U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: ironing gum prints and other musings

Re: ironing gum prints and other musings

Hey Chris,

Since I'm an absolute rank beginner in the realm of gum printing, I've never taught it, of course. I have taught pt/pd, cyanotype, pinhole/ toy camera, Polaroid transfer/emulsion lifts/SX70 stuff, hand- tinting-- and the student ages, abilities, backgrounds, and training have definitely run the gamut. In my experience, though, I agree completely that the students who sustained any interest in any of these processes, and the creative "success" of what they achieved in the class-- seemed to depend *almost* entirely on the personality of the student.

Those who are really open to learning something new, even if it is incredibly frustrating, and have no designs to take away perfect workshop prints (though some do), and who are just willing to try new and creative options-- those students just amaze me. Often, I felt like I learned (and still do) from those particular types, most especially that ability to try new options, and not worry about the "perfect" print, or ruining what looks like is about to become a "perfect" print.

Some years ago, this art center convinced me to teach a bunch of rising 9th graders for a 6 week period, after school. I have no idea why I agreed. While the class turned out to be what you might expect, there was this one student who was about 16-- he'd failed a couple of grades. I took one look at him at the beginning of the class and figured he was gonna be trouble with a capital T. Turns out this kid was so into learning these processes, and tried all kinds of creative ideas, especially with Polaroid emulsion lifts/transfers. I was really amazed. He was focused, interested, and one of the most creative people I've ever taught, before or since. He was also really generous with what he seemed to instinctively know. I don't know what happened to him, but I hope he got to art school.

You'd think that most people who sign up for any "alt" class would all have that kind of personality, but that doesn't seem to be the case (in my experience). Those students who "excel," and those who just find all "alt" printing frustrating or not exactly what they expected (ie, "hey--these pinhole images aren't sharp-- what's up with that??")-- always surprise me. I'm usually wrong, too, when I make the predictions in my head (based on nothing more than how they look and seem in the first hour of the class). Usually, the ones who *sound like* they know a lot are, in the end, just good readers who retain every word of what they read. (Again, just my experience.) I do find that fascinating.

Anyway, students always want to know what they need to bring into the first class, and I usually say, "a sense of humor, please." Those who actually have one seem to do really well, too. They just don't get frustrated so easily-- or, if they do, they sure have more fun.

As an aside, I wanted to thank you again for your help, Chris-- and Don-- and also to Marek, whose gum posts from yesterday I actually printed off. Somebody else here, too-- Keith maybe(?)-- posted something a month or so ago about his 3 favorite gum pigments, which I also printed off and used. He was right. :) I also found Katharine's website about pigments really useful, too. So, thanks all. I'm working on trying not to be one of those frustrated alt [mainly gum] printers myself. I think, since starting gum, my sense of humor has actually improved. Well . . . maybe only a little.


On May 1, 2008, at 10:27 AM, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:

Good morning,
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.