Friday, June 30, 2006

More alternative print news

The alternative prints section has been heavily updated, with Van Dyke pictures and examples of masked and unmasked prints. I went ahead and linked to it from the main page so hopefully that will get some attention.

I've been printing 4-5 Van Dyke prints a day for the last 7-8 days and am finally getting some keepers. In some ways I had a leg up since I already had some skills from making cyanotypes, but in some ways it's harder because the prints darken considerably as they dry and between the prints needing a day to dry but also the negatives needing a day to dry if you want to speed things up you kind of have to guess and get some negatives made and hope you guessed correctly. Anyway, I'm to the point where I can reliably print a negative and there's a pretty good chance it will work out. Check out the eBay Store to see the successful ones.

I finally got a good supply of wine tannin I like - if I tone cyanotypes with it I get a really nice black color without quite so many purple highlights as the tannin I was using before. If I use actual tea (instant iced tea is very convenient and cheap) I get more browns. It's basically a function of the pH of the fluid. Anyway, that means I can make a cyanotype look blue, brown, or black which is pretty cool. Probably each time I make cyanotypes I'll tea tone a couple of them but it's very time consuming so it will probably be more of a side thing. Again, check out the eBay store to see some.

I've received and read more books on this stuff - I'll try to put together a resources page at some point with book recommendations and website recommendations. Interestingly enough the more "book learning" I get the more I realize everybody's contradicting each other, but I've managed to find some discussions of the underlying chemistry which is extremely useful. (I have a BS in Physics and have easy access to PhD chemists which helps.)

I'm going to start another set of shoots in about two weeks. Models - if you're reading this and want to work with me, now's a good time to drop me a note! (There's a link to the right where it says "contact me").

Friday, June 23, 2006

New Model: Hollie Stevens

I just put up a new set with Hollie Stevens - living proof that blonds do, in fact, have more fun.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Alternative Print News

I've set up a very basic page on alternative prints - I'll let it sit for a day or two and then put links to it from the rest of the site. I also put a bunch of regular and tea-toned cyanotypes up on eBay.

You'll notice in the alternative print page I talk about Van Dyke (or Vandyke) prints. I'm hoping to make some of those very soon and thought I'd write about it at the same time. Hopefully in the next couple of days I'll get some images that are good enough to use as thumbnails on that page, even if they're not good enough to sell. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Book Review

I had heard a rumor that The New Nude magazine reviewed my latest book, Simplicity, I think in issue 3 which is just getting to subscribers. That issue isn't up on their website yet, but I found a page about my earlier book from issue 1 that I didn't even know about.

I'll quote a bit...

San Francisco Nudes is a beautiful body of work and promises to be the first of many volumes by a photographer who has an eye for the female form and a passion for the photographic medium. Of particular strength are his studio portraits which not only capture the beauty of the female form, but the strength and humanity of the feminine persona.

Why, thanks!

PS I had a great shoot Monday with Hollie Stevens and hope to get the results on the website up sooner rather than later, since I'm going to be super busy starting in a couple of days...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tea toning

Huh, it works. I soaked a reject image in water with some baking soda mixed in until the image was almost yellow (you can see some blue spots that didn't bleach for some reason) and rinsed it off and put it in some unloved tea for, oh, an hour and a half and it looks great! Note that the whole paper is stained so it takes on a nice antique feel. Very cool. Note the tear - after nearly two hours in the water you obviously have to handle the paper more carefully than I'm used to.

Not exactly a fast process, but the results are good enough to explore it further.

I'll get some ammonia for better bleaching and hit a brewery supply place for my "tea". Since there's lots of wine producing areas around here it shouldn't be too difficult to locate a supply of grape tannin which is probably the cheapest bulk tannic acid you can find and is pure enough for my needs. I'll probably also try some instant tea and instant coffee just to compare.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Another book plug

I just received my copy of Blueprint to Cyanotypes which is published by lulu.com - same as my books (if you don't care that they won't be signed and aren't in a rush they're the cheapest way to get my books - pick the media mail and they'll show up in a couple of weeks). It's a great book - I won't repeat my review there but if you want a very cookbook kind of book with lots of pictures it really shows exactly how to make one of these things. The focus is less for professionals and more for somebody who just wants to have fun so the emphasis is on the more basic techniques - your cyanotypes will look more like my first few and less like the current one. But that's fine - it's a great process in terms of just being able to get something cool the first time, but it's also capable of being extended in lots of ways.

I'm going to be using their advice on toning cyanotypes - basically if I take my reject cyanotypes (I luckily started keeping them at some point) and bleach them (they suggest several methods - I'll probably use making soda the first time) and then just soak them in tea for an hour or two the results can be a quite lovely brown image. Depending on how long it takes for my paper and drying rack to arrive for my marathon major printing session I may try this quite soon. But again, it's the same idea - if I like the look I'll get some pure tannic acid and a stronger bleaching agent and do it the more professional way, and if not, hey, I'm out a few tea bags.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New Model: Artemesia

I had a last minute cancellation which left me with a set up studio and no model. Luckily Artemesia stepped in and was kind enough to help me with some motion work.

Cyanotypes for sale!

Well, the cyanotype count is at 38 and likely to stay there until my new shipment of my favorite paper arrives (as well as 25 sheets of yet another contender). The good news is that I have three that I feel are of high enough quality to sell on eBay. I also have quite a few I added to the Cyanotype Experiment Gallery - most of them were rejected because they were printed on a paper that turned out to be very contrasty (great for some images, not so great for others) but where I was unable to totally control the blue bleeding out into the white area during the drying stage. Some of them are vey cool - you could either decide the bleeding was rustic or just mat over it frankly and get a great cyanotype at half price but it's really up to you.

The eBay ones are just in the store, not at auction, so they may not attract much attention. I'd like to get a few more good ones before really promoting them. Still, they're one of a kind, if you like that particular image I wouldn't wait before buying it. I'll be printing different pictures for a while to see what works and what doesn't and it may be a while before I get back to that one.

Obviously in the long run I'll get more information on the website about the process and start selling the non-experimental ones here as well but due to some personal commitments I probably won't be able to get to it for a bit. I have to give them credit - eBay's great when you don't have a lot of time for setup but still want to get something out there.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cyanotype Updates

First off, a plug for The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes which is way more interesting than the title might indicate. It's very funny, puts all these processes in a historical context, has lots of practical details, is very inspiring, and has wonderful pictures that really show off the different techniques. It was very useful both in improving my technique and also giving me a roadmap for where I want to go with this.

Secondly, the cyanotype count is at 30. As you can see from the Cyanotype Experiment Gallery there's been a massive improvement in the bluest blue (it doesn't totally come across, but you get the idea. The dark areas are a lovely deep Prussian Blue.) The change in color is partially due to putting more fluid on the paper but mostly due to adding a development step - a quick soak in 0.1M HCl. As expected this whole process has been like unpeeling an onion - you pull off one problem layer to reveal the next. As an example, it's not until you've solved your sharpness problem that you realize that your glass needs to be really clean or the dust specs come through nicely. And that HCl soak, if you're sloppy and leave it too long and then admire it before putting it in the water bath... you're going to get some staining. Whoops.

I am hoping that with one or two more print days (I really can't do anything else when I print these, it's very time consuming) I'll get to where I can feel like I can stop labeling these "experiments". I've decided I'm just going to list them on eBay initially just because I'm going to have to write up lots stuff like a "What's a Cyanotype?" page and it will be easier to do that in an abbreviated format there before really setting up something here. I also need to spend a little more time photographing these things - the pictures I have so far don't do the originals justice. Both the maximum blue and the smoothness of the tones are much better in the original.

In the meantime the ones in the Cyanotype Experiment Gallery are for sale unless marked "SOLD" (If two people order one before I can fix it I'll refund the second person's money or make them another copy at that price). They all have flaws, but they're half the price I'll list the initial batch for on eBay and as a collector myself I always love stuff like this so maybe other people do too. I'm only linking to that page from the blog so that people know what they're getting, so consider it a little reward for putting up with this stuff. :-)

Friday, June 09, 2006

New Model: Hourglass

I just uploaded the results of my 6-6-06 shoot with Hourglass - order early, order often. :-)

Some plugs

A friend just brought out his first CD.

BBQSauceOfTheMonth.com just sent me a nice care package. You can get better BBQ here than you might expect in CA because the particular area I'm in has a lot of displaced Southerners and at least some of them do sell sauce but it's good to get some variety.

If you're looking for a charity that's a bit different, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has a lot to do. They make sure that the kids of killed US Special Operations personnel can go to college. These guys have a casulty rate that's I think 15 times higher even than regular combat troops and since September 11th they're seeing a lot of action. Usually they aren't that old and they leave some pretty young kids behind so the charity's in kind of a weird position in that they know how many kids are going to need their services when, so they have a few years before it gets really bad but they're having to scale up the operation considerably. They're doing really well at meeting the challenge (No matter what somebody's politics are, most people get why their work is important) but it's still a huge problem and it's not going to get better any time soon. Anyway, they explain it better than I just did, go check them out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

This and That

Well, I had a really nice shoot Tuesday and am working hard on getting those edited. The largest hurdle is always choosing the keepers - that's most of what I mean when I talk about editing. I do very little to the file in terms of actually manipulating it (I remove a zit here or there, big shock).

I had kind of a cleanout party today - eBay had another cheap listing day and I went through and picked anything that might possibly be too explicit for the main section that I had on hand. They've tightened up again so that's anything with a hint of the evil, evil pubic hair. I basically just want to clear out as much of it as I can so I started everything cheap - we'll see if that makes a difference or not. I've always had really mixed results listing in the mature items section. Go here to see them. You'll need to click on an item and hit submit on the adult warning then if you hit back twice (three times if you had to log in) and reload you'll see the whole list. Thanks eBay for making this easy. Some of this stuff is fairly explicit stuff I did as an experiment - it's not even on the website and once it's gone it's gone.

On the cyanotype front I got all kinds of goodies. The "puddle pusher" (a glass rod with a handle instead of just a rod) means that I'm getting a much, much more even coat. The contact frame I'm in love with - my jaw dropped when I saw how sharp the results were although it adds substantial time. And I got some new paper that worked, and some other new paper that didn't. But now I have two papers with different textures so that's useful. I also figured out some issues with my negatives I didn't like. So I'm feeling like I'm making excellent progress - I still have some things to try (acid bath in development, and playing with the amount of fluid I put down) but I suspect in a day or two I'll be through those and it will be more down to printing a lot of images and seeing what sorts of images work well and which don't and how I can improve the ones that don't.

Total cyanotpe count: 23 sheets

Monday, June 05, 2006

Shooting Hiatus Over

Well, my self-imposed shooting hiatus is over, and I have some very nice shoots scheduled over the next three weeks as well as two model shoots scheduled or tentatively scheduled in July (plus assorted portrait/maternity work for private clients).

I updated the cyanotype gallery with two of the seven sheets I did yesterday. Mostly I did tests - literally making prints of test charts or whatever, figuring out density/contrast issues with my negatives - but I thought I'd include one image and one of the tests that actually look like something (four versions of the same image with different contrasts). For some reason they're coming out very noisy on the website - they're coming out much more smooth in real life - so I have to revisit the way I'm processing the images. But at least people can get the idea.

I'm going to wait until I get some "stuff" before proceeding. I have about $100 in books, and $200 in hardware/paper/chemicals on order. Basically as certain items arrive I'll mostly be redoing test charts to compare but I'll do an actual image now and again because it's much more satisfying.

The really scary thing is if I were working in platinum the paper's the same but I calculate the fluid runs about 50 times as much. So clearly I'm going to learn as much as possible with cyanotypes and probably 1-2 other alternative processes before going that route. This is clearly a long term project!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cyanotype Gallery

I've just uploaded a little gallery of the four "too good to throw away but not good enough to sell as a finished item" pictures that resulted from the eleven canotype prints I've made as of this writing (the others were recycled).

Astute readers will notice that I've used my normal template, which has shopping cart buttons. Do feel free to buy them - even though they're not there yet as a print I think they have a certain handmade, rustic charm and as a collectable they're exactly the kind of thing I like and maybe other people feel the same way. So I'd rather they find a good home, and they're priced accordingly. The really polished ones will obviously be much more.

If anybody buys them I'll put a "sold" watermark on the gallery so people can still see the progression. If by some weird chance two people "buy" the same item before I have a chance to update the item I'll refund the money of the second person, sorry, these are one of a kind by their very nature.

Now, I'm only linking to that gallery from the blog because I want people to know what they're getting, so if you haven't been paying attention - listen up. These are my initial experiments from the first days of trying to produce cyanotypes, a historical printing method dating back to 1842. They have "issues", may have pencil marks or notes on them, what you see is what you get. If you want something unique and to help pay for this exploration that's wonderful. If you want something polished, please wait!

Oh, and they are signed next to the writing below them (date and number) just not in the gallery version.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cyanotypes again

I printed seven cyanotypes today. Basically just this all day process of trying one, thinking about what the largest problem was, reading up on it and making a single change and seeing what happened. There are clearly several areas for improvement, including the original negatives being the right density/contrast or not. It's clear to me at this point that it's going to require a fair amount of fiddling to get the perfect result - I've found too many articles that have lots of detail about what to do and then at the end they change some crazy driver setting that won't apply to any other printer. Gee, thanks.

I made progress on other areas as well. This stuff turns out to be less generally applicable than one might think - my local tap water's pH is different than yours so this probably isn't going to make a great "cookbook" for anybody. The upshot is there's some stuff I can fiddle with now and some may require a bit of gear - from cheap stuff like some trays and tongs so I can put the paper in fluid more easily to somewhat less cheap stuff like a decent contact frame. I went ahead and ordered a bunch of stuff as well as some more paper. So progress will probably be slowed while I wait for this stuff to show up, but I'm feeling much better about making the investment with some positive results already here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

First Cyanotypes

Friday I had two packages arrive - one with fancy platinotype paper (designed to be used for platinium prints) and later in the day one with two kinds of much cheaper watercolor paper. I have a third kind of watercolor paper coming - basically to try out different textures and see how much of a difference the thickness makes and so forth.

The basic approach is to take a sheet of paper, 11.5 x 14.5 in this case, and take a little solution and draw a line down one side of it. Then you take a glass rod and smear the yellow-green fluid across the sheet, hopefully coating it evenly. Obviously this takes a bit of practice, including knowing just how much fluid to use.

Then you let it dry an hour or so, and you have a sheet of paper that's sensitive to UV light.

If you then take a large negative (the same size of the print) and place it on top and expose it to a UV light source (in my case, the sun) you can see the light areas of the negative turning blue. The print looks kind of nasty at this stage because it's a combination of the blue image and also the original yellow-green fluid. You then rinse the unexposed yellow-green fluid out of the paper (and leave it for 20 minutes to be sure it's all gone) and it looks pretty much like a cyanotype. I say "pretty much" because you let it dry for a day and it actually continues to mature.

Now, there are some different things you can do, including there are some optional chemical tricks instead of just using a water rinse, but that's the basic idea. It also turns out that there are dozens of ways to make prints that have the same basic pattern - so some skills like how to spread goo evenly on paper are the same even if you're making platinum prints.

The first thing I needed to do was to get some idea what exposure would be right for my bottle of chemical, the sun here, the density of my negative, etc. So I coated one sheet, let it dry, and cut off three strips of paper. I exposed these for different amounts of time and rinsed them and determined that about 45 seconds was right. I then took the remaining paper and exposed that at 45 seconds, it being large enough to actually have the image look like something.

You can see I didn't do a great job of getting the coating even, but hey, looks like a picture! OK, needs work, but at least I know I mixed the chemicals correctly and so forth.

One thing I noticed was that I was basically just holding the negative onto the paper and a bit of wind blew it during one of the test exposures and that strip was way less crisp than the others. So one problem was how to hold the negative and paper together.

I then coated another whole sheet (coating more even but the surface wasn't level and there's a dry patch in one corner) and tried another picture. To hold the negative down I tried just the simple sheet of acrylic that came with the sunprint kit. Maybe a bit underexposed but otherwise OK. One issue is that the whole mess was very difficult to hold without covering part of the image and you can see the edges of the acrylic in the image. Not good. I'd upload a picture of this one but it's too big for my scanner - I guess at some point I'll either have to get a larger scanner or just take pictures of them so people can see what the completed items look like.

So I took some sheets of cardboard and made a poor man's contact print frame. Basically this is one sheet for the base, another with a hole the size of the image, and some tape to make a hinge. So it makes a nice sandwich that's easy to keep together. I exposed a sunprint using this method as a check (those are proving very helpful if I just want to try something without going through the coating/drying process). It works very well! A really nice contact print frame would have a glass top (there are issues about if you want your edges to be sloppy and handmade or not, and my cardboard tends to trim those) and a real hinge so you can actually open it and close it and not mess up the alignment. Once I open mine, I'm done, I can't just pop it into the light for another few seconds.

Just then the watercolor paper arrived. Two types - I tried one of each. I did pretty well on the coating but one paper has a very strong texture and it clearly isn't going to work with this. And while the other image looked great it lost a lot of blue in the rinse (or it faded? basic paper can do that apparently). I have three ideas on how to fix this but that paper also happened to be relatively lightweight and it isn't drying very nicely - it has some curl. So I'll have to fix a variety of problems to use that paper.

I may wait for the third watercolor paper to arrive - if the texture seems OK given what I know now and the weight's OK I'll see how it works and try some of the ideas to deal with the image quality. But worst case I'll just stick with the platinotype paper and be done with it.

So the immediate goals are
  • Go back to the platinotype paper and try to make a "clean copy" of the image above - full sheet, even coating.
  • Experiment a bit with photographing the prints so I can have something to post.
Midterm goals
  • Experiment with third watercolor paper
  • Investigate rise stage options
  • Investigate real contact frame
  • Investigate UV light source so I can print at night and not worry about clouds

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cyanotype update

Well, I now have two bottles of chemicals. At the start of the day I had a collection of random powders and fluids that needed to be heated or ground up and so forth, so I guess that's an improvement. I'm using Mike Ware's new cyanotype process which is kind of nasty/toxic but I was in a college chemistry lab supervised by a professor (in exchange for helping her clean some stuff - the things you have to do for art!)

I have I think four kinds of paper I've ordered from two companies. I hope the first of them will arrive tomorrow and if so hopefully I'll be able to apply the contents of the bottles on some paper, let it dry, cut it up for test strips and get some idea of exposure times and which negatives work best. I've made up some 8x10 negatives at different contrasts and we'll see what works best.

Also just for fun I ordered a big sunprint kit from the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. It's basically the kids version of a cyanotype but people kept telling me they're fun so I had to try it. It arrived first so I took a couple of negatives and made prints. They came out pretty well, actually! They're on some kind of thin paper and I have no idea what its archival qualities are like but if anybody really wants this print make me an offer.

Speaking of which, unless these prints go better than expected, I think I'll sign and number a few experiments and list them for sale here on the blog only. I'll number them as exp#1, exp#2, that sort of thing. The quality will presumably not be as nice as they'll get if I stick with it, but as a collectable, heck, maybe they'll be worth the most some day. Hard to say, really.
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