Sunday, October 18, 2015

Blogging for Sol: Waxed Paper and Olive Oil

Albumen print from a waxed paper negative
Hello again, Spiders. I'm terribly sorry for missing last week. It's still a struggle to work with so much thought devoted to other matters. Without work, I feel like I don't have anything to post, so the deadline slips past and I just feel sad. But, I'm trying to be more productive here at grad school. After all, I'm paying all this money, I should be productive, right?

This week, I want to talk a bit about paper negatives. I may have mentioned them before, but I've never made one before. They're actually quite simple to make. All you do is take a digital image, convert it to black and white, invert it, print it out and then apply oil or wax to the paper to make it translucent. That's it! Once those steps are done, you have a paper negative and you can ride off to print forever!

I made my first paper negative during the alt. process class where I'm TA'ing. None of the students were trying it out, so I made a quick laser print of an old photo I'd shot at one of Megan Jean's performances in Greenville, SC. I always did think Megan Jean would be particularly suited to alternative process prints, given the retro-Americana vibe of their music.

One of the other grad students had provided two white candles for wax, and we had a hairdryer to melt the candles. So I warmed up the candle with the hairdryer until it was soft enough to be pliable and began rubbing it across the paper negative print like a crayon. As it went, it left behind enough melted wax to soak into the paper fibers and make the image translucent. This is fairly time-consuming, taking about fifteen minutes at least to warm up the candle and get an even-ish coating of wax onto the image. It could be done much more quickly by melting paraffin or beeswax in a tub so the paper negative can be dipped in, or the wax brushed on. That would probably give a better, more even coating, too.

From the waxed paper negative, I made an albumen print that seems to have fairly good detail. You can see it yourself above, with a larger version linked HERE. My printing isn't perfect, but this was also my first albumen print. I don't know that the greater tonal range of albumen is enough of a draw for me to continue using it over salt prints. Salt prints are, after all, much easier to produce.

While I was working on waxing the first negative, I spoke with Jessica Somers (the professor teaching the course) about waxed negatives vs. oiled negatives. She said that her experience had been that oiled negatives took less time to make, but there was a problem with the paper getting over-saturated and continuing to shed oil for a while after coating. I decided to investigate for myself, using spray olive oil (the same kind used for coating pans and dishes for cooking). Spray would allow for easier, faster application and should apply a lot less oil than brushing or soaking the paper.

I was able to easily oil a second laser-printed copy of the same image. A few sprays from a can of olive oil began saturating the paper very well. I helped things along by rubbing the oil into the paper from the back with a paper towel, but I'm not sure it was strictly necessary. It may have helped remove extra oil, because after the paper dried (in about half an hour), it's been perfectly clean. Slick, yes, but certainly not shedding any extra oil.

Left: Oiled Paper, Right: Waxed Paper
Here are images of both the waxed negative and the oiled negative. Overall, I prefer the oiled negative. It's faster and easier to make, requires less preparation and seems to produce a smoother negative. The waxed paper has lots of imperfections and areas where the wax coating is rough and showing stroke marks. The oil hasn't got any of that.

So, Spiders, I suggest that if you're lacking funds or access to fancy-schmancy digital negatives printed on Pictorico or other transparency films, paper negatives are a cheap and fast alternative. Just be aware that they require more exposure time, reduce your contrast and are going to blur some fine details. But with alternative processes, is anything but the reduced contrast really a consideration? Eh, I guess that some people might be miffed about the fine detail, but those people are weird.

I'll see you again soon, Spiders. Hopefully next week!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Blogging for Sól: Back to the Books

Red Nightshade on Collodio POP
Hello, Spiders. It's been a long time. 80 days, actually. I've missed 11 weeks of updates, mostly due to the massive life transition of going from adjunct professor in Charlotte, North Carolina to being a grad student in Boston, Massachusetts. It hasn't been easy, and there are still minor details with paperwork to work out.

Being back in school as a student has been challenging, but it's also really helpful. I needed to start thinking about how to present my work and how to apply it in a real-world setting. After just a few weeks here, I have an idea for a show I want to put on. I just have to figure out where and how.

Unfortunately for today's update, I don't have any samples of the new show to share. How the show works physically is going to inform a lot about how I put the pieces together. I'm hoping to hang anthotypes in the windows of an atrium in such a way that the prints themselves face outward, visible from the street, but inside the back of each piece has details about the plant and the process and the expected result.

So, instead, I have a few samples of lumens that I've been making since I got here. This image is the first print I've made with the first new plant that I found here in New England. There's red nightshade growing all several fences and hedges on the way from my apartment to the bus stop. So I've been gathering it and making prints. I even gathered a lot of the berries and extracted dye from them. I'll post that information later, though.

It's good to be back, Spiders. Have a good night!