So yes, alternative processes. Everything I’ve learnt so far has been by trial and error. LOTS of error. The sun returned a few of weeks ago. Off I went playing with cyanotypes, kallitypes, lumens and pinholes. I’ve lots to say about all of this mucking about but for now I’ll just talk about cyanotypes. After dabbling with them late last summer/autumn the sun got weaker, so I stopped and moved on to other things. However, I did get this far:
I was using some old chemicals I’d bought years before. They had ended up going very gloopy. But they mixed up OK and with the help of the wonderful Alternative Photography site I made some reasonable pictures.
Side note: Have you also discovered that most of the time people on the internet are super helpful when you ask questions, but occasionally you find yourself somewhere in a fb group full of insufferable know-it-alls? Let’s just say it’s another reason to steer clear of facebook.
This time round I bought pre-mixed chemicals and my God. What a difference. Although it took me dozens of test strips to get the exposure times right. And that was after a huge amount of paper testing. It would seem that cyanotypes don’t like paper that has too much size in it, too acid or not acid enough. I’ve tried everything from pricey 100% cotton handmade printmaking paper to cheap and cheerful cartridge. I think I’ve found the perfect paper, for me. But because this is all arbitrary, Arches Aquarelle.
You make a cyanotype sensitising your chosen paper by coating with equal parts of Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate, dissolved in distilled water and away from light. Leave to dry in the dark. I make a sandwich of a board, newspaper, my prepared paper, digital negative, sheet of glass and expose in the sun. Once exposed, dip in a tray of dilute white vinegar for a few seconds before rinsing under running water until the whites have cleared completely. Leave to dry for 24 hours, allowing the cyanotype to oxidise.
In my experiments, I’ve learnt oodles about preparing the digital negatives in photoshop, getting the curves right etc. I also have become obsessed with checking the weather forecast for UV levels; if it’s going to be a good day I’m down in the basement sensitising paper before breakfast. Any UV level under 3 and it’s is probably not worth trying to expose, but a wee bit of cloud doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve found with that level, Arches paper and a well prepared negative, 90 seconds exposure somewhere between 12-3pm seems just about right. Late lunch then. Of course as the spring turns to summer that will all change…
Keeping plenty of nerdy notes as I go along. On days it wasn’t sunny I tried toning. So far I’ve tried green tea, black tea, coffee and red wine. The green tea gives a pinkish tone; the coffee is too dark for me. Red wine doesn’t work but it’s nice to drink while you’re tittyarsing about. The black tea I think, works the best, toning the bright blue down and giving the white areas a nice cream colour if it’s fairly weak. All toning works better with a 30 second dip into a weak solution of soda crystals first to bleach slightly. A strong tea brew tones rich red brown like this.