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Thread: Cyanotype blues

  1. #1
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    Cyanotype blues

    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  2. #2
    Akki14's Avatar
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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?
    ~Heather
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    Vaughn's Avatar
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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
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

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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. #5
    smieglitz's Avatar
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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. #6
    bowzart's Avatar
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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/showphot...5&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

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    Vaughn's Avatar
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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.
    Last edited by Vaughn; 02-02-2009 at 11:01 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  8. #8
    johnnywalker's Avatar
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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.
    If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
    Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284

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    Vaughn's Avatar
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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!:o

    Vaughn
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  10. #10
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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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.

    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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

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