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.