Posts tagged “varnish

My Private Little Forest

I love forests, trees, wood and what-else-is-there-not-to-like-about-these-matters. We had some trees cut up in our garden past year and we kept the lumber, for burning it later on. But these branches looked so great I took them into my studio. They’re part of a lumber-studies, not sure in what form or series these will fit but I just love them. It’s great to be shooting plates again, especially when they work out so nicely, at least to me!

The only thing I am having issues with is the varnishing. Except for a plate or two being ‘eaten’ by the varnish, I never had any problems with it. And that issue is easily fixable by adding a bit of water.

Now I had issues with the varnish not running over the plates properly, resulting in awkward nasty ridges and parts not covered in one pour. I figured it might be because of too little alcohol so added some more. Eventually it seemed to pour better but the plates dried unevenly. With that I mean streaks turned out matte and others glossy, random, not showing hints as to why. With these last plates I cut back on heating of the varnish and plate which seemed to help quite a bit so for now I’m satisfied. Though not completely as it’s still not perfect and that just puzzles me. In the process of ordering a fresh batch of alcohol and spike oil so that I can make a new batch, even tough this one is actually pretty new. TBC.

All images shown are Wet Plate Collodion Black Glass Ambrotypes, either 8×10″ or 10×10″.


Filter Stacking Method for Sandarac Varnish

I kept postponing making new varnish for way too long until I really pushed myself to it yesterday. The really annoying part about making the varnish is filtering the solution; probably all suffer from that 🙂 But Erik has found a way to do a filter stacking, proper school, so the solution gets filtered 4 times in just one pour. Tadaa!

Now, still have to get to varnishing the plates but that is the fun part! Just thought I’d share. Anyone else funny filter methods which make life easier?

My Backyard

Two Fridays ago I had a day off as I had to prep the collodion demo for the TedX event. It was gorgeous weather and for the first time in our new place I had the time and opportunity to shoot some collodion wet plates! Our garden is really pretty (to me at least) and thought it would make for a great start of this season. Spring has arrived and all kinds of lovely flowers and leaves are exploding from out of nowhere. Quite different from our previous garden where most of it consisted of stone haha!


This was also the first session after the dry plate collodion workshop and I cleaned the plates much thorougher than I did before. It certainly paid off! No need to use rotten stone with black glass, or sub the plates either when you take your time to clean them properly without taking short cuts. I first cleaned them with much more calcium carbonate solution than I used to do. After that I made sure the ridges where absolutely free of excess cleaning substance and I polished them with a clean cloth, like really long. Worked like magic 🙂 First time proper real usage of my darkroom! Happy as a goose 🙂


The images are on 8×10″ black glass, photographed using my good-ole Steinheil lens, aperture at around 16. Exposure times were around 4 seconds.

flower1_LR flower2_LR flower3_LR flower4_LR garden_LR


The contrast in light on the last plate (which I actually did first) is a little too high. But I like it anyway 🙂 Of course, what comes after shooting and drying is varnishing the plates. Instead of heating each plate using the alcohol burner I decided to place them on a tray warmer. I have one that can hold 5 8×10″ plates at the same time. This works really well! Saved quite a bit of time.



I know my varnish gave a bit of issues the last time I used it so kind of expected it to really act up now. It did. Always make sure you varnish a test plate first before doing the real ones! It dissolved the image and looks like the following image:



It was a plate of the garden but an overexposed one so no loss there, just a funny example of what varnish can do 🙂 I added a bit of distilled water to my varnish and the problem was solved. The rest of the plates looked just fine. As far as the specific why goes…don’t know. The alcohol in the varnish perhaps collides with an older collodion used to make the plates (same alcohol in both solutions though)? As long as I know how to solve it I don’t see a problem. I love this varnish too much to use the other horrible smelling alternatives. And the traditional Sandarac varnish is a proved recipe; why change a winning team?


Today I finally found the time to to test my newly purchased Falcon Eyes 928 light and to test my freshly made chemistry. Past week I managed to make some new chemistry, including a new batch of collodion, fixer, varnish and check my silver bath. The latter, thank God, being okay (that actually should read like; thank me for taking care of it 🙂 ! Specific gravity at 1.06 and acidity at 4-5 = perfect!

My exposure times were around one and a half minute with some older collodion and one light. Now, using a fresh batch and 2 lights I’m at around 25 to 30 seconds which makes me very happy. Lights were at about 1 meter and a bit of the subject. I used to have them closer before.

Anyway, I’m happy! Now all I have to do is filter the varnish and test it as it ate up my plate last time I used it, gather and clean some plates for the big workshop this Saturday and I’ll be good to go!

Varnished or Tarnished ?

Having read many horror stories concerning varnishing with the traditional stuff (sandarac, ethanol & lavender oil) which made images disappear at times I felt very lucky never to have encountered this. I began to think maybe other people were just being sloppy with their varnish. Up until yesterday.

Quinn made a plate of me the first time I went to the photo fair in Bièvres and it was beautiful. They just didn’t have time to varnish the photo but I offered to do so myself back home. Once back home I never dared to varnish it thinking something might go wrong and at a certain point even forgetting about it. Until yesterday.

My boyfriend went to varnish the plates, he has more fireproof hands than I have, and he came back up showing me the plate of Quinn partially having vanished. What caused it? I don’t know. The plates before and after that one came out just fine. Maybe the plate was too old? Maybe the ethanol used in my varnish decided to fight with the ethanol used in the collodion mix by Quinn? Who knows. It happened and this is the way it looks…

At least now I know the plate will live for over a 100 years 😉

Traditional Varnish

Plates need to be varnished, at least if you want them to last for quite a bit and at first I used Liquitex varnish which is a contemporary method. I don’t like it. It smells bad, sticks like a mad man and I could not get it to flow over the plate easily. Carl mentioned I should try and heat up the stuff “au-bain-marie-style” and haven’t tried that yet but decided to buy the traditional varnish anyway.

This varnish consists of a mixture of Sandarac which is a resin from a North African conifer, Ethanol and Spike Oil. Spike oil is a lavender oil and (obviously) smells really pleasant. Even the Sandarac smells really good on its own. The formula used is the following:

400 mL Ethanol
60 gr Sandarac
40 mL Spike Oil

First you have to grind the Sandarac, it comes in a crystalized shape, until it’s a powder. Then you have to dissolve it in Ethanol. When that has taken place add the spike oil and filter, filter, filter until it’s absolutely clean. The sandarac can come with residues from the tree, small animals etc. Filtering these out is very important!

Some photos (nvm the iPhone “qual”):



From l.t.r.: a Mortar, the jar with the grinded Sandarac, the sieve and the original package of Sandarac

From l.t.r.: a Mortar, the jar with the grinded Sandarac, the sieve and the original package of Sandarac

Sandarac mixed with Ethanol, still dissolving

Sandarac mixed with Ethanol, still dissolving

I’ll post how it looks when dissolved tomorrow. I wish I could post its smell 😉


First. Varnish. Evar. Liquitex.

Well, not my first really, at the workshop I did some with the Sanderac-Lavender a.k.a. good-smelling varnish but at home in the wild I kept postponing it. Until today. I freshly mixed some chemicals and they still had to dissolve properly so wasn’t able to shoot plates as I intended to at first so decided to varnish my one and only good plate. So far so good….

I poured the Liquitex on the plate just as I do with the Collodion and had a tray underneath to catch the dripping. Dripping it did and sticking to. When getting it on my hands it was pretty tough getting it off, it left a kind of thin glossy film on my hands, almost glue-like. When just poured it has this milky blueish sheen which I was told to be normal (at least the milkish part). I’ll post a photo where you can somewhat see it in between the reflections. Hope it’ll clear up perfectly by tomorrow. Will post the results.

Wet Liquitex Varnish

Wet Liquitex Varnish

The result:

A nice glossy smooth finish which looks really pleasing only by moronic behavior managed to screw it up just a little bit…you can see 3 sort of lines where the varnish is thicker. I had to extra pour the plate twice as I had too little in the first place or too much dripped of the plate while flowing; pick your poison… Anyway, not a shabby first try and more to follow 😉

Oh, you can actually see the “screw-up” a little above the midst of the plate a little to the right. There’s one of 3 lines visible.