Cyanotype blues

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by mooseontheloose, Feb 2, 2009.

  1. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    I've just started experimenting with cyanotypes while my darkroom is a no-go and I have a few questions. I'm currently using the basic cyanotype kit from Bostick and Sullivan (A+B), my exposures on sunny days run between 30-60 minutes.

    My biggest problem seems to be coating the paper. I have a glass rod but all attempts with it produce blotchy results. I get kind of cool "antique-y" look to it but the image is not clear at all and the colour is quite uneven. Coating (especially double coating) with a hake brush seems to produce a much better print -- it's more even overall. But...I have a problem with beading when using the brush -- the brush strokes on the edges look absolutely horrible. I suppose I could mask it off, but is there some trick or technique to get consistent nice-looking brush strokes without the beading?

    Finally, my last question is about the blue colour. What creates a nice deep, dark blue? My blues, although nice, don't have the deep blue richness that I've seen from other cyanotypes, whether it be through the postcard exchange or in books. I have a much paler blue. Is it the exposure time? The chemicals? The paper? Pre- or post-treatment to the paper? I have tried hydrogen pyroxide, bleaching, and toning techniques, and although I like the effects they produce, they don't do much to deepen the original blue colour that has been consistent with the cyanotypes I've done recently.
     
  2. Akki14

    Akki14 Member

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    Lot of questions...

    How much watercolour painting experience do you have? Learning good brush control helps. Beading up sounds like you have either have too much solution on your brush or your paper is being really weird and resistant to the liquid all together.
    Changing paper can help with the blues. I double coat with a hake brush for mine. BFK Rives works okay but it's a bit soft & spongey as far as papers go and if you're rough brushing it, it can look a bit fuzzy. Look for an unbuffered paper, they're usually cheap. Cyanotypes prefer acidic enviroments and don't like buffered and acid-free papers.

    As far as clarity of image, what are you using for your contact printing frame?
     
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    The blues -- you can intensify the blues a lot by a brief bath in a weak solution of Potassium or Ammonium dichromate. Do this after you have fully washed the print (then re-wash). I put the cyanotype in a tray, pour the dichromate solution over it, then pour the dichromate back in the bottle. If you wash the print well, the dichromate will last a very long time.

    Hydrogen peroxide will only hurry-up the natural oxidation that will happen anyway -- and not give added intensity beyond that.

    The success with the rod will be paper-dependent -- some papers may have too much sizing to work well with the rod (and have difficulty accepting from the brush, too -- which might be the cause of your "beading up".) With platinum, I use the rod to establish the print area, then finish up with a brush.

    Vaughn
     
  4. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    Akki14 produces absolutely beautiful cyanotypes. I have two from and exchange and they are stunning. I would heed her advice.
     
  5. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    Try Cranes' Kid Finish Stationery. Beading sounds like a sizing problem to me.

    I coat with a rod but tape the paper taut to a sheet of 1/4" thick plate glass before coating. Three or four sweeps of the rod are made before the paper begins to buckle. Buckling and not starting with enough fluid tend to cause uneven coatings IME. I always dry the first coat and then apply a second to even out the emulsion layer and intensify the maximum density.

    Your exposures sound about 4-8x what I would expect for a sunny day with conventional cyanotype formula. Mine usually print outdoors in sun between 7-15 minutes (in Michigan). Are your negatives excessively dense? Perhaps the pale color is partially due to underexposure through dense negatives. Do you print until the shadows have solarized?

    Is your water alkaline? Try using a small amount of stop bath , vinegar, or citric acid in the rinse water. This may help you retain a stronger blue color and prevent bleaching and pale blues caused by alkaline rinse waters.

    I usually have very intense blues with the peroxide treatment and double-coating. I've never tried the dichromate treatment but will do so soon.
     
  6. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    Well, I've already learned something. Thanks! And I'm not the one who asked.

    So here's what I have to add, but it may well be more than anyone wants to take on; can get pretty complicated.

    My method with cyanotype (and this contradicts akki14, but I'm considering how to incorporate her logic, which seems pretty important) is to use an entirely unsized (waterleaf) paper of the type used by fanatic intaglio printers. The BFK unsized is great, or Arches 88. This stuff is very much like blotter paper but stronger and holds up in the wash for a long time. And it must be washed for a long time. Maybe someone has a bit of insight that could shorten this for me; I'd be grateful.

    I apply the cyanotype solution to the BACKSIDE of the paper. It soaks through, and spreads outward due to capillarity. This filters any weird stuff out. It also makes the paper rather soggy when it is wet, and it will bulge out.

    Then the big problem is to dry it. For this, I built myself a negative pressure box using three 120v. muffin fans that suck the air out. The door where I put the papers in to dry, hanging on wires with clothespins, leaks. This is important. It must leak, or holes must be drilled in the bottom, or both. On the face of this box is a piece of glass (must be kept clean), and outside is an array of ruby infrared lamps such as they use to keep broiled chickens warm enough to keep them from spoiling. I turn everything on, in a darkened room (well, lit by insect bulbs and the ruby lamps) and allow time to dry thoroughly. VERY thoroughly. Damp does NOT WORK.

    To expose the images I prefer a platemaker with a vacuum frame because the paper will still not be flat, and it will also be stiff. If you don't have a vacuum frame, and don't have a platemaker, you can make a vac frame using some 1x2's for an outer frame and internal baffles with masonite on the back, and pegboard on the top, and some pvc parts to make a way to attach it to your vacuum cleaner - which, if it's any good, really sucks. This will require a top sheet, and the clothes bags cut open to make a single layer sheet (buy them from the vending machines at the laundromat) work admirably for this.

    In my younger foolish days I used sunlamp bulbs. No thanks! But you can use it with sunlight (be sure your extension cord is big enough) or blacklight tubes, or a mercury streetlamp. You will need to determine the exposure but I do it visually; when the greenish material surrounding the negative is a sort of a bronze color (I know it when I see it) it is done.

    I have a tray that hooks to the faucet and has holes for draining at the other end. These things need to wash for a long time.. I suspect that alternating soak/wash, soak wash would work best, but since I just learned about this (being extremely old and a general curmudgeon) I've never tried it.

    Then, when the water runs clear, and you are sure of it (better be sure of it; it will develop a brownish stain around the image if you aren't), hang it to dry. I use the same box, or just hang on the line if I'm in production.

    Here are some examples: http://www.pbase.com/bullis/two_canyons

    And another: http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=40245&ppuser=26530

    If you try this, I sure want to know what you discover. Sure glad I built the stuff for this long ago. Would I go through it now?

    Larry Bullis
     
  7. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    If you are in the mood for trying things, Rachelle, try adding a tiny bit of Photo-Flo to your cyanotype mixture (perhaps one drop of working solution per print). This might help the cyanotype chemicals to absorb into the paper easier. If it does not help, try 3 to 5 drops). Others might have more experience with this...

    One other question...when you put the paper in the water, does any of the image seem to wash off? If it does, that is a sign that the chemicals are mostly sitting on the surface of the paper and not soaking in well. Two causes -- 1) heavy sizing in the paper keeping the chemicals from soaking it and/or 2) not letting the chemicals soak into the paper long enough before drying with a hair drier.

    Good luck in your printing!! Vaughn

    larry -- that is about the most ass-backwards method I have ever read! I love it! You take one of the simplest processes we have and complicate it almost as much as those formulas that add oxalic acid and dichromates to the cyanotype mixtures! That egg is just beautiful...and that is just on the computer screen! You are putting a lot of the image deep inside the paper -- probably where we can not see it, but instead sense it.

    PS...I like to expose until the border around the negative actually begins to reverse itself and becomes lighter than the shadows in the image area.
     
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  8. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    I've never tried cyanotypes, but beading on paper probably means there's lots of sizing in it. Sizing is usually a very fine clay mixed in with the pulp, and is what makes magazine paper shiny. If you're having any trouble finding unsized paper, try the Art Store in downtown Kamloops. I'm sure they'd have a suitable paper.
     
  9. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    JW -- one usually wants sizing in the paper...Larry is the first person I have heard of using unsized paper, on purpose anyway. Processes using a coating of liquids (platinum, van Dyke, cyanotypes, etc) want the chemicals to soak in, but not too far in. The image is suppose to form in the upper layer of the paper -- not deep inside it. At least with cyanotype, the chemicals are relatively cheap. To have an unsized paper soak up platinum salts would hurt the old pocketbook!:surprised:

    Vaughn
     
  10. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Thanks everyone.

    I should have mentioned that the paper was Bergger COT-320 (don't know why I had to start with the most expensive paper! But there you go). I've tried scanning one of the attempts but the colour on the monitor is so completely different than the actual print, it's not worth showing (all attempts at fixing it with photoshop does nothing to get it remotely close to the original colour). In terms of contact frames, I'm using a custom built one by a guy (I can't remember his name at the moment) who comes highly recommended here on APUG.

    Akki - I'm using your card you sent in the postcard exchange as an example of what I want to emulate. I'm not trying to copy it exactly, but I'm just trying to get the 'feeling' of it correct -- in the appropriate colour and coating. I have no watercolour experience whatsoever but I haven't been dipping the brush in the sensitizer -- just putting drops on paper and then brushing it on.

    Vaughn - I'd love to try adding ammonium or potassium dichromate, but it's just not something I have in the cupboard at the moment.

    Smieglitz - I'm using a variety of negatives to try it out -- my first exposure was over an hour long and the image still left a lot to be desired. Interestingly, double coating goes a lot faster (about a half hour) and I can see the colour shift almost immediately in the sun. I don't know if it's because of the winter sun, or the altitude, or latitute, but the times I have seem consistent with what I've read in other places (including Christopher James' book).

    Larry - I'm still shaking my head! I'm not sure how you came up with that process but it's a little complicated for me at the moment. :wink:

    Vaughn - I'll try adding photo-flo and see how that works in my next printing session (always a toss up due to limited days off a week -- Saturday -- and whether or not the sun wants to cooperate. No part of the image is washing off. I do let my papers dry after coating (naturally) for a few hours before I think to remember to recoat them again -- everything is kept in the dark except for when I'm coating.

    John - it's funny, I stocked up on paper when I was in Vancouver and only recently discovered how much watercolour paper is available here in Kamloops! I guess it's just a matter of experimenting with papers until I find the right combination.
     
  11. sly

    sly Subscriber

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    Rachelle, Are you exposing using the WINTER sun in Kamloops? It's not going to have much UV action. Try using an artificial UV source or wait for summer. alternativephotgraphy.com has lots of info on UV sources - including building your own.
    I use a tanning bed, no joke! I got it for $50 from a client who inherieted it from Grandma and had no use for it. I've now got 3 contact printers so I can mass produce. it just seemed too silly to get all that light going for one little 4x5 print.
     
  12. Davec101

    Davec101 Member

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    Hi Rachel

    If you are still having trouble obtaining the deeper blues you might want to try the Cyanotype II process created by Mike Ware, the solution is avaliable from Bostick and Sullivan. This coats watercolour paper well when using a glass rod and i have found you only need a single coat to get good results. Also after you have exposed the cyanotype to UV if you use a weak acid bath as your first wash this helps to maintain the deeper blues that you are after.

     
  13. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    :smile::D:smile::tongue::smile::D:smile::wink::rolleyes:

    What's wrong with the winter sun in Kamloops? I know it makes exposures longish, but I really don't have any other choice at the moment. I'm going crazy not being able to use my darkroom (a long story) and developing film is just not cutting it (I'm about halfway through the 40+ rolls I've fallen behind on).


    I've been looking for tanning beds in the thrift shops, but so far haven't found anything. I've thought seriously of building my own lightbox, but right now lack of tools and know-how is preventing me from doing so (and finding proper UV bulbs locally). If I decide to get really serious about alt processes I will go down that route, but I have a very low tolerance to GAS and I've already bought so much stuff for all my other cameras I'm trying to really justify spending more money on another technique! I love it though...I've never been more inspired as a photographer (and frustrated!) as I have been over the past year and a half since I started experimenting with various techniques. I know I'll settle down eventually, it's just finding out what works best with what I want to achieve.
     
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  15. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Thanks Dave -- I guess in retrospect I should have ordered the Mike Ware cyanotype solution as well.

    In the meantime I think I'll try to focus more on systematic testing on the various papers I do have, (with some of the advice mentioned above) and see what kind of results I can get.
     
  16. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Rachelle, the COT 320 is a fine paper -- it is what I am using for my platinum/palladium prints. But I do get better results pre-treating the paper in a bath of 5% oxalic acid...which seems to indicate it does have a slightly alkaline sizing in it. This wetting and drying the print might also help with countering some of the sizing...just a guess. You might try soaking the paper in hot water for a few minutes, then drying it before your next printing session. Just another odd-ball thing to try. Of course if you had some Oxalic acid sitting around the house, you might try soaking it in that instead of plain water. Another strange thing you could try would be to pre-coat the paper with a dilute solution (2%) of citric acid (vitamin C from the local health food store) using the rod...let it dry, then coat with your cyanotype chemicals. I have no idea what would happen...but acidity does seem to help.

    Perhaps your local chemist (do you call your pharmasists that in Canada?) has a little dichromate. All you need is about 5 grams in a liter or two of water.

    Yours, Vaughn
     
  17. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Thanks Vaughn.

    Our pharmacists are pharmacists (not chemists) - same as the States. I'll ask around and see if any of them have anything useful for me.
     
  18. Ann M

    Ann M Member

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    Hi Rachelle,
    You might be able to get a 'facial solarium' instead of a full-size tanning bed. Phillips make one that sells for about £50 new in the UK. It would also be a lot easier to store! I have one that I've used for photo/printmaking but not yet for cyanotype, however I believe it works fine. (I'm going to set mine up with my enlarger timer to make exposures more repeatable.)
    Hope you get lucky and find one cheap!
     
  19. Akki14

    Akki14 Member

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    Rachelle - Hm. Well for the postcards (and all my cyanotypes which are traditional formula and I'd say they are pretty close to cyanotypeII blues, sorry David and Dr. Ware :wink: ) I use a straw like a pipette. It can take a little practice to get a feel for how much sensitiser a paper can take. The BFK Rives I used in the exchange is almost like blotting paper so it sucks up quite a bit and the aim is to get just enough liquid on the paper that you can make smooth brush strokes but not so much that it puddles.
    The "antique-y look" definitely sounds like a paper thing to me. There's some cheap cartridge/inkjet paper I have used that has that issue.
    [​IMG]
    When you're starting out, it's good to just buy small packs/single sheets to start out with, just to test. And sometimes the paper company will just change a product so you have to move on and find a new one. Cyanotype is prima donna :wink:
     
  20. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    Vaughn's suggestion of treating the paper with oxalic acid is interesting. What occurred to me instantly was the idea of doing cyanotypes on handmade paper made from dieffenbachia - "dumb cane". Got to try that!

    I'm always trying to give away my secrets but no one ever seems willing to try them! So, I guess they are safe.
     
  21. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    bowzart...One of the more sophisticated ways of lying is to tell the truth in such a way that no one believes you...
     
  22. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Whoops...I just re-read what I wrote above. I did not mean that you (bozart) are lying or any such thing! It was meant as a funny aside to go along with your comment about giving away secrets. I hope you did not take offense!

    vaughn
     
  23. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    Not to worry, my good friend. I got it straight out.

    What you say is not only true, but points directly at a fundamental law of the universe! Conversely, sometimes the best way to communicate truth is to present falsehoods in such a way that they reveal themselves blatantly as what they are. Unfortunately, but sometimes fortunately, some of these subtler means are lost on literal minds.
     
  24. Lukas Werth

    Lukas Werth Member

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    Just a few remarks:
    I use both the traditional and the New cyanotype process.
    Traditional cyanotypes do need considerably longer exposures than Mike Ware's New Cyanotype process. This process also tends to give deeper, nearly black blues, and a longer tonal scale, much like a platinum print. It is also possible, as far as I can see, to control contrast much more efficiently with this process. It is, however, very sensitive regarding the paper base.
    It goes a long way to pre-coat a paper with a citric acid solution to enhance the quality particularly of New, but also traditional cyanotypes. Don't use oxalic, and don't use Vit.C - it's not the same as citric acid.
    Traditional cyanotype is spread much more easily with Tween 20 - better than photoflow. It may also be used for New C. depending on the paper base.
    Regarding this COT-something paper, I never tried it and I have no intention to do so (I don't like the Bergger company as they have intentionally spread false statements about their manufacture of films), but if it's really got an alkaline buffer it should not be marketed as a printing paper for alternative processes.
    For traditional cyanotypes, the quality (acidity) of the first wash water is of critical importance.
     
  25. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Thanks, Lukas! I was just throwing out ideas, taking into consideration mooseontheloose's location and ease of finding material. Tween would work better, but PhotoFlo might also work and be available to her.

    What is good to use to acidfy the first water wash? And how much per liter?

    Vaughn
     
  26. Davec101

    Davec101 Member

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    I use 40g per litre of citric acid for the first wash(around 1-3 mins), you do have to change the first bath quite a bit but CA is cheap if up by in bulk, i.e 5kg. Personally Cyanotype II gives me significantly deeper blues than the original as Lukas mentions, attached is an example showing the difference between using a citric acid for the first bath and not using one. CA on the right.
     

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