Monday, 13 July 2015

MA-Ness Term 3 Week 13 Experiments with Anthotypes, Portrait Photography, Home Made Reflectors, Too Clever For Own Good Photocopiers..

this weeks post it note - can mostly understand and remember what I've written on it
anthotypes - pale but definitely something there and need to refine process

canvas pieces sent to Woodend Gallery in Scarborough for (hopeful) inclusion in their Wish You Were Here Exhibition
details here  

Attempt to create an image outline on leaves which failed, no resultant image at all - might give it another go if I can find a way of doing it on  living leaves as opposed to plucked leaves which dry out and don't take up the image.
It's been another busy week - getting lost in the process of making work is helping distract me from the current sadness I'm feeling and frankly I would be lost without it, thank goodness for the MA course for providing a framework in which to work out and work through the grief of recent events. It's not that I didn't make work before starting at the College of Art but since I started there I've developed a better focus for it as well as new ways to both practice and ways to think about the work I make too. I've often said that the course is a mindfuck and it is - but in a really good way and right now it is the best distraction imaginable.

This week I decided to experiment with anthotypes - which is a photographic process first created by Sir John Herschel in 1842. So by virtue of its date alone it warms the cockles of my victorian era loving heart plus as it involves no chemicals and only subdued lighting as opposed to the complete black out of a darkroom it is a process that I can carry out relatively easily at home. I am very mindful of the fact that once the course finishes I won't have access to a darkroom anymore so I am always trying to practice processes that don't need specialist photographic equipment.

It must be said though that I found it a bit of a faff extracting juice from spinach (and part of me was just wondering why I don't just go completely digital as that would be far less faff all round and the answer is because although I might moan about it - I love the faff side of things too - partly because I just do and partly because it makes me feel less fraudulent when I describe it as work) and though I wasn't entirely successful in not getting any green goo on the carpet I was successful at getting images on the paper as you can see above.

I extracted the juice by putting a couple of good handfuls of spinach in a cafetiere jug along with a capful or two of deionised water and mincing it (for what felt like ages) with a hand held blender. Once it was very mushy and liquidy looking I spooned some of the mush out into a paper coffee filter and squeezed it gently into a washed plastic yoghurt pot. This was when a bit splashed on the carpet....but it's no worse than the time blue printer ink got splashed on the carpet.

I then painted some of the juice on watercolour paper and let it dry - this was all done in my workroom with the curtains closed. Once it had dried I overlaid the paper with an acetate negative or positive, clipped it down and put it in the sunshine and then did some household chores. It was with some trepidation that I unclipped the frames (I'm using cheap hardboard backed clip frames with the glass edged with black electrical tape and bulldog clips) and took off the acetates but I was extremely pleased and excited when I saw that my experiments had worked.

Pale admittedly but definitely there and I reckon that with the refinement of the process - ie a couple more coats of spinach juice on the paper coupled with a longer exposure time (these were just over 3 hours)  they will be much darker and more definite. I don't know if they'll be slighter longer lasting though as all anthotypes unless kept in the dark do fade very quickly so I took photographs of mine and scanned them too.

I think I might try and do one and deliberately leave it out in the light to fade though - taking either photographs of it fading every few minutes or filming it on a digital camera. Not quite sure how to set this up or of what image it should be but it's on the list of things I want to work on over the next few weeks. There is even the possibility of taking the images of it fading on slide film, having them made up as slides and them showing it as a proper old school slide show with that marvellously evocative noise of the slides clicking round... an example of which can be found here - though of course for the full on past times experience I'd have to make sure that at least one slide was in upside down...

I also did a lot of paper prepping with cyanotype solution in the darkroom last week, I've mostly painted it on watercolour paper but also some on lined notebook paper and some rag paper I bought a while back from Paperchase which is very dense and heavy paper. I've been prepping a lot of images too so they can be used to make cyanotypes (upping levels and inverting them using the saint/scourge of photography - photoshop) so I have a lot of printing to do this week at college. Last week I did a lot of photocopying - £3 pounds worth. And whilst it was good to have lots of work ready to put in my portfolio for hand in it was also frustrating as the photocopiers at college are at times too clever for their own good. I was mostly photocopying grave rubbings I'd taken in St George's Fields a couple of weekends ago. As I did them with graphite they are a bit mucky and it will be easier and cleaner to work with the copies until I decide exactly what I'm doing with them. But at times the machine decided that it knew better than I did what size to copy them at - at times they could be fooled with placing a blank piece of A4 on top of what I was trying to copy and other times I had to call on the copier expertise of the as ever helpful library staff to get it to copy what I wanted it too.

Other costs I incurred last week were for litter trays (£10 for 4)  - just small ones as they will be just the right size for bleaching and toning cyanotypes, as they'll fit the ones I have made (none bigger than A4 so far) without having to be filled with a lot of liquid to get a decent depth. Unlike the developing trays we have which are much much bigger and won't fit in the bath so easily. I have a couple of cyanotype prints already that I want to improve by bleaching and just toning down the overly blue tone they have at the moment and some others I want to tone with tea to make them a kind of darker brown almost black cyanotype. I also want to make some to order just to tone. 

I just love doing cyanotypes - partly because I love the end result but also they suit me and my way of working so well as there aren't lots of nasty chemicals (one the solution has been made up - plus you can easily buy prepped paper too) and no exact timing needed like there is with traditional print making from negatives plus that does need a darkroom. But I would like to be more darkroom and print proficient - I've done a few that I'm pleased with but I don't find it as relaxing and fun as I find cyanotyping.

It was really nice when I nipped into the print room last week whilst waiting for my cyanotype solution prepped papers to dry that I was able to explain and share this technique with one of the print room technicians, I'd gone in to see if the technician was there who'd shown me basic bookmaking techniques to show her the tiny book I'd made of scraps but she wasn't and we got chatting about what I was doing...and also that they have a uv bed that can develop cyanotypes in 3 or 4 minutes plus as it's vacuum sealed it keeps the paper and acetate absolutely still so there is no blurring. A couple of mine have dislodged slightly as I've moved them to catch the sunlight so there are faint double outlines but I quite like the unintentional effect they've given them.

But that being able to share and discuss techniques (it was the darkroom technicians who got me excited about spinach as a potential photographic emulsion) is one of the other things I love about college - ie not just the specialist equipment and the library,and whilst I do get that a bit from having friends who are artists but I think there's something about an art school atmosphere that really helps with that - after all it's a place whose primary purpose is art creation so there is no hang up or embarrassment in talking about work whilst there.

The other thing that took up time last week was prepping for a portrait photography workshop I did for Darling Roses WI. I put together a powerpoint presentation outlining a brief history of portrait painting and how with the invention of photography and the recent rise in camera phones most if not all of us have access to some kind of image taking device, I showed pictures by some of my favourite portrait photographers - Julia Margaret Cameron, Madame Yevonde, Vivian Maier, Jane Bown and George Hurrell and talked a bit about the ethics of taking candid shots (and the ethics of whether or not Maier would have agreed with her photos being shown and sold), how to get your sitters (hopefully) relaxed so they don't have the rictus grin of a rabbit caught in headlights, and how to make the best of what light you have. I don't use flash very often as it think it can be too harsh, flattening and unflattering but I do try and use whatever light source there is in as flattering a way as possible.

In the Church Hall where they meet they have a opaque grey window and the sunlight that comes through that is gorgeous, we also used a couple of lights (desk lamps from Ikea) with home made reflectors (the hardboard from my cyanotype clip frames lined with white A4 paper - I made these thanks to a comment from a fellow MA-er when I said I didn't have any reflectors and she suggested using white card) and I also explained and showed the difference when you take photos at different angles and if you use a camera on a tripod or the kind of twin lens reflex camera that you hold at waist height as opposed to in front of your face.

The other thing I've been experimenting with this week is working with music, in the house I normally work whilst listening to R4 but as I couldn't bear to listen to the budget I put music on instead and I found I worked best to slower more contemplative music - Eno's Music For Airports and Marc Almond's Stranger Things and the soundtrack from Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Spongebob's Greatest Hits made me sing along too much to concentrate properly...think I'll do this more often, though today I am listening to old editions of In Our Time which all feature different aspects of the victorian period - so far I've listened to the one about Sensation Fiction and the one about Ruskin but I hope to listen to the others too - you can find details about them here.

The last couple of art talks I've been to (Project Nimbus and East Street Arts - What Role Does Research Play In Supporting Artists?) have included the use of overhead projectors - and in this izzy wizzy world of powerpoint and prezi it was a joy to see a more old fashioned and physical way of disseminating information. It was good to see inside the Live Art Bistro premises on Regent Street (the tiled narrow staircase down to the toilet is especially lovely) and there were some interesting points raised in the presentations and discussions too - which I'm still thinking about but best for me was the trip round their Patrick Street Studios afterwards - it was good to see different kinds of work and the different kind of uses of studio space. At present I have my workroom (or as it used to be known and function as 'the back bedroom') and though one day I would like a dedicated space that could function as a darkroom too - for the time being my workroom is enough.

Not just because financially I couldn't afford a studio space at the moment but also because I think it wouldn't fit the way I work at the moment, I like that I have a very easy short commute ie front bedroom to former back bedroom, plus I can do chores like washing and ironing whilst waiting for my cyanotypes to develop, the communal space is used by me, my husband and the cat and so there aren't arguments about whose turn it is to wash up and I can work in my pyjamas if I want to and it doesn't matter if I haven't washed my hair or put on make up (the latter I feel I have to do if I'm going to leave the house) and I can have whatever music/radio station I fancy on and I have all the benefits of home comforts...though this is tempered with the fact that undone household chores can taunt me well as the fact that really the garden needs a bit of chopping back, and there are a couple of cracks that could do with polyfillering, there's still a pile of clothes to be taken to the charity shop.....

I sent off 3 of my matte medium to canvas transfer prints to Scarborough this week -(pictured above) here's hoping they felt quite strange to put them in the envelope, but also quite grown up to in a strange kind of way too. Might have to go back when the exhibition opens and see what they look like in situ.

I've developed some good working habits - like notes on a post it note round up blog every Monday, checking social media on the tablet thing before sitting down at the main computer to work so less distracted, printing stuff out as I go along so hopefully there won't be desperate rushing round to get stuff printed before the hand in date, sitting down to read books at the dining table with a paper dictionary rather than at the computer (less distraction) and I am good at labelling discs of scanned negatives and folders of scanned negatives now and storing them all in the one place on the computer (and backing them up or emailing them to myself - the original negatives are all labelled and stored in a full to bursting folder) but I didn't used to be so looking for old images can be a very frustrating unproductive time and this week I had to copy off Facebook an image I'd posted there a while back as I couldn't find the original, it was okay as it was for a powerpoint presentation but it wouldn't have been okay/good enough resolution if I wanted to print from it. Note to self - organise images more efficiently.....

I also want to work on titles, sometimes it's very easy to title something - especially if it is more of a document of something rather than a finished piece of artwork but I hope to use some of my collection of inspiring phrases and maybe also chapter titles from old books - partly because I love them (am absolutely loving Lady Audley's Secret by ME Braddon at the moment) and also because that way I do not have to worry about copyright and any potential discomfortt I might feel at using someone else's work is assuaged by the fact that they are dead and so cannot be cross with me for doing so....

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