I am experimenting with the Cyanotype photographic process to make some rudimentary prints. The images here are my first effort. I heard about cyanotype from an artist in my cohort, Lou McCorkle, who has created some beautiful pieces. Check out her profile, you will be impressed by what she has achieved using this process.
Cyanotype is a process that uses chemicals sensitive to ultraviolet light rays to produces cyan-blue prints on paper or fabric. The technique itself comes from the early days of print photography. Today kit packaging and affordability make this an easy process to use.
To understand the process better, I watched Ekaterina Smirnova’s YouTube video. Ekaterina does an excellent job of demonstrating the method.
Below I will write my observations with additional tips and information for reference:
I purchased my Cyanotype kit from Amazon. It came with 2 dark-colored plastic bottles containing Potassium Ferricyanide and Ferric Ammonium Citrate respectively. The chemicals are in powder form to which water must be added. The bottles are the correct size for water addition, so I didn’t have to guess amounts. The package also included application sponges and one piece of 4×6 watercolor paper. Once water is added to the chemicals, they need to sit for 24 hours before initial use.
To use, mix equal amounts of both liquids and paint them on your print surface. A heavy cotton rag paper is suggested, like 320gsm (I used a 300gsm watercolour paper). This can also be done on fabric and other materials. However, you need some absorbency on the print surface so that the liquid stays on. As the chemicals are sensitive to light, you need to apply in an area with subdued lighting.
When applying the coating, long fast strokes help achieve even coverage. My kit came with sponges, which I used for the prints here. But you can also use brushes. I suggest using gloves when handling the chemicals as they dye your hands. In my photos below, you will see the result of an uneven application and the pooling of liquid on the paper.
Once your surface is painted, it needs to air dry before the next step. Internet recommendations suggest 24 hours.
Now you can place items on the coated surface and take it out into the sunlight to develop. A UV lightbox can also be used here. The spots that are blocked will remain a lighter color, while the rest will turn darker.
From recommendations: The print will become a bronze colour after adequate exposure. It is better to overexpose than underexpose. Exposures take anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes.
Once done, the prints need to be washed. They can be held under a tap or placed in a tray of water. I think doing both might be the way to go. I just ran the tap over my prints. A cyan-blue color will start to emerge, which will deepen while they dry over 24 hours.
From recommendations: Use hydrogen peroxide in the rinse tray to give a deeper blue (also a quick final tone) or white wine vinegar for more subtlety in tonal range.
Different color tones can be achieved by using household materials such as bleach, red wine, coffee, or tea in the wash process. Do a search for ‘cyanotype toning’ when you are ready to experiment with this.
Photographs can also be in the cyanotype process by creating a digital negative and printing on transparency film. There are several articles and youtube videos that explain this process. All suggest using a good photographic printer to produce the final transparency.
I hope you have as much fun experimenting with cyanotype as I will, and I would love to hear your observations.
A cyanotype print made from placing objects on a coated surface is called ‘photogram’.