Monday, April 30, 2007

The Final Days

Does that sound like impending doom?

Today I finally finished the paper that accompanies my Degree Project. I want to share here, because Im not so sure anyone will listen to me if I try to explain in real life, my difficulties with writing papers such as this.

Its not that I find writing hard, or even unenjoyable. Actually I quite love language, I love finding exactly the right word that expresses what I want to say, and I love having the opportunity to sculpt my sentances, reworking and revising until they say only what I mean to impart, no more and no less. I try, with my writing, to be honest in intention and in style. And this last is really what causes all the problems.

This is my confession: I find it really, really difficult to write bullshit papers. The words just don't come. I need to be honest in my writing, or nothing makes sense. So things end up taking ever so much longer than they should.

That's all. Thanks for listening.

And I think the threat of impending doom has actually been averted.

As long as I can get the rest of my sewing done tonight!

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Darkroom Advice Column

Maybe I'll just rename this blog the "Darkroom Advice Column," as that seems to be about all I am coming up with lately. This little nugget is for everyone, not just those who may someday find themselves in a photo lab (you never know when it may happen!).

Life Advice from the Darkroom, #3:

Everything looks better under a red lamp.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


I got to play with horrible chemicals for my latest darkroom experience. Nasty red crystals with the skull and crossbones all over the jar. Oolala! Actually it is basically bleach, painted onto several of the photos to enhance contrast, bring out the bright spots and make some interesting bleach spots.

The solution was potassium ferricyanide (I know, cyanide. I like living dangerously) mixed with fixer solution. I made it relatively weak (less potassium ferricyanide and more fixer) and then applied it with a paintbrush.

I think that with this, I am finally done with the photography. I don't have quite as many as I would have liked, but instead of photography on every page, I have become excited about embroidering some words.

Now, I just have to get busy. Or keep busy. I just have to finish. Time is seriously running out!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tools of the Trade

This is the only enlarger I use. There are actually much nicer ones available, especially since I always work alone, but I just like this one. We've come to an understanding.

Focus-ers. Do they have a real name? I just don't know!

Chemistry trays. Really no more to say, except that when they are not properly cleaned they get disgusting. I discovered this for myself in my own darkroom years ago, and someone else has been discovering it recently in the past couple weeks here at school. Yuck.

Now this little contraption and I do not have an understanding. We are hardly on speaking terms, actually, after its blatant refusal to cooperate a couple weeks ago. Last night we feigned a tentative tolerance of each other, but we both know the truth.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

More Advice on Liquid Emulsion, or What I Learned in the Darkroom

I spent this evening in the darkroom, making another attempt at developing photos onto liquid emulsion coated fabric. After this evenings trials, I have just one little additional word of advice to anyone wishing to try this sort of thing: don't.

Let me explain...

Liquid emulsion is, by nature, liquid. Or rather, it is liquid after the bottle has soaked for a good hour in very hot water. Until then, it is a white gel that does not, despite valiant effort, spread. In any way. When this substance has liquefied, it must be kept warm, or it will re-gel and become very sticky in the process. The brilliant idea upon which my project is based is to develop photos onto fabric using this troublesome substance. Now, let's take a moment to look at the nature of fabric, especially as it relates to liquids. As we know, or hopefully you do because it seems to have conveniently slipped my mind, fabrics have a tendency to soak up liquids. This is an agreeable quality when, say, you're emerging from a nice hot shower. But when you want a thick coat of emulsion that will produce a strong and recognizable photographic image, this quality works distinctly against success.

I have tried several methods for applying the emulsion to the fabric (putting primer underneath was not one of them - I want the texture of the fabric to be prominent and do not want the additional stiffness of paint). All of them, in some degree, suffer due to the aforementioned characteristics of the materials. The fabric soaks up the emulsion and refuses to allow a dense, even coating. This is what I have tried so far...

  • First, I stretched the fabric in an embroidery hoop and painted the emulsion on with a paint brush. That was probably a great method, but I had low contrast emulsion at the time so things went poorly.
  • Second, I though perhaps lying the fabric on a screen and squeegeeing the emulsion across would result in a nice thick coat. It didn't.
  • Next, I tried the paintbrush again, with moderate success using variable contrast emulsion, but was too impatient to let it dry and apply a second coat. Instead I tried to brush it on especially thick and ended up with clumps.
  • Then I put the emulsion in a tray and tried soaking it up with the cloth. Worked fairly well, but with a bad ratio of failures to successes due to excessive blotchiness and a difficulty in determining the right side of the fabric from the wrong.
  • Went back to the paintbrush and managed to contain myself long enough for the emulsion to atleast partially dry before painting more on. Judge the results for yourself...

I am relatively happy with these pictures. I was hoping this would be the end of the photo portion of the project, but probably I'll have to go back to the darkroom. It could be worse.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007


Why is it that with three desks (yes, three. They have different qualities) and a perfectly good kitchen table, I always end up on the floor?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

This is Spring?

It's just absolutely miserable here. There's just no other way to say it. This is the view from my back window...

Particularly, I want to draw your attention to the snow that is covering the rooftops. Last year at this time the temperature was in the 70s. We were having classes outdoors. It was actually Spring. This year, Im just not convinced.

The good part in all this nastiness is that the overwhelming desire to be outside soaking up the sun and the warmth and the infant green-ness is not here and is therefore not playing its devilish role in the procrastination process. To be sure, I do not need any other procrastination temptations, I have plenty and am doing my darnedest to ignore their siren calls.

So, since I cannot chase the clouds away and bring back the Spring goodness that seemed so close a week ago, I am taking the view that this is all for the best, and am dedicating myself to finishing all the papers and projects that have been piling high. Things are going good. And when I need a lift, I sit and stare at the fishes and soak up some of their tropical cheerfulness.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

The Trials and Tribulations of Liquid Emulsion

After countless attempts, I have finally managed to get a recognizeable photo using liquid emulsion on fabric. For anyone out there who ever plans to try this, I think the real secrets are having high contrast photos (even with variable contrast emulsion), and laying the emulsion on thick, but evenly and without bumps. For the two photos below, I actually soaked the emulsion up into the fabric. I like the splotchy effect that resulted, but there were several others from this same batch where either nothing showed up at all or the splotches were overpowering.

I have to return to the darkroom and knock out a few more of these babies, hopefully within the next couple days. It's funny how when something is a necessity, even if it's something I would love doing normally, it becomes a chore. I adore the darkroom, but somehow with all the schedule restraints and other things going on, it has turned into another thing to check off the to-do list.

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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Tiny stitches, and why is it snowing?

I am progressing in the stitchery department. Several blocks are finished and my quilting stitches are slowly becoming smaller and neater. The first will probably be embarrassing someday when my standards have refined, but at this point I just don't understand how those miniscule, barely visible stitches are accomplished! They certainly give me another reason to appreciate the skill put into a quality quilt.

Lately, in my ponderings of quilts and their importance, I began to realize their importance as holders of memories. Historically, there are the memory quilts made by a group of friends for one who was leaving, and traditional quilts were often pieced with scraps of old clothing. My grandmother points out pieces in her mother's quilts, remembering how a certain dress was made with this or that fabric and sharing the memories of the time associated with that particular piece of clothing.

Another way quilts are memory keepers occurred to me while stitching, and is one of the reasons I decided to hand quilt each square instead of taking the faster and simpler route of machine quilting. Hand stitching takes time, and it takes some measure of concentration, especially if the stitches are to be small and neat and the lines straight. And while this stitching is happening, the stitcher has plenty of time to think and to just be. And I really think that this time sort of stitches memories into the fabric. I sent my grandmother a wonderful book I found about quilts and their makers, called "The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art An Oral History," and reading the stories of these women reminded her of the quilting she had before she was married. It struck me that that particular quilt would have that particular time stitched right into it; how she felt as she prepared to embark on a new life would have been pondered as each stitch was made. I am wondering what I will remember from these stitches in this book I am making. I am hoping they will not be flashbacks of stressed out all-nighters as I feverishy try to finish everything before the presentation deadline.

Happy Easter!

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Monday, April 2, 2007

No time for pictures!

I am stitching and stitching and figuring out patterns and just hard at work! Additionally, I have another project begun, with a presentation due this week. This is for a class on art and literary criticism, so I have decided to look at the Arts and Crafts Movement and try to build a model room (at least) inspired by those of William Morris and Co. Luckily, I don't think everything must be finished by the presentation date.

The last few days I have been thinking a lot about how I am connecting all my projects into one area, wondering if this is laziness, or a positive focus in my direction. I am actually inclined towards the second conclusion, not only because it means I don't have to rethink all the projects and papers for the next month, but because I honestly believe I have so many interests that limiting myself for the time being to only following maybe a dozen just won't ruin the rest of my life. It seems to me that simplification is a sort of keyword for more and more people these days, and it would not hurt me to give it a try.

That said, I have an inherent and somewhat overpowering desire to follow every intriguing thought that enters my head. Possibly I should just scrap the whole idea of artistic endeavours and become a detective.

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