Saturday, June 21, 2014

Toning Cyanotypes

I've discussed this topic before, but this morning I was doing some experimenting and thought I would share some insights.

First, I started off with a 4x5 Tri-X negative from my Speed Graphic. I scanned it and inverted it to a positive. Then I made a few adjustments and removed any dust spots. That image looks like this.

Nice, huh? I thought so. I needed some prints of this, but rather than sending the negative to a custom darkroom (expensive) or having it digitally printed on a nice ink printer (not the quality/look I want), I thought I would make some cyanotype contact prints right here at home. Of course, I could print using the original negative, but I can only print one at a time and the exposure times are quite long, even in bright sun (around 20min or so). So I decided to re-invert the scan and print it on regular printer paper, then make waxed paper negatives of the image duplicated. Like this.

Then I coated some Canson Aquarelle 140# Cold Press watercolor paper with the traditional 2-part cyanotype formula. UV light penetrates the waxed paper much better than it does the plastic film base of photographic film, so the exposures worked out to be about 4 min. Unfortunately, I over-estimated the time needed and started with 12min, then tried 10min and 8min before I settled on the 4min exposure. So now I had six prints that were quite over-exposed. I could just toss them, but that goes against my frugal nature. I decided I would see if bleaching and toning would recover some contrast. Bleaching is done with dilute washing soda (sodium carbonate). On my first attempt, I had the solution WAY too strong (~1/2Tbs in 2c water) and it completely bleached the print almost immediately. In this picture you can see the over-exposed, unbleached print next to the one I just bleached.

At that point, I diluted the washing soda about 100x and that was much more manageable. Next is the toning step. For this, I use wine tannin. I put about 1/2tsp in 2c water. Some people put these solutions in trays and dip the prints, but I like to just brush them on. It gives me a little more control, I think. So here is a picture of the same two prints. The second one was 'gently' bleached and then the tannin was applied to both.

The lower one isn't really coming back, so that is probably just a loss. This is how we learn. :) I continued on with this method of bleach for a minute or so, followed by a rinse followed by toning until it 'looked right' and I must say that the over-exposed prints actually look pretty good with improved contrast and a little interesting color. It's almost like a split-tone which is a look I like. Here are a couple of the 'correctly exposed' prints after toning.

This is tons of fun and really cheap. I plan to send these off to friends as postcards which is even more fun. I hope this is informative. Put a link to your toned cyanotype in the comments. I'd love to see them!

I decided to make a print out of the 'other side' of the postcard, so I did a quick something in Photoshop, printed it, waxed it and cyanotyped it. I think it looks pretty good and completes the package in an artistically coherent way.