Cyanotype: Taking it Further

My guide to creating a cyanotype.

I decided to try a few experiments to work out how various additions to a wet cyanotype can effect the outcome, and then to tone these experiments.

If you’re particularly interested in this I’d recommend you follow the blog as I intend to do a lot more of these as I found it a useful exercise. I’ve also now got a UV light specifically made for photography. I’ve not used it in this instance, but I hope it will give more accurate results in the long term.

Creating the Wet Cyanotype

I coated my paper with two coats of cyanotype emulsion and let it dry assuming I would begin work the next day. Thanks to the weather that didn’t happen, and it sat in it’s light-tight envelope for about four days until I used it.

My paper was a Windsor and Newton 100% cotton watercolour paper, slightly larger than A4, and I used ivy as my material to create a photogram. Ivy isn’t great because it’s quite thick and doesn’t lay flat, but I knew I’d be leaving this out for a few hours and I wanted to use something that would definitely block the light. So I used a foam board under my paper to allow a bit of room for the ivy to squish down properly under the glass.

I divided the paper up into three parts. The right here is is brushed with a 50% white vinegar 50% water solution using a foam brush. The middle has a paste made from turmeric and water brushed across it, and the left side has bubbles from a tray of washing up liquid added to it. So the paper was wet – when this is the case it’s a good idea to expose the cyanotype for longer than usual. A minimum of about 4 hours, but you can also try overnight. I added the ivy, put it all under glass and left it outside for 5 hours. The UV was medium to high, and it went out at 12pm and came back in at 5pm.

Above is the dried image scanned the next day. You can clearly see all of the materials I added to this. You can see bubbles, the turmeric is clear and the vinegar solution has clearly increased the contrast of the image on the right.

Toning Trials

I then cut this cyanotype into four so I’d have a piece for each of the three toning treatments I wanted to experiment with that would have the wet cyanotype trials on each piece, and one reference piece to compare the toned papers to the untoned.


Bleach

I placed one trial paper in a dilution of standard thin household bleach; this was 100ml of bleach and about 700ml of water, and it was left to soak for about 20 minutes.

You can see that green has been produced here. I didn’t keep an eye on it as it changed and I should have done because other colours might have appeared. With this type of process you do have to use your judgement, and it’s best to keep an eye on it. I find things dry a bit darker than I expect so if you’re bleaching in order to tone later on then you might want to let it go a bit paler than you think. Something to keep in mind. You can clearly see the effect of the vinegar has persisted on the right hand side of the image leaving the blue intact. The colour of the turmeric has disappeared.


Citric Acid

This piece has been placed in some anhydrous citric acid but you could try lemon juice. I initially used 250ml of water to 25g citric acid. I had no idea what dilution to use so that seemed like a good starting point. I left it for half an hour, and the yellow of the turmeric looked almost gold. I wasn’t sure if that was the result of the acid or the result of just putting it back into water, so I upped the concentration to 100g citric acid to 600ml warm water to see if the paper would get lighter. That made no difference at all, so I rinsed and dried. Again, the result of the vinegar solution is clear to see.


Tannin

The next trial was tannin. I’ve used tea bags to tone a cyanotype before, but this is tannin powder used for wine making. I used 8g tannin to 700ml water. I left this for about 10 minutes. This is easily my favourite result. The bubbles are clearly visible, the turmeric is just beautiful, and the vinegar is still clearly increasing the contrast. So tannin is something I will certainly return to for toning, while keeping in mind the results from the other chemicals in order to adjust my results.


Comparison

Here you can see the original cyanotype put back together and scanned. So this is the top image of this post turned 90 degrees counter-clockwise. This comparison shows the results most clearly. Next on my list to try is borax, soda crystals, and maybe some bicarb or baking powder. I also want to add more bubbles because I didn’t get enough onto the paper during this trial so I can’t see what effect the bleach or citric acid have had on those patterns. I also want to try to create some prints on coloured paper.

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