|Linen Over Lace|
This summer will mark six years for me working with the gumoil process. It has been an interesting journey with experiences that were both good and bad. Most people who have come to me looking for help seem to want to believe that once they have been taught the steps for making a print that they will find quick success. That just doesn’t happen with a process like gumoil. There are too many learned subtleties that take time to thoroughly understand. Through the increased interest in gumoil printing, certainly fueled by the beautiful prints made by Anna Ostanina, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with quite a few truly decent people with engaging stories of their own. There have also been the occasional odd ones and even a couple of truly bad ones, but overall, my experiences dealing with people over the internet because of the gumoil process have been overwhelmingly positive.
One thing I have found talking with people who are new to the process is that many are looking for that magic bullet that will get them a great looking print quickly and easily. It doesn’t exist. This is one of those processes that takes time to get to know. There is a certain amount of “muscle memory”, for lack of a better term, that you develop as you figure things out. There are those great “aha!” moments, and the somewhat defeating “but I could have sworn…!” ones that you find yourself in as you look at the hot mess staring back at you from your sink.
My own path through the process was difficult because Koenig’s book was not available to me, and there were no other instructions online aside from his YouTube video which, as online videos often are, was just too simplified to truly convey the subtle mechanics of each step of the process. After a lot of trial and error, successes and failures, I had to let it go for a few months, but when I went back to it again everything was mysteriously working. I got it to the point where all I had to do was wipe the excess paint off of a print at the table, let it soak for several minutes in warm water, then spray it with warm water to achieve what was a nearly perfect print all on its own. “Nearly”, in the sense that I wanted the dichromate tone in the highlights to be brighter so the whole print would show more contrast and “pop” more. I would give the print a quick bleach etch, wash it, allow it to dry, apply a second coat of paint, wipe off the excess at the table, soak it, spray it, and give it one last flash in the bleach etch before rinsing and doing a very gentle selective clearing with a brush or loosened up cotton ball to clear paint haze from certain areas. I had no idea why it was working until I realized I had been using the wrong ratio of dichromate to gum arabic in my sensitizing solution for the gum layer. I was using a 1:2 mixture instead of Koenig’s 1:3. From there I began to understand that different papers and paints worked better with different solutions, and this discovery led to further adjustments in my image using the HDR (mostly shadows and highlights) features in Photoshop to get a good overall contrast in the image so that it would hold up during the process. After a few years of testing different methods of executing the various steps, my work has continued to evolve and improve.
I have worked in so many different ways with the process at this point that now I usually just begin with a basic flattening curve for a test print, see what the image is going to do as a gumoil print, then make adjustments from there for the final print. It is different every time, and I have no one set way of making a gumoil print now. I do find, however, that after I’ve been away from the process for a while, that muscle memory I had developed for coating my paper and clearing at the sink has diminished some, and in some ways it can feel like starting over, but it always returns. It has taken a long time to develop this type of relationship with the process.
I have to give Anna Ostanina a lot of credit for my push forward with this process. After I had gotten to the point where I was getting things to work with a bleach etch, I was going to put a tutorial online because there simply was none, and at the time I also felt that I had simplified the process and perhaps even improved it a little. Then I saw Anna’s work, and my prints were so sad by comparison. I was devastated at first, but then I found myself inspired to push what I had learned even further. I don’t know that I would have tried to do this if I hadn’t seen her work and how far she had come with the process. So, I dove further into Photoshop to work more with image contrast and flattening curves to get even better overall contrast in my processed gum layer. This allowed me to have a more complete tonal range while still being able to simply spray my prints after wiping off the excess paint at the table and a good soak in warm water to get a fully realized print. I started using either potassium or sodium metabisulfite to brighten the highlights instead of bleach if I wanted to stop processing at this point. This allowed my prints to hold onto more detail that would have otherwise been lost in that first bleach etch, which would then require a second application of paint, another etch to brighten, etc. If I want to do a bleach etch for an addition of color or some other effect, I can still do that. A change in the paints I use now only requires either a selective wipe of the print while at the sink or an entire print wipe down as Anna does to get a finished gumoil print. I am still inspired by her work, and my own work is better for it.
As for the less desirable experiences with people, it’s just an internet thing. We’re all brought into contact with different kinds of people every day while we’re here, and we have to take the bad with the good. My experiences have run the gamut from shocking to kind to awful and egregious and back to wonderful again. I’ve been thanked, sometimes profusely, sometimes begrudgingly. I’ve been referred to as a kind and generous person, and I’ve also been (vaguely) accused of plagiarism, (and not at all vaguely accused of) lying, harassment, and bullying.
I’ve had my research, thoughts and ideas, and some creative writing passages in my tutorials stolen, paraphrased, and used by someone I’d helped with the process and who was probably looking to make a quick and tidy little name for themselves….then I foolishly let myself believe this person was sorry and had learned a hard lesson for themselves….I did this in spite of all the lies Person told to cover up what they had done (truly foolish)….in spite Person's creation of a whole new backstory to their involvement with the process that contradicted every conversation we’d had online…conversations that were all recorded because the internet is forever….was supportive during Person’s claims of feeling bullied…..but then came the tips for what my writing should have been—a pdf or book that people should have to pay for—and not the free blog post that it is….followed by Person's negative comments about the integrity of a friend who had simply suggested that information in Person’s writing had come from me and another more well-known gumoil printer and that this needed to be addressed….then I just stopped responding to Person and went about my business…..then came the claims that I was spreading lies about Person in an effort to hurt their reputation…..which garnered Person support and promotion of their work and other things on social media to counter the awful things that the bad gumoil lady had done to Person—when I had done nothing at all….I had to contact some people to attempt to set the record straight....eventually I got all my ducks in a row and was about to put all of the proof of Person’s nefarious activities online to out them when a friend reminded me that I’d once said that I really didn’t want this situation or Person to be permanently tied to me and my hard work with this process….true, but victim shaming really sucks….
That last bit was easily the worst of it, and it had me questioning a lot of what I do as an artist and whether any of this was worth suffering through the shenanigans of the occasional bad apple. Although I do see things differently now than I had before I started on this little gumoil trip, every experience is a learning one, and those things make life better in the long run if you let them. Or, at least that's what I keep telling myself. 😀 For now, I think I'll just rely on breathing exercises—in with the good, and out with the bad. In with the good, and out with the bad. If I can figure out how to do it, I'll be turning off comments for this post.
All prints in this group were made with a 1:3 (pot. dichromate to gum arabic) gum solution; exposed using actinic black light fluorescent tubes for about 5 minutes; gum layers were cleared in water that was on the cool side of tepid, occasionally gently flowing water over the surface of each print and changing the water every 15 minutes for a total of 45 minutes; prints were allowed to dry over night; a mixture of warm tone paints made by M Graham (walnut oil paints) were used for color; excess paint was wiped off at the table after sitting on the paper for just a minute or two; prints were left in warm water to soak for several minutes before spraying and wiping; prints were then placed into a 1% potassium metabisulfite bath for 3 minutes, agitated occasionally, sprayed once again, washed for half an hour, then hung to dry.
|Engulfed in Time|
|Grandma's Apple Trees|
|Four Moons Recycled|