Chemistry – varnish mystery

I got back home from 3 weeks away at work today and went and checked on my chemicals to start prepping them up to hopefully start shooting next week. Was surprised to find that when I checked the new batch of varnish I made that it had gone incredibly dark and a thick layer of black sediment had formed on the bottom of the bottle. midlandstwigs-1-9I don’t really know for sure but I have a suspicion that having the bottle of varnish vacuum sealed with a wine stopper may have had something to do with it. When I first sealed the bottle there were air bubbles rising out of the varnish for quite some time. I’m wondering if the vacuum seal caused a separation of carbon matter in the varnish or something. Anyway, I’m a little concerned that it’s ruined the varnish but I’ve filtered it about 5 or 6 times tonight and it seems to be going back to normal colour although the viscosity of the varnish is much less thick than I think it should be. TIme will tell I guess. The smaller bottle on the right you see here is from the same batch, it just wasn’t stored under vacuum.


Darker varnish after a few runs through some cotton and coffee filters. Still a little darker but looks much better.


Old etherless ‘Old Reliable’ Collodion

Checking on the collodion, it’s getting really really dark red now. I had a look at my journal and although I haven’t kept it up to date the last (long) while, the last entry I had for mixing up a batch of collodion was June 2016, which means that I would have mixed that into some older stuff…

I’ve been reading a few articles here and there about people adding cadmium rods or acetone and other junk into their really old collodion to replenish it but rebuttals to that have said whilst you may increase sensitivity of the collodion you do nothing to compensate for the breakdown of nitrocellulose, which is essentially what’s holding the image together on the plate. Pouring varnish onto this weakened collodion will almost certainly see it dissolve before your eyes and I am not entirely sure I want to take that risk… I still haven’t varnished the plates I made in January because I’m terrified they’ll evaporate.

Anyway, I just need to filter my 11×14 silver bath and clean some plates. I might mix up another small batch of fresh collodion tomorrow and throw it in this older one to freshen it up a little bit. I also need to re-construct my van darkroom as I tore it down so Lauren could use my car while I was away at work. I’m thinking this time of using the rear door that opens up as a conventional ‘portable darkroom’ design, but obviously it will be much larger. A kind of curtain hanging from the door so that I can actually stand at the back of the van and have my silver bath and trays on the floor. It will be ergonomically much more practical and hopefully will massively improve my 11×14 workflow. It just might be a little bit of a pain in the ass to build. I’ll start getting the materials tomorrow and hopefully have it up and running early next week.

I also put a piece of black aluminium behind a 11×14 clear glass ambrotype that I made a few weeks ago. I posted a shitty photo of the aluminium version but this is the clear glass one. Looking at it under light I’m pretty happy with the development on this, but still unhappy with the dark contrast on the left hand corner. I think this plate could have potentially been a keeper, but I will need to try again and sort out that dark contrast on the left side. The other artefacts and rubbish on the plate are because I never rinsed this one fully and it’s just been sitting in a puddle of water in the shed for the last 3 weeks.


On that note, I also purchased some Black 2.0 to paint the backBLACK_BOTTLE_WEB_large (1) of my clear glass plates with. Apparently it doesn’t reflect any light and is ‘the most matte black’ available on the market. I don’t hold immensely high hopes for it seeing as that you will probably never prevent 100% of the light that is going to be bouncing around inside clear glass… however if I can find a cheaper alternative to ruby red or black glass like blue glass or something this stuff might work well to paint it with.

Looking forward to shooting next week!

Here’s a couple of odd snaps I took at work



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