Leafmaking method finalized (I think!)

I keep saying I have got something to take on the road and then I find problems. Today, I finally produced leaves that are very close to what I thought I could get from this process. They are very accurate in form, they are the right color, and they have all the graphic detail of the actual leaf I collected. I am testing my leaf making process on a series of Red Osier leaves that I will eventually add to the iconic Shoreline diorama produced by James Perry Wilson and Ralph Morrill here at the Peabody Museum.

Materials Needed:

camera

Epson Inkjet printer

Jacquard Inkjet printing fabric (Classic Poly Taffeta and Cotton Sheeting)

5 minute epoxy plaster for moldmaking

Computer with photoshop

The first step was to collect the leaves. Since I knew I was going to incorporate these into the Shoreline diorama, I had to collect them at the same time depicted in the diorama. James Perry Wilson was very specific about the dates depicted in his dioramas and the Shoreline is set at 11 am. on June 15th.

Red Osier growing in situ.

Red Osier growing in situ.

Red Osier June 16 b

I take many photos on site to be used as references for my fabricated leaves and to make the branches accurate. The next photographs are taken back at the museum of the leaves, both front and back. Each leaf is given a number such as BL1, (B series, Large leaf, and #1) and these numbers are photographed with the leaves. These identifying numbers are kept with the photos when all the leaves are bundled into a photographic file. The numbers are eventually put on the molds as well.

Without stopping to take a breath, the mold making is begun so the leaves don’t dry or distort. Thin plaster is brushed onto the back of each leaf (I brush on some photo flo or thinned dish soap first so the plaster doesn’t bead up on the leaf surface). Thin plaster is used to minimize deformation of the three dimensionality of the leaves. Once the first layer of plaster is set, another layer is painted over it. As the second layer sets, a third is added and so on until a rigid cast of the underside of each leaf is made. I add fiberglass to a middle layer for strength.

First half of mold with leaf

First half of mold with leaf and identifying number

Once the first part of the mold is completed, turn over the leaf and start the second part of the mold. First, I vaseline all plaster surfaces as a release and try to keep vaseline off the leaf. For the second half it is possible to make the plaster thicker. I cover the leaf and plaster with approximately 3/16″ of plaster. I add a layer of fiberglass and cover with another 3/16″ of plaster. Once this is set up, the two halves are split apart and the leaf can be removed and discarded.

Now, there is a numbered photograph and a corresponding numbered mold for each leaf. The photographs are then cut and pasted together in photoshop. Orient the leaves so the vein side will face down into the mold. The upper print will be flipped in orientation to the vein side.

Photoshopped leaves printed on fabric

Photoshopped leaves printed on fabric. Note the two different colored sides. Also the veins are enhanced so they will show up better.

To print, I use Jacquard inkjet fabric that can be printed in an Epson Inkjet printer. The Epson inks are archival for 100 years. I use a Classic Polyester Taffeta fabric for the vein side and Cotton Sheeting for the front. I use one heavier weight fabric and a thinner one so the printed colors and images don’t merge together when cast. With this technique, I can print a leaf with two different colored sides. To cast, a pair of prints are chosen, cut out of the sheet, and the fabric removed off the paper. The vein side is cut with a bit more white fabric surrounding it. This is so the two halves can be registered.

Pair of leaves cut out

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Using a light box align veins

Using a light box align veins

IMG_4064   Now, on to the casting…I mix enough clear five minute epoxy to cover both halves of the mold. (Vaseline is used as a separator on the plaster mold. On the plaster mold of the leaf itself, the vaseline is applied thinly-enough to make the leaf surface shine, but not enough to show up as a texture in the cast.) I cover the vein side of the mold with epoxy first and quickly put the printed fabric (vein side down) into it. As the fabric wets down, the veins of the mold can be seen through the fabric and it is possible to match the printed veins to the veins in the mold. Once the veins are matched, I place the second print over the first matching the registration marks. I quickly cover the second half of the mold with epoxy and carefully lay it on top of the fabric and other mold half. I clamp with spring clamps and, or c-clamps. This step is a bit fussy because it is possible that the fabric will slide away from alignment as the second half of the mold is clamped. I have found that practice helps, but if done with care, the cast will usually be aligned correctly.

Spring Clamps or C Clamps or a combination of the two work well

Spring Clamps or C Clamps or a combination of the two work well

I give the epoxy about 15 minutes to set up well enough to pull out of the mold. Since the epoxy is still rubbery, I can use a scissors to cut away the flashing of fabric and epoxy. I lay the cast leaf back into the vein side of the mold and let it harden into its correct shape.

The finished leaf hardening in the mold.

The finished leaf hardening in the mold.

Final product!

Final product!

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More Success

leaf front leaf back

There are a lot of things still wrong with this leaf. The veins don’t match the creases in the 3D leaf, the veins need to taper off from thick to thin, the green leaf color is off, BUT this is the first time I have been able to get a transparent leaf with two sides with different colors and with the graphic detail showing through enough. What I think I have found is the method, now I just have to get the photo to match the mold and get the right color.

The key to getting this kind of two-toned cast is to use a thicker fabric such as Cotton Sheeting from Jacquard. Print the front side on the Cotton Sheeting, which because of the thicker material, keeps the ink from going all the way through. This inserts a white barrier between the front print and the back, so what is printed on the front doesn’t overpower the back. The back side was printed on Polyester Tafetta, but it may work to print both sides on the Cotton Sheeting.

I need to learn Photoshop so I can make the prints how I want them and not keep pestering Sally in Graphics

This was a good day.

 

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Five Minute Epoxy Rules!

I think I have finally stumbled upon the way to get what I want with making accurate, translucent  leaves. Earlier, I wrote about matching photographs of leaves with plaster molds made from the same leaf and then using inkjet prints of leaves on a scrim fabric with the associated mold to get a good replica (blog entry: July 2013). This was close to perfect except, I went down the wrong track by trying to make vacuform casts from the molds and adhere the fabric to the vacuform leaves. This week, close to the June 15th date of the Shoreline diorama, I went out and collected more red osier from a nearby lake. I photographed the leaves and then made plaster molds, this time, of both the front and back.

Plaster molds (front and back) of red osier leaves.

Plaster molds (front and back) of red osier leaves.

From the photographs, Sally made prints off the inkjet printer on a fabric from Jacquard called Habotai 10mm. This fabric is close to a scrim material and therefore the colored print shows through front and back. By the way, I spent a day or so getting accurate color from the actual leaves-both front and back. Sally then printed several leaves with different saturations of different colors. We ultimately found a green that is almost an exact copy of the actual leaves (in daylight).

Print of leaf on Habotai fabric by Jacquard

Print of leaf on Habotai fabric by Jacquard

Five minute epoxy is mixed with a bit of green oil pigment made from ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow light. The epoxy is spread over one side of the mold (light vaseline used on leaf surface, heavier on the periphery) and the fabric tamped down into it making sure the middle vein lines up with the mold’s vein. The second half of the mold (also with vaseline) is given a coating of epoxy and carefully laid over the first half of the mold. A spring clamp compresses the two halves. A good cast is insured when epoxy oozes from the seams. In five minutes, the epoxy is set and the cast can be lifted out.

Cast leaf in half of the mold.

Cast leaf in half of the mold.

The cast can be fully removed from the mold immediately or it can rest in the mold for an hour until the epoxy hardens more. The flashing is then cut away with scissors and the result is extremely lifelike! There is no need for any extrinsic painting or waxing. The shininess is controlled by dusting with fumed silica.

IMG_3859

 

I will have two interns working for me over the summer and we are going to go into production. I have one outlying concern. Thin epoxy over time does tend to droop and yellow. The fabric may keep the drooping from happening, but I will be making tests of this and watch for color changes. A tapered wire might need to be cast in along the midline for support.

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More on the Leaves

DSCN0186

The new sprig has larger leaves and more insect damage and is right in front.

I installed the red osier sprig into the Shoreline diorama. I was happy that the leaves look less artificial than what is in there now, but the translucency was not that apparent and the graphic quality of the leaves is not easily seen from outside the window. So, I have a new set of problems. I am going to have to pump up the graphics a bit more-especially the veins of the leaves so they will be visible. I also think the wax (or something else?) has to go on thinner. The detail of the vacuform leaf is lessened by the wax.

I think for now, I have decided that the first test with printed fabric may have been given the best results so far. Now, I have to find a suitable substitute for the “poly silk” material. I have purchased a test roll of a fabric called Habotai (pronounced habit-eye) from Jacquard inkjet fabric systems in CA. Sally is running a test with this material in our Epson inkjet printer. If it still isn’t right there are seven more with names like Cotton Lawn,Drepe de Chine, Poly Taffeta,Charmeuse, Fuji Broadcoth, etc…

This project has thrown me a lot of curve balls. Sometimes work on a problem is like that, but if I can work out the bugs, it will save an enormous amount of time for leaf production in the future. I remain hopeful!

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Update on Problems

More problems with printing on acetate or in this case on a matte medium skin. I painted 3-4 layers of matte medium on an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of polypropylene. InkAid was the final surface over the matte medium. This gets sent through the printer (set the feed to the highest setting so it won’t get stuck-mine did). After drying, the matte medium surface is peeled off the polypropylene and adhered to the leaf with more matte medium. The InkAid surface has to be white to get adequate saturation of color. That leaves a white surface on the back. So, the problem with this experiment is that either the back has to be painted, or both the front and back need a print attached to the vacuform leaf. The fabric prints make this unnecessary because the ink sinks into the fabric and colors both sides. This leads me to think the first idea of printing on fabric is the best.

 

Matte medium print-note the skid marks from getting caught in the printer. Still, this print showed me that the distortion problem can be handled with a low-tech solution in photoshop.

Matte medium print-note the skid marks from getting caught in the printer. Still, this print showed me that the distortion problem can be handled with a low-tech solution in photoshop.

Back side of matte medium print. The white is unacceptable.

Back side of matte medium print. The white is unacceptable.

Sally Pallatto, Peabody’s graphic artist, did some low-tech morphing of the image in photoshop using a distortion tool. She pulled one side one way and the other side the other way. The result was a print that sucked down over the leaf with the printed veins matching the vacuform veins. It is not scientific, but it worked. Ken Lovell told me he was going to do some R&D with photoshop this summer at the DMCA to try to figure out a more reliable way to distort the image.

 

Next step is to try fabric again and figure out a better way to get the vacuform to work better.

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Problems

One thing that goes with this territory of building and maintaining dioramas is that sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as you’d like.  I am now running into this with the leaf making.  Here is a list of the problems as they stand right now:

1. Ken had difficulty creating a matrix on the scanned mold.  I have to see if he can come up with another way to do this. If there is not an easy way, my prints won’t fit well into the molds.

2. I experimented with the opaque white Inkaid substrate and found that the 50-50 and 75-25 mixes with transparent substrate were too thin to get good saturated color.  I airbrushed full strength white substrate and even that didn’t give me the saturation I got in the fabric.  It might be that fabric absorbs more color into the weave and therefore is innately more saturated than acetate. I will spray out a double coat of the white and see what I get.  The single layer of white still gives me adequate translucency.

fabric on top, acetate on bottom.  The photo doesn't show the lesser saturation on the acetate as well as in life.

fabric on top, acetate on bottom. The photo doesn’t show the lesser saturation of the acetate as it actually is.

 

3. There is not as much strength in the vacuforming as I had wanted and this is because of problems I am having with the 10 mil acetate and the need to do one leaf at a time. If I use a heat gun on the printed acetate, the ink discolors or burns easily.  You have to be very careful for this not to happen.  I found that if I cut the leaf to the contours dictated by the print, lay it down and register it on the mold, cover it with a larger piece of acetate and heat all of it, I can get good suction and a leaf with good contours, but not with the veins and subtle detail.  The lack of full saturation of color is not going to derail this, but if I can’t figure out a way to get better detail, I’m not sure I will find this method as workable as I’d hoped.  I guess I could let the print give a 2D representation of the detail, but I want the form of the leaf to show it too.

Vacuforming method for single leaves.

Vacuforming method for single leaves.

4. The non-print side needs attention because it is white.

So, there are a lot of things to consider before this is really ready to go into production. Stay tuned!

 

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More Printing on Acetate

Leaf mold to be scanned

Leaf mold to be scanned

I dropped off a leaf mold today at Ken Lovell’s lab (Yale Digital Media Center for the Arts).  He is going to make a 3D scan of the surface of the mold, create a matrix that will be laid over the prints of the leaves.   From this, he will morph the prints so they should vacuform right down onto the mold perfectly.  As Ken said, in theory!  I haven’t had a chance yet to use a milky subsurface on the acetate that will run through the inkjet printer.

Pabric with printed leaves

Pabric with printed leaves

One other note, I purchased some “Pabric” fabric that can be run through the inkjet printer.  I made a test and wasn’t happy with the saturation of the color in the fabric (not saturated enough) or the ability to glue it to the vacuform leaf (the material is too heavy).  The fabric printing still is a strong plan B.  Ken mentioned today that he can get a printable polysilk (cheaply) that can also be run through the printer.  The only problem with doing it with fabric is I lose some or all of the detail of the form of the leaf  I can get with the vacuforming.

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