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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