More Cyanotypes

August 23, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Continued from First Cyanotype

I have not planned it this way but as I admitted in the previous post, printing cyanotypes is addictive. So here you have it, a second post in a row dedicated to it.

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UV Lamp Set Up, Without CoverUV Lamp Set UpWithout Cover What have I learned or changed since the last time? First, you cannot trust weather. So while I relied on natural sunshine last time around and got plenty of it I had to adapt as it has been either hazy or rainy since. As a result, I have invested in a strong UV lamp that allows me to continue with cyanotypes on bad weather days and also when the days get shorter. There were many options for UV bulbs or lamps and it took a bit of research to narrow my selection down. Between the several UV spectral ranges, one needs a source in the UVA range, also referred to as black light, covering 320 nm to 395 nm. I settled on the ZHMA 100W IP66 Black Light. In the end, when used at about 1 foot distance, my exposure times match those with sunshine outside.

Before deciding on a bulb or lamp for your needs, please, consider not only the right spectral range and strength but also its potential health implications and build a solution you will be comfortable with. The set up photo is just for illustration purposes and I surround this area with cardboard when used to shield myself from the UV. Please, do your own research.

Another thing I learned since my first attempt was that an uncoated paper is a must if I don't want to have weird unpredictable problems with development and washing. As a result, buy a regular heavy paper, like watercolor paper, from crafts supplies rather than coated paper for inkjet printers. Even the heavy watercolor papers for inkjet printing are coated and that coat will mess with the chemical processes involved in printing cyanotypes.

Since I did accidentally buy inkjet watercolor paper I used it and so far, at least the one I bought, it worked alright if used fairly quickly after coating, say within 24 hours. After that, the initially light yellow coat would start turning darker green, and eventually dark brown. While is still reacted to UV and an image was created it did not look nice and there was no way to wash the highlights back to white. I was left with a strong yellowish stain. I also doubt the result will be archival at all despite thorough washing.

Buffalo. NY Cyanotype, Exposed and unwashed lookBuffalo. NY CyanotypeExposed and unwashed look

Buffalo. NY Cyanotype
Exposed and unwashed look

Let's go over my second printing session. I selected two photographs from Buffalo, NY. One from the Grain Elevator Alley as that always provides a classic Buffalo backdrop, and one from the waterfront as that is also one of Buffalo's signature looks. The first two photos shared here are the weird look the prints have after exposure to UV but before development and washing in water. The image is already formed and visible but still obstructed.

Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype, Exposed and unwashed lookEdward M Cotter's Solo Show CyanotypeExposed and unwashed look

Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype
Exposed and unwashed look

And then the magic comes. As soon as the prints are submerged in water changes start to happen and in just 2 - 3 minutes the prints look great. I leave them in the wash for about 5 minutes total but I have seen recommendations anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes. Since I use a darkroom print washer tray that constantly replaces the water in the tray and keeps it flowing I am staying on the short wash side.

Buffalo, NY Cyanotype, Exposed and washedBuffalo, NY CyanotypeExposed and washed

Buffalo, NY Cyanotype
Exposed and washed

Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype, Exposed and washed / developed in waterEdward M Cotter's Solo Show CyanotypeExposed and washed / developed in water

Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype
Exposed and washed / developed in water

Once the initial wash and development is done, I've tried two different directions so far. The prints can come out of the water and dry, or they can go through another bath with a splash of vinegar, or citric acid. The acidity helps with a more thorough wash  and clearing of the highlights but I have also noticed that some of the very subtle mid-tones can also wash away. I guess one has to be really careful about the about of vinegar and the wash time in this acidic bath need to be quick, 30 seconds or so at the most. I can imagine though that with additional experience this will be a more predictable step. Then back to the plain water bath for the final wash.

Buffalo, NY Cyanotype, Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and driedBuffalo, NY CyanotypeExposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

Buffalo, NY Cyanotype
Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

As you can see, when the prints dry they darken and take on a full scale of tones. Do you see some of the "blotches" in the dark areas? That is the actual texture of the paper showing through. Of course I could not have selected a normal water color paper even this time around. Instead, this was printed on a 100% recycled Shizen Design watercolor paper.

Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype, Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and driedEdward M Cotter's Solo Show CyanotypeExposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried
Edward M Cotter's Solo Show Cyanotype
Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

Yes, that can probably be another rabbit hole to experiment with all kinds of paper types. I will definitely stay with heavyweight cotton rag for now (300+gsm, 140lb) as I have not run into any problems even with washes extending over 15 minutes. I have had no tearing during washing or drying and the paper easily dried flat.

I also wanted to get another print of the Old House from the first printing session but on this paper instead of the inkjet coated one. Even thought this print actually worked very well even on the inkjet paper (probably because I used it quickly after coating and coated the paper lightly) I still wanted to see the difference.

Old House Cyanotype, Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and driedOld House CyanotypeExposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

Old House Cyanotype
Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

And putting them side by side the difference is quite noticeable. However, my scanner got in the way in this regard and even with zero post-processing the difference almost disappeared as the auto-settings increased contrast, clipped highlights, and adjusted the white balance. I was surprised how the two pictures ended up almost identical despite being in a single image. Anyway, to illustrate the difference I took a quick snap of the two side by side with my cell phone.

Old House Cyanotype, Watercolor paper comparison, inkjet vs regular paper, face.Old House CyanotypeWatercolor paper comparison, inkjet vs regular paper, face. Old House Cyanotype, Watercolor paper comparison, inkjet vs regular paper, reverse.Old House CyanotypeWatercolor paper comparison, inkjet vs regular paper, reverse.

Old House Cyanotype
Watercolor paper comparison, inkjet vs regular paper, face

I know I stated it above but I will repeat it here. Do not use coated (inkjet) papers for your cyanotypes. Use regular uncoated watercolor paper. A heavy-weight 100% cotton rag is what I would recommend at this early stage of my experience.

All of the prints above were from film originals. However, I've recently returned from a trip and did not have a chance to process all of my film. Yet, I was curious how some of the sights would look in blue. Thus, I printed a 5x7" negative from one of the photos I took with my phone. You can see the outcome below.

Charles Bridge Cyanotype, Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and driedCharles Bridge CyanotypeExposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried
Charles Bridge Cyanotype
Exposed, developed in water, cleared in diluted white vinegar, re-washed, and dried

And with that travel post, I will close today out. I realize this was a long post and if you made it all the way here, thanks for reading and until next time!

Enjoy The Beauty That Surrounds You! #etbtsy

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