Electroforming

There’s a cave.  There’s a fireplace at the back of the cave where thick logs are burning.  Against the left wall stands a boulder.  On the boulder are my platonic forms, the as yet unarticulated perfect objects inside my head.  The light is so flickering and dim, I can’t see them clearly.  Occasionally I see a few details in the light of a  flare from the fire.

They’re the dream-forms I’m always trying to draw, or photograph, or make.  I feel like I can tell, when I look at each thing I’ve made, how far away it is from the essence of what I want.   Over the years, learning new skills, finding out about new things, I slowly get closer to my dream-form.

I recently found out about a beautiful new technique that will help me get there. Electroforming.  Here are some of the electroformed pieces I found that I particularly love:

  (http://carlotta-wwwsplendor.blogspot.co.nz/2011/02/ornella-iannuzzi.html)

 (http://www.klimt02.net/jewellers/jillian-moore)

Fungi Brooch by Emma Gerard (https://www.snagmetalsmith.org/members/GerardE/)

“Electroforming (also electroplating) is the process of coating organic and other objects with a thin layer of real metal (silver, copper, gold, etc.). Electroforming allows you to use complex natural shapes in jewelry-making projects without difficult (or impossible) fabrication. Electroforming requires the use of a rectifier, electroforming liquid, graphite paint, and other supplies.” http://www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/topics/electroforming.aspx 

http://www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/blogs/daily/archive/2012/09/12/fun-lessons-learned-four-things-i-learned-while-electroforming.aspx

My problem right now is that the equipment for electroforming involves electricity and chemicals, both things that I am unfamiliar with.  Of course, I could buy the $500 electroforming kit.  But I don’t want to spend that much money before I can figure out if I really like it.  So, this post is going to be about how to set up the cheapest possible effective electroforming system. It’s going to start from the very beginning, and be comprehensible for me, who is totally non-technical.

[Be careful if you decide to follow any of these instructions – as you know already, obviously, electricity and chemicals can be dangerous!]

The basic principle of what you’re doing when you’re electroforming is making a circuit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroforming

Electroforming Diagram

“Electroformed metal is extremely pure, with superior properties over wrought metal due to its refined crystal structure. Multiple layers of electroformed metal can be molecularly bonded together, or to different substrate materials to produce complex structures with “grown-on” flanges and bosses.

The diagram above shows the electroforming process at work. The positively charged electroformed metal source (anode) at the left is broken down (ionized) in the copper electrolyte solution and is attracted to the negative charged mandrel (cathode). Build-up is achieved over all mandrel surfaces at an approximate deposition rate of .001″ per hour.” http://www.webcitation.org/5nFPhQ1UK

This is a good electroforming tutorial by Sheri Haab, but she uses a pre-made off the shelf AC/DC converter that you have to buy.

One of the things I need is a copper electroforming solution.  This solution makes the electric current from a rectifier move in the beaker. Again, this is expensive from Regal Casting, and from Rio Grande in the USA.  But I found an alternative at http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-Copper-Plating/?ALLSTEPS ” Rather than buying copper acetate pre-made, we will make it ourselves”  I like this attitude! Here are his instructions for making copper acetate:

“copper acetate. This chemical solution has positive copper ions that will be attracted to our negative cathodes when we do our electroplating.  Please note that copper acetate IS poisonous. Please dedicate a container to it that will never be used for food and thoroughly wash your hands after coming into contact with it.

The first thing you need to do is add equal parts of distilled vinegar and hydrogen peroxide into your mason jar (ie “half and half”). Your ratio does not need to be exact. The hydrogen peroxide will cause the copper to oxidize quickly. This, in turn, allows the copper to react with the acetic acid in the vinegar quickly.

Heat the mixture in the microwave until it steams gently (about 1 minute, 45 seconds for me). This can also be done on the stove over low heat in a glass (not metal) container. The reason we are heating up the mixture is so that our copper reacts more quickly in the next step.

Wash your hands well to remove any oils form your skin.

Stretch out the copper scouring pad and break it into two pieces. Note that the copper wire may be sharp, so you may want to use gloves to do this.

Place the copper into the warm vinegar/peroxide mixture.  Screw on the lid and gently swirl.

As time passes, the liquid in the jar will become more and more blue. The blue color comes from the copper ion in the copper acetate that is being created. The longer you leave the copper in the mixture, the more saturate and the more blue the solution will become.

Note that the goal is NOT to create a very saturated copper acetate solution. In fact, it is far better to have a weaker solution than a stronger one. When we start electroplating, we want the copper atoms to create very even layers on our object. If the copper builds up too fast, it will not adhere well and you will get “burn” spots.”

Another thing you need for electroforming is a rectifier – an electrical device that converts alternating current from your house (AC) to a direct current (DC) which flows in only one direction. I started searching for these and was dispirited when I found out that jewellery rectifiers cost about $1200 if you get them through Regal Castings.  I tried Trademe, which has car engine type converters for $400.  Still expensive, and I wasn’t sure they would do the job.  Someone suggested a computer power supply, so that is the path I’m going down.

Here’s instructions on how to convert a computer power supply into something (I think) I can use for electroforming:http://www.instructables.com/id/Convert-an-ATX-Power-Supply-Into-a-Regular-DC-Powe/?ALLSTEPS

Glossary

The anode (the metal object that the metal is transferred from)

The cathode (your jewellery bit – the thing you want the metal to be transferred TO)

A conductive medium – so the metal will adhere to your organic object.  Again, lots of expensive options.  I’m going to go with graphite powder mixed with water and applied.

A stop-out varnish – to mask out the bits you don’t want a metal buildup on.

My electroforming shopping list

Electroforming shopping list Product name Cost Source
Power supply from an old computer Thanks Sam! 0
Alligator Leads     (electrical) $3.00 x 2 Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
waterproof glue  $19.99
graphite powder Trojan 18g Graphite Powder / Hodern 50g $5.69 Bunnings
Hydrogen Peroxide     (3% or higher, pharmacy)  $5.99 per 100mls
Distilled White Vinegar     (5% acidity or higher, grocery)  $3.00
mason jar/glass jar
100% Copper scoring pad     (cleaning supplies) / copper wire  used alternative copper supply Supermarket
Conductive glue $12.99 Jaycar
gloves Supermarket
To convert the power supply
Insulating gloves  Leather gloves – already had
Drill already have
Needle-nose pliers already have
Soldering iron electric soldering iron $50 (only iron)- $150 for a kit Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
Pro Soldering Gas Kit with Wire Strippers/Cutters/Heatshrink Pro Soldering Gas Kit with Wire Strippers/Cutters/Heatshrink $139 Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
3 x “Banana Jack” Insulated Binding Post sets  DIDN”T END UP NEEDING Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
1 x bag of “#6” Ring Tongue Terminals (16-14 gauge) “eye terminals” – 4 different sizes.  Which size? $3.50 Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
Rubber feet Rubber Feet – Small Stick On – Pk.4 (DIDN”T END UP NEEDING) $3 Jaycar Electronics 264 Taranaki St
Small bit of heat shrink. 12 pack heat shrink tubes (shrink with a hairdryer) $11.67 Bunnings
Screwdriver already have
Wire strippers

 

 

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Definitions

Aside

Caves are prevalent images in the world of myths, legends, and cults. The cave is thought to be closely related to the symbolic heart, and is often a place where the self and ego unite. They can be secret passageways to an underworld, places in which to make contact with the powers and forces which will eventually make their way into the world of light.

Man is a creature who walks in two worlds and traces upon the walls of his cave the wonders and the nightmare experiences of his spiritual pilgrimage. – Morris West

A butterfly normally symbolizes a certain change that occurs rapidly. It can also be used to symbolize rebirth, evolution, commemoration, lightness, time and soul. They are known as symbol of transformation due to their impressive process of metamorphosis.

Cocoon – A safe place for healing or transformation, to dream of a cocoon can symbolise a desire for relief against life’s overburdening pressures and stress.

Seaweed is a macroscopic, multicellular, benthic marine algae. The term includes some members of the red, brown and green algae. Seaweeds can also be classified by use.

“Amongst the tangle of fronds washed onto beaches after fierce storms, there will be delicate red laces, massive rubbery straps, slimy thin sheets, and brown beads that pop with pressure. All have come from a narrow zone of the rocky coast – the realm of seaweeds.” – Maggy Wassilieff

“Love is like seaweed; even if you have pushed it away, you will not prevent it from coming back.” – Nigerian proverb

Words today are like the shells and rope of seaweed which a child brings home glistening from the beach and which in an hour have lost their luster.  – Cyril Connelly

lichen (/ˈlkən/,[1] sometimes /ˈlɪən/ [2]) is a composite organism consisting of a fungus (the mycobiont) and aphotosynthetic partner (the photobiont or phycobiont) growing together in a symbiotic relationship. The photobiont is usually either a green alga (commonly Trebouxia) or cyanobacterium (commonly Nostoc).[3] The morphology, physiology and biochemistry of lichens are very different from those of the isolated fungus and alga in culture. Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth—arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. However, they are also abundant as epiphytes on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces (e.g., Collema) in otherwise mesic habitats. The roofs of many buildings have lichens growing on them. Lichens are widespread and may be long-lived;[4] however, many are also vulnerable to environmental disturbance, and may be useful to scientists in assessing the effects of air pollution,[5][6][7] ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have also been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines. It has been estimated that 6% of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen.[8]

2014-04-28 11.42.47

Multi-colour woodblock print

My original drawing needed to be simplified.
originalpalm_cabbagetree_drawing2013 copyIt turned into this:

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and then this:

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I still couldn’t understand how it was going to get from a black and white drawing into a three colour woodcut.  The wonderful Annie Smits Sandano introduced us to a tracing paper technique to develop each colour block.

2014-04-13 14.48.20 2014-04-13 14.48.14

I sort of got it!  I decided to start cutting away anyhow, and see what happened.

Here are the three plates I produced:

2014-04-13 14.47.45The first plate I printed was yellow:
2014-04-21 12.39.46Then I printed the green on top of it:

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I wasn’t so happy with this.  Obviously, the registration is completely off, which I had done deliberately.  What I didn’t like is that the image felt ‘bitsy’ to me.  It doesn’t have a flow for your eye to follow.

I decided to forge on with the blue plate and see what happened. The blue plate turned out quite different. The first time I printed the blue plate on its own:

2014-04-13 14.46.59

I felt this image was much stronger, and flowed better. I think the top aenemone flowers and their stems worked well.  Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about how to best simplify aenemone shapes, and bark.  Palm leaves, I’ve thought about less, and I think it shows here.  I don’t have a clear way to symbolise them.

I decided that the three colours on top of each other would just result in a horrible mishmash, so I tried the blue straight on top of the bottom, yellow layer:

2014-04-13 14.46.28

This one was my favourite.  I really like the yellow shining through the white, and the strength of the blue image, even in the ghost.

 

 

Permutations

I went to a great workshop this weekend just gone, with Annie Smits Sandano.  More to say about that later, but the workshop got me thinking about permutations of colour combinations in woodcut layering.

I wasn’t sure why, but the idea of layering three levels of semi transparent colour on top of each other to create a multicoloured image that also features white, blew my mind.

Annie taught us the useful and practical technique of using tracing paper to develop the colour layers, which was perfect for the workshop.  Later I got thinking about how to explore ALL the different layering options there were, and exactly HOW many there were.  I found the Combinations and Permutations calculator and found 6 combos for three colours, and then went to photoshop to play.

Here are my results.  As you’ll see, I also played around with transparency.  I also tried out just using two of the colour plates.

First, here’s all the images with the green layer on top. (I’ve labelled each with the colour order)

greenmen Now pink on top:pinkmen Yellow on top: yellowmen

 

Here are my picks of the bunch:

favmen

The White Kangaroo

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The White Kangaroo

My two week artist residency at Baldessin Studios, St Andrews, Melbourne

The first thing Tess does is to give me a jar of homemade mandarin marmalade and invite me for dinner .

We find out that we have both lived in France. We both speak French. We both love printmaking. We are both second hand shop addicts. As we drive back to Baldessin Studios through the tiny village of St Andrews, Tess invites me for dinner.

I feel dazed – I’m not sure what I’m in more love with; Tess’s warmth and personality, her gray socks decorated with small yellow oblongs, her cool asymmetrical hairstyle or her artistic lifestyle.  I feel young and admiring. I too want to build an artist retreat in the forest and have an organic farm.  I want to have a collection of strange and beautiful china plates, to live in a romantic open-plan space and dry my clothes at the woodstove.

I imagine myself welcoming in WOOFers, printmakers, writers, artists, a young mother taking a weekend out that her husband has bought for her as a gift.  I too will whip up sesame, lime and spinach casserole with ricotta cheese tortellini and chilli hummus.

The centre of the house is a high-ceilinged, open plan room with a large central fireplace on one wall, and a wood burner near the kitchen space. Soft blue and red light from the stained glass windows plays on the walls.  Washing is drying over the wood burner.

A glass of wine, talking about printmaking, France, bromeliads, air gardens, organic farming, politics, surfing, asylum seekers, Taiwan.

Delicious evenings, the air smells of jasmine and Australian mint.

I enjoy navigating the dark back to my little garret space.  The sound of the wind in the gum trees is like being out at sea.

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*

I’m living for two weeks in the garret space above the print studio.  It’s like living up in a treehouse. The ground level of the studio holds the big presses, huge worktables and the printmaking studio itself.  The second storey, the much smaller attic space, contains a little studio apartment where artists can stay.

The space is one large A-frame. The front ‘A’ is a wall of windows. You can see over the gum tree forest from the kitchen table.   The garret is made up of three rooms; a shower/toilet, a tiny bedroom and the kitchen/lounge which is cozy at night, when the wind blows the leaves like waves breaking over the roof.

I wake up early. From my little kitchen I can see one of George Baldessin’s sculptures on the forest floor; the earthy red-brown of the corroded metal among the gum leaves makes it seem like it’s grown there.  Inside my compact little house it is cosy, but it’s cold outside here in the early morning light.  My inky fingers are curled tight around the coffee cup. I can’t believe I’m actually here, in the morning stillness, watching the grey-brown pelt of a Kangaroo melding in and out of the gum tree forest.  She’s so close – only a few metres from me. She hops forward a few paces, using her tail like a third leg. Then suddenly another little head pops out from her pouch.  Mother and baby chew on the mint bush together, ignoring me.  Their eyes freeze on me at the soft buzz as my camera opens.  The grey morning light is too soft for a good picture, and they’re gone before I can try again.

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*

Once I’m outside, the dirt road is empty, but not lonely.  The gentle rustle of the gum leaves me with the persistent feeling that it is raining softly, somewhere not too far away. The occasional letterbox and driveway keeps the feeling of isolation away.

It is a 20 minute walk down the dirt road to get to the four shops in St Andrews; the general store, the café, the pub and the best pizza in the world “A Boy Named Sue”.

Tess takes us there on Wednesday night. It’s so hard to choose between It ain’t easy bein’ Zuchinni  and Dark side of the Shroom. The roasted zuchinni go perfectly with goat’s cheese and olives, and the thyme and hazelnut pesto on top gives the whole thing a golden brown finish and a delicate crunch. The other one is different from any pizza I’ve had before. It’s got Mushroom puree base composed of several sorts of mushrooms.  Taleggio cheese and caramelised onion and truffle oil finish it off.  Tess knows almost everyone here – Sylvie’s daughter works here as a waitress; the restaurant is tiny, but the fresh pizzas are coming out of the oven as fast as she can bring them, looking cool and professional in tight black jeans.  Tess tells Ahchen and I the history of the buildings and the gossip of the district.

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*

Baldessin Studios was built by Tess Edwards and George Baldessin in the 1970s.  The 13 acre block encompasses the big print studio, the house where Tess and Lloyd live, and the organic farm all around it.  After George’s death in a car accident, Tess lived in France for many years.  She returned in the late 90s to revitalise the land and raise awareness of George’s tactile, sensuous sculptures and printmaking work.

The Print Studio is a large and rustic Bluestone building.  The heavy wooden door with its stained glass panels lets you into the larger of the two big rooms that make up the Print Studio.

The larger room holds the etching presses and work tables, the smaller one holds the sink, the coffee making materials and the pot-bellied stove that warms up quickly and throws out heat.  The stove is like a small rotund belly, with a little heavy round lid on the top that you lever up with a special iron tool to poke in bits of gum tree wood, leaves and inky paper.

At lunchtime we all congregate around the stove; early spring in St Andrews still has a chill in the air, and the thick stone building is slow to warm.

The studio, with its thick, pale stone walls, red brick floor and wide overhanging eaves would be perfect in the hot Australian summers though.

The huge motorised etching press dominates one side of the main room, the bed more than 1 x 2 metres.  The studio also has a medium sized, manual geared etching press, an Albion press and an 1860’s letter press.

There’s also a darkroom and a huge light exposure units for photogravure, as well as space for dampening and drying paper.

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*

The darkened studio is like a stage I’ll dance on.  Anticipation, nerves, excitement at the stillness that will be broken by movement.

I can stay working there all night, if I want to. Every day I spend hours counting the seconds on the exposure unit and noting the timing down.  I dampen countless pieces of paper, patting it dry, holding it right on the very edge so my inky fingers don’t mark its creamy surface.  I choose the right shade of coloured ink, working the ink slowly to warm it up, working out exactly the right level of transparency I want.  I love spreading the buttery ink with a spatula then wiping it back with cardboard, then scrim, then my palm, using paper from the yellow pages.

The paper comes out of the tray soaking wet. Laying it on blotting paper and pressing it takes the excess moisture out gently.  I hold the paper up to the light to check for the shiny spots that mean it’s too wet, then carefully lay the damp paper on top of the plate, putting on fresh blotting paper, then lovingly tucking the blankets over the paper and turning the wheel.  It has to be a smooth, even, regular turn. Breathe in, turn. Breathe out, turn.  The slow steady revolutions of the wheel make me feel like I’m the captain of a ship.

Then lifting each layer one by one and finally carefully lifting up the paper – all that effort and preparation coming down to the last second of anticipation.  A good print.  It goes into the drying rack, then I go back to print the same plate again; this time the image is fainter – this the ghost of the first image.

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*

I’ve been interested in photopolymer etching/photogravure since first encountering the process in a workshop at Solander Gallery with Jacqueline Aust several years ago.  I’ve since explored many methods of using photopolymer plates, wasting many plates, a lot of money and many frustrating hours in experiments.

Is the problem the image? The half tone screen? The exposure time, the washing-out time, the paintbrush used? The force applied, the drying method?  I learned a lot of what I know from the website: http://www.nontoxicprint.com/solarplate.htm

I’ve used the relief method, exposing black and white images or objects straight onto the light sensitive surface.  I’ve used the two-stage intaglio process where you expose a half-tone screen first, then the image.  This generates a photographic-type effect. The half tone screen exposure time controls the dark tones by creating a ‘tooth’ for the ink to adhere into.  If you don’t do this step, the plate will open bite.  The exposure time of the image transparency controls the light and the mid-tones. The dark areas of your image will protect the photosensitive film from the light, keeping it softer. This means that when you wash the plate, the soft area washes away more, meaning the dark areas of the image will etch more deeply.

My problem is that I’m deeply committed, but impatient. I’m no natural scientist either.  I’m always sure I will remember which plate I exposed for 2 minutes, and which for 3 minutes.  I always think I’ll know what I mean when I scrawl a note to myself on the back of a print.

Silvi is patient with me as I struggle to understand how the dot matrix screen works. She brings a disciplined, scientific approach to photogravure, challenging me on why my images aren’t turning out as well as I want them to. If I don’t know the variables or what happens when I change any of them, how can I have control over what I produce?  Good question. I force myself make a test sheet.

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Christine teaches us etching on cardboard. I love how easy it is to use my whole arm and make long, sweeping marks in the light cardboard.  Using a material that isn’t as expensive as the photopolymer sheets I’ve been working with all week makes my hand feel free to scratch and inscribe, to pierce and doodle, make all sorts of different flowing or juddering marks, dragging the etching tool back and forth over a rough area, peeling it back.

After a week in the studio working independently, I am in a wonderful state of alert relaxation; Mihael Czentimihaly calls it ‘flow’.

It’s not a sound, but the easiest way to describe it as a hum that’s in the background of my mind – a chorus of hums that are generally just neutral, or discordant, but a condensed period of creativity draws them into harmony, like a magnet drawing metal filings together into a mysterious pattern.

I feel that hum singing in my mind as my body moves smoothly through the rhythms of printmaking.

The print studio smells of ink, disintegrating cotton rags, gum trees, cool air, water, and of the wood stove.

Tess is working in the other room, Sylvie is at a bench opposite me. It feels good working away quietly together.

The long, glass covered benches are perfect for wiping or rolling ink, laying out large size paper, or just for large scale drawing.  On the sunny spring afternoons, the Baldessin script painted on the window travels around the wall silhouetted in the afternoon sunlight.

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*

Tess takes me to the best second-hand shops; she finds a prize red handbag for me; we get excited about old Victoria State Railway crockery and buy it for the garret.  I find a heavy cast glass dessert bowl and six serving dishes in a diamond pattern, with gold and red rims for six dollars at the tip shop.  I’ve already got several kilos of large size artwork to take back to NZ with me, but right now I don’t care about blowing my luggage weight allowance.

Tess takes me further into the national park than I would have gone on my own. We discuss history, women, independence, sickness, death and patterns in life. We talk about the reasons for making artwork, about George Baldessin’s history, about Tess’s own story and about stories in general.  We pass Kathy’s corner and each place a stone. Tess tells Kathy her children are doing well.

That evening we make a second attempt to see the white Kangaroo.  Tess and Christine had seen it the day before in a walk at dawn, fighting with another male.  This time, he’s there.  Its golden dusk, and he’s across the valley, grazing with the herd. He looks almost like a white boulder against the slope until he moves, loping off towards the gum tree forest.

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*

Ahchen, the Taiwanese WOOFer, is failing miserably to disguise the fact that he’s really come here because he loves art, and that he wishes he were in the printmaking studio, not digging ditches for irrigation piping and learning about organic gardening.  He comes in at every opportunity to see what we’re doing and take photos. He takes so many that Sylvie teases him – he’s a Taiwanese spy, come to take her printmaking secrets. Ahchen explains painstakingly that he just wants to record the technique to use later.  If he documents the process photographically, he’ll be able to reproduce the results.  He is sure. Sylvie tells him to go ahead.

Eye to the camera, he misses her gentle wry look. He will figure it out.

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