The underlying spirit of this blog is to share my failures in the hope that other photo-cognescenti can avoid some pitfalls. I have spent quite a few hours trying to learn the Bromoil process and I think I am now making a little progress, although there is still some way to go … Here I share my experiments with bromoil printing using Foma emulsion.

My previous posts (here, here and here) described my attempts at using various papers. However, I found the papers gave inconsistent results so I decided to work on coating papers with Foma emulsion. Here is my method:

Paper

I decided to try Bockingford Hot Press paper as it is a local rag paper at a reasonable price. I chose Hot Press to give me a smooth result and a weight of 300 gsm so that the paper could withstand long soaks.

The first task was to find the grain of the paper. By cutting a strip off the length and another strip off the width, and then soaking them in warm water, the paper curls along the grain when it dries (and wash-boards against the grain). Having found the axis of the grain, I cut the paper to the relevant sizes and put a notch at the bottom right hand corner to indicate the grain direction.

I also allowed at least an inch of margin on all sides of the cut the paper so that the final picture did not suffer from edge artefacts.

Emulsion

Under a red safe light in the darkroom, I coated the paper along the grain axis with a flat, smooth paintbrush, after melting the emulsion at 38 C in a water bath. I found that two coats were necessary.

The coated paper has to be treated gently, since no hardeners have been added. The gelatin coat is easily damaged, so even when washing prints, it is best to do them individually. Gloved hands are better than plastic tongues.

Exposing the negative

I found the emulsion to be fast and quite contrasty – about grade 3.5. Obviously Foma is a fixed grade emulsion, so the challenge with using it is to work out how best to control the contrast. This I do through print development (and appropriate image selection).

Printing

I made up Selectol-Soft to process the prints, which I diluted more than normal and then printed by inspection. I then used a normal stop bath and a non-hardening fixer (Hypam).

Tan and bleach

I tanned and bleached for 10 minutes then washed then re-fixed. I use Gilberts from Wet Plate Supplies.

Inking

After superdrying for 1 minute, I soaked the prints for 10 minutes at 18 C. I then inked using a soft brush and a dense sponge after placing the print onto damp blotting paper to slow down the dessication process. I use G&C #1796 and Senefelder ink. I found that the ink needed a little thinning with Linseed oil. Perhaps in the Summer this would not be necessary.

The ink is taken up by the emulsion very easily, so only tiny amounts are needed. It is best to do several sparse inkings rather than fewer, thicker ones. Also the highlights clear with little effort. With some of the previous papers, I had to pound the paper to clear the highlights. Foma coated paper would not withstand this treatment.

I also found that the matrix dried out quickly, so I needed to re-hydrate quite often, approx every 10 minutes or so and also to re-dampen the blotting paper.

Results

The results are promising. I had quite a few attempts which produced results that were too contrasty. Lengthening the soak times has helped. However I would prefer softer results as I want to move towards Bromoil portraiture.

Bromoil – Abandoned Farm House, North Dakota

More work required

The things I will now work on:

  • softer brushes
  • two bath print development to further control contrast
  • sizing the paper into baryta to give a smoother emulsion coating
  • adding a hint of colour

Final remarks

I seem to be on a reasonable track now. The end goal will be to produce my own emulsion from gelatin and silver nitrate and halides for both Bromoil and Lith work. Another ‘can of worms’ I expect!