ironing gum prints and other musings
I've been thinking about this semester of teaching alt, what worked, what didn't. I always get introspective (and a bit sad as my students move to other classes) at the end of the semester. I taught gum for a period of about 5 weeks of the total time, and this was much better to give an extended period devoted to gum (I also taught salt, cyanotype, VDB, and pt/pd and before only devoted 3 wk to gum).
What I noticed (and it'd be interesting to see if other alt teachers agree on this? Sam? Judy? Peg Fredi? Kerik? Clay? Diana? who am I missing?) is that gum printers are "born" somewhat instantly. In the first week or two it is apparent who will gravitate to gum and stay there and who will not. I would love to say it is my scintillating teaching style but, in fact, I think it is the personality of the student. I also have found it is not predictable who will excel at gum and who will not. It always surprises me.
I also have seen within that period of time students who become equal enough to me in technique. I mean, in less than 5 weeks! Like maybe 3! My guess, again, is it is in the personality of the worker and not some special secrets or teaching ability on my part. My guess is that the type of person who gravitates toward gum is able to creatively troubleshoot instantly, doesn't expect to rush through a gum print, is willing to give it that one extra coat/day of work, and is willing to try new weird things without feeling the gum print is sacrosanct. Etc. etc. Not to mention the enjoyment of the process (BTW when I am doing a gum print I do 2 versions at once--one to get perfect and one to mess with).
So, out of my introspection and into ironing. Necessity is the mother of invention. When faced with doing 40 gum prints in a short amount of time I resorted to ironing, thinking it would shrink the print, melt the gum, ruin my life and my clothes that I never iron anyway, whatnot, and none of these occurred. In fact, I now have my ironing board out permanently. I do use Fabriano Artistico EWHP and it is dimensionally as stable as one could hope. I use it on cotton/synthetic setting.
What I have noticed when ironing is that on the back of the print you can see exactly where the paper has shrunk and where it has not. If you have a gum print, say, of white dots on a black background, the white dots are puffed out on the top of the print and they show perfectly on the back of the print in indentations. Where there is the heaviest gum layering, in the blacks, that part of the print is "sucked up" smaller. Even ironing does not change this. It doesn't flatten out those indents. So the more layers of gum the more there is a chance of this sucking up.
BUT if there is a noticeable difference (even 1/32") between the neg and the print, I just take a wet sponge to the back of the print and let it relax for maybe 5 minutes before exposure and it will fit. This technique I have used always, long before I started ironing and often with my large gums.
Of course this has nothing to do with your original question of curl and cockle, Clair, just a segue.
There was a guy in the 80's who used to, get this, coat his gum prints damp and then shrink the paper continually with a blow dryer until the print reached a certain size. Can you imagine? When doing 6 gums at a time I'd have to have a beauty salon! And money for my electric bill!
Maybe one day I will afford the space and $$ for a dry mount press...but until then the iron is my poor man's press.