Sugar Maple Production

Forest Margin Canopy

Forest Margin Canopy

Progress report:

Nicole and I successfully pulled a couple of branches out of the diorama by un-wiring them from the scaffolding of the diorama. By carefully snaking them out, we were able to limit damage. When we got them to my lab, we clipped off the leaves that were drooping or damaged, repaired the damage (white glue) or reheated them to reduce the droopiness. We stripped back the plastic insulation to expose the wires and reattached each of them to the branch by drilling new holes and epoxying them into place.

Leaves Forest Margin

Leaves Forest Margin

This appeared to be a hopeful method to redo the entire canopy until we reinstalled the branches. Re-installation turned out to be almost impossible to accomplish without damaging the fragile wax/paper leaves. If it were only a few leaves, it would be OK, but it was more than I was comfortable with, so we will leave the other branches in place without restoration. We will make a number of aluminum branches with the new epoxy leaves to put in under the old branches. These will serve as braces to support the older branches and the new leaves will provide a more pristine lower level of the understory most visible to the visitor.

In the mean time, Nicole is patiently teaching me how to find my way around Photoshop. Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? But, they never said how long it might take to teach them (or if they will remember once they’ve learned it!)! Anyway, Nicole discovered a low-tech way to morph the flat photographs of the leaves into the undulating molds. This is something 3D scanning will, no doubt, solve in the future, but we don’t have the capacity to do it now at the Peabody Museum. Actually everything I have developed with the leafmaking will almost surely become a simple process when 3D scanning and printing develops more in the future. I’m looking forward to it!

My Photoshop Work (my notes-not necessarily the best way):

Nicole’s process is to wet a piece of the fabric we use to print the backs of the leaves (Jacquard Habotai 12mm) and place it wet over the mold of the leaf. She gets it to adhere to the surface of the mold and traces the contours of the leaf with a wax pencil onto the fabric. This is a simple way to get the contours needed to stretch/morph the print so it will match the mold. That contour drawing is photographed and opened in photoshop. The photograph of the leaf is also added as a layer to the canvas so the contour drawing and photograph are both seen on the screen of the computer. The images both have to be the size of the actual leaf. I measure the central vein from the bottom point where all the veins come together to the intersection of one of the more prominent, laterally branching veins further up the central vein. I measure the mold with vernier calipers to get the actual measurement and then resize both images so they are the same (Edit-Transform-Scale hold the shift key and drag up or down from the corner). I also had to rotate the images so the central vein is as vertical as possible (Edit-Transform-Rotate)

Some other minor adjustments had to be made (which took me an afternoon to figure out). The contour drawing had to be lightened and made translucent enough to drag over the photo so the veins can be seen on both. To lighten the contour drawing (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Selective Color) I chose Black as the color and clicked the Absolute button to get the drawing to stand out on a white background. In the Layers box I adjusted the opacity to get some translucency. I also added contrast and lowered the brightness a bit so I could see the drawing better (Image-Adjustments-Brightness/Contrast) Then by dragging the contour drawing layer over the photo layer on the right side of the screen, I can superimpose the contour drawing over the photo and see both images at the same time.

I used “Puppet Warp” (Edit-Puppet Warp) to morph the photo to fit the contour drawing. To adjust the photo more accurately, I add “More Points” in the Density box at the top of the screen. You start by pinning the image where you don’t want it to move. I pin the central vein and sometimes ancillary veins coming off the central vein so they don’t move. You will have to play with how many pins are needed to keep areas unaffected by the warping. To warp the image, click and drag the point. This is how I warp the lateral veins to match the contour drawing. Once the vein matches, I leave the pin to hold it in place and move up the vein to the next point and do it again until I have the vein matched all the way.

Finally, I use the “clone stamp” tool located on the left of the screen. I adjust the size at the top of the screen. By holding down the Option key and clicking, the color is chosen. By clicking the cursor, the color is laid down over existing colors. I add color to any areas of the photo that don’t fill in the contour drawing.

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Back to Sugar Maple Leaves

I got sidetracked from diorama work for four months by the Peabody’s new Samurai exhibit. One of the great things about that exhibit was that I worked with Nicole Palffy-Muhoray, a grad student, who worked long hours with us as part of the exhibit team and who helped get the exhibit opened on time. After the exhibit opened, my job switched back to the dioramas and going into production with the leaf making.  One weak point I have with this process is that I haven’t been able to master the photoshop part well enough to get the images ready to print. I asked Richard Kissel, my supervisor, if I could hire a consultant to help me with the photoshop work since this has been a roadblock to getting started. After some discussion, we thought Nicole might be able to do it without having to hire a consultant. In less than two days Nicole had the leaves resized in photoshop and she figured out a simple way to “morph”the flat photographic images into the 3D molds since before I was cutting between lobes to get the veins to fit. (She will write this up in a forthcoming blog entry.)

The Forest Margin diorama (1950) is a world-class diorama and was the second one constructed at the Peabody Museum after the Shoreline diorama (1945). By the time they got to this diorama, James Perry Wilson, the background painter and Ralph Morrill had cemented their friendship and working methods. One of the compositional ideas was to produce an overhead canopy of sugar maple leaves. These get illuminated from above to glow as if the sun were shining through them.

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Ralph Morrill choreographed the production of the leaves in the late 1940’s. He had a team of art students from Southern Connecticut University cutting leaves one-by-one out of crepe paper. Lines were penned in along the central and secondary veins with some tertiary veins added. Wires were glued along the central vein and the leaves were dipped in colored wax with a quick spin to remove excess wax. Final touches included spattering oil paint over the surface, burning insect holes, and adding thin spray blushes of color. The leaves are translucent just like the originals and produce a stunning effect backlit in the diorama.

The problem with Morrill’s wax/paper leaves is that over time, they sag under their own weight (see the photo below). Nicole and I removed some of the old leaves and experimented with restoring them with gentle heat. The heat has to be very carefully applied. If it gets too close, the wax melts destroying the overall pristine look of the leaf.  I think our plan A will be to keep many of the old leaves by restoring them and then add new (non-drooping) epoxy leaves, especially on the lower layer so over time, even if the older leaves sag again, the lower layer will still  look fresh. It’s possible that restoring the old leaves may prove too difficult because they are also very fragile. Next week we will try to remove one of the large branches. We will see if this plan is really feasible. Stay tuned!

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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.

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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

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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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