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!