I'd like a grain-free liquid that brushes on smoothly.

The last fun bit? Now my Master Test Sheet can truly be organized by color, since I have at least one strong, vibrant example for each color of the rainbow. Hurray!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Not Quite Red

Pokeberry (with alcohol) + Turmeric
Well, Spiders, my experiment to create a simple red anthotype dye hasn't yet succeeded. Pokeberry and turmeric together create a bright, vibrant orange. But, ya know what, so does Sandalwood. I'm hoping that I can do some further tests and see if maybe I can combine orange and magenta to get a red, since I have a lot of oranges. Or maybe just different proportions of yellow and magenta? I might also try using pure pokeberry juice instead of diluted pokeberry. This test was pokeberry juice diluted with alcohol.

Either way, it deserves further experimentation.

On another note, I've begun purchasing the materials to turn my Cyanotags and Cyanobones into wearable art. I've finished one pendant necklace, and I've got the materials for a bracelet. The rings and pendants... actually, tonight I talked with Aspen Hochalter and she suggested trying to find a local metalsmith to work with. That's a really cool idea, because it means I double my client base by including the metalsmith's. And it builds professional relationships, which is also nice. It does mean I have to share the profits, though, but I'm fairly ok with that.

More soon, Spiders!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Color Theory in Practice

Yellow + Magenta = ...Red?
In subtractive color theory (CMYK), reds are produced by mixing together magenta and yellow. While reviewing color theory with my students this semester, I began to wonder if subtractive color theory could be used to help me out with a long standing problem: the lack of true red anthotype dyes.

My best lead on a red dye, madder root, takes too long to fade (around three months!), plus it tends to produce dusky, rust colors instead of a true, garnet red. It can produce a true red, but so far I've only managed that hue on fabrics, and with extra mordants that further reduce fading. Fading is what I want, so most mordants are just bad news. Plus, the fabric-only limitation is annoying.

Further research has shown that other reds, like sumac, carmine, brazilwood and bloodroot are, for various reasons, not very useful. Mostly, they produce other colors un-altered and must be mordanted to make a red. As a fun bonus, none of them are as "true" a red as madder root is, which is why madder was the go-to red dye until the alizarin pigment in madder root was first synthesized.

Turmeric, a pure Yellow

What if I could sidestep all that mess, though, Spiders? What if I could combine a Magenta dye with a Yellow dye and create a Red? I just happen to have a fantastic, pure yellow dye: turmeric. It's easy to make, easy to get, exposes quickly and mixes very well.

Now, thanks to recent experiments, I've found a magenta dye as well: pokeberry. The pure pokeberry dye is an absolutely vibrant magenta color.

Pokeberry, a strong Magenta
It might be closing in on fall and winter, my Spiders, but I can still mix the dyes and test color swatches even if I can't do timely exposures. So, this week I plan to do some tests to see if Yellow + Magenta = Red. If so, I hope that the two combined will be a fairly easy to make dye. It'd certainly be nice!

I'm even considering ordering some calcium carbonate, a common dye additive called chalk, to see if that may help unlock a further variety of colors. Adding baking soda to some dye, like turmeric and red cabbage, produces very nice color shifts. It'll be interesting to see what the chalk does.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Blogging for Crom Cruach: Woodworking

Wet-Printed Cyanotag
Wouldn't it be fun, Spiders, if I could say that I'd intentionally delayed this week's blog for Halloween? That isn't what happened. I was just hanging out with friends last night and didn't get to blogging until today. I'm pretty much incapable of writing these blogs during the day, so they're always at night.

Oh well! I'm writing today about something I've been working on for a while, and really have only just started getting really nice results from. Printing cyanotypes on wood isn't terribly easy. If you coat the wood with a sealant, like gesso or primer, it works pretty well. That covers up the grain, though, and makes the final result look fairly flat. It takes away the character of the wood, and leaves you with something that might as well be printed on any other boring, flat surface.

I picked up two packs of these small wooden tags last time I was out shopping for craft supplies, about the time I received my turtle bones. I've been working on the two experiments concurrently, and actually encountered many of the same difficulties in both situations. Just like my problems with the turtle bones, the wood does not like to accept cyanotype chemistry very well. The chemistry starts turning blue as soon as it starts to dry, eventually becoming so exposed that it's useless. Wood is actually even more annoying, because I've been able to get decent results on bone with the mysteriously pre-exposed material. Not so with the wooden tags. They just don't print anything if they've turned blue. At best, I was able to get a blue-on-blue image that is... interesting, but not very visible.

Blue-on-blue dry printed tag
The other downside to wood is that the washing time is very long. Since the chemistry soaks into the wood deeply, it also takes quite a long time to wash back out. I've started just letting the tags soak in water for a few hours before oxidizing them with hydrogen peroxide, then drying them in the toaster oven. Another strike against wood is that, unlike bone, it can't be fully bleached. Even hours of soaking in a strong borax or soda ash solution retains a significant amount of blue, too much to print over. It's rather depressing, since that means each bad result is a wasted tag, instead of just wasted time. Good thing the tags themselves are cheap!

My current solution to the problems presented by the wooden tags, which seems to be working, is to do wet-printing. I had actually never tried this before, Spiders, and I was very excited to see that it works! Wet-printing a cyanotype is when you don't allow the chemistry to dry before you expose it to light. I brush on a coat of chemistry, give it a few seconds to soak in, then go ahead and contact print it. Put the leaves directly onto the fresh chemistry, stick it into the printing frame (two sheets of glass, clipped together with office clamps) and set it in the sun.

Fuzzy, low-contrast dry printed tag
Wet-printing seems to have some side-effects, like uneven development, but so far I'm enjoying the results quite a bit. I'm planning to make a big push and develop a bunch of these little things. The only problem is a lack of small leaves and plants, understandable given the current season. I might even try printing a 35mm negative.. though I wonder if the wet chemistry may bleach the negative... Obviously, I'll have to test that on a negative I'm not a big fan of, or use a digital negative.

Just like the turtle shell prints, I'm making these wood prints with the intention of eventually stringing them as wearable art. The double-holed tags might make nice bracelets. Some of the single-hole tags are sized right for pendants, or even earrings. Could be fun stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Blogging for Freya: Folding Paper

Folded Paper Project, Day 4
I've been working on a side project recently, Spiders. While attending SPESE-2014 I attended a lecture by Aline Smithson, the founder of the Lenscratch photo blog. She was talking about, among other things, about how she started her blog and how it's become one of the most popular and well-trafficked photography blogs online. She decided early on that she was going to write about a different photographer every day.

As you know, Spiders, I struggle to post a blog entry about any topic at all on a weekly basis. The idea of researching and featuring a different photographer every single day blows me away.

No, of course that doesn't mean I'm going to start posting more often. That's silly.

Still, the idea got lodged in my brain along with other things from the conference and from recent events. Finally getting an Instagram account, as I mentioned on Monday, was one such thing. It was largely motivated by the idea of getting my work "out there" via another outlet and potentially reaching other people interested in what I do. Another thing that was rolling around in my brain was the sheer amount of work being produced by some artists I keep in touch with, like Joshua White and John Fobes. I was also struggling with constantly trying to convince my students that, yes, they can make amazing photos and no, they do not have to go anywhere to do it. They can make interesting compositions right at their desks!
Folded Paper Project, Day 3

Those many things came together and I decided to start a new series: the Folded Paper Project. I started off with some rules for myself.

1) Take a new photo every day, using Instagram
2) Shoot only torn, cut or folded printer paper
3) Use only household light sources
4) Apply identical in-app adjustments to each photo

The most "advanced" tool I've used in the project so far is sticky poster tac to hold bits of paper in place for me, and a plastic ice cream bucket to act as a diffusion surface.

So far, the project has been quite fun. I haven't missed a single day yet, though for the Folded Paper Project, I'm measuring "day" by my sleep cycle rather than the 24-hour calendar. So if I don't get to the image until 2 AM, that's fine, because I haven't gone to bed and woken up the next morning yet! Honestly, Spiders, I think that is pretty much how I treat this blog, except I really do try to get it done on Thursdays so I can stop angering Thor. I just keep missing that deadline.

If you want to follow the Folded Paper Project, I'm keeping it tracked via Flickr as well as on Instagram!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspiration and Illumination via Instagram

All the elements assembled for shooting
Instagram is great! Since I started using it, I've been doing tons better at documenting my processes and experiments. It's so much easier just to use my phone to Instagram small set-ups and examples rather than to have to get lights set up, pull out the DSLR, deal with Camera RAW files and all the other mess that comes from a "proper" shoot.

The difference in results isn't that dramatic, either. Not to say there isn't one, but for my primary purposes (this blog), I don't need huge, high-res images of my process. Now, if I ever get around to assembling that Anthotype book I keep talking about (you know the one, Spiders...) then I will have to do process documentation shooting with a real camera. Ditto for the Lumen Folio. For now, though, Instagram is where it's at. Spiders, did you know you can even get people interested in your work via Instagram?

Shoot in progress!
My Instagram hero is Joshua White, a professor up at App State in Boone. His entire current body of work, A Photographic Survey of the American Yard, was created on Instagram and is displayed on his account. With simple rules, minimal equipment and a straight-forward procedure, he creates gorgeous pieces of work. On Instagram. With an iPhone. So that's awesome. So far he's been featured by Instagram itself, in articles on, Mother Nature Network, Fstoppers, Gizmodo, FeatureShoot, and probably other places! He's Instagram-famous, and it's really cool.

I actually took inspiration from Joshua when figuring out how to document my Plastron Prints and my Cyanotags (another project that I'll blog about soon!) for viewing. The photos here today are showing how that documentation works. It's really simple, Spiders.

The finished result, via Flickr!
There isn't much you need to do shadowless, floating documentation of small objects.  A shaded, outdoor space to shoot in is the most basic. Then get a piece of cardboard, or foamboard, or a corkboard.. anything pins will go into but not back out of easily. If the board you're using isn't the right color and/or texture, then add a sheet of paper or other covering to make it the right color and/or texture. Then just get yourself 1-3 pins, and some sticky poster-tack or soft wax. Then you can adhere the object onto the pin(s), holding it off the surface of the paper-covered board. That distances the object from the background, reducing any shadows not already removed by using the diffuse light of an outdoor, shaded shooting area.

Your end result should be a very clean image, as shown in Joshua's series and my latest images on Flickr. The images I posted earlier, on Instagram, used the same ideas, but I shot them inside, using desk lamps. That created shadows. So when I wanted larger, clearer images (using a DSLR and a macro lens), I took my set-up outside! The results from outside were much better.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Printing on Plastron Pieces

The best plastron print obtained so far
I've been getting better results from my latest experiments with printing on turtle shell fragments. I'm calling them my "Plastron Prints" even though not all the bits of shell are actually from the plastron. I just happen to like alliterative appellations.

There have been three new prints on larger pieces of shell, all fairly successful. In each case, the chemistry displayed the same odd behavior that I was puzzling over in the last entry. By the time each one was dry, it had turned extremely dark and a blueish-green-yellow far from the ordinary color expected of unexposed chemistry. I went ahead with the printing, despite the discoloration.

The bones don't look like they're exposing properly, but they do come out pretty much spot-on. Directly after the exposure it isn't easy to be sure what the final result will actually be. It takes a peroxide bath and a complete drying cycle before the image is plainly visible, but eventually they look like the one displayed here.

Dandelion plastron print
As a side note, I've found a way to accelerate drying of these bone prints: a toaster oven. I dry my bone prints on a sheet of parchment paper in the toaster oven. I run them at 180° F, in 15 minute cycles. Generally a single cycle is enough to dry the bones, but sometimes I run a second cycle just to be extra sure. There has been a slight issue with the high temperature melting any residue scale left on the bone, but this is actually a bonus for me. I want that stuff gone anyway, and if it melts off, that's fine. It turns into brown goo that I can scrub away with a bit of effort, instead of having to sand it off with a lot of effort.

My last experiment was trying to reclaim some of the earlier pieces that I discarded as ruined by the chemical exposure. Now, having learned what I have from these last three pieces, I actually feel certain I could have exposed those earlier pieces and gotten results. I was just too put off by their odd initial appearance to try. So far, I only have one result from this new experiment, and it isn't quite what I wanted, but it is encouraging. I soaked the discarded fragments from the first run of coating in a strong soda ash solution to bleach away the blue. Once they were completely bleached, I washed them twice and allowed them to soak overnight in clean water to remove any trace of the chemistry. Then, after two drying cycles in the toaster oven, I re-coated the shell fragments in new chemistry.

First re-coated plastron print
The first result is, as I noted, encouraging. It has a distinct image visible, even if the coating of blue is a bit patchy. I'll be doing more of these to see what I can get with better, more even coating.

As always, the entire series of experiments can be viewed on Flickr or Instagram.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Fragmentary Fizzle

Two weeks ago, I was musing about the idea of printing on small bits of bone. I was able to acquire some fragments of turtle shell (and two whole turtle shells!) from Etsy. Since then, I've been experimenting, trying to print onto the shell fragments. It has not been easy.

The biggest problem I've run into is the chemistry turning blue far, far too quickly and without light. Currently, my thinking is that these shell fragments were cleaned with bleach, peroxide or some other chemical that is reacting with the cyanotype material. I first coated 10 fragments of bone, right out of the package they arrived in. I didn't think this would be a problem because I coated the previous bones all without washing or cleaning. There were three successes from that first group of 10.

The successes aren't as high-contrast as I'd like, but they are clear, visible outlines of the small bittercress leaves used to make them. After the first batch of failures, I washed the bones carefully and soaked them in water for a few hours before drying them in sunlight. I coated three more pieces,
but I was a bit too cautious. With only one coat of chemistry, the largest fragment shows a distinct image, but the blue is very weak. The other two from the second round started darkening before exposure, though I believe they may have worked if I hadn't simply forgotten about them and let them sit in bright light for too long. I may be able to use the reverse sides of some of this second round, and even one of the first round.

Today I tried applying a coat of clear acrylic matte sealant to the bone, hoping to provide a surface for the chemistry to adhere to that would not contaminate the chemistry with anything lingering in the bones. Unfortunately, the chemistry slid right off the sealant, even after sanding to roughen the surface. No go on that plan. The reverse side is still sealant-free, so I'm using that for the next experiment.

Now I'm trying to coat the underside of the sealant test piece and carefully monitoring it between coats, allowing each coat to get at least partially dry before applying a new one. So far there is minimal darkening of the coats.

Before any spiders ask, yes, I've tested the chemistry itself. I coated some scrap sheets of mat board and paper, then let them dry in the same conditions as I dried the coated shell fragments. They worked just fine. No darkening, no discoloration. It's specifically something about the shell fragments. Again, this was not a concern with the earlier bones or antlers.

As simple as deer bone and antler was to work with, I'm really surprised how hard these turtle shell fragments have been to print on. I was not expecting these problems, and now trying to track down the exact cause is rather frustrating. The successful pieces (currently 4) are encouraging, though, and I'm going to continue. The only problem is that I only had 20 fragments and so far, I've gone through all but 6. I'm quickly running low on fragments to experiment with.

I'm going to try separating the plastrons from the two complete turtle shells I have and breaking them into smaller pieces. Then I can coat the upper shells for single, large images and use the plastrons, which otherwise would not be visible with the shells hanging on a wall, in another project.

Here's hoping that I'm eventually able to work this out. I still have the goal of turning these tiny bone prints into jewelry. All these problems have made me worry about how well the whole shells are going to work. I only have the two of them and getting them wasn't exactly dirt cheap. Not too terrible, about $10 each, but for someone on my shoestring budget, that's not a willy-nilly purchase.

To view all the successful bone prints, check my Flickr or Instagram!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Blogging for Freya: Back to Where it Began!

In a few hours I'll be driving off to East Carolina University, where I did my undergraduate studies. This year's SPE Southeast convention is there and several of my friends are giving presentations. It'll be a great chance to catch up with some contacts, see what folks are doing, and meet up with people I haven't seen in years. Plus, there will be a portfolio throw-down and a print swap, along with workshops and all kinds of fun.

I'm very excited, and I got so busy packing up that I missed my deadline. I'll post the real article sometime this weekend, probably!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Morbid Midnight Musings

I've been thinking lately, how to combine alternative processes with physical products to create something of artistic interest that is both beautiful and functional? I experimented previously with cyanotype scarves and bags, but that's kind of limited and rather done.

Recently having proven that it's perfectly possible to create lovely images on bone using cyanotype, I just today thought to myself: why not create jewelry out of cyanotype'd bones?

Why not, indeed, spiders. I'll be back next week, hopefully with some progress on this idea! I need a bunch of fairly small, fairly polished bone bits. Off to Etsy!

If any of you lovely spiders have ideas on where to acquire bones at a reasonable price, without getting on some kind of watchlist, please let me know!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Blogging for Forseti: A Massive Meh

I'm really sorry, my lovely spiders. I don't know what's been up with me lately. You probably do, since you have access to all my personal information and internet habits. So you know that specifically this past week and weekend, I've been feeling under the weather. But even before that, things just haven't been amazing artistically. Since the big push for my show, I've been fairly drained.

Since the show went up, I haven't made a single new print, or even coated paper. I'm pretty unhappy about it, so I just need to get up and DO something about it. But it's hard, my spiders. It's very hard to work up the energy, enthusiasm and activity to do something creative. I'm running short right now.

I'm going to explore some ideas, spiders. Maybe some of them will kick me in the pants and get me back to work.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Blogging for Sol: Bloody Late!

Unadjusted turmeric dye, which turns red with low pH!
Hello, Spiders! I'm sorry this post is so late. On Thursday I lost track of time, on Friday I was busy and I was out of town this weekend. I think I've already paid for the lateness; it rained both days I was trying to visit friends and go to the zoo. Thor was displeased with my lack of attention.

On Friday, I was a visiting artist at UNCC again! It was great, for all the same reasons it was great last time. Engaged students who were really interested in what I had to teach them, willing to try it out and even experiment on their own!

I demonstrated anthotypes using red cabbage juice, which turns from violet to teal when the pH is lowered by adding baking soda, washing soda or borax. In this case, we used washing soda. That went over really well, and one student in particular tried experimenting with the other dyes I had brought: turmeric and sandalwood. To my surprise, the turmeric experiment showed very interesting results!

When its pH is lowered, turmeric dye changes from goldenrod yellow to bloody, garnet red! It's truly a lovely color. It fades a bit when applied to paper, but it can be applied in a thick, paste-like form and the paper stains pretty darn well! I assume, though I have not yet tested, that it could also be used to soak the paper and create a strong red in that way. I assume all the normal problems with soaking paper would be present in that case, though.

This new potential color source for a bright red is fascinating and I hope to do some experiments in the coming week, despite the rain and clouds. I'll update this post with photos as soon as I'm able to mix up a batch, coat and image!

Edit: DAGNAMBIT!!! I finished this post juuust before midnight, but the time to insert the image rolled it over and now it's logged as being posted on Monday. Bugger. All hail the Moon!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blogging for Freya: Formulas and Funds

I've been busy this week, preparing for a show in Asheville. I'm displaying my parchment and bone cyanotypes up there, at the Silverspace Gallery. Today, I head off to meet Bridget Conn, the director of the Asheville Darkroom, to do the installation. Working late last night on paperwork and framing is why I missed Thor's deadline. But, in honor of Freya and Freyr, I've got a short post for my Spiders.

Artists make money by selling their work, either directly to customers or by using galleries and shows to gain exposure. In the latter case, the gallery generally charges a commission on sales. That commission is a percentage of the sale price, which means the artist has to pass that charge on to the customer, building it into the final price of their work so that they receive fair pay for their labor, materials and training.

It can be a bit confusing, trying to figure out what to charge for your work. There's a whole blog full of entries about how to price your work, but most of those are issues related to your exposure, your expenses, your effort and other things. Specifically, I'm talking about how to calculate the final sale price of work so that the gallery gets their commission and you get the amount you want back from the work. Here's the formula.

X = Y / (1-0.Z) where X is the final sale $$, Y is how much $$ the artist wants to make and Z is the commission rate!
If commission is 30% and you want to make $100, then the final sale price is $142.86. $142.86 = 100 / (1-0.30). Pretty cool, right? I had some help working out the formula, a friendly computer programmer offered mathematical guidance. Now, I pass that on to you, Spiders. Go forth, and sell!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Dem Blue Bones

Shoulder #1 -- My first real success at printing on bone!
Hello, spiders! Exciting news!! I've been meaning to try printing cyanotypes on bone for a fairly long time, but it was only within the last week that I finally got some appropriate bones. One of my friends goes hunting with his family, and they just toss the bones and other scraps in the woods for scavengers. He was kind enough to go digging around the woods where they drop the bones and found me three scapulae and half of a femur. The results are very encouraging, and I'm hoping to get more bones to print in the future.

In addition to the bones, I also had a single deer antler to test out. Last semester, one of my students offered me some antlers that she was using in a biology experiment. She'd taken core samples from them to do analysis on, leaving most of the antler perfectly intact. She didn't need the remainder, so she gave me several antlers that I could test on. I coated one of them months ago, but never got around to exposing it until this week. There are more antlers, hiding somewhere... I'll have to track them down eventually.

In-Progress Author's Note: Whew! This post is ending up a lot longer than I expected, and it doesn't even have any pictures added yet! I'm breaking it into sections. Don't worry my Spiders, I just said sections, not different posts.

Cleaning the Bones
This is actually something I'm more worried about in the future than something I had to deal with in these tests. The bones given to me were weeks or months old and had been laying out in the woods. Scavengers and nature had already done the cleaning for me. If you end up having to clean your own bones from something fresher, like a Thanksgiving turkey, then this guide might be helpful. It's written by some awesome little kid that loves collecting skeletons. Rock on, creepy little dude.

Seriously, listen to him when he says stuff stinks. I was foolish enough to try boiling some turkey bones from a Thanksgiving turkey (what, you thought that was a random example?) a few years ago and my entire apartment stank for days. Never again. Next time, I'm stuffing the bones in a bag, tying the bag in a tree and letting nature have at it.

Coating the Bones
Coating is messy work.

The antler coated much more easily than the bones, but both surfaces required several coats of chemistry to achieve a decent stain. Even though bone's theoretically porous, the surface is not very absorbent. Coating took a good while, since I allowed each coat to dry partially before applying the next one.

As I said, I coated the antler months ago, so I don't remember precisely how long I waited between coats, or even how many I applied. I do remember it was several, though. It was kept in a dark box, sitting on a metal grate, so it could dry thoroughly. A few days of drying turned into months because I just couldn't figure out what to print on it. I'm still not super happy with the antler, but at least I know the general theory works, if I can find the rest of the antlers from that bag. I've put them somewhere in my lab and just can't figure out where. Don't you hate when you misplace body parts, Spiders?

On the first scapula, pictured at the top of this entry, I applied several coats of chemistry, allowing each one to soak in as much as possible before adding new liquid. The first few coats were allowed to set overnight, then I added some more the next morning before finally exposing the bone to sunlight. I'm not sure if it was just the sheer amount of chemistry applied to that first scapula, or if it was allowing a longer drying period, but the  the color on it is much deeper and truer than the later tests.

The other two scapulae and the femur got fewer coats and less drying time. I'm not nearly as pleased with them, so next time, I'll be more patient and more generous with the chemistry. Still, they're perfectly acceptable results, just not as really nice as the first one.

I also tried soaking a knuckle bone in cyanotype chemistry (one good soak for about 2-3 minutes of sloshing and swirling) but that didn't come out at all. The rounded shape did not prove very easy to adhere a plant to, so the image is almost invisible. A majority of the blue color also washed right out of the bone, leaving only a dingy blue-grey. Not real happy with either the color or the image, so I'm probably not going to be doing much more with the rest of the ankle, knuckle and joint bones I have.

Printing the Bones
Packing tape to the rescue!
The biggest challenge of printing on a substrate like bone is getting, and keeping, tight contact between the object used in the print and the surface of the bone. Bones aren't flat, and even if I could balance a sheet of glass on them somehow, pressing down with a solid object wouldn't give me good contact. So, after very little thought or consideration, I used clear packing tape to hold the leaves in place against the bones. It seems to have worked rather spectacularly well on the mostly-flat bones, and even on the antlers. The packing tape did not work well on the almost-round knuckle bone, but I don't think anything could have.

This just didn't work.
In the second set of bones, I ran into a small problem with the tape. Using a fresh leaf created a kind of miniature green house effect, where the moisture that sweated out of the leaf beaded and gathered under the tape. The evaporated moisture created a small bubble and made the tape lose a lot of stickyness. I lost a bit of contact and got some image fuzz as a result. In the future, I'll stick to dried plants for bone prints.

After taping the bones up, I exposed them for a few hours. About 2 for the first set (the antler and the first scapula), then I went up to 4 hours for the second set (femur, other two scapulae and the knuckle). Again, despite a much longer exposure the second set was never as bright or deep a blue as the first set. Coating was the issue there, not exposure. Both sets were out in direct, bright, hot sunlight.

Washing the Bones
I just dumped the exposed bones into a big tub of water and let them soak for about an hour. Afterwards, I hit them with a bit of hydrogen peroxide. The first scapula reacted fairly well to the hydrogen peroxide, forming the intense blue color seen in the photo, but none of the other bones showed any reaction at all to it. Their blues did become slightly darker and more true after drying was complete, but overall they look much the same as they did once washing was complete.

As a warning for any Spiders that want to do their own cyanotype bones, you are generally not going to get any kind of idea what the final result is going to look like just by looking at the unwashed bones. The washing and a nice long soak is necessary to allow the image to develop, much moreso than for a traditional cyanotype.

Shoulder #2 -- Second success!
Drying the Bones
I honestly didn't have to do much drying or final cleaning. It's been so hot here lately (90s and up) that I just left everything outside in the blazing sun for a few hours. They're ...heheh... bone dry now, and looking great. There's a tiny bit of tendon left on one scapula, but it doesn't smell at all, so I'm not going to mess with it.

There you have it, Spiders. It's entirely possible to print cyanotype images onto bone and horn. It's not even that hard! You can find more photos of the bones and antler prints on my Instagram (I have an Instagram now!) and, soon, on my Flickr.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Photographic Typos

A friend sent me this article last week and it's pretty cool all by itself. I'm relinking it here because it isn't just relevant to typos. This quote really sums things up:
We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” 
That isn't just true with typing. It's true with all perception, especially visual. That means it's true for photography. As photographers, we see in our cameras what we expect to see in our minds. It's easy, especially when you're first starting out, to mentally blank out everything but your intended subject. Not notice the light socket in the background, or the lamp growing out of your subject's head. Not notice that you're out of focus, not notice this shadow or that power cord. It's so, so very easy.

Writing may not be easier than photography, but it does tend to have a bit more time. Even if there isn't an editor specifically checking your work, you may have time to allow your brain a few hours to dump all its expectations and review your work fresh. Remember in high school, being told to wait a full day between writing a draft and editing it? I hated the idea, but it often worked so well.

Generally, as photographers, we don't have that time. We're expected to finish an entire shoot in a few hours, and may not have a chance to re-do the shoot to correct mistakes. So it's vital that we teach ourselves (and our students) to look at what is actually in the picture. Try as much as possible to force yourself to see reality instead of expectations. It's not easy, because your brain is fighting you the whole time. That isn't how it's wired. It's a difficult skill to master, and no one can do it right every single time. But even trying to do it is a great achievement. It puts you leagues beyond most camera users. Visual awareness is probably the single thing that defines a good photographer. It's knowing exactly what will be in your photo. If you can't get it down before you shoot, you're still doing well to be able to review your photos and notice the unintended contents or mistakes on the second pass.

If you can tether, or load your photos onto another device for review during a shoot, do it!! Just as the article mentions that you can improve your proofing results by printing out or otherwise re-formatting your text, you can get the same improvement by viewing your photos in another manner. Even aside from that, it's just hard to do a good job reviewing photos on the back of a camera.

Well, spiders, that's all for this week. I'm probably going to miss next week, but I'll try to write an article early and get it up via auto-post. I might have the same problem week after that, too. Next weekend is Dragon*Con and the week after, I have a solo show up in Asheville that I've got to prep for. It's a busy month, spiders. I'm stressed and excited about everything.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blogging for Thor: Too Alternative?

I don't enjoy feeling like a hipster, but I end up feeling that way quite often. Talking to non-specialists about my work is often not an enjoyable experience. When I say I'm an artist, the natural question is what kind of art I make. So I explain that I'm a photographer. Their eyes light up! Photography! That's something anyone can do! It's so easy and relatable! They do photography! They have a camera, they take pictures. They understand me!

What kind of photography do I do, they ask, eagerly. That's where it stops. They expect an answer like "landscapes" or "portraits." Instead, I do alternative processes. Not even 'normal' alternative processes like wet plate collodion, which at least uses a camera. Nope. I use lumen printing and anthotypes, which even most photographers have little or no familiarity with. My subjects are leaves and flowers, but they aren't rendered in the familiar way. My work isn't accessible.

So what can I do? I explain that I do alternative process work. Blank stare. I say some words like "contact printing" and "cyanotype" or "non-silver processes"... and more blank stares. At best, there's a flicker of interest and maybe they ask how it works. Another stab in the gut. Explaining alternative processes has two possibilities.

1) An in-depth explanation of light sensitive materials, chemistry, paper treatments and different printing materials. This often results in vacantly blank stares.

2) "It's magic!" Which often results in laughter (forced or real) or in slightly offended looks. It's just one step above the true hipsterism: "You wouldn't understand it."

I have had some interesting discussions with regular (anyone who isn't an alternative process photographer) people about my work. I've had fun talking about my work with them, but it's a halting, slow conversation and far more often I find myself trying to avoid discussion about my work because of previous experiences.

It's just something that bugs me. I get people that say my work is colorful, pretty and interesting. I get compliments and questions, I do. I like that. I love doing my work. It's just a bit of a bummer that the stuff I really love, the chemistry, the records, the experiments, the trials... that's not something I can have easy discussions about. So for all you academics out there looking for someone to talk about pre-Roman Gaulish culture, or the architecture of ancient Sumeria... I feel for you. I really, really do.

Also, I totally love ancient Sumerian architecture. Let's chat!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blogging for Thor: The Life and Times of Salt

Sensitized salt paper
24 hours after coating
I have discovered a flaw in my approach to salt printing. Time. I was assuming that as long as the salt print was kept in a dry, dark location, it wouldn't expose quickly. I could coat a decent sized batch of sheets one night and then wait for good weather to use them.


Even waiting a full day after applying the silver nitrate was too long. I opened the door of the cabinet where I was storing the paper and found this.

Print on fogged salt paper
All five coated sheets looked the same. I tried printing them anyway and both images made with negatives are so distorted that they're basically invisible. I did get a passable, in fact quite interesting, result from a contact print of a Mexican Heather sprig. The spotting and patterning becomes even more visible during the exposure. And for some reason, despite using kosher salt, these prints came out deep violet splotched with black and pink. Not at all the reds and browns I was expecting.

So, from now on, I'll have to dry the silver-coated paper fairly quickly and try to use it the same day. Or at least coat during the evening (as I do now) and use it the very next morning. I might even try using a hairdryer to accelerate the process so I can coat and print within an hour or two. It's just a bit of a bummer that I can't store the paper. Anthotype paper keeps basically forever if it's out of sunlight. Cyanotype paper keeps for a few days before it begins to fog too much. Salt prints, though, just won't keep for more than a few hours. Bummer.

Lesson learned, y'all!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blogging for Freya: Fiber and Plastic

While it's entirely possible to create a lumen print on non-traditional surfaces by using liquid photo emulsion or an alternative process like cyanotype or salt printing, most lumen prints are made on photographic darkroom paper.

Darkroom photo paper comes in two forms: Resin-Coated (RC) and Fiber-Based (Fiber or FB). There are pro's and con's of both for normal darkroom printing that have been covered in-depth by dozens or hundreds of different photographers. Lumen printing, however, is not traditional darkroom usage. There are some different reasons you may want to work with either RC or FB papers for your lumens.

First off, remember that lumen color profiles vary by the type of paper and, yes, that includes a difference like RC vs FB. Not always significantly different, but different. Some brands might vary to a considerable degree, but all of them will vary at least a bit. So one thing you have to consider when making your choice is simply if you care. Maybe the specific colors you want don't come from RC, or can't be produced on Fiber. In that case, this guide will just help you deal with the downsides of that particular material.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Blogging for Freya: Salting Spiders, Part 2

Print made with lite salt
Hello, Spiders! Welcome to part 2 of my Salt Print learnable. You're in for a treat, because this is the full-length version and it took forever to write.

You can do this process almost anywhere, but you're going to need a flat area to work. If it's an area you care about, first cover it in a plastic tablecloth or protective sheeting. The plastic prevents the nitrate from soaking through a towel and getting on anything important. However, the nirate can slide around on plastic, so to be extra super careful you could put towels or a cloth down on your plastic.

Make sure you have your gloves (to avoid black spots on your nails and hands) and your protective glasses (to avoid eye damage) in place. You don't need to actually put them on until you take out the silver nitrate. I don't 'suit up' until I'm ready for the silver nitrate coating, because the gloves make my fingers clumsy. I always wear my glasses, because without them, I can't see. I have little plastic additions to my glasses that clip on to provide extra eye protection. Goggles just fog up on me and hurt my face. Whatever method you use to protect your eyes is up to you, but it is kinda important.

And that's it, you're ready to go. Protect the area, protect yourself, and get ready for some printing!

Print on Lokta Fiber Paper
Select your paper. As with most alternative processes, you want a high-quality printmaking or watercolor paper. I've had great luck with Arches Aquarelle and Rives BFK. Others have recommended Crane Kid Finish, Bienfang or pretty much any cotton rag paper. If it works for cyanotypes, anthotypes, van dykes or other alternative processes, it's probably great for salt prints.

Personally, I prefer smooth surfaces with just a bit of tooth. Too much texture in the paper and it starts removing detail from your print. Too smooth a surface just looks bland to me. I like a nice medium. Hot press papers are generally great for this.

You generally don't need to size your paper, but a simple gelatin sizing may be helpful if you are experiencing significantly less contrast than you expect or desire. To do a gelatin sizing, simply mix up unflavored gelatin (Knox seems the most common brand around here) in hot water and soak the paper in it. Allow to dry completely, then proceed to the next step.

Small note: handmade papers or exotic papers may be too absorbent to use for this process without sizing. I attempted to use some Nepalese lokta fiber paper and it's basically just a rag made of cellulose. I wasn't able to spread the silver nitrate at all and ended up using way too much of the chemical because it had to absolutely saturate the paper. If I experiment again with this paper, I'll be using sizing. I had similar issues with cyanotypes and anthotypes on hand-made paper using dryer lint and shredded recyclables. 

Print made with sea water
You'll need to make some salt water. The amount of salt in the water is entirely up to your discretion. It's perfectly viable to use seawater. Normally I add about 2 teaspoons of salt to a liter of water. Less than a 2% salt solution doesn't give very much of an image at all. That's basically the minimum required. I have been told that the more salt you add, the more contrast you'll see in the final image. I have not seen a significant difference myself.

You can use chemical grade sodium chloride (additive-free salt) and distilled water. There's no need to use pure chemistry, though. I don't use distilled water. I generally use tap water that I know is absolutely not pure. The pH is on the basic side, it's hard water with a lot of calcium and iron. It works fine. Sea water works fine too and who knows what's wrong with that stuff. Rainwater is fine. The type of water you use, as long as it's not actually contaminated with heavy metals or something, won't produce a big difference in your prints. Minor differences, sure, but not huge ones.

The type of salt you use will dramatically affect your prints. I like using "lite" salt. That's a mixture of 50% sodium chloride and 50% potassium chloride. The important part of the salt is chloride, since you're using it to convert the silver nitrate to silver chloride. Silver chloride is far more reactive to light and produces a much stronger image than silver nitrate. How you get the chloride in your paper isn't important to the light-sensitivity, but it is important to the color. I haven't experimented with ammonium chloride, but I know it can also be used for salt prints.

Lite salt produces violet images that, when fixed, turn pale yellow. I have not bothered tracking down any pure potassium chloride to test what it does, but I imagine it has a slightly different effect. My kosher salt images are red to brown before fixing and turn brown or black after being fixed. Prints made with sea water from the Florida coast have produces a nice middle ground

Print made with both lite and kosher salt
Here's a cool tidbit: if you put different types of salt in your water, they don't always mix. The result can be a splotched print that has some areas of the paper coated in one type of salt and the rest in the other. It can be a very fun calico effect. I've gotten especially stunning results prior to fix, using half lite salt and half kosher salt, to get a violet-red combination. Don't underestimate the appearance of the post-fix combination of red and gold from the same combination, though. It's pretty awesome, too.

The basic step here is to mix up your salt water and then soak your paper in it. As a faster alternative, you can simply paint the salt water onto the paper with a brush. Either way is fine!

Silver Nitrate
It's time to put on that protective gear! Get your gloves and glasses firmly in place. Once your salted paper is bone dry, paint on your silver nitrate. Do this in low light to avoid fogging the paper or the jar of silver nitrate. I know it's in amber glass, but better safe than sorry. When not in use, the glass of nitrate should be stored in a dry, dark place. I work at night, with a dim lamp or computer monitor as my light source.

Use an eyedropper, pipette or other method to drag a thin line of the 15% silver nitrate liquid across the top of your sheet of paper. Then you can spread it out into an even coating using a foam brushhake brushglass puddle pusher or even just a regular flat paint brush.

Getting an even coating can be tricky, because until it exposes, the silver nitrate solution is clear. It can be very difficult to see if you've left any streaks, brushmarks or spots behind. I recommend simply doing two or three light, even coats across the entire surface going in different directions. If you want an especially dark image, you can apply two heavy coats of silver.

As with most of my guides, I simply suggest using a picture frame to expose your prints. It's cheap and easy to obtain. Head to your local art supply store, or even the local Target, and grab some inexpensive picture frames that have a hard back. Don't get the really cheap ones with the hinged cardboard back, they're just not sturdy enough to provide good contact between your negative (or object) and the coated paper. I'm going to go into extreme detail on different methods of exposure in a future post.

Since the salt printing process is a "printing out process", it develops while it exposes. You can test exposure simply by looking at a portion of the exposed silver that isn't covered by your negative or objects. When it reaches a density you're happy with (generally dark rusty red or brown), you're done!

Now, it is possible to simply treat a salt print like a lumen print and avoid fixing it. However, that isn't traditional and the salt print is a very traditional process. It's also a lot more tactile than the lumen print, so I do generally fix my salt prints. An unfixed salt print, like most unfixed prints, will continue to darken and expose in even standard interior lighting.

To fix a salt print, you can mix your own fixer (difficult and annoying) or use standard photo fixer. Guess which approach I favor? That's right, the standard photo fixer. I use Sprint Rapid Fixer, because that's what I can borrow from the university. It's also what I've used for my entire photographic career. I dilute it heavily, about 20ml of concentrate to a liter of water, meaning it's at 20% of the regular working strength. You do not want stronger fix; it will bleach your prints. Even using the weakened fixer, only fix for 1-2 minutes at most. That's more than enough to fix the image. Again, over-fixing will bleach your prints.

Spiders, you should be aware that fixing a salt print does cause a potentially dramatic color shift. I mentioned earlier that the violet images produced by "lite" salt will fix to a pale yellow. The ruddy reds of kosher or regular salt will fix to a duller, darker red or (with high levels of silver) to an almost black brown. I generally prefer the pre-fix image, but not always. So I scan both before and after fixing.

That's all I've got, Spiders. Between this post and the last one, you should be ready to sally forth and print as long as you've got sun, salt and silver!