Saturday, June 29, 2013


Dagnambit!!! I've already made a mistake and I'm only on my first cyanotype toning test. I didn't SCAN the dry cyanotype before toning it in Borax. Immediately after immersing it in the solution, I realized what I'd done (or rather, not done) and had a mild panic. But Borax works almost instantly and the print had already changed. I have another print that looked virtually identical, but it's not the same.

Well, no use crying over spilt milk. I'll have to get more paper coated tonight (I coat in the evenings, when there's no sunlight around) and make some exposures tomorrow to get extra copies of the image. I have three un-altered prints left to work on, so I'll be continuing the tests. Some additional research on toning cyanotypes with easy-to-find and safe-to-use chemistry has added some more tests to my list. Notes now include how many scans I plan to make, so the process is fully documented.

  • Ammonia Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Borax Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • SuperTea Toning – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Ammonia + SuperTea – 3 Scans: Original, Ammonia-Only, Ammonia+SuperTea
  • Borax + SuperTea – 3 Scans: Original, Borax-Only, Borax+SuperTea
  • Selenium Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Dektol Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Dektol+SuperTea – 3 Scans: Original, Dektol-Only, Dektol+SuperTea
  • Household Bleach Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Laundry Detergent Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After
  • Lysol Spray Bleaching – 2 Scans: Before and After

Originally I planned to compare all these results to a single untoned image, but I realized that would be a terrible control group. Because I use the sun to print instead of a UV exposure table, my prints are all slightly (or significantly) different from each other. As I noted earlier, even four prints all made for 50 minutes outside on the same day did not match perfectly. Two are much lighter than the others and I have no explanation as to why, other than clouds potentially blocking some light during their exposure.

This new plan should be much more rigorous and provide far better documentation of the effects of different bleaching and toning agents. I'll have to make a stop by the Light Factory to do the Selenium and Dektol processes, and a stop at the grocery store to pick up some Ammonia. 

When I post my final results and scans, I'll include notes on the dilutions and exact steps I'm using for each toning process. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Woolgathering pt.2

My previous attempt at an anthotype on felted wool is still outside baking away in the scoring Southern sun. It's been out there for 48 days now. I checked it a while back, but the condition remains basically the same. At 60 days I'm going to pull it and give up. Two months is more than enough time for any reasonable exposure. Anything past that falls into "unreasonable" territory and just gets written off. We'll see what it looks like by then.

Still, I went into that experiment knowing that madder root was a fairly strong textiles dye and it had good notes about its light-fastness and resistance to fading. I've confirmed in previous paper experiments that even extended exposures with madder root don't give great contrast. So whatever the failings of madder root on woolen felt, I don't think they necessarily invalidate the idea of felt. I like the concept behind it: making the substrate myself from raw fibers, dyeing them myself with my own pigments and then performing the exposure myself and doing any post-processing work necessary. So all that is pretty cool.

Today I started a new felt anthotype, this one dyed with turmeric and annatto powder (2:1 ratio, diluted in ~500 ml of alcohol) which I know to be a fast-exposing mixture. I also didn't let the felt soak in the dye as long. It still has a nice, strong yellow-gold color, but it isn't fully saturated the way the madder felt was. I left the madder felt to soak for two days, this felt only soaked for about two or three hours. So, I'm hoping some portions of the felt might bleach away totally and leave me a nice strong image. I don't expect a lot of detail in a felt exposure, but we'll see what we get! I'll be checking it once a week. I'm hoping to have results in 2-3 weeks, but I'll go for up to a month if I need to.

Toning a Six-Pack

Man, it'd be nice if the title of this post wasn't just a bad pun. Oh well. Actually, instead of getting bitchin' abs what I'm doing today is working on some cyanotypes. I'll be teaching a workshop on alternative processes at the Light Factory (check 'em out!) in the near future and it's got me wanting some examples of my own for cyanotype toning.

Yes, there are dozens of places online you can go to get good examples of cyanotypes being toned. I just want my own results because in the past when I've toned cyanotypes (and while at ECU I did every toning technique I could wrangle chemistry for) I haven't made side-by-side comparisons and now I really regret that since I no longer have easy, free access to bunches of random types of chemistry. My boss isn't big on spending money so that I can laugh maniacally to myself while wearing goggles, rubber gloves and a big black apron.

I just finished making four exposures, each 50 minutes long, of the same negative. Two of the exposures are already lighter than the others. Clouds, I'm guessing, since I do my cyanotypes outside in sunlight. I'm going to be doing examples of:

  • Ammonia Bleaching
  • Borax Bleaching
  • SuperTea (Tannic Acid) Toning
  • Ammonia + SuperTea
  • Borax + SuperTea
  • Un-toned
  • Selenium Bleaching
  • Dektol Toning
It'll take a few days to get all the results, since it's best to allow cyanotypes to fully dry (at least overnight) before toning them and best to let them dry again fully before scanning the images to avoid distortion from dry-down tonal shifts. 

I wish I had some pure Tannic Acid laying around, but it's kinda pricey. I might look at buying some, along with some soda ash, after the summer. Summer's tight on a budget when you're a teacher.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Update: Exotic Experiments

In my last post, 34 days ago, I talked about two on-going experiments and one completed experiment. The handmade paper experiment is finished and until I find a cheap blender to make paper with again, it'll stay that way. I really should hit the Salvation Army or something, shouldn't I? I need to anyway, because I've got a bunch of frozen fruit in the freezer that might eventually just turn into colored ice.

The other two experiments, however, were just getting started. I have one-month-later results now, one encouraging and the other... well, sorta encouraging, but far less so.

Working With Wood!
This is the less encouraging result. I used a slice of cedar for my experiment, one that had been cut directly from the trunk of the now-dead tree with a chainsaw. That meant the surface was rough and bumpy, with burs and bits of bark sticking up around the edges. So solid contact with the surface was nearly impossible and as I inspected the tree a few times, I found there was some kind of image being made, but it was so blurry and indistinct I just kept letting it go longer. Finally a good hard rain hit and appears to have washed away most of the pigment I applied to the wood. I can still see the original image, but attempts to photograph or scan it didn't turn much up because the image is so faint and really only visible if you know exactly where to look.

I'm not abandoning the idea of anthotypes on wood, because I think it's a cool idea. However, I will be using a rotary saw to cut the slices of wood next time (muuuuuch smoother cuts) and maybe even sand the front surface to a satin finish before applying the pigment. I'm also going to try hickory wood instead of cedar wood, because the dye will show up better on the hickory. The tree that was cut down for this wasn't old enough or big enough to have distinctly colored heartwood, so the whole thing is a pale color from bark to core. I'll do a side-by-side comparison once I work up the energy to clean off the table saw and work out a good way to sand the faces smooth without removing my fingertips.

Woolen Wonders!
My other on-going experiment was hand-felted wool dyed in madder extract. Well, it's been sitting inside on a well-lit table for about 2 weeks and then I moved it outside into the weather for 2 more. It's still there, though I do bring it in during really nasty storms. So far the fabric isn't getting moldy, though the particle board it sits on sure is starting to turn interesting colors.

The image itself is present, though currently not very strong. Madder has a good reputation as a long-lasting, light-resistant fabric dye. Even without a mordant involved, it's probably going to take a long, long time to get a decent amount of contrast. I plan to try this experiment again with a faster-fading pigment like red cabbage, turmeric or sandalwood.