How to tea tone a cyanotype print

An alternative photography process that you can do in your kitchen.

Toned Cyanotype



Jo Howell tea toning a cyanotype print in the house.

Since so many of us across the world are currently stuck indoors, I thought I would show you how oftentimes I will spend my days working back into images I have made. I have a little bit of experience of being stuck in the house a lot over the last few years. At first the depression was crushing. Not going out and being unable to enjoy the sunshine felt like I’d lost a limb. I have a pain condition, that at it’s worst point, had practically rendered me housebound. In the worst throes of pain I wasn’t creative at all because I couldn’t focus my eyes, or my brain. Typing was impossible. Standing was impossible. So, at the worst ebb I did sweet F.A!

Just self care. Medication. Rest.

And, eventually the fog cleared a little. I didn’t want to grieve for the things that I couldn’t do. I wanted to celebrate and take joy from the things that I could still do, on the days when I felt well enough to do them. It’s strange, but we really are a fantastically adaptable species! No one knows how they’ll react when the ground seems to shift from under their feet. Sink or swim? I chose to float on my back to better enjoy the sun. Why should everything be such a dramatic polarised choice? Where’s the room for just meandering along when you can?

So, that’s why I had to think about different ways of working that I could do easily in the house. I’ve got an amazingly class studio, but the cold and damp in there can cause pain flare ups, so I work at home in the winter. The video explains visually with english text how to do the process. But I will also explain in written form below the picture.

You will need:

  • A cyanotype print that you have already made and is fully dry.
  • Household bleach
  • Tea bags
  • Lots of cold water
  • Boiling water
  • Two trays or dishes big enough for your print to fit inside with the liquid
  • A way to dry your prints. Not hot air. Try using your washing line, pegs, clotheshorse etc
  • A hake brush or brush
  • A glass container or jar for your bleach

Method:

  1. Prepare your work area. Put on an apron and gloves if you have them.
  2. Put around 5 tea bags in enough boiling water that you will be able to over your print with the toning solution. Put to one side to brew and cool down.
  3. Choose which areas of your print that you would like to tone.
  4. Apply the household bleach using your hake brush (you can dilute it, but in the video I just used it neat).
  5. The reaction should happen rather quickly. Once your finished leave for a minute and then rinse thoroughly in cold water. You will need to change the water regularly, and the print should be continuously (gently) moving in the water, as this will help to loosen up any remaining bleach.
  6. Once you are happy that most of the bleach is out. Dry your print. Have lunch. Watch a film. Chill.
  7. When the print is fully dry, and the tea you prepared earlier is nice and cold, you can put your print in. Keep the tea moving across the surface by gently agitating the toning tray. (By agitating, I mean for you to keep the solution moving rather than being irksome to the tray).
  8. Do this for 2 minutes. Or, longer if you want a stronger brown, but the longer the print is in the tea the less contrast you will achieve in the image.
  9. Thoroughly rinse the print again in cold water. I did this for another 10 minutes going until the water was clear.
  10. Peg out your print to dry for the final time. The tea and cyanotype chemicals in the paper will reach their full colour in around 24 hours.

I hope that this has been helpful. I then like to photograph the pieces on my phone and digitally mash them up. See below. Using a photo editing app on my smartphone.

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