One century ago painting was seen as an art form, while photography was not. As a result there was extensive experimentation with different techniques to create a painting-like print. In 1907, C. Welborn Piper developed the bromoil print from the oil print. The bromoil technique is the conversion of photo prints to a lithograph. After bleaching a barite print, you then apply litho ink. The shadow areas will absorb the ink
whilst the highlighted areas will reject it.
For two days I will be under the instruction of Kees Brandenburg in Middelburg (polychrome.nl). The workshop begins with making a print on barite paper. For a good bromoilprint not all barite paper is suitable, it has to be free from supercoating. A type of paper which is increasingly difficult to come across. We work with Kentmere Document Art (Bromoprint en Bergger Brom 240 is also good). For a quality bromoilprint it is important that the lighter areas are heavier than normal and that the shadows are relatively light. Something that I overlook in my prints...
Moving swiftly on, it is also important that the pictures are developed in a developer and in a fixer where the gelatine does not harden. We swap the stopper for running water. After the prints have been well rinsed they can be bleached. The bleaching process hardens the gelatine in the shadow areas, but not in the highlighted areas. We bleach the prints to the point where the image almost disappears. Then we fix and rinse again.
Now it’s time to ink the prepared prints. Using the stiffest ink possible, like litho ink, and a small glass plate as palette we apply a thin layer of ink. You can choose or mix a colour. With an angled brush, we dab an ink spot onto a clean part of the palette and use it to dab onto the print. The print sits in warm water for 15 minutes to soak. After carefully drying the print off with some paper or a chammy, the ‘painting’ is set
to begin. Now begins the part unique to bromoilprinting... the dabbing of the print. Press the brush into the ink and start to ink the print directly from above, in a stamping motion. The ink will not be absorbed by the water-soaked gelatine parts, but fixes itself to the hardened parts. This is a task requiring patience. After some time, the picture appears, built up from the grainy brush dabs. You can decide how much ink to apply; the more ink, the darker the picture. Variations include using a roller instead of a brush or transferring the inked print to another sheet of paper.
The bromoil technique is from the same family of techniques as the oil print and the mediabrome. All three are based on the principle “water repels water”. The oilprint was described in 1855 by A. Poitevin and applied by G.E.H. Rawlings in 1904. C. Welborne-Piper brought the procedure into practice in 1907. Mediobroom is a variation of bromoil, applied by the Belgian Leonard Misonne between 1935 and 1943.
This practical column is part of a four part series. Read another one here.