I'm enthralled with the cyanotype printing process! But I'm not so enthralled with the native Prussian Blue color of a cyanotype print. So now I'm exploring toning my prints with natural plant substances to get earth tones. Toning opens a new door of visual creativity!
First, I began to tone an entire print. The cyanotype prints in my Cyanotype Collection on this site are all toned. Unlike staining a print which would affect the paper and highlights, toning will react with the cyanotype chemistry to change the Prussian Blue to another color with minimal changes to the paper and highlights of the print. Some prints I've dried before toning, but others I've toned while still wet from the rinsing/development process. Interestingly, the same toner will produce different results with a dried print (rewetted for toning) as compared to a wet print.
Usually, I first bleach the cyanotype print with a mild solution of sodium carbonate aka washing soda. As the print bleaches, the image will lose the blue and may appear to lose any traces of the image. Yikes! But the cyanotype chemicals are still there, so when the print is put into a toner such as coffee, the formerly blue tones reappear as brown tones. For whole image toning, I've used coffee, black tea, yerba-mate tea, and catechu also called kattha. The print above was toned with catechu without bleaching.
But the toned cyanotype print is still monochromatic! Now I wanted some different earth-type colors in the print. Once the toned print is dry, I can now selectively tone parts of it. Using a watercolor brush, I can paint toner onto selected areas of the print. I've painted coffee, tumeric, wine tannin, and red wine onto areas of the print above. Each produces a subtle tone different from my original toned print; the red wine appears to actually reverse the original toning to let the blue come through again. Letting the selective toner dry then applying a second thin coat enhances the color.
My visual curiosity wants to see what else can be done with toning and selective toning! Each cyanotype print is unique because it's hand made; varying the way I coated the paper, varying the exposure time, and the variation inherent in the process all change the final print. Then, the toning process is an art in itself; what seems to be the same toner and time with similar prints may yield very different results. Now with selective toning, each print is truly a unique expression!