Cyanotypes VI: Toning

January 17, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Cyanotypes are known for and easily identified by their blue color. But are they? Yes, straight printing with cyanotype chemicals will result in blue prints. That's what gave the name to the term blueprint. However, one does not have to stop there.

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This was my first venture into altering the final results of my cyanotypes. In concept, it is a very simple process, however, it adds quite a bit of time until one gets to the finish line. First step is to print a normal blue-looking cyanotype and let it fully dry and cure by being exposed to oxygen. It seems like the general recommendation is about 24 hours. At this point, you may have something like the below print.

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype, The Original BlueHelfštýn Courtyard CyanotypeThe Original Blue

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype - The Original Blue, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

After 24 hours, the print is ready to go through the next two or more toning phases. First, the print needs to be bleached and I followed the recommendation of using washing soda (not baking soda), approximately one tea spoon per liter. In my case, I estimated half a tea spoon and only mixed 500ml.

The length of bleaching depends on one's desired results. The highlights and then mid-tones start bleaching first and very quickly, in about 15 seconds. Then the apparent speed goes down and full bleaching my take 2 to 3 minutes depending on the print, the paper, the bleach concentration, the temperature, and probably the weather outside (joking). I do the bleaching step in a darkroom tray while constantly agitating the bleach by rocking the tray back and forth.

Removing the print after about 10 - 30 seconds results in a partially bleached print with the shadows keeping some of their blues. You can see a sample of that stage below. This remaining blue will combine with our toner in a successive step. Based on how long the bleach worked on the shadows their color may also change and they may appear black, gray, cyan, or even have a greenish tone.

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype - Partially BleachedHelfštýn Courtyard CyanotypePartially Bleached

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype - Partially Bleached, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

Continued bleaching will start removing even the mid-tones and shadow areas and the look will depend a lot on the paper. Smooth papers bleach differently than textured papers. In this case of the rough texture of the Shizen Design Watercolor Paper, the dark areas turn yellow and "never" really disappear, at least not within a few minutes. For full bleaching, I wait for all other colors do disappear and only faint yellows and whites remaining.

After bleaching, whether partial or full, the print needs to go back into a water wash to get the bleach out. I have seen wildly differing recommendations but based on my testing so far, 4 minutes of flowing water in a print washing tray does the trick. However, ask me in 100 years to confirm whether those 4 minutes provide archival washing quality.

Once washed, the print goes into a toner of your choice. In today's example, I used the partially bleached print from the above step and toned it in black tea, 4 tea bags per 500ml. Temperature does matter and going with room temperature is generally recommended. Higher temperatures will result in faster toning but will also cause general paper staining, front and back.

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype - Toned in Black TeaHelfštýn Courtyard CyanotypeToned in Black Tea

Helfštýn Courtyard Cyanotype - Toned in Black Tea, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

You can see the remaining unbleached areas in the above print. You can increase their presence by bleaching less or decrease by bleaching more, all the way to removing them completely.

Alright, that's it for black tea. But how about other toners? How about green tea? Or white tea? Or something more adventurous like red wine? Let's take a look. First, I printed a whole bunch of cyanotypes from the same negative so that I could keep some in blue and experiment with the rest.

Helfštýn Archway - Cyanotype BlueHelfštýn Archway CyanotypeCyanotype in Blue

Helfštýn Archway Cyanotype - In Blue, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

I really liked the blue look. I am definitely nowhere close to getting tired of these blue beauties. As a result, it was quite hard to keep only couple and proceed through the next stages with the rest. During this session, I decided to stick with the partial bleaching process. If you'd like to see what one can get with fully bleached prints, you'll need to return to my blog in a week or two, I hope to have that post up by then.

Helfštýn Archway Cyanotype Toned in Black TeaHelfštýn Archway CyanotypeToned in Black Tea

Helfštýn Archway Cyanotype Toned in Black Tea, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

The theory has it that as far as teas go black tea tones the most and the closest to black tones. It results in rich blacks. It also stains the paper on both sides. At first, I did not like the staining much and was excited about trying other teas but at this point, I will admit I am more and more partial to going back to black tea. The charcoal look appeals to me more and more and I am over my initial problem with the slight general staining. It can also be somewhat controlled by keeping the toner at room temperature or at least between 20ºC to 30ºC. Hotter liquid will stain more. I also found that at this temperature and with this paper, 15 minutes provides a good balance between effective toning and limited staining. Leaving the print in black tea for significantly longer results in limited toning improvement but significant staining all over.

Next planned experiment was with cheap red wine at about $6 for 1 liter. I was not sure what to expect but wanted to try something other than tea. I also intentiopnally stayed away from coffee for now. I use coffee and Caffenol for another project and wanted to try my hand in other materials first.

Helfštýn Archway Cyanotype Toned in Red Wine & White TeaHelfštýn Archway CyanotypeToned in Red Wine & White Tea

Helfštýn Archway Cyanotype Toned in Red Wine and White Tea, An Original Hand-Made 5" x 7" Cyanotype
Chemically printed on a hand-coated Shizen Design textured surface cold pressed recycled watercolor paper

After 15 minutes in red wine, the toning was very faint and I did not yet have the experience that would prompt me to either raise the temperature or let the print sit in the wine for longer to see what would happen. I still have not tried that and it is coming soon. On this day, I decided to pull the partially toned print out, wash it, and then tone in white tea. Why white? I was afraid black tea would overpower the faint wine toning results and I did not have cheap green tea on hand. I did not want to "waste" fancy loose tea for these experiments. However, I had some cheap white tea handy that I normally use for my kombucha. I used the same strength of 4 tea bags in 500ml of water and went for it. I read that white tea was not good for toning but I figured I could try and hoped that in combination with red wine it would be enough, And it worked really nicely and I am sure this was not the last time I tried this combo.

Future plans? I am working on a project that will require me to print traditional cyanotypes as well as cyanotypes toned in green tea. I need to try red wine again on its own and be more patient. I am also more and more curious about coffee. And there are quite a few herbs that can also be used. I really liked prints toned in marjoram I saw soemwhere on the web.

Enjoy The Beauty That Surrounds You! #etbtsy

Previous posts in the Cyanotypes series: 1. First Cyanotype - 2. More Cyanotypes - 3. Highlands Cyanotypes - 4. How do Cyanotypes Happen? - 5. Cyanotypes V: Tweaking the Curve - 6. Cyanotypes VI: Toning

If you like cyanotypes you can explore the Cyanotypes Photo Gallery dedicated to my growing collection of them. Would you like to browse through traditional darkroom wet prints? Visit my Darkroom Photo Gallery and enjoy! Do not hesitate to contact me whether you would like to learn more or would like to purchase one of my prints.

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House of Memories Cyanotype, An original hand-made 5" x 7" cyanotype print from the Czech Republic.House of MemoriesCyanotype Helfštýn Castle Palace Cyanotype, an original hand-made 5" x 7" cyanotype print from the Czech Republic.Helfštýn Castle PalaceCyanotype Highland Hay Bales Cyanotype, An original hand-made 5" x 7" cyanotype print from the Czech Republic.Highland Hay BalesCyanotype

 


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