two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?