We have been working on an alternative printing process in our darkroom namely the Van Dyke Brown. The process was named Van Dyke after the Flemish painter Van Dyck who used brown oil paint as a medium and the resulting prints from this alternative process have that same dark brown color. This process dates back to 1842 and is based on the first iron-silver process, the argentotype, invented by the English astronomer Sir John Herschel.
Simply put the Van Dyke process is a print out process which uses a large format negative in the size of the desired print. Film negatives, depending on film size would be way too small. There are a few different ways to accomplish this and the most simple of all is to make a digital negative from an original print. This then gives you the right size of negative to work with. For our first experimentation with this alternative process this is what we selected to use.
This process requires the use of some type of water color paper for the final print. Choosing the paper type will make a difference to the end result. Textured paper will give you a grainy textured look and smooth hot pressed paper will result in a sharper more detailed image. The paper is coated with a solution of ferric ammonium citrate, tartaric acid and silver nitrate which when mixed together becomes the sensitizer. We use two coats of the sensitizer which are air dried between each application.
Once the paper is thoroughly dry the negative is placed emulsion side down onto the sensitized paper and exposed to UV light. The exposed print is then developed/washed in tap water several times. We then fix the print in a highly diluted fixer. Van Dyke prints can further be toned in gold, selenium, platinum or palladium toners depending on what the artist wants the final result to look like.
You’ll notice that some of these prints show the brush strokes at the edges and some have been cropped out. We found out that we really have to make our prints smaller than 8 x 10 so that we can scan the entire print brush strokes and all as our scanner bed will only scan an 8 x 10 surface area. The brush strokes which result from coating the paper with the sensitizer can give a very attractive artistic impression.
The first paper we used for this process had a distinctive texture to it which shows up in the final print. We’ve now started buying a smoother textured paper but do not have any prints on that yet. We will share those with you when we can.
This is a sampling of some of our first attempts at creating Van Dyke Brown prints. As we continue to learn more about this fascinating process our results will get better. We’ve found that two coats of sensitizer are a definite must to get the deep saturation of brown that we’re looking for. Longer exposures have ended up with better results.
The explanation of the Van Dyke Process was a very simple one for the purpose of this blog. There’s a bit more to it but it makes for heavy reading so we decided to leave some of it out.