The Unexpected Alchemist

I never expected to become an alchemist. If anyone had told me that I would spend hours under a red light in a dark room mixing chemicals, I would not have believed them. And yet here I am, and it is magical.

The first enchanted moment is coating paper. Once the chemicals are mixed they take on the color of Payne’s Grey, the color of lead. As I dip in my sumi-e brush into the watery mix, then stroke it across the paper the dull grey turns to sulfur yellow. Each stroke starts gray on my brush then turns the page to a color that would make a daffodil blush.

After, I examine the paper to ensure the surface is evenly coated with no dry spots or visible brush strokes. It should be a smooth glistening yellow. When I set the paper down to dry another piece of magic occurs.

Within seconds, that brilliant yellow color fluoresces a vibrant blue, but only for a second, no more than two. After this flash of peacock brilliance, the color dulls, still beautiful, still blue, but without that luminescent glow.

If I use the paper tomorrow, it will once again appear acid yellow under UV light. If the paper ages for a few days, it reverts back to a blue-gray color. The more time passes, the darker it will become. Yet the appearance doesn’t affect the final color at all. After it’s exposed, then put in a water bath, the gray turns to the delicate blues cyanotype is known for.

The next moment of delight is plunging the paper into the peroxide bath. The print’s medium blues suffuse with a rich tonality ranging (if I’ve done my job right) from midnight blue to cornflower. It delights me every time. The colors move across the page in streaks until the entire paper is altered in tone. It’s beautiful and ephemeral and different every time. Every time, I love it all over again.

I am spending my days turning base materials into the stuff of wonder, and isn’t that what alchemy is all about?

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