Another Case of The Blues

Remember when I mentioned that I was going to use some photos from my black and white landscape week to print Cyanotypes?  Well, I finally have them scanned in a ready for you!

You know I love working with cyanotypes, and it was great being able to work on some more through my class.  I mean, I didn’t even have to use my own chemistry, and I got to test out some new papers, so as photo geeky as that may sound, it was super exciting.

While I just shared a few photos before, my theme for this project was “trees”.  I looked at them from different angles and tried to show some unusual details and abstractions of a subject I work with all the time.  Of course, I used the photo of my favorite tree, because, I just love that tree.  I also took a couple close up shots of some cherry blossom trees around my house.  They had some weird textures and growths on them that I thought were really interesting when viewed from a very close range.  One of these images really makes me think of this crazy movie that we watched in one of my classes, Little Otik, because, you know, art school and crazy movies go hand-in-hand.

As for the process, things were a little different, and took some getting used to.  Can I say that I’ve been spoiled by the sun?  I’m pretty confident when printing outdoors, and took that confidence with me to class that day.  Unfortunately, the light boxes are entirely different as far as developing times, and have a few other quirks.  I kind of over exposed one print to the point where you could see the outline of where the lights were in the box…I’m not gonna show you that one, but you can take my word for it 🙂  After I got the hang of it, however, it was pretty amazing.  Amazing like…I need to figure out how to build one of these myself so I can print at home on rainy days/at night, amazing.  That’s been the only sad thing about this process for me; I’m limited to sunny days, which don’t always come often during the colder months.  This is just one more thing for me to get attached to while at school.  I guess I better appreciate the things I have access do before they’re gone.  It’ll be over sooner than I think!

So with the quirks of getting used to new things, these aren’t quite the best cyanotypes I have ever made.  I’m still pleased with them though.  It was great having a chance to do this process again, and also great to get out and visit my favorite tree 🙂  Maybe I’ll give them another go over the summer, but for now, enjoy!

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Cyanotypes!

The sun is shining away on this windy winter day, and you know what that means?  Cyanotypes!  I’ve been waiting for a day like this, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made good use of it.

Cyanotypes are probably some of my favorite things to do.  I don’t have the accessibility to a darkroom at the moment, as well as don’t have the space for it, so it lets me feel like I’m still doing some “film” development, kinda.  I was introduced to this process during the last photography class I took at school.  I was auditing the class, since they didn’t offer Photography III, and the professor gave me some pretty interesting projects, one of which was alternative processes.  I started off doing botanicals, and using some old book pages she had, and fell in love with it!

If you don’t know what cyanotypes are, you should look in to it!  Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty on my process.  Cyanotype is a contact photographic process, which creates really lovely blue images.  To begin, you mix an equal part of two chemicals: ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide.  Yeah, cyanide.  Don’t worry though, it’s not going to kill you.  Though it is mildly toxic, I’ve never had any problems with it, and to be honest, I’m not particularly careful with it when using it — I’ve gotten it on my hands and constantly have my hands in the wash, and I’m still here!  I use a great kit from Photographers’ Formulary, where you don’t have to do any actually mixing of chemicals, and just combine “solution a” with “solution b”.  So easy.

Once you mix the chemicals, while in a darkened room treat your surface to make it photosensitive.  I personally use watercolor paper, and have had some great results.  It has great durability, and holds on to the emulsion well once you’ve completed your print.  One of my other favorite things to use are book pages, but they are much more fragile, so be careful.  You can use pretty much anything, as long as it is able to absorb the chemical solution — various papers, cloth, untreated canvases — so be creative!  Allow the treated surface to dry completely, I recommend even leaving it over night in a dark environment, and then you’re ready!  Your dried surface is going to be a light, almost lime green color when you treat it, but no worries, it will turn blue at the end!

Like I said earlier, it’s a contact printing process, so you could do either one of two things.  You can create your own negative, or for smaller prints, contact sheet style printing, or using medium format film, you can use actual negatives, and press it along with the paper between glass.  To make it simple, I just take apart a picture frame, using the back and the glass, and then secure the pieces together with paperclips or binder clips.  You want to make sure you have a good contact on your negative, otherwise you’ll end up with a fogged image, and lose a lot of your details.  I use Inkpress Media Transparency Film to create 8 1/2x 11″ negatives, and have had great results….when I follow the directions and print on the right side of the transparency!  They’re a little pricy, but super convenient in that I can just use my inkjet printer to make whatever negative I like!  Make sure you prep your image before printing as well.  Having strong contrast and clarity, as well as making a positive of your image through a photo editing program will ensure you get a good print.  The other thing you can do it treat your surface like a photogram, and place an object directly on top of your paper to create an image.  I still use glass when using objects, since I use flowers, leaves, etc., and in doing so, I’ve noticed you get a better outcome.

Exposure times will vary since, well, the weather is never the same from one day to another, and the sun’s position in the sky will move as you’re making your print.  I prefer to wait for a nice, clear sunny day, which keeps my exposure times anywhere from the 12-15 minute range.  You can gauge your exposure times by looking at your surface while in the light.  It will change from a light green, to a dark green, almost blackish tone.  Once you’ve reached your desired exposure, just rinse the print in cold running water.  I like to fully submerge my prints and gently agitate them prior to actually rising them.  The emulsion is delicate, so if you rinse too quickly, you’re going to wash your print away 😦 — so sad, I’ve totally done it.  You’ll see your print develop right before your eyes, changing from that weird dark greenish hue to an intense tone of blue with white highlights.  Rinse your print completely, so you don’t see any blue residue dripping from your paper and the water runs clear, and you’re finished!  Just lay it flat to dry and voila, you’re a cyanotype expert.

So there you have it!  I really love this process, and am thankful that I had a professor who thought outside the box and introduced me to this.  Check out my final prints below.  I made a couple of extras, so I may try my hand at toning them to change the color.  Stay tuned!