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Digital Alchemy: Introduction to Gel and SuperSauce

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Until recently, artists could use Polaroid transfers to create a unique form of art. With the demise of Polaroid film this technique is largely unavailable to most artists, so Bonny Lhotka offers some creative alternatives.
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Until recently, artists could use Polaroid transfers to create a unique form of art. A Polaroid transfer is created by developing the image, peeling off the backing, and then applying the image to a paper substrate—transferring the photo emulsion to the paper. The artist was then free to alter the image as desired. Unfortunately, with the demise of Polaroid film this technique is largely unavailable to most artists, so I set out to develop alternatives. The result gave me processes that keep the emulsion liquid for long enough to manipulate it, much like what was possible with the Polaroid film.

For these alternative processes, you'll use mediums containing alcohol to dissolve and encapsulate the inks as they move from the transfer film to the substrate.

One of the transfer mediums is alcohol gel, and is used as-is out of the alcohol gel container. It's ideal for use on porous waterleaf paper. With the other transfer medium, SuperSauce, you add the alcohol to it and you can then apply it to most any surface you choose.

Alcohol Gel

Alcohol gel is most commonly known as hand sanitizer. I was grounded once on an airplane in Chicago during a thunderstorm and was so bored I started reading the labels on the things in my purse. The ingredient list on the bottle of Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer gave me an idea that, since it contains alcohol, it might be a good solvent for inkjet inks. On arriving home, I gave it a try, and just as I surmised it worked wonderfully as a transfer medium. In Chapter 5, I'll show you this alcohol gel process. Since it's so easy, everyone who works with it likes this process, and it's a great foundation process to start down the road of alternative printing techniques.

One of this gel's properties is that if you put it on your hands, it almost immediately disappears, but if you squirt it on a nonporous surface at room temperature, it will remain there for quite some time. Therefore, make sure you always wear protective gloves when you work with it. In addition, you'll want to use a roller, old credit card, or soft scraper to spread it on your substrate—that'll further help keep it from evaporating too quickly (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 Alcohol gel remains liquid on a nonporous surface.

The transfer works best on waterleaf paper, like the easy-to-find Arches 88. If you dip this paper into water, it immediately absorbs the moisture and tears very easily. That's what allows the alcohol gel to soak into the paper quickly and evenly. You can also use Arches hot press paper, but it takes longer to absorb the alcohol gel. You can pre-soak several pieces and store them in a plastic bag. As long as the bag is sealed and kept in a cool area, the paper can last for weeks (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2 Choose a paper that quickly and evenly absorbs the alcohol gel.

Many other printmaking papers are also waterleaf, and will work as long as they are smooth to allow good contact with the film. The new eco-friendly bamboo papers from Legion Paper work very well with this process. Bamboo is a highly renewable resource, and is the fastest growing plant on earth—up to 3 to 4 feet per day. I'm starting to use this paper in my own work with great success.

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