Kallitype Update: Layering on Color

Hafa Adai! Jen Perena here, fresh off the plane from Guam….well, actually I have been back in Rochester now for a few days, but with the jet lag (Guam is a 15-hr time difference), I am all kinds of messed up time wise, and I have been mostly sleeping since arriving home, so it seems like only yesterday I was on the beach….

My two weeks in Guam went very fast; there were ups and downs: we were lucky with awesome weather and lots of sunshine (only sprinkled on us once); but my back went out on day 3 of the training workshop I was delivering and I had to be hospitalized (briefly – I was released 6 hrs later….); my husband was able to fly over from the Philippines to celebrate our 24th anniversary with me and we had a great day touring the island followed by a very nice dinner; but I gained too many pounds to count stuffing myself like a pig from the decadent and delicious island food; my training workshop was a great success thanks to the hard work and dedication of my students; and then I arrived home to roughly a foot of snow, 38 degrees, drizzle and gray skies. Hafa Adai! (Which means hello and welcome in the local Guamanian Chamorro language).

Anyway, I have been using the time I have been unable to sleep productively! Finally I made some progress watercoloring the ‘vegetation’ set of kallitypes I made in between Italy and Guam.

Me, bundled up because I don’t want to put on the heat yet, watercoloring one of my kallitypes

Getting back into it reminded me of the challenges I faced the last time I hand colored some of my kallitypes a few years back: when to stop and leave it alone! And, surprisingly, I used some of the darker images as practice, and I kind of like them better than the lighter, more underexposed ones, which I thought would work better. But you be the judge. Here are a couple samples:

This is the print that I deemed overexposed – but the color against it looks really nice
This is the slightly underexposed print and I don’t like it as much. What do you think?

Check out my  #kallitypegirl Instagram page for a few more examples of recent hand-colored kallitypes and let me know what you think! I’ll leave you with one photo from Guam to get you through what looks to be a cold and dreary week:

View of Ypao Beach on Tumon Bay, northern Guam (also the view from my hotel room….)

Adios! (Guam was colonized by Spain in the 1600’s and a lot of the Spanish language lives on in their day to day speech!)  And Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Kallitype Weekend Update

Hi everyone! Jen Perena here, fresh out of the darkroom. Well, 15 hours ago I actually left the Silver Den, but it FEELS like I am fresh out of the darkroom!

I finally resumed making work this past weekend (after almost a month of not making any work!), with a goal of finishing all of my printing so I can fully concentrate on water coloring the pieces for the ‘vegetation’ half of the show. I’m not 100% sure I accomplished that because I left work drying on the rack, and it always dries down darker, but I feel good about it.

Here are a few pics (iPhone photos of the work fresh out of the wash, so please excuse the reflections…) of what I made on Saturday. I spent 5 hours in the darkroom and made 8 prints that day. This set had close to the “right” exposure times (3.5 minutes) based on the richness of the final tones, though they look a bit too dark and flat to me:

Kallitype of large aloes or some kind of agave or succulent; I love this one but it is a little too dark for hand coloring
This one definitely has the right exposure, but could benefit from a teeny bit more contrast for my liking


Kallitype of snap peas and squash blossoms – also a tad too dark for hand coloring


Kallitype of kohlrabi – pretty good, but see if you can detect the ‘invisible’ root (it was purple and came out so dark it looks barely there)

On Sunday I returned to the darkroom, but when I checked the rack, I felt that the dried-down images from Saturday were a bit dark, so I reprinted everything at 3 minutes, plus added a single drop of the dichromate contrast booster to the emulsion chemistry. After washing each one, I felt they looked closer to what I am going for in terms of slightly underexposed so I can watercolor into the grayer areas. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the second set; after 6 (more) hours and 9 (more) prints I was pretty tired, and it slipped my mind.

Next week at this time I will be in Guam; I am heading there for work for 2 wks and will be back Nov 17. I will try to make at least one post during that time…but it won’t be about my work (kallitypes nor watercoloring nor actual reason I am there)….more likely tropical waterfalls and beach scenes, which I know you will all love as November gets colder and grayer! But soon, I promise a sneak peek at my watercoloring!


Kallitype Chemistry is like shifting sand beneath your feet

Ciao! Jen Perena here, just back from visiting family in the Abruzzo region of eastern Italy. On the run up to the trip I was busy juggling my full-time work and prepping at home, so didn’t manage to get into the darkroom; then I was gone for about 10 days, so there was a little gap in my posts. I have been home now for just under a week, but am not 100%….I managed to develop a double sinus infection and ear infection during my travels….so instead of getting right back into the darkroom, I’ve begun watercoloring some of the vegetable prints I made in September. Photos of my work-in-progress coming in the next post!

In the mean time I wanted to share some pics from my trip (inspiration for more kallitpyes) and also some things I have been pondering over the last weeks.

Drift wood, stack of stones and traboccho, (fisherman’s stand) at Punta Aderci, along the Adriatic ‘Trabocchi Coast’

The title of this post hints at a constant challenge I face each time I make new kallitypes.

Let’s say in a perfect world I mix up a batch of fresh developer, fresh toner and fresh fixer for each session. When the first print goes into the developer, the developer immediately begins to weaken, as it leaches some of the emulsion, turning slightly yellow. After developing and washing, the print goes into the toner, and when the selenium reacts with the silver, it also starts to weaken and begins to darken. Then the print is washed again and fixed, and though the fixer doesn’t change color, you know it is becoming weaker, because it is getting absorbed into each sheet of paper. On top of that, the darkroom vent fan is causing all of the chemicals to slowly evaporate as it suctions up fumes.

Magnolia pod, Cividale, Italy

So basically, after the very first print hits all three baths, each of them is in turn slightly weakened, slightly older, slightly aged….each time you pass a new print through the same baths, you are already at a kind of disadvantage because the chemistry is not the same as when print #1 passed through.

Church door, Punta Penna, Vasto, Italy

By the end of a 3- or 4-hour long session, the developer is usually exhausted, and though the selenium continues to be usable, it takes longer and longer to get the tone shift you see when the solution is fresh. I usually save the selenium into a plastic bottle, and some of the particulate settles to the bottom, yielding a lighter-colored selenium for the next session, but it is still aged.

Shadow of seagull on the awning above the breakfast terrace of our hotel, Venice, Italy

Next session, I mix up fresh developer again, and then I reuse the same selenium and fixer. And the next session after that, same deal, until the selenium is visibly exhausted and no longer produces the color shift I want. So next session, fresh developer again and fresh selenium, but I continue to use the same fixer for at least another batch of prints.

50th Anniversary of the Annual Barcolana Regatta, largest in the world with over 2,600 boats of all classes, Bay of Trieste, Italy

Typically: my one batch of ammonium citrate developer yields 7 prints and by the time I discard it, it is pretty dark yellow; my one batch of selenium solution yields 14 or so prints and by the time I discard it, it is pretty dark black; my one batch of fixer yields roughly 25 prints, and though it is still clear when I finish, there is much less chemistry in the tray than when I started.

Door, Casalbordino, Italy

Moral of the story: not only is each print unique because of the way I coat the paper, the amount of chemistry I use to coat, the paper I select, the exposure I use, and the age and strength of the bulbs in the UV unit, but the chemistry in each bath is always different – developer stronger or weaker, selenium fresher or closer to being exhausted, etc. In order to get a more consistent result I would have to mix fresh everything for each print, which isn’t feasible, not to mention economical or practical.

And so there you have it. A dilemma which results in a feeling of constantly chasing what I have termed the ‘perfect imperfection’. There is no chance that two prints will be exactly the same. And that is perhaps what I most love about this process, even as it is endlessly frustrating knowing you just cannot control all the variables.  Fino alla prossima volta! (Until next time….)



Kallitype Progress Report

Happy Monday everyone! Jen Perena here with a look at some of my recent work.

Over the past couple sessions, I have been focusing on making prints that feature vegetation of some sort: vegetables, flowers, herbs, cacti, grasses, etc. In this post I’ll share an image of chive flowers and another of squash blossoms.

My intention with this part of the series is to produce images that I can watercolor over. When I initially conceived of this grouping, I was visualizing slightly underexposed images that would allow me to paint the entire image without ‘losing’ too much of the color in the shadows. I selected a set of vividly-colored iPhone photos, converted them to black and white, digitally manipulated them so that they would produce ‘dense negatives’ and then began contact printing. But it is never easy.

I started by printing with the very smooth print-makers paper that I mentioned a few posts back. Process-wise, when you expose the paper, then remove the negative, you are looking for a ‘whisper’ of the image. In both cases, after 5-min exposures, I got great ‘whispers’….but upon development, most of the chemistry washed away, and by the time I got to toning, there wasn’t much left. For these, I would have needed much longer exposures….however, the resulting lighter gray-toned images should work well for the watercoloring process.

Here you can see the ‘whisper’ on the left after the print came out of the UV unit, and then the final image, dried down, on the right, looking washed out and underexposed
Same thing here with the squash blossoms image – ‘whisper’ on the left, final image on the right

I next coated some of the watercolor paper I had been using. Same 5 minute exposure times, but the watercolor paper retains the chemistry much better, so these came out looking really overexposed.

Here you can see the chive flowers looking very dark, too dark to water color over and actually too overexposed to use
And for the squash blossoms, though I think this is also too dark, I really like how it came out, and I would consider not coloring it

I haven’t decided which I like best yet, but I plan to do more printing: using the watercolor paper again I’ll print shorter exposures, and using the print-makers paper I’ll print longer exposures, and see if I can get a more happy medium of resulting images with both papers. And then hopefully it will be easier to decide which to use for the watercoloring.

Stay tuned for samples of the watercolored images….

Kallitype Behind the Scenes Part 2

Happy Monday everyone! Jen Perena here with a continued behind-the-scenes look at the kallitype process, this week focusing on the development, toning and fixing steps.

First off, full disclosure, everything I know about this process I have either learned from taking classes at the Flower City Arts Center, directly from the instructor of the Kallitype class, Jon Merritt, or from reading up on the kallitype process in books and online. So even though I have made almost 100 new prints since my residency began, nothing here reflects any big revelations….

The basic process is this:

  • Develop: 8 min*, constant tray agitation
  • Wash: 1 min, running water**
  • Tone: 1 min, constant tray agitation
  • Wash: 1 min, running water
  • Fix: 1 min, constant tray agitation
  • Wash: fill and dump tray 10 times
  • Final Wash: 20 min

*In class, for the sake of time, we only developed for 1 min. This was to  allow all the students to get a turn (class is only 3 hours!), stretch the chemistry, and, for learning purposes, 1 min was sufficient, since the image appears almost instantly in the bath. Leaving the print longer is recommended when making work you care about or that you really want to stand the test of time. I have been developing for somewhere in the 4 min to 8 min range, depending on how the image appears in the bath – for example, if I see right away that the coating is uneven or there is a problem, I develop for less time.

There are several options for developing solutions and I have experimented with 4 of them, finally settling on ammonium citrate. I buy it in powdered form, pre-measured into a one-liter plastic bottle which you simply fill with hot distilled water and shake. The ammonium citrate has a slightly cooler tone than others I have tried, and I like the way it further changes in the toner. I get about 7 prints from 1 liter of solution, and along the way, the developer slowly becomes more and more yellow.

This is how the print looks in the ammonium citrate developer – notice the reddish/yellowish tone

**After developing, you wash the print in tap water for just over a minute before toning. In class we learned to fill and dump the water tray numerous times while running the hose over the print in the tray. In preparation for my residency, I learned another trick from Jon: to add about a teaspoon of citric acid into the water bath and leave the print there for 10 seconds before washing with the hose – this alkalizes the print and prevents some of the bleaching that can happen in the fixer. No matter what though, the print still lightens up a little bit during this first washing step.

Here you can see the reddish/yellowish tone has lightened up a little in the first water bath

For toning, I am using a 1% selenium solution (10 ml selenium to 1000 ml distilled water). When the toner is fresh, you see a color shift within about 10 seconds, to an even cooler (gray to black) tone; when the toner is getting exhausted, it takes upwards of 2 minutes to see the shift. Right now I am averaging 14 prints per liter of fresh selenium, and then I have to mix more.

Here you can see how the color has shifted in the selenium toner – much cooler!

You don’t actually HAVE to tone, but it is recommended to increase the longevity of the print.

You wash again (after toning) for another minute, then fix in a bath of sodium thiosulfate. The fixer is a full minute as well. I am usually making 6-7 prints per session right now, and each liter of fix is good for approximately 25 prints, so that’s around 4 printing sessions for the 1 liter. If everything went right in the steps up to the fix, there should be minimal to no color change/bleaching at this point.

Success! No further color shift or bleaching in the fix!

And then after fixing, you wash again in a tray with running water, filling and dumping the tray 10 times (2-3 min), before finally putting the print into the tub to wash for 20 min. In class we washed for roughly 10 min at the end, but again, when you really want the work to be archival, you should wash longer.  Altogether, each print takes somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes, just for the wet side of the processing.

The image shown in the photos in this post is one of the new negatives I just made and printed for the first time this past weekend. I’m excited about working with more new negatives and getting into the darkroom to do more printing over the next two weeks, so stay tuned for updates on how the new work is coming along!

Kallitype Preparation Behind the Scenes

Happy Monday everyone! Jen Perena here with a behind-the-scenes look at the kallitype process of prepping the paper.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I have been struggling a bit with getting a smooth and even coating. When the coating is uneven the resulting print shows the brushstrokes and can look streaky, patchy, and in some cases, shows spots that were completely missed. While some of the prints are still really interesting (I personally love seeing the mistakes because that image, while not perfect, is still one of a kind!), they are not what I have in mind for my exhibit, so I continue to work at it.

In this post, I wanted to share a little of how I am prepping the paper. The first step, after selecting the paper, is to mix the chemistry emulsion. I am using the standard kallitype solution: x number of drops of ferric oxalate (yellowish) and the same x number of drops of silver nitrate (clear), mixed in a shot glass (add the drops, swirl the glass), and am using this to coat the paper.

You mix a set number of drops of each chemical

I am using a paint brush that we used in class (where I learned the process), though it is not the kind of brush recommended for the process…..but so far my results are mostly good, and being a little superstitious, I am not switching (even though I did buckle down and buy new hake brushes, which are the recommended type….).

The idea is to pick up the chemistry by dipping the brush into the shot glass, then apply the chemistry, in low light, to the paper.

Hand coating the paper in dim light

You brush back and forth, criss crossing the paper in all directions, to move the chemistry around and ensure the surface is evenly coated. The light is low, so you do your best, and when the paper dries (and I should have tried to get a pic, but I forgot – sorry!), it is yellowish (from the ferric oxalate) and should show if the coating is mostly even.

If you use less chemistry, you can coat a smaller area, and that is what gives you the brush stroke detail at the edges of the image; if you use more chemistry you can coat outside the ‘borders’ of the negative/image dimensions, and that is what gives the thick dark brown/black border showing the brushstrokes.

I am in the habit of letting the paper ‘rest’ for a few minutes before I force dry it. If you had enough time to wait for the paper to fully dry you could skip force drying the coated paper, but due to the humidity in the room, and my desire to use my time in the darkroom efficiently, I use the hair dryer, on the low setting, drying the back first, then the front, til the paper is ‘bone dry’. You test it by lightly touching it with the back of your hand. If you detect any moisture/coolness, you keep drying. (If you are in a hurry and don’t dry the paper all the way, the ink from the digital negative will stick to the paper during exposure, ruining the negative….I have personally learned this lesson…lol)

Gently dry the paper with a hair dryer

Once the paper is dry, you put it in the light box with the negative. It is a contact print, so you have to align the negative within the coated area, which, luckily, even in dim light you can see, making sure that there are no hairs or debris ‘stuck’ in the coating that could impact the print.

Then you carefully lay the negative on top of the paper in a light box

Then you expose the image for the desired number of minutes. I am doing 5-6 minutes for each one right now.

In my next post I’ll share a little about the development, toning and fixing stages!