In June of 2011 I had been the curator at UWA for just over 6 months and LEA wasn’t even a thing yet. Some months earlier the UWA Virlantis sim, which had been used for language teaching in a program that was no longer happening, was relegated to monthly full-sim installations by select artists. Before LEA, this was a nearly unheard of opportunity for single artists to go crazy with virtually unlimited resources. I lusted after the sim as much as anyone, but felt it was inappropriate as curator at UWA to just take a month if another artist could use it. But there was a vacancy for June and when no one jumped at it, I asked JayJay to let me have it. The result was my simulated journey into the afterlife called Angry Gods. It was an inspirational and obsessive creative process for me at the time, and it’s been something I’ve been quietly working on, as time and the mood strikes, ever since.
My first thought was to make an online exhibition book of the installation. I had the images and the skills. And as the idea has evolved I’ve begun in earnest to write what I’m calling a “graphic novel,” though it may be more like a series of vignettes than a coherent story.
At the same time, I’ve been obsessing over a lifelong interest in traditional print technologies and how they might be used in conjunction with modern digital imaging. I learned to do letterpress printing when I was very young and my family had inherited a wonderful benchtop cast iron printing press and a set of type cases. I learned to set lead type, but also learned some basics in linocut and silk screening. In graduate school for Musicology, I was a medievalist and studied not only the content of illuminated manuscripts, but also the techniques for creating pens, brushes, pigments, paper and parchment, bindings, etc. All the bookmaker’s trades.
Later, I would go into professional fields that were more and more technology oriented, ultimately doing PR and web development for universities, libraries, and government arts organizations. And I learned to make print publications using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.
All the while never losing my interest in traditional printing processes. In the last couple of years, I’ve been pursuing my knowledge of these processes more in earnest and the vision for Angry Gods: The Graphic Novel has been evolving into Angry Gods: The Art Book.
My plan at this point is to spend the next year or so working hard on this project, which will be in two parts: a limited edition of a book that uses photographic images created in virtual worlds, but rendering them with many traditional printing and printmaking techniques. And a separate book describing the processes used to create the first book.
My first experiments have been predictably crude. So far I’ve made a print using a portrait image from a SL avatar and made a 3D printed plastic plate for printing on a large traditional printmaker’s press.
Next I used the same image to hand carve a standard linoleum block.
And now I’ve been experimenting with cyanotype. This is the traditional photographic process used in old style architectural blueprints. It’s really easy and requires almost no special equipment. I took an image of my Traveler cartoon avatar from Angry Gods and tweaked it a bit in Photoshop to smooth it out and increase contrast. Then printed it in a reversed negative on a transparency film in my laser printer. I used a cyanotype kit that includes two bottles of chemicals and measured out a tablespoon of each into a small beaker. Mixed them together with a soft wide brush and there was enough to coat eight sheets of roughly 8″ x 10″ watercolor paper. I did this in a dimly lit room at night, turned out the lights and let them dry a few hours. Then placed them in a light tight pouch until ready to use the next day.
I made a sandwich of the treated paper and my negative between two sheets of glass I had from unused picture frames, all held together with binder clips. Then I took it outside and placed it in the sun for about 5 minutes. The chemicals react to UV light. Then it’s just a matter of removing the paper and plunging it into a water bath for a bit. I added about a cap full of peroxide, which caused the chemicals to immediately turn their characteristic deep blue. The image above was my best of 4 test exposures. It’s a beautiful looking texture, but I think I need to work on shielding the paper better from ambient light exposure and painting the chemicals a bit more evenly. Also, my cheap desktop laser printer doesn’t print a very solid black, so for my final project I will likely take my images to a professional copy shop to make the transparencies.