Every year my children’s school has an auction to raise money and I always donate one of my images. A few years ago I decided to do something especially for the school. I had been working with photographic emulsion on tiles on and off for a few years, but had never hand-painted on top of the emulsion. Doing this kind of project, where I have a deadline, helps push me to try new things. I planned to donate the tiles to the school where they would be embedded in a wall, but before doing that, I scanned the tiles and made prints that could be sold at auction. It worked out for everyone.
Images can be put onto tiles in several ways. Decals are the easiest and can be fired so that they are permanent, but I have never been happy with the way decals look. They usually look too perfect, which doesn’t really appeal to me. Liquid emulsion can go on any surface and shows the brush strokes (a look I am very fond of ), but I needed to come up with a way to make the image and treatments permanent. If the emulsion is on an unprotected tile, the image rubs right off if anything hot touches it or easily scratches if someone rubs against it.
I seem to like doing difficult things. I made a lot of extra tiles so that I could test them—and I needed them all! I found that I could use chalks directly on the emulsion and that was fine. But when it came to putting layers of varnish to protect both the color and emulsion, that was a different story. After much trial and error, my final method was to spray several coats of fixative to protect the chalk from the varnish, then coat the tiles with several layers of varnish for final protection. The tiles are now up at the school and several prints were bought as well. Best of all, I now know how to do this again.
If you are interested in trying a project like this, two companies still are making photographic emulsions: Rockland Colloid Liquid Light and Rollei Black Magic Photo Gelatine. There is also a new product (that I have not used yet) called PYROFOTO that is produced by Rockland. The kit consists of permanent majolica glazes, and can be used indoors and outdoors in wet and dry conditions without fading, as well asforfoodservice.Youalsocanmake your own emulsion at home in a blender or use decals to transfer images. There are so many possibilities that you just need to try things out and see what is best for you.
Liquid emulsion products are complete in one bottle and are silver- based sensitizers for applying to any surface, exposing by enlarger, and processing with conventional darkroom print chemistry. However, you will need to pre-coat your tile with either polyurethane (non- yellowing) or a gelatin/hardener mixture. A one-pint bottle of emulsion covers approximately 16 square feet. The finished print can be hand-colored or toned like any photographic print on commercial paper.