So I'm being hauled around to yet another clothing store the other day by my girlfriend. Being bored out of my skull I wandered around the store looking well...bored.
Then I came across something odd. This store had a sort of knick-nack section and they had one of those cyanotype kits. The kind that people make "sunprints" from.
So I picked one up. No need for a darkroom here, and the sun is never in short supply.
I have an old Kodak 5x7 printing frame that I figure I can use.
Here is the question though... Can I use ANY B/W negative here or for good results should I look at something with more/less contrast than one would use for normal printing? This little kit I got of course has NO instructions on how to print using a frame and a 4x5 negative. Imagine that! http://apug.org/forum/html/emoticons/smile.gif I'd like to ideally get some decent results from this stuff. It seems to have a lot of potential as a medium, although it SEEMS (and I could be wrong here) that it would lend itself to contrasty prints. Do I need to compensate for that in the negative?
Yeah, you'll want a negative more along the lines of one suitable for pt/pd for best results.
Use a negative that has a good contrast range, like everyone already said. A more "contrasty" negative will work better than a flat one. For mine, instead of using a dedicated splitback printing frame, I used a regular wood frame that you can get at any Thriftee's or KMart. Since this is a printing out process, all you have to do is expose to sunlight or ultraviolet light and then rinse under water in a tray, or under a faucet.
O.k. I did my first cyanotypes.
The first one was a bust. I have a couple of negatives I took a while back of a stapelia flower bud. I was playing with my 'new' Crown Graphic and it seemed a good subject. Plus it is a very odd flower and I wanted to catch it as it bloomed over time ( stapelia is a type of succulent commonly sold in places like Home Depot as a house plant. Mine lives outside here in AZ and does well. So well it blooms. These strange plants produce very large flowers which resemble dead flesh in color and smell (the flower is a reticulated red and white)! They are fly pollinated so this makes sense in their world. But they are bizarre. Even more so is the fact that millions are sold a year to people who would be horrified if these things ever bloomed in their homes!)
This was my first time really using a view camera so I had bracketed a bit. While both negs were contrasty, the first one was too light. I got a dim image.
Note to self - This is not a medium that likes subtle gradations.
So I took out the other, much more dense negative.
This worked VERY well. The image came out nicely. It wasn't the ideal image for the medium I think, but it looks good. I exposed for about 2 minutes in direct sun.
The next day I ran off two more of the same image. Just to kind of play with getting repeatable results. I mean even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.
These were different. Exposure ranged in time from 1 minute to a good 3 minutes. But the came out pretty much the same. The thing is, the exposed areas seem a few shades lighter than in the second print I did.
This puzzles me.
I figure it could be two things.
1) Overexposure. One difference between the two is the time of day (both in the late afternoon, but the first two prints were done earlier in the day) and location (the first were in the backyard which has less sun, the others in the front where there is more). In both cases I placed the frame in direct sun, but I know that sunlight can vary. Plus it was done on different days. Both days were clear, but who knows.
2) Variations in materials. This stuff is from a kit designed to make solargrams. I'm guessing they don't have the same quality controls as say Kodak. I get two images from each sheet so the first images were done on the same piece of paper and the second two came from another piece.
Any hints/tips here?
Time of day, and even the season will make a difference, since the sun intensity changes. It is strongest at noon. You are right about the fact that cyanotypes don't do that well with subtle gradiations. That is why you usally see prints that have a strong "graphic" feel to them - hard sharp edged things with strong contrast. Dense and contrasty negatives do seem to work better. I think there may be some sort of "self masking" action during exposure but I can't remember for sure. Some people have built up UV light boxes in an attempt to make everything more predictable and controllable, but I never did. Like you say, there may just be too much variation from one sheet to another to make it worth my time. All I can say is, keep the prints that are good, and hide or dispose of the bad ones. One day every print will look great, next day you can't get one decent one. On the plus side, the darn things will last forever. It's one of the most durable and archival processes there is. The images will last until the paper itself starts crumbling into dust a few centuries from now.
Well, to throw in some opinion/experiences:
The sunprint paper, while convenient, is harsher than what you'll get with hand-coated, DIY, cyanotype paper. I've tried a couple of watercolor papers and the classic formula, and found that I can get reasonably full scale and nice gradations if the phase of the moon is right. My technique has been to use a foam brush for coating, let it dry in the dark, and then print with whatever sun is available, though a pair of cheap BL-UV tubes from Home Depot work well in winter (at the cost of ridiculous exposure times). I don't remember exactly what the paper I liked best is called (poor notekeeping, sorry), but it's from Arches, and has a thickness comparable to manila and a very fine weave, much tighter and smoother than more common watercolor paper. Brush coated, it holds enough solution to make a nice, dark, color, full scale, and hold fine detail from the image.
It's a great method, and certainly convenient enough. The only hard part is finding images that look good in screaming blue, but that's a different issue.