Alternative Process Heirloom Quality Prints
What makes these prints so special?
They are handcrafted by the artists using archival and or historically sound methods. Some prints are multi-layered and/or unique one-of-a-kind. Many utilized the finest papers, noble metals, pigments and photographic print processes “rediscovered” since the reign and dominance of digital, push-a-button prints. Even archival pigment prints are made using archival inks and papers by mills such as Arches and Hahnemuhle. These prints are works of art in the truest sense.
Take a look below at some of the processes we use to make these prints. These processes as described below, are simple explanations of sometimes very complex and delicate processes. For every successful print, artists have experimented and learned their processes through many failures, and some delightful surprises! When noted, we do utilize modern methods for special print runs and styles, but the focus here is on Artist-Handcrafted-Prints.
All prints are shipped matted (except where otherwise indicated) and in protective sleeves.
Print Sizes are approximate Image Size, placed in a larger mat.
Cyanotypes are one of the most simple “alternative” handmade photographic print processes. A mixture of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide is applied to the paper in one or two coats. After drying, a suitable negative is placed on the paper and exposed to UV light for the optimal amount of time. The image develops quickly in a water bath.
Cyanotypes are done at this point, but can be further bleached and/or toned with common substances that contain tannic acids, like oak bark, tea and coffee (just to mention a few).
Platinum/Palladium Prints are renowned for their depth and quality, and were made by the photographic masters of the early 20th century such as Steiglitz, Weston and Steichen just to name a few. For people who collect photographs, platinum/palladium prints are known for their beauty, archival stability and unique, one-of-a-kind print statement. Made from the salts of platinum and palladium, these prints are also called “platinotypes” or “platinum” prints. Fine matte watercolor paper is coated with an emulsion of these metals and ferric oxalate. A negative the size of the print is placed on the dried paper, exposed to UV light. Various developers can give slightly different tones. The prints are then washed and cleared.
Platinum prints have a different quality than silver gelatin darkroom prints or archival pigment. The surface is matte and the image lives within the fibers of the paper, giving a soft depth to the image.
When made correctly, toned Kallitype prints are virtually identical to Platinum/Palladium prints and are just as archival. Arriving at basically the same point but through different means, Kallitypes are more labor intensive, but more frugal than Platinum Prints. The added dynamic of toning makes the Kallitype very variable. Between toning and various developers, a wide range of tones can be achieved, from warm browns to eggplant purples to charcoal blacks.
A combination of silver nitrite and ferric oxalate is used to coat the paper. A negative the size of the print is placed on the dried paper, exposed to UV light, then developed, toned, fixed, cleared and washed. These Kallitypes are toned in either Palladium or Gold. Essentially, these two “noble metals” replace the silver in the toning process, creating a more archival and stable final print.
The salt print was the dominant paper-based photographic process for producing positive prints (from negatives) from 1839 until approximately 1860.
The salted paper technique was created in the mid-1830s by English scientist and inventor Henry Fox Talbot. He made what he called “sensitive paper” for “photogenic drawing” by wetting a sheet of writing paper with a weak solution of ordinary table salt (sodium chloride), blotting and drying it, then brushing one side with a strong solution of silver nitrate. This produced a tenacious coating of silver chloride in an especially light-sensitive chemical condition. The paper darkened where it was exposed to light. When the darkening was judged to be sufficient, the exposure was ended and the result was stabilized by applying a strong solution of salt, which altered the chemical balance and made the paper only slightly sensitive to additional exposure. In 1839, washing with a solution of sodium thiosulfate (“hypo”) was found to be the most effective way to make the results truly light-fast.
Similar to both salted paper prints, Albumen prints differ in that the image is place within and on top of a layer of albumen: a coating of egg whites, salt and other ingredients. The paper is coated this way and let dry, and saved in storage until printing is done. Just prior to printing a solution of silver nitrate is brushed on top of the salted albumen, making the paper light sensitive, left to dry in the dark and then exposed with the negative and developed.
Albumen has great detail and depth, due to the image floating above the watercolor paper. Yet, the texture of the paper comes through, giving the image an added dimension.
Gum Bichromate Prints
Gum Bichromate Prints involve one of the most artistic and serendipitous photographic printing methods. They say no one ever masters it. It involves anywhere from one to multiple layers, and one to multiple negatives, to build a print.
No two are the same. Each layer is coated with a mixture of gum arabic, high-quality watercolor paints and light-sensitive potassium dichromate. When the paper dries, a negative covers the paper which is then exposed to UV light. The print is then developed out in a water bath for 30 minutes and allowed to dry. Color science comes into play, and any slight variation in any factor of the printing process creates a different image. Printers of gum bichromate can spend many days (and many failures) to achieve the artistic vision they were looking for.
Photographs made with Oil Paints? Yes! Really!
Gumoil prints, just like Gum Bichromate, use potassium dichromate and gum arabic, this time without the pigment. These two substances are mixed and applied to the watercolor paper and dried. A negative (actually in this case a “positive”) the size of the image is placed over the coated paper and exposed to UV light. The paper is then washed carefully, leaving a faint positive image “matrix” upon which Oil Paint will later be applied.
When the matrix is dry, a thin coat of high quality oil paint is applied to the entire image and let to “set” for a short time. Then the image is wiped and/or washed with cotton, a sponge or soft rags. The oil paint sticks to the paper, but is repelled to various degrees by the hardened gum arabic.
Silver Gelatin Prints
Silver Gelatin prints are what most people think of as traditional darkroom prints. Commercially made, light sensitive papers are exposed to light through a film negative to produce the print. After light exposure, the print is developed, fixed and washed.
Traditionally, most silver gelatin prints have been made in a darkroom from film negatives using an enlarger. We still produce some of our silver gelatin prints that way. Many of our small silver gelatin prints are done as contact prints, with digital negatives the size of the image. This allows us to use digital camera files as well as scanned film images to make the prints. Finally, we make some contact prints using the original film negatives in 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10″ sizes.
A Bromoil print is made by first creating a silver gelatin (darkroom) print, then bleaching away all of the pigment leaving a pattern of gelatin on the paper. This gelatin slowly collects lithographic ink that is carefully applied to the paper with a stippling brush action over a course of numerous layers. The ink sticks to the gelatin, but is brushed or washed away from the paper, resulting in the final unique image.
Bromoil is perhaps a dying art. It is a tricky process, and papers suitable for bromoil are increasingly hard to find, and the only other option is to hand coat one’s own silver gelatin paper.
Lith printing is a simple but ‘different’ Black & White printing technique, using ‘ordinary’ B&W or colour negatives, a suitable black & white paper (most papers don’t work well) and Lith developer – from which the process gets its name. It involves heavily overexposing a suitable black and white paper – usually by two or three stops – and then only partially developing it in a highly diluted lith developer. It’s an alternate way to process prints with a different character.
Archival Pigment Prints
Archival Pigment Prints are made with a high end inkjet printer that uses multiple inks. However, none of these prints are simple inkjet prints, as we use special paper and combine the inkjet pigments within the other processes listed above. Printers have from 8 to 11 or more individual ink colors.
Duotone is not so much of a process as an approach. One or more methods is used to create the print, but instead of one color to create a monochrome print, or three colors to make a full color print, two colors are used. Usually, but not always, the colors are divided into “warm” and “cool” tones, with a different color representing each. The results can be both beautiful and unusual.
Combined Processes Prints
Combining alternative processes, or alternative processes with archival pigment prints, opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities. Duotones listed above are often a combination of gum and cyanotype or platinum.
When combining alternative processes with archival pigment, inks have to be used that will survive the multiple water and chemical baths that are required.
Colors for these types of prints are often separated out via negative or digital negative in Photoshop, and multiple negatives are used for different layers, processes or colors. When platinum prints and archival pigments are combined, the pigments often provide the lighter color tones, and the platinum layer the darker tones and shadow detail.