Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blogging for Thor: A Reversal of Fortunes!

Osage Orange print -- Golden Rain Tree leaf
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" -- Isaac Asimov

I had a "that's funny..." moment earlier this week when I checked on an anthotype experiment that had been baking for almost two weeks. I'd checked it a few times before and been discouraged. Despite bright, sunny days (especially for winter) there seemed to be no change at all in the visible portions of the dye. No fading was visible. I presumed the exposure to be a lost cause, and pulled it on day 10.

As it happens, there had been no fading at all. Instead, there was significant darkening of the exposed dye areas. The area that had been covered by the leaf was showing the original yellow color of the dye, but the exterior areas had dulled and shifted to a dull golden hue. This is an absolutely fascinating result, because up until this point all the anthotypes that I've seen, and all my own tests, have been with natural dyes that fade upon exposure to sunlight. This dye, extracted from osage orange sawdust, is the only one that has become darker with exposure.

This raises all kinds of questions. What will happen with more sunlight during spring and summer? How will the dye respond to moisture from fresh plant samples? Does this form of anthotype have the potential to be archival, at least compared to others? If it doesn't fade under UV, will it simply stabilize, or possibly become more visible as time goes on?

I am incredibly excited by this totally unexpected result. Thanks again, Artisan Dice, you guys gave me such a great gift!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yellow Heart and Blue Skin

Since getting a big bag of Osage Orange / Bois d'Arc (different names, same tree) sawdust from Artisan Dice, I've been playing around with ideas. How can I incorporate this brilliantly colored natural material into my work? I love using interesting natural materials, they compliment the parchment and leaves so well.

While trying to come up with cheap, yet attractive ways to mount my parchment cyanotypes for the Community Supported Art Project that I've been given a grant for, I came across a company that makes artist panels with exotic wood veneers as a top surface. I wasn't thrilled that the panels were only a veneer, especially because it leaves a band of fiberboard visible on the edge, but the idea kinda stuck around, bouncing inside my head.

I had the idea to combine one of my bleached, golden parchment prints with the deep violet wood of the Purpleheart tree. I think that'd be a pretty nice combination, don't you, Spiders? I was also interested in the idea of an unaltered, blue print being contrasted with one of the yellow hardwoods. Osage Orange would be ideal, since it grows locally, but it wasn't the only option.

From left-top to bottom-right: Paduak,
Redheart, Yellowheart, Purpleheart
Really, I would love to mount a print onto a disc of "live" wood: a cross-section from a branch, bark and all. I was able to find a few of these on eBay, but I'd like to source the wood locally. For the moment, I'm looking at other alternatives. I took a trip to my local Woodcraft store to check out what they had on hand. There, I was able to purchase 3x18'' boards of Yellowheart, Purpleheart, Redheart and Paduak, all different thicknesses. The Yellowheart is fairly thin (1/8th inch), while the Paduak is the beefiest (3/4ths inch).

So, for the moment, I'm making some small tests on the squares I cut from the small boards. They weren't too expensive, easily fitting into the experimentation budget I've given myself from the grant money. I do need to do some sanding and polishing to the wood, which means this is likely not a suitable technique for the grant program (I only get paid $40 per piece, so a heavy time investment isn't feasible), but it is certainly something I want to pursue in the future for shows and individual pieces in this style. I'm debating on how much I want to sand, polish and seal the squares. Do I want to leave them geometric and sharp-edged, or round them off? Finish them to a glassy sheen, or leave them more matte? It's something I still ponder, and I'll only get an answer when I've made tests all different ways.

I still need to bleach a small, square print to see how it looks on the Purpleheart wood. Then I'll have to wait to see what I can do with the three live wood discs of Osage Orange that I ordered off eBay.

For the grant program itself? I'll probably end up using regular artist panels. I'm considering painting them black, or trying to find artist panels that have natural wood surfaces instead of gesso or clayboard surfaces. Either one, I suppose. There's the further-out option of covering the surfaces with leather or parchment, but that'd get expensive, too. It may be something to experiment with.

Basically, I like the idea of using naturally colored wood as a background for my parchment prints, as it ties the whole thing to natural materials and life cycles. I just have to find the best, and most economical, way to do that.

There's a lot of work to do, Spiders. I better get cracking! Plus, I still gotta apply for Grad School, ya know. SCAD and Lesley aren't gunna accept me on their own.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blogging for Thor: An Acquired Affinity

Recently a local photographer posted about a new software being launched as a free beta: Affinity Photo. Supposedly this is a new, Mac-only competitor for Photoshop. I think that's great, because Adobe has not had any serious competition in years, not since they gobbled up Macromedia. Even before that, there hasn't been a serious competitor to Photoshop since the term "photoshop" became synonymous with editing a photograph digitally. Corel's Paint Shop Pro limps along, open source GIMP is pretty gimpy and Aperture didn't last long before being given up for dead by Apple.

So, I was excited to sign up for the free open beta and download a copy of Affinity Photo. There's just one problem: I can barely use it.

Don't get me wrong! The interface looks sleek, things seem to be a bit more intuitive than Photoshop and supposedly it can do all kinds of things at blinding speeds. Well, that's great... in theory. I can't get to that. Let's start off with the fact that I'm running on a mid-2010 iMac. Sheila's a great computer, but she's five years old. That's pretty toothy for a computer being used for heavy image processing. Still, she runs Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5.7 without any issues. I only experience lag during extremely heavy processing, or when loading dozens of images.

Affinity is crawling along. I'm waiting 5-20 seconds for changes I make to be applied. I gave up after an hour of fiddling around with a RAW file. I never even got past their Development Persona (that's what they call modules) because I simply couldn't deal with the lag and delays in processing. We're not even talking heavy changes. I'm trying to edit a contrast curve. Forget trying to reduce noise, that almost locked the program up entirely.

On the bright side, this appears to be a bug. At least, that's what the developers said when they replied to my Facebook post. I hope they're right. Other beta-testers are giving them good reviews, and they're taking feedback seriously. They replied to my post within hours, which is a pretty fast response. I like their videos, I like the features they claim to have put in. I'm really hoping the final product is useful, affordable and successful.

That's all for this post, Spiders. If I get Affinity Photo sorted out, I'll post a more in-depth review.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Blogging for Thor: A Mixed Bag

64 day Sandalwood Ivy

Hey there, Spiders! I said last week that I had something in the works that I wanted to give a few more days. Well, it ended up being several more days, and it wasn't worth it. I was waiting on a small crop of anthotypes that have been baking since December 3rd. That's a total exposure time of 64 days. Of the four anthotypes I pulled today, one was successful.

The two month exposure wasn't strictly necessary. I knew after about a month that three of them weren't going to do anything. It was disappointing, but I figured I'd push them to the extreme and see what happened. The failures were Woad, Indigo and Madder Root. The single success was Sandalwood, which I've used before and knew would work. This, however, was the first time I'd done a painted (as opposed to soaked) paper test of Madder Root. It was also the first time I'd ever tested Woad or Indigo, even though I coated the paper for them years ago. It's just been in dark storage since then, waiting.
64 day Madder Oak Leaf

I may give Woad and Indigo another chance, this time with fresh dye, but I'm in no hurry. Even now that the sun is returning, it still isn't got and bright enough for me to really be optimistic about anthotype printing. I'll give the two blue dyes a chance sometime in the spring. They're not pictured here because there is no picture. It's impossible to tell they were ever exposed. They look identical to the scans made two years ago. You're not missing out on anything. I promise.

Madder Root, though, is a write-off. I've done tests with it before. It's just too low-contrast, no matter how long it exposes for. It does a bit better on wool, but that's so labor intensive it just isn't worth it. Not since I've discovered how to make a far more effective red anthotype dye by mixing pokeberry, turmeric and sandalwood.

My last anthotype for the winter is going to be a small test of Osage Orange. I had actually forgotten that I hadn't done a test on the sample I coated after making the dye. Thanks for that sawdust, Artisan Dice!