Famous for its deep blue color and for giving us the term "blueprints", cyanotypes can give lots of satisfaction to those who might want to explore the path of experimentation and printmaking with camera-less photography. Today we want to explore the wet cyanotype technique, a printing method that can unlock your creative flow.
Different from the classic silver based processes, cyanotypes are based on a solution of iron compounds. But like their cousin, they require a sunny day to make a print. We advise you to practice your printing during a favorable season when there are plenty of hours filled with UV light.
With lots of sunlight your exposure time will be drastically reduced, and you'll have more chances to experiment and try the process over and over again until you have a satisfactory image. It is frustrating when your creative juices are flowing and you have to stop because the clouds are covering the sky or the daylight is over.
Now let's cut to the chase. What you need for this tipster is very simple. For the sake of simplicity, we will not go through the full formula to make cyanotypes. There are many websites that offer the solution ready to use. Let's place our focus on the creative aspects of these techniques, and explore the possibilities to which we can play with this solution.
What You'll Need:
- Cyanotype kit
- Watercolor non acid paper
- Some organic material to compose your shapes, such as leaves, flowers etc. Or a negative to make a print.
- Soap/ Salt/ turmeric / Diluted vinegar / cellophane
Wet cyanotypes mean that you work on your prints before the solution is dry. Firstly you brush the solution onto your paper. Lay your elements on the frame and compose the image as you like it to be. Then start adding some textures. Bubbles and cellophane will create extra layers over your composition, then to add some colors you can sparkle some turmeric, paprika, or chilli powder.
Vinegar brings out mid-tone detail, while citric acid can be expected to bind to iron more tightly than acetic acid. Weak solutions of acetic or citric acid will help with contrast adjustment. Use a water bath of acetic acid of 40 gr per 1l of water.
Another way you can add color to your cyanotypes is by tinting with liquids that have strong tannin components. Therefore tea, coffee, and red wine are the optimal choice. The side effect is that they will stain the entire paper. This is not necessarily a negative outcome, as it can convey a vintage look to your print.
Coffee can get closer to a black tint, while tea will turn brown. If you aim to accomplish a significant red shift, we suggest trying to use tannin powder. Red wine must contain a high level of tannin to grant a deep color shift, and that's not always the case with what is available at the store. The result is that the blue will most likely still be very intense, while the paper will turn reddish.
The most delicate step in tinting is bleaching the cyanotype to allow the new colors to absorb. It is a critical step as we need to preserve the highlights without losing them. However, if you don't bleach enough, the iron will not be completely removed and tinting will not occur.
To bleach, use 2 teaspoons of washing soda diluted in 500 ml of water. Keep your eyes on your print, when you see the blues turning purple that is the moment you remove your paper and wash it under running water to stop the bleaching.
It is a process that will take some time to get the hang of. This is why we suggest you experiment when there are long sunny days, to give yourself the possibility to try and try again.
Coffee: Brew 600 ml of water for 8.38 g of instant coffee and let it soak for about 3 hours. Check your print and see for yourself when the colors get to your liking. Overnight is also possible, but you need to have a good watercolor paper that can sustain a long bathing time.
Tea: Prepare the tea with 4 bags of earl grey and let it soak for about 1.5 hours.
Wine: Pour approximately 3 glasses of wine (250 ml) and let it soak for at least 5 hours.
Let's Turn Your Mistakes Into New Ideas
To further expand the creative possibilities, don't be afraid to explore various techniques from other artistic practices. When one attempt didn't turn out as I wished, what could have been a mistake sparked some ideas. I then decided to make some potato stamps.
It was the first time I carved a potato and tried to produce a pattern. But I was very excited and it gave me a great feeling of freedom. I will definitely explore and practice more and more of these ideas to get the carving right and the amount of ink to form a pattern. But this is the beauty of a hands-on project, you never know what will give you your next idea.
What will it be your next experiment? Share your work with the community and tell us which idea you like best in the comment below.