The first of my 15 final images. I have about 40 failed prints so far, but I think this one is good enough to submit.
Today I conducted a series of scientific tests to predetermine the best Cyanotype process for me. I printed on Arches Aquarelle paper, widely considered to be the best for the practice aside from handmade Buxton paper from Ruscombe Mill in France (Some of which I have ordered and hope to practice on soon). I set up a makeshift darkroom by blacking out windows with bin bags and using a tungsten lamp for light.
I identified four variables for my tests:
Firstly treating the paper with citric acid reportedly neutralises alkaline buffers within the paper and.
Secondly, adding Foto-Flo, a non-ionic surfactant that helps the fibres of the paper absorb the sensitiser.
Third, many Cyanotypists advocate using a coloured negative, believing that the coloured ink lets less UV light through, and that printers produce better gradients in coloured ink than black.
Finally, the online Cyanotype community generally advocate using a predetermined photoshop curve tho optimise the effectiveness of digital negatives.
I began by printing with Cyanotype sensitiser on the paper with no additives. To do this I used a foam brush, which coats the paper evenly and is more controllable than a glass rod.
I chose a section (Around 4x5”) from one of my images that had the intricate detail and contrast that I think will be common across my 15 final images, making it a good example to practice on.
The left image shows sensitiser on paper with a digital negative that was simply my photograph inverted then flipped horizontally. The right hand image shows a negative with my curve applied. The difference between the two is that the first preserves detail in the lighter areas, whereas the second has less detail in the light areas, but more in the darker areas.
This image is the same, using a coloured negative instead of a black and white one. The right hand image (With a curve applied) turned out badly but based on these results I decided to disregard coloured negatives and stay with greyscale ones.
Here the paper was treated with citric acid solution prior to the sensitiser being applied. The citric acid seems to have given the eventual blues a washed out appearance and blurs fine detail.
Here, the paper has not been treated with acid, but one drop of Foto-Flo has been added per 1cc of sensitiser. Foto-Flo does noticeably increase absorption, but the aesthetic it gives is not as pleasing as my first attempts. The detail is still not good enough in the man on the bench.
Finally, adding Foto-Flo to the sensitiser after the paper has been acidified seems to counteract the washed out look that the acid gives somewhat. Despite this, the image is not how I want it.
It seems that the best idea, despite advice that I have been given and read, would be to not add Foto-Flo and not acidify the paper. In terms of the photoshop curve, I think a combination of the first two would be best, with the curve applied to the darker areas, and the lighter areas left as they are. This would give the best detail and contrast within my means. This will require some intricate photoshop editing.
My first attempts at cyanotype with new paper: Canson Monteval. It is apparently well suited to cyanotype, however the dirty marks which have been appearing on it after coating seem to suggest otherwise. All three images are 6” by 4”.
The first was done in the sunlight, with a 10% citric acid solution added to the paper in an attempt to make the paper acidic and therefore more susceptible to the cyanotype solution. There is a difference in contrast to the second one, which had no acid, however the edges of some parts are more blurred, such as the bike seat. No non-ionic surfactants (to aid absorption) were used.
The second is just cyanotype developed in sunlight, no additives such as citric or nitric acid and no non-ionic surfactants. There is less contrast, and the blues aren’t as deep as I want them to be, but it is overall sharper than the first.
The third is cyanotype with no additives, developed with a UV bulb. The blues are much deeper, at the expense of detail. The development of the image is also incredibly uneven.
Fourth attempt at cyanotype, the first one that even sort of worked.
For my next attempt I plan to use a more exposed negative to try to produce a darker image with a bigger tonal range. And then if the image is still washed out, introduce a hydrogen peroxide bath.
My first digital negative, a practice for my dissertation work which will eventually be displayed in cyanotype. Waiting on the paper to dry in a dark room before I expose it. Hopefully it will turn out well. The photo is of my brother, not the subject matter that my dissertation is going to be based on, but it was convenient to just snap an image this evening for a test print.
If I have to guess, I don’t think I ‘exposed’ the negative enough. There doesn’t seem to be enough contrast.
I’ll guess I’ll find out in an hour or so.