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Chemophographics - Painting with Chemicals and Light

Updated on November 23, 2012
SamboRambo profile image

Sam was a Vietnam soldier, a writer of books and articles, an illustrator and a graphic artist. He also plays the piano and writes poetry.

"Life Close-up" - Detail of a composition created in two minutes by way of Chemophographics. No brush or pen touched this surface.
"Life Close-up" - Detail of a composition created in two minutes by way of Chemophographics. No brush or pen touched this surface.

You don’t need to look up that word; it’s not in the dictionary. It’s something I coined to describe the process I use to create a type of art I haven’t seen before. If you know of its existence elsewhere, please let me know.

Here is the origin of that art form:

I worked as a graphic artist for much of my life. Until recently, this involved the developing of litho negatives for the purpose of making offset metal plates for printing. Coming with each box of film were the ever-present instructions on how to develop negatives. One word forever found in those instructions was “agitate.” The people who trained me, or technicians who installed new equipment that involved light-sensitive materials also used that word. I spent many years agitating, whether it was the chemical, or the thing being developed.

One day in a darkroom I accidentally turned on the white light after I pulled a sheet of photographic paper (not film) from its box. My frustration was exhibited in a slight act of rebellion: while the light was still on, I put the paper into the developer tray and DIDN'T agitate it. In addition, after one swipe through the bath to wet the paper, I lifted it out of its tray and let the developer drain off - while keeping it motionless.

The result was astounding, and a new dimension to my life was begun.

I also found out why film needed to be agitated: to get rid of air pockets or bubbles that collect on the film. On this paper three pair of white dots - due to air bubbles - appeared around a darkening background. The thinning developer above them formed a lighter dome above each pair of dots as the liquid drained between them. Smooth veins appeared between these rounded images. I quickly put the paper into the fixer bath to preserve this image. The result was an abstract composition of three dark hooded figures with flowing robes, staring back at the viewer. I don’t have that piece any more; I think I gave it to someone. But some day I hope to re-create it.

This lead to other experiments. It wasn’t long before I was doing this at home. Also, it wasn’t long before I used a squeegee to create interesting effects. I started to put combinations of water, developer and fixer on the emulsion. Next, I put the paper face-down on a piece of glass, then passed a squeegee over the back of the paper. The examples shown here are the result.

"Earth and Cosmic Wall" by Samuel Richardson
"Earth and Cosmic Wall" by Samuel Richardson
Nitrogen Falls of Titan
Nitrogen Falls of Titan
"Ethereal Visitor with Sceptre"
"Ethereal Visitor with Sceptre"

One thing that requires the artist’s touch in this art form is to know which images to use, or what part of the finished piece is a valid work of art. The samples shown here are details of larger images. I determined that on some of my larger sheets, there were too many varied nuances and details for the piece to be appreciated as a unit or as a coherent statement. For example, the original composition from which I took “Nitrogen Falls of Titan” contained hundreds of lines like the ones you see here. Some lines turned into scratches, and hundreds of dots and puffy clouds surrounded them. After a while, too many lines and dots become meaningless.

I decided to use one of the pieces for a background of the earth, to create a mystic effect. Again, the background is only a part of the entire sheet.

Not long after I started this art form, I experimented with color photographic paper. This time, I couldn’t just turn on the light, or I would get black-and-white results; so I installed three different lights in the room, each a different color. To get a green image, I had to use a red light, or two different lights with a warm color. So at one-second bursts, I used different lights.

One trick was to apply developer or water, turn on a light briefly, put some more water and fixer or more developer on parts of the paper, then turn on another light. The color samples here are the result.

Feel free to experiment with this process. Maybe you can use more methods or tools than what I mentioned. Please enjoy, let me know what happens, and maybe send me a royalty if you sell anything?


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    • SamboRambo profile imageAUTHOR

      Samuel E. Richardson 

      6 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      When I first wrote this article, I named it "Chemophosysthesis," but recently I changed it to "...phographics," as I believe this is a more accurate representation of the process.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      The art is really beautiful. I had not heard of this technique before either but it is very good.

    • SamboRambo profile imageAUTHOR

      Samuel E. Richardson 

      7 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      Thank you, thank you. Now if only I can sell them! I've always been a very poor salesman. I've invented so many things that I thought I was going to become rich over. But nope, not this guy! Maybe you can tell me what I'm doing wrong: I go up to someone, show him/her my wares, then I say, "You don't want to buy this, do you!

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      7 years ago from Virginia, USA

      What a fascinating story and beautiful art creations!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      This is so cool! I had never heard of chemophosynthesis before- what an interesting way of producing art!


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