Playing with Cyanide

If you live in Columbia and run into me with any regularity, you may have seen me sporting these shirts over the past couple of months:

In May, I experimented with Toby Morriss and Liz Craft on making Van Dyke and cyanotype images. We played with printing on watercolor paper, and Liz even tried some on gesso, but I felt strongly about trying to print on fabric. The brown image is the Van Dyke, and the blue one is cyanotype. Both processes ran about $30 per kit from one of the usual retail photo suppliers, and each kit was enough to do a couple of shirts, probably six paper images, and a couple of gesso canvasses. You should be aware that preparing the chemicals is incredibly time-consuming and somewhat hazardous. Also, you will need ortho-litho film to create the “negatives” through a reverse process from an existing print; it’s fairly pricey. Finally, gesso proved to be a terrible surface for this process and is not recommended.

Once the chemicals were mixed, we coated our surfaces in complete darkness and let them dry overnight. The following day, we returned and prepared the washes (also time-consuming), then mounted our ortho-litho film onto our surfaces and took them outside into bright sunlight (after test-stripping, of course). If I recall correctly, the Van Dykes took about 20 minutes of exposure, the cyanotypes slightly less time. Then we did all the necessary rinsing and fixing.

FYI, there is a third shirt I made–white fabric with a faint Van Dyke image of a smashed TV on a Louisiana beach–that went disastrously wrong in the rinsing process, but Toby wanted it anyway, so you may see him wearing it around. It will look as if he has been rolling around in axle grease, which is something he does anyway. My only advice if you wish to avoid the slathered look is that you NOT do any wringing out of the shirts during the fixing/rinsing process. Find a different way to get rid of the excess moisture. Also, be aware that the fixing process on the Van Dyke works opposite of what you might expect–the longer you fix, the more the image fades, so be careful about timing!

As far as the two remaining shirts, I was delighted with the outcome, although it appears as though it may be short-lived. The first washing/drying in a normal laundry load went pretty well, and the images remained, but I am now up to probably 10 washes for each, and there is noticeable fading in the images. Keep in mind that this is an expensive process; assuming I were doing only t-shirts, I could probably get three out of each kit. By the time all of the incidentals are calculated, you’re looking at about $20 to $25 per unit in production costs alone. But if you really want to wear your art–at least for a little while–it’s kind of a cool thing to do. Have fun with it!

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~ by ericplaag on July 12, 2008.

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