The first layers of my gum prints are blue, the Prussian blue of cyanotype prints to be exact. I choose to use a cyanotype as my bottom layer because I absolutely adore the color of blue this type of printing produces, and cyanotypes offer a lovely crispness/sharpness to my first layer that makes registration of other layers easier and the final image more defined. Sometimes, I am so in love with the monochromatic blue image produced that I have a hard time adding my gum layers over the top. There are times that I make a second of print of the same image so that I can keep the first cyanotype. The monochromatic blues just have a way of enchanting certain images. It easier for me to focus on moving past the blue stage by using separation negatives for my images because without the other layers my image is not complete. Using separation negatives also helps to keep the cyanotype from overpowering the layers to come. But, in my opinion sometimes an image just needs to be blue.


Cyanotype meant to be the first layer of a gum print, but I fell in love with it. (single negative, hot press paper)


Cyanotype meant to be the first layer of a gum print, but I fell in love with it. (single negative, cold press paper)


Cyanotype layer with a separation negative, printed with the cyan layer.

My love of cyanotypes carries through to the development stage. I really enjoy the transition of the image from a dull olivey green, yellow, gray-blueness of the exposed image. The exposed, but undeveloped image, hints at what will appear in tonal values, of rich blue to white, once that first drop of rinse water washes over it.

There is a great chapter in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost that speaks about blue, blue light to be exact (blue is not blue until your brain tells you its blue). She speaks so eloquently on the subject and finds it of such importance that every other chapter in the book is titled The Blue of the Distance. In the very first Blue of the Distance chapter Solnit describes, “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost.” She had me when she said ‘blue is the light that got lost,” but she then further follows her statement up with a bit about the physics of light and how the blue end of the spectrum doesn’t travel as far. Science plus sentiment has the ability to make my heart mushy and my brain buzzy. I found myself devouring this chapter thinking ‘ yes, yes’to all words Solnit wrote about Blue.

Here a few snippets that really spoke to me:


“..the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.”


“The color of that distance (in reference to far away horizons, mountain ranges, anything far away) is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.”

I am not a poetic person, but when I think about blue like this it is easier to understand why I cannot always cover the enchanting blueness of an image with subsequent gum layers, even though I love all colors. I am finding cyanotype + gum printing to offer a large variety of image options, but occasionally I think I am just going to stick with blue the color of ‘light that gets lost.’


3 Layer Gum Print (cyanotype, red, yellow) from a single (not separation) negative.


UV Light Box for Alternative Photographic Printing

My choice of working with Cyanotype and Gum Dichromate photographic printing processes this semester left me in need of a consistent UV light source for image exposure. UV light is the kind the sun emits, which means that I could just expose images through contact with sunlight, right? Seems simple, except I live in the state of Indiana and while we get plenty of sunshine our weather even in the height of summer can be considered moody and shifty. On top of that inconsistency is the fact that at the start of this semester we were smack dab in the middle of an Indiana winter.

So, printing outdoors (and I love anything that includes me being outdoors) was not an option, but maybe for fun in the sun this summer. The university has a UV light box (this is exactly what it sounds like – a box with built in UV lights for printing) that I could use, but considering I commute that seemed quite far away for my needs. My logical conclusion to these issues was that I needed my own UV light box. I began by pricing already constructed, ready to purchase light boxes available online. One glance at the prices attached to the items, and I knew that my student budget was not going to result in a purchase.

This led to quite a bit of online research about building a homemade light box, and is also where I had to involve my best guy. Because, building my own light box is definitely outside of my current skill set. Thankfully, he helpfully jumped into the slightly confusing world of constructing an UV light box. It is confusing not because it is super complicated, but because a lot of the information available is specialized for specific instances, and I wasn’t always confident that all the factors from an ‘example instance’ would meet my specific needs.

I wanted to make the best decision possible about which type of UV light bulbs to purchase, and there are a lot of options. I did find one website that helped more than all the others when it came to understanding UV light sources. After, reading the above linked article I had more of an idea of what type of bulbs to buy. I could not find any of the bulbs I needed to purchase at my local box stores so I went to the Internet. Choosing the right type of bulbs was critical to the project and a most important first step. The dimensions of the box and what type of fixtures/ballast used all relied on the size of the bulbs. I made my final decision after much internal (and internet) debate, I had no idea if these bulbs would expose at a turtle or hare’s pace so I crossed my fingers for a hare’s pace and ordered a case of 6 F32T8BL or 8 diameterinch, 32 watt Black Lights. My lucky, crossed fingers worked, and a stack of 6 bulbs are providing 3 – 7 minute exposures for both my cyanotype and gum layers, what I would consider a hare’s pace in the world of alternative printing.

I am not going to provide step-by-step instructions for the complete building of a light box, but I will attach some images and here are a few general steps. Decide what dimensions you want to print then base your bulb purchase on those dimensions, choose a fixture (or buy all the pieces and wire yourself), and attach everything together in a box constructed without a bottom (the bottom isn’t needed unless you want it). I ended up going with the cheapest fixture for six bulbs that I could find (picture below), and my best guy ripped, sawed (hacked?), and re-wired it to the dimensions needed. The bulbs had a gap between them that I thought would mess up my even light coverage so this was necessary in my case. The images included here will give you an idea how this process unfolded. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of this project and the convenience of printing it provides.