What is 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 as many as you want. It is so simple for any to have a photo printed 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 on my own. 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 touching the process from the camera to the print. Gumoil is very challenging and can frustrate me to no end, but that is the part that makes the results personal to me. The outcome will never be the same in any two prints. It makes the work mine and it makes it unique. As fellow gumoil artist, Anna Ostanina said to me recently after seeing my work, “Terri, you have your own handwriting style in this process”. 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 involved.
A little history on the gumoil process. It was invented by Karl P. Koenig (1938-2012), in 1990. He originally called it “ polychromatic gumoil photography”. Since this time, other artists have taken his process and continued to explore, leading to multiple workflows and methods to get the results. His book “Gumoil Photographic Printing” is no longer available, but it can be found used.
During my studies of the gumoil, I have come across a couple of artists who were also exploring and finding ways to make this process work for them. Anna Ostanina and Kelly Wrage are the two who I have been communicating with as we are all developing individual workflows. All three of us approach this process very differently and we all seem to have taken on different parts to focus our research on to get the results we individually desire. Both have been extremely helpful and the three of us shared information to assist each other in our exploration of the process of making our gumoil prints.
My experience with gumoil has been very challenging. I have made so many mistake and spent days, weeks, month, trying to get it right. I have reached out to fellow artist Diana Bloomfield, who works with gum bichromate printing, who has given me some great assistance on my solution for the sensitizer mix. I realize that this is also something that changes a little bit, according to the individual results one wants. Nothing is carved in stone in this venture. Lots of trial and error. I can’t stress this enough. I may not have learned as much as I have if I had not made the mistakes, so take it as free education J. Just know that you will wrestle with this process and be willing to give a lot of time to it or it is not even worth doing. If you expect perfection and an easy way to make something look different, this is not your process.
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:
- Inkjet printer
- Overhead transparency film. (I use Pictorico Pro Ultra Premium and it is great)
-Distilled water (to mix the Gum and the PD)
- 300gsm Watercolor paper (Stonehenge, Fabriano, Somerset and Arches hot press papers have all worked for me, but have different results)
-Oil paint (M. Graham, Maimery Classico, Lukas). I have tried a lot of other brands and these 3 have been the most successful so far) Also, start with an Ivory black or Lamp black. You can mix in colors after you have developed your individual process and gotten results. It will be trial and error, but you really need to have the black pigment before anything.
UV light (You can use the sun in the summer but I prefer my UV exposure unit)
Because this is only a blog I will just give you the steps. I am always happy to answer a question if you need me to.
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) and coat one side of my watercolor paper with a smooth and even coat. You will have to find your own coat thickness that works for you. I use a thin coat but I know others who prefer thicker. I also do this in a low light area so it does not begin to expose itself. As soon as it is done, 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 my image overnight. You can dry it on a close line or do what I did and make chicken wire drying racks. It’s best to make sure there is an air flow on both sides of the print while drying in the dark. Once the print in completely dry, I can apply my oil paint to the exposed image. If it is exposed correctly and I have the correct mix of PD/gum arabic, I will begin to see the shadow areas coming through. I then take my print to the water and begin to wipe my image with my sponge. This needs to be done very gently or I could 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 and paint process, gives me the results that I am pleased with.
A few things I have learned that have made a difference. When I get the correct results, it will be because of a combination of my water, paint brand and the paper I am using. I have found that in my Massachusetts studio, one paper and paint will work better with the water. When I am in my Alabama studio, I have completely different results and have to use different paint and paper combination. I am not sure why, but I suspect 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.
The process I shared with you is from my experience, and a lot of trial and error. Another photographic artist my share a different way of doing it because there are several ways to get to the end result. 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 New York 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 handmade photograph, gumoil might be for you.
I hope this has given you some insight to the process of gumoil. If you would like to see more of my work, see my full website at: www.terricappucci.com or follow me on the social media links below.
Thanks for reading, Terri Cappucci
WARNING: If you have never worked with Potassium Dichromate, read all warnings. When you mix it, you must be very careful to wear a full mask and always have gloved on. NEVER breath the dust in. Once it is in liquid form, it is safer. Still, wear gloves. My apologies fro not mentioning that!!!!