Tweaks and Twists: An Update Report to My Gum Printing, Part 1 of 2

Peter J. Blackburn updates us on his progress with gum printing  and his struggles with papers.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

East Wind, No. 1 Tricolor gum bichromate photograph. 16 x 16 inches. See end of article for more technical information for this print.
East Wind, No. 1
Tricolor gum bichromate photograph. 16 x 16 inches. See end of article to learn more technical information for this print.

In the five or so years since I wrote an essay for Alternative Photography describing my own personal working methods for gum printing, it would be fair to surmise that significant aspects have changed. And, not surprisingly, many of those changes have come as a response to solving frustrating issues. Perhaps the two most significant modifications thus far are a switch in paper and a reversal in pigment printing order. Allow me to explain.

Almost from the beginning of my printing career, I’ve used a Fabriano paper. My first paper was a non-AKD version of Artistico. The sizing was completely different than the formulation manufactured today. As you can imagine, staining of virtually every pigment forced me to use the supplemental sizing of formaldehyde (formalin). Ugh, what a pain! As most of my early work was monochrome, I busied myself in finding black and earth pigments which would work reasonably well without adding additional hazardous sizing. Few pigments of my liking were to be found.

When Fabriano Uno came along bringing with it synthetic sizing (Aquapel), the time seemed right to begin three and four-color gum prints in earnest. Of course, that necessitated the task of finding pigment trios and quartets (CMY/CMYK) which would print stain-free images on Uno. Indeed, they were discovered over a surprisingly short span of time bringing significant improvement to my work both in contrast and saturation. Later, when Uno was replaced with a new Artistico complete with a more robust synthetic sizing, my work really took off!

Still, there were times when I caught myself muttering, “I wish the sizing was just a little bit harder.” You see, occasionally I had to add supplemental AKD sizing to maintain key highlights or to use choice pigments which needed a bit more sizing stiffness to print cleanly.

Well, all the muttering, mumbling, and murmuring have finally ceased!

For the last eight months which covers the production of over 100 tricolor gum prints using Strathmore 500 (Imperial), I have come to the conclusion that the sizing in this paper is exactly what I have desired all along. If Uno was AKD 1.0 and the current Artistico is AKD 2.0, then Strathmore 500 is 3.0—well, at least 2.5! Overall, I believe it outperforms Artistico when it comes to sizing. It’s a paper such as this which might permit even more gum printers to abandon toxic sizing, even PVA, altogether. I have even put my own bottle of AKD sizing back in the refrigerator.

There are, sadly, two caveats to the Strathmore 500 hot press paper which are worth mentioning. Strathmore hot press has nowhere near the smooth surface of Artistico. Furthermore, even when using masking tape formulated for delicate surfaces, the hot press paper can sometimes tear upon removal of the tape. In spite of those shortcomings in the hot press selection, I am using Strathmore 500 exclusively for my current work—although mainly with the cold press variety.

In my next piece I’ll chew the rag on pigments and discuss the reason for changing the order of my color layers. Until then, I wish you much success and productive work in your endeavors. Use what you wish from this article. Hopefully it has been of some help to you—but your mileage may vary.  Comments are welcome.


Technical Information for East Wind, No. 1

Original photograph shot with a Rolleiflex E3 on Fuji Velvia 50. Film scanned and separated into RGB for printing CMY. Negatives were output on plain paper from a large format copier. Using a combination of gum arabic and potassium dichromate (5% solution) the negatives were exposed under Texas sun in July of 2015. Pigments were gouache (red and yellow layer) and dry pigment (blue layer). Printed on Strathmore 500 watercolor cold press paper. No supplemental size of any kind was used and no retouching was required. East Wind is a 10-image gum bichromate series depicting costumes from a children’s ballet swaying gently in an eastern breeze.

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He is represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written.

2 thoughts on “Tweaks and Twists: An Update Report to My Gum Printing, Part 1 of 2”

  1. Hello Dave! Thank you for your comment. Yes, I still think Fabriano Artistico remains a truly great paper for gum. As stated in the article, I used it extensively for years ever since Fabriano first started production as a replacement to Uno. And I, too, was usually satisfied with the results even when not adding any additional size. But your style of work, very good work by the way, seems to readily lend itself to Fabriano. I’ve been looking for a paper that allows for a notch more snap and crispness, enabling cleaner highlights and richer saturation. I seem to get those qualities just a bit better and easier with Strathmore 500 and believe it is worth a try for those seeking the same. Of course, it’s all somewhat subjective, really. Actually, both papers could find a place in a gum printer’s repertoire. It’s nice to know, too, that we have some wonderful choices in paper. All the best to you, Dave!

  2. I use Fabriano Artistico for my 3 color gum and never size. Never had a problem with any staining. For single negative, multi-color prints I use Cranes stationary, with pva.

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