For our second project of the semester, we were to create a tutorial video on how to do an artistic process from home. The idea was two-fold, to be able to make art from home during a pandemic, but also ways for us to continue creating art once we lose access to the studios on campus after graduation.
When I took Sophomore/Junior Seminar last semester, my final research paper was centered around alternative photographic processes and which ones could effectively be applied to ceramics. This was when I first discovered Liquid Light. From my research I knew that it was not a product to just buy and use on a whim due to its cost, but was still something I was very intrigued by and desperately wanted to try. The application and use of Liquid Light typically involves a darkroom, which was a hindrance for me last semester given the circumstances of the pandemic. In taking Alternative Photographic Processes this semester, I learned about two processes for making prints that does not involve a darkroom whatsoever, so I knew that this was my chance to begin using Liquid Light. Given the properties of this product, it being a silver gelatin photographic emulsion, I knew that the possibilities for a project were pretty wide open. From everything I had read, it also seemed like a pretty easy, straight-forward product to use.
I have become quite enamored with alternative photographic processes for multiple reasons. They appeal to me on a historic level, being that these were some of the very first photographic processes ever created, but they also appeal to me from a creative standpoint. I thoroughly enjoy the unique prints that you can achieve that do not look like the typical photography that floods the market and social media these days. In fact, my interest in these alternative processes has gotten to the point where I am using that as a criteria for graduate school.
Since the parameter of this project was to create a tutorial for something that we could do from home, I began thinking about what surfaces this process could be applied to, and what kinds of projects they could be used for. Because I work in the flooring department of Lowe’s and have an interest in ceramics, I felt that it was only fitting that I would experiment using Liquid Light on glazed ceramic tiles. It is a stable, uniform surface that could (theoretically) give me consistent results. I also chose the linen square because it was something that I had available, I liked the texture of it, and felt that it could be a visually appealing alternative to the plain white ceramic tile.
The process was not without its hiccups, trials, and errors, but I still found it easy to apply and enjoyable to work with. I was able to isolate a few key issues immediately and have already begun working on how to resolve them, namely getting a smoother application on larger format surfaces without streaks or bubbles by using a glass rod, and creating a sturdier frame to support my substrate when using 3D objects. Because it is so unique and the options for using it are virtually endless, Liquid Light is definitely something that I see myself using in the future, be it as a component of my creative process or as a stand-alone process.
For my tutorial, I wanted to show how to work with Liquid Light, a product that allows you to produce a photograph on virtually any kind of surface. Liquid Light is a photographic emulsion that comes in gel form and submerge in a warm water bath to liquefy it. From there you can pour it onto and spread it over your desired surface.
Depending on the surface you are spreading it on determines if you need to treat the surface first. Something that is absorbant such as paper or fabric you can apply the emulsion directly to. If applying it to a metallic surface, you need to coat the surface with an oil-based polyurethane first, and if applying it to ceramic or plastic surfaces, you need to coat the surface with a gelatine-based coating first. Because of its sensitivity to light, anytime you work with liquid light must be in dark room conditions using a safe light. I went to Lowe's and got a 5 watt red bulb, which worked just fine to turn my bathroom into a dark room. I also placed a towel at the bottom of the door to block any additional light.
8oz bottle of Liquid Light. Click Here to purchase.
Above: set up for coating tiles in gelatin subbing solution. Note the pan in the middle to catch any excess solution.
Right: My bathroom converted into a dark room using a 5 watt safe light.
Once the surface is coated, it needs to dry and set in a pitch black space. I left it in the bathroom to set, about 10-12 hours before it wasn't tacky anymore. From there it is ready to expose. If you are not ready to use it immediately, be sure to keep it in a black bag, in a dark space. I kept extra tiles in a black trash bag inside my bathroom cabinet.
If you are trying to expose a photographic image, you need to be sure that your image is printed on acetate as a negative. If you are using an object like a flower or leaf for your image, you can place it directly onto your treated surface. Once your image object is placed on the surface, clamp a pane of glass over it to be sure the negative or object does not move. Since I printed on ceramic tile, I clamped the glass to the tile, but if you're printing on something thinner like paper or fabric, place the surface on a board and clamp the glass to that. I used large binder clips - easy to use and just enough pressure to be effective without cracking the glass. This is important - PREPARE YOUR PRINTING SURFACE IN A DARK ROOM SPACE. Liquid Light reacts very quickly when exposed to light, so you have to make sure that it is set before exposing it. You will not have the chance to adjust it once it's exposing.
6" x 6" ceramic tile with white glaze, during and after exposure. Because I clamped the pane of glass over the flowers, the heat generated by the tile combined with the moisture in the flowers created something of a greenhouse effect. This caused the emulsion to loosen and the flowers to sort of melt into it. When I removed the flowers, you could see bit pieces stuck in the emulsion. They left a really interesting imprint behind, though.
8" x 14" ceramic tile with white glaze, during and after exposure. By applying the Liquid Light using a brush, it left behind an unexpected texture and bubbles, which ended up having a really cool effect. I think that the print came out beautifully, and decided that I wanted to preserve it. Because Liquid Light prints will continue to fade, you have to submerge them in fixer to preserve them. This will bleach the print, but ultimately save it.
The video on the left shows you just how quickly Liquid Light changes in the sunlight. In less than 30 seconds, it goes from white to a medium purple. The longer it is exposed, the deeper the purples get. The image to the right shows the tile after it was placed in fixer. Unfortunately, almost immediately the image began to lift off of the tile. I am going to try adding a hardener to the fixer next time, or may have to change the subbing solution to something with more tooth.
All in all, this was a really cool product to experiment with. There is definitely potential for future projects, especially given my interest in ceramics and combining them with photography.
Since the video was too large to upload here, I have posted it on YouTube.