Terri Cappucci explains what the gumoil process is and how she works with it.
What is a the Gumoil process? It is quite simple. It is a photographic printing process that uses a sensitizing gum arabic solution and oil paint, to create a handmade photograph. It is more detailed than this, but it is a start when explaining to someone for the first time.
Why I love this process is because photographs are so easy and uniform these days. You either see them on computer screens or just have a lab print you as many as you want. It is so simple for any to get a print made and they are all done the same way. In my own photographic work, I find that I want and need something different. I must have the tactile process or it will not feel like I created anything. I need something that feels like it was made by me, from beginning to the end. Although I do work with digital on occasion, I am really a film and alternative process photographer. I want to actively have my hands on the process from the camera to the print. Gumoil is very challenging. The results will never be the same in any two prints. This makes the work mine and it makes it unique. As a fellow artist said to me recently after viewing my work,
“It gives you your own handwriting style”.
Those were the perfect words and said it all. I want my work to represent my very own style and say what I want to say with my actual thumbprint.
A little history on the gumoil process. It was invented by Karl P. Koenig in 1990. Sadly, he passed away in 2012. He originally called it “polychromatic gumoil photography”. This process was relatively new and had not been perfected, but there was some beautiful work being created by Koenig, along with other artists. As we all know, when anything is new, there is always more experiments to be done to make that invention even more available to others who want to give this a try. Since this time, artists have taken this gumoil process and continued to explore, leading to multiple workflows and methods to get the results. Koenig’s book “Gumoil Photographic Printing” is no longer available, but it can be found used online.
I’m one that will cut through the chase and just say it. I clearly like to encourage people and love seeing artists and photographers challenge themselves. With that said, know that you will wrestle with this process and you must be willing to give a lot of time to it or it is not even worth your time. If you expect perfection and an easy way to make something look different, this is not your process. However, if you push yourself and are willing to invest that time to make a gumoil print, you will not be disappointed.
How do you make a gumoil? This is the fun part. Here is a list of what you need along with the image you want to use:
*** Please be cautious using Potassium Dichromate. Do not inhale or get on your skin. Always wear gloves and a respirator face mask when working with this chemical. ***
- Rubber gloves
- Face mask
- Inkjet printer
- Overhead transparency film. (I use Pictorico )
- Distilled water (this is if you need to mix Potassium Dichromate)
- Gum Arabic
- Potassium Dichromate (13% saturation)
- Watercolor Paper (a heavy water color paper is best)
- Oil paint (I strongly suggest a good professional grade paint or you will have more trouble than you want. Best to begin with a black and you can explore other colors when you fine tune your process)
- Paint Brush
- UV light (The sun works well at certain times of the year, depending where you are located. If you have an exposure unit or want to make one, that will work too)
I start by making an inter-positive. This is a black and white positive print from my printer, on to my overhead transparency film. I then take my mixture of potassium dichromate (13% solution) and gum arabic mixture (1 part PD and 2 part gum arabic seems to work well) and you coat one side of your watercolor paper with an even coat. You will have to find your own coat thickness that works for you. I use a thin coat. I also do this in a low light area so it does not begin to expose itself.
After coating, I put it in a completely dark space to dry. Once dried, I take the paper out and put the inter-positive that I made of my image, on top of the now sensitized area. Then I expose it to the UV light. Once exposed, take it to soak in water immediately. This will stop the exposure and remove the rest of the yellow sensitizer. I soak for 15-30 minutes. Take the print out and dry your image. You can dry it on a close line, on a cookie cooling rack or wherever you desire.
Once the print in completely dry (I usually leave them over night), you can apply your oil paint with your coat. If you have exposed it correctly and have the correct mix of PD/gum arabic, you will begin to see the shadow areas filling coming through. I then take the print to the water and begin to wipe my image with my sponge. You need to be gentle or you can wipe off the image or damage the paper. There is another part of this process called “etching” where you can use a bleach and water mix to etch the image and repeat the process. I do not do this part. I know that other artists will do this, but I have found that my own sensitizer mix, exposure, paint process, gives me the results that I am pleased with.
A few things I have learned that have made a difference. When you get the correct results, it will be because of a combination of your water, your paint brand and the paper you are using. I have found that in my Massachusetts studio, one combination of paper and paint will work better with the water. When I am in my Alabama studio (I am here for a couple of months a year), I have completely different results and have to use different paint and paper combination. I am not sure why, but I am confident it has to do with the water treatment in different cities and the water reaction to the entire mix of sensitizer and paint, depending where you are making your print. It really will change.
This is all from my experience by a lot of trial and error. I have developed my own process that gives me as close as I can get with consistent results. With that in mind, it can change in a split second.
If you are patient, willing to put many hours into developing your own workflow and want to create a piece of art that will be one of a kind with a photograph, this might be for you to try.
Learn more in these videos: