Van Dyke Brown


Van Dyke Brown is an early photographic process stemming from silver nitrate agentotypes invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842.  The Van Dyke Brown prcoess draws it name specifically from its similarity in pigment to Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s brown oil paintings.  Van Dyke Brown processes can be identified by particles that appear more opaque and crystalline and are usually one to fifty micro-meters in size.  –Artist Pigments, A handbook of their history and characteristics, Oxford University Press 1997

Below:  An example of a before and after of how the Van Dyke  Process can change and image.


Before: Fuji Finepix E900 -Camera Raw with Auto Setting


After: Van Dyke Process


Vedos: Alturnative Printing Processes– Jalo Porkkala ” Thunderstorm Rising”


This process is sometimes considered as an iron process, but that does not exclude the silver that is also a vital piece of it’s existence.  These prints are pretty cool when they are finished and have a yellow-ish, or warm color to them; it looks like a sepia print.  They come out very matte, but if done correctly have good depth to them.



Creating a Van Dyke Brown Photo was a very easy process.  In my experience, we used a pre-made solution created from our instructor.  The solution is better if you let it sit a few days.

The Solution:

We used a very similar solution to this found on (WIKI5/3/11).

  • Part A:
    • 33 ml Distilled water
    • 9 grams ammonium ferric citrate green OR substitute
    • 18 grams ammonium ferric citrate brown
  • Part B:
    • 33 ml distilled water
    • 1.5 grams Tartaric Acid
  • Part C:
    • 33 ml Distilled water
    • 3.8 grams Silver Nitrate

-> As is the same with most of these processes, a large negative, ( image that has been inverted), with a high contrast for best results.  [As you can see from my experience, the images did not have a high enough contrast and turned out a little bit muddy.]

-> I used 100% Rag paper, some suggest Watercolor, but anything thick really with good absorption will work.

-> The negative should be a little smaller than the paper with the application so that the sides can be trimmed and hopefully  the application will be continuous through out the entire image.


-> The paper needs to be taped on all 4 sides to some sort of non-bendable hard surface, (I chose a plastic cutting board).

-> I started this process by taking a wet sponge brushes and dipping it in the solution.  Then applied only one coat to the papers and let it dry its self just enough so that it was not glossy anymore.  I was going for “bone dry” so then took a hair dryer on low and continued until the paper was no longer moist.

-> There seems to be a little bubbling on the paper, but really try to steer away from getting puddles, you really only want a light & even coverage over the entire paper. [You can see a similar reaction that happened when I made this mistake in the cyanotype experiment].

-> Exposure: The images were taken outside for approximately  10-15 minutes, depending on the darkness of the images.

-> You want a dark chocolaty color before you bring the image inside. (Below)

-> After the sun exposure you will go through 4 “rinse baths” and 1 final wash with circulating, (continually running), water.  The baths were very similar to those that we used in previous experiments just a little less potent Hypo baths.  The first bath hypo for 4 minutes, second bath hypo, and then 2 water baths, each for 1 minute each.

(Above: Bath one)

(Above: Bath 3)

->Finally you will put the image in the running water bath (50 minutes), to rinse off the last of the iron/ silver.  (The reason you need to let it sit so long is because if you do not your image has a higher potential to change due to sun exposure and still being light sensitive.)

-> The images will darken as they dry****

-> WARNING: The chemistry on the paper is relatively sticky so make sure that if you are storing them or stacking them at any point, (before they dry), that you put wax paper in between.


****If you look closely at the image you can tell that the top two have much more definition and a wider tonal value.  This, I believe, was due to a longer exposure and better application.  In this process the application of the solution to the paper is very important.*****


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