Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blogging for Thor: Time & Turmeric

Hey there, Spiders! It turns out that last week's post was a bit hurried. When the red cabbage dye swatches dried completely, they revealed some very different colors as a result of the acidification tests. Acidified red cabbage dye turns blue. A rather nice blue, probably the best one I've gotten from an anthotype dye so far. You should crawl along to that post, Spiders. It's been updated with the new information and a new scan of the swatch!

Last week, I forgot to give a shout-out to Aspen's great students at UNCC. I wish I remembered which one specifically had raised the question of "what does altering the pH do to other dyes?" I knew even way back then that pH altered the color you get from red cabbage. I hadn't tested the idea on anything else. So thank you, mysterious student!

So, with all that in mind, let's take a look at the latest pH test I did: turmeric. Turmeric is one of my go-to dyes for anthotypes, but the problem with pure turmeric dye is that it's so yellow. It's almost painful to look at, and the yellow is so bright that it obscures detail and gives very little contrast. So, generally, I adulterate the turmeric with something like sandalwood or annatto to calm it down and shift it from yellow! to more of a soft yellow-orange.

The base turmeric dye is a fully saturated mixture of turmeric and isopropyl alcohol. I'm 100% sure that it's fully saturated because if left undisturbed, a full centimeter thick layer of turmeric powder precipitates to the bottom of the jar. By altering the pH of turmeric, I got the following results!

When baking soda (a base) is added to the dye, the liquid becomes a dark, garnet red. The solution dries down to orange. Again, just like the red cabbage, adding more baking soda will cause a darker, more intense color shift.

Adding vinegar (an acid) causes a similar shift, also turning the turmeric orange. This orange is a bit softer, but... again, I suspect that vinegar is diluting the dye far more than the baking soda is. That may also explain the doubled portion of vinegar causing a very soft, pale orange. That is very typical of a dilute dye.

All the adjusted dyes showed moderate dry down, becoming redder and lighter when dry, but none of them shifted as dramatically as acidic red cabbage did.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Blogging for Freya: Colors of Cabbage

Red Cabbage is one of the most flexible anthotype dyes I've found yet. You can see above that it has a wide range of potential colors. I've mentioned previously that the dye from red cabbage is extremely reactive to pH changes. I finally decided to do a more extensive test on the subject. So, above, you see various test swatches of red cabbage dye at regular, high and low pH.

The interesting thing is that the dried dye is not strongly reflective of the dye in liquid form. That might mean the dye would function differently on fabric. I recently dyed a silk bag with red cabbage (boiled, not puréed as the dye seen here was) and the result was a medium-deep purple, not the lilac color seen here in the dried dye swatch.

The two swatches labelled "Red Cabbage Juice" are identical: just the mixture of 1/4th head of red cabbage and 300ml of isopropyl alcohol blended until smooth, then filtered through a nylon mesh paint straining bag from Home Depot. That bag, btw, is a GREAT investment for any anthotypist or natural dyer. It washes clean, has a much finer mesh than cheesecloth, and because it's a bag, it's a lot easier to handle than folded cheesecloth. Note that the resulting dye is very watery, but will form a layer of cabbage-residue precipitate at the bottom of its container within an hour or two. It's easy to pour off the majority of the dye into a new container, leaving that mush behind. The liquid dye is bright purple, but dries to a blueish-violet lilac. It can, at higher dilution, dry to an almost periwinkle blue. I'm simply avoiding that dilution at the moment, but I will do more tests on that later!

When a small amount (aprox. 0.25 tsp) of soda ash (sodium carbonate) is added, the pH of the dye goes up, and the purple dye becomes navy blue. The navy blue liquid dries to a soft, pastel blue. If more soda ash is added (another 0.25 tsp), the blue shifts to emerald green. Even more soda ash turns the green yellower, but that yellower green dries the same shade.

Adding acid to the mixture was far less effective, even if it appeared promising to start. I added small amounts of vinegar, which turned the liquid dye bright pink. More vinegar turned the dye a redder pink. Neither vinegar test showed any significant effect on the dry color, though. There may be a slight blue-ing of the purple, but I suspect that's simply because the liquid vinegar diluted the original dye far more than the solid soda ash did. EDIT: 24 hours later, when the swatches were fully dry, I discovered that the acidified red cabbage juice dries as a blue. The original information about vinegar diluting rather that intensifying the color seems to hold true. 

This was a fun experiment, Spiders!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blogging for Thor: Talk About Digital Negatives!

This thing is so cool!!
Woah, Spiders! I was headed to bed (it's been a long day of work on my grant) when I saw this pop up as a sponsored link on Facebook. It's Fojo's new "$155 Darkroom" for Smart Phones. It's a real, actual enlarger that uses an app to project digital files from your Droid or iPhone onto photo paper. Yeah, that's right. You can make actual silver gelatin prints from a camera phone!

Do your little arachnotech brains understand how crazy this is? It's the utterly logical next step in camera phone technology! Why am I so excited? Because I work with college students and teenagers. I teach classes and workshops at community centers, museums, etc. This new device is absolutely perfect for that!

Normally, to get students into the darkroom, you either have to do photograms or supply stock negatives. Photograms are fun, but generally people don't put much composition or thought into them. They also don't have any connection to the photogram. Nor will they have any connection to or investment in stock negatives. Let's face it: folks these days just don't have negatives laying around. Especially not people taking an introductory darkroom workshop or class. What does everyone have? A camera phone. With photos that they've taken, that they enjoy, that they might love.

So now, using this amazing device, you can bring a class of students into the darkroom with no prior experience required at all. They download an app onto their phone, stick their phone in the enlarger and boom. They have a print. They still have to learn about test strips and whatnot, but they don't have to buy film, learn to shoot on a film camera, and go through all the hassles and pitfalls of trying to develop, wash and dry film.

I know that this would blow the minds of little kids, or even my college students. I would love to have six or seven of these in a community darkroom. It'd really engage people, turning something previously so far out of reach (money, time, trouble..) into something incredibly accessible. I truly wish all the best to this company. If I wasn't moving in two months, I'd be running around town bellowing about this at the top of my lungs!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Blogging for Thor: It's Hammer Time

The countdown begins! Rather arbitrarily, I do admit. My work for the Community Supported Arts grant is due on May 18th, in just 10 days. It isn't that I can't do math, by the way, I'm just not counting the last 40 minutes of today as a day. So in 10 days, I must have thirty parchment prints mounted on wood, along with twenty pieces of cyanotype jewelry.

I decided that, after talking with a lot of other artists, I was going to compromise on the issue of how to fasten down the parchment. My current plan is to do a third of the parchments with brass nails, a third with steel nails and a third with the liquid hide glue I got from Woodcraft. Liquid hide glue, by the way, stinks horribly. It does appear to be holding a stable, very strong bond, though. It was recommended by the tannery that provides my parchment. It's doing far, far better than the E6000 or the Yes! Paste, both of which gave up within days.

So where do I stand, Spiders? Today I finished mounting and putting hardware onto 17 of the 30 parchment prints. I want to give the hide glue test piece a bit more time to see if I want to reserve 10 of those as glue-only, nail-free presentations. I finished 10 mounts with steel nails and 7 with brass nails. There's 13 prints waiting under a stack of encyclopedias, all ready to go. I'll assemble the other 3 brass-nails prints tomorrow.

The jewelry is almost finished, too. I have 1 set of earrings, 7 rings, 3 metal pendants and 9 wooden pendants. The last of the metal pendants and 5 of the rings are waiting for resin, which I'll probably be pouring tonight, after I finish this blog post.

In total, I have completed 62% of the project. The rest is all very close to the finishing stage. My only remaining concern is any mistakes in assembly or finishing that crop up. Today I managed to hammer one of the steel nails down wrong, and I may have to scrap that mount. Fortunately, I have extra wood and enough time to replace the piece. Of double fortune, it wasn't one of the best prints. So, not a terrible deal. Just annoying. I might end up replacing it with an extra piece of jewelry, assuming I can find the stash of first-run wooden cyanotype pendants I made. The second run, currently strung, is not as dark blue. The third run, now bleaching, was too blue. There's an unfortunately high failure rate with the wet-printed wooden pendants and tags. I can't figure out exactly why. I'm guessing that it's to do with the "wet" part of wet-printing.

Thanks to a lovely overcast sky, I was also able to document everything that I've finished so far. My lovely Flickr gallery grows as I near project completion! Y'all should check it out, Spiders!

My last bit of work will be ordering more burlap bags, getting some better raffia stuffing (this stuff is too long and stringy!) and then finish the insert that I'll be handing out. It should be the work of a day to stuff everything once it's done.

I'm so excited, Spiders. My first grant, and I'm coming in way under budget and right on schedule! I'll be so happy to finish this project, even though it's been very fun.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Blogging for the Baron: Nailed It?

My favorite haul from Liberty! An antique printer's tray!
Hello, Spiders. I've been away for a while, but it's actually been good reasons. Last week I missed my deadline because I was on my way to Liberty Antique Festival with my best friend, Tiffany. We try to go once a year. Since I'll be moving this fall, this was my last time. It's very sad, but this time around was pretty great. I found some gifts for my mother's birthday and Mother's Day (they're a week apart) as well as some cool stuff for me. Successful antiquing, if I do say so myself.

Then, after I got back, there was gaming with friends. Following that, I had to prepare for a check-in with the Arts and Science Council folks that are running my grant program. Following that I had a minor crisis about my grant project (detailed below!) and then I had to deal with the final exam for my students. Even more recently, I went to see a live show of Megan Jean and the KFB. I've been just swamped. It's just been a busy time recently. But the majority of my recent activity has been productive. The crisis sparked a lot of work; I've made a big push on the grant project.

The vile betrayer, now repaired with more
epoxy. I'm waiting to see if it fails again.
Anyway, let's talk about my crisis, shall we? Up until last Sunday (April 26), I had been planning to simply use E6000 silicone epoxy to glue my parchment cyanotypes down onto the slices of osage orange wood that I'll be using as mounts for the grant project. I'd done a test piece and it was doing just fine after several weeks, showing a strong bond and no odd developments. Then, on Sunday evening, I went to photograph the test piece with my DSLR for a higher resolution image. The whole upper half of the parchment had bubbled up and the edges weren't laying flat at all. I was able to easily peel the upper part of the print off the wood with my fingers. The lower half was still fairly stuck down, but having half your art peel off the backing isn't acceptable.

I began to panic. I only have until May 18th to have all 50 pieces produced and ready for the recipients. If a friggin industrial epoxy wasn't going to hold parchment to wood, what could do the job? I hit up Google University, Facebook discussion groups for artists and contacted the tannery where I buy my parchment. Most of the conservationists, woodworkers (parchment is used in some furniture applications) and the tannery recommended using a more flexible, water-based glue. Hide glue, wheat paste, PVA (PolyVinyl Acetate) glue, carpenter's glue, or Yes! paste. I decided to try the Yes! Paste and had great results. The glue applied easily, the parchments appear to be fully adhered.

Except... in further research, I've found that opinions on Yes! paste are sharply divided. While the product, and many reviewers, claim that it is archival, there are a number of conservationists who strongly oppose the use of it. They say that within a decade or two, it begins to yellow and turn brittle. I'm not very concerned about the yellowing, since it's hidden under opaque parchment and unlikely to be able to change the color of the parchment itself. I am quite concerned about the brittleness, though. I don't want the art to fall apart on an owner's wall.

No glue, just nails. Good? Bad? I think it needs 2 more.
There is another idea, which lead to the title of this entry: nails. While I was panicking about what to do instead of glue, I scoffed "I can't just nail it down!"...  except why can't I just nail it down? So I went to the hardware store, purchased a variety of small tacks and pins, and set to work. I nailed down two different parchments and, even without a glue base under the parchment, the nails do an excellent job of keeping the parchment flat. Nails aren't going anywhere. The only problem is that... uh, well, there's nails in my art now. I didn't plan on that, and I'm not sure I like it. They aren't particularly obtrusive, but they're certainly there.

I've been asking around for feedback on the whole nails vs glue thing. A lot of folks have suggested that I make the nails more visible, using brass or copper nails that stand out and complement the color scheme. Or that I use the nails to pull the skin taught as it dries, instead of just using them to hold already-dry parchment in place.

Of course, now I've already used the Yes! Paste on 17 of my prints. Even if I buy some hide glue, which is supposed to be ancient-Egyptian-caskets permanent, at least 17 of my prints are already glued down with a suspect adhesive. So what I'm thinking now is that I won't be consistent. I'll do some of those 17 with regular steel nails, some with brass, maybe even some with copper. Some of the other 23 will just have glue. I don't have to be consistent. I'm already splitting the 50 pieces between wearable art and wall art. The wearable art isn't consistent. Some rings, some pendants, some earrings, some silver, some wood, some brass... I think that I am OK with this body of work being fairly diverse. I'm really looking forward to wrapping it up in the next few days. Then I get to to through and document the whole thing.

Do any of you Spiders have opinions on the whole nails issue?

Left: No Nails. Right: Nails. Which is better?