Cyanotype Process: Sun Prints

Two of my OCA student colleagues had recently uploaded Prussian blue solar prints to Instagram and I loved the deep blue colour so I decided to have a go myself using 4”x4” Sunprint paper.  Other companies make this type of paper as well so there’s plenty of choice on the internet. Technical descriptions of the process  completely miss the excitement of waiting for an exposure to be created – the timing, checking, slowly watching the blue paper turn white and then, after rinsing, see it all turn blue again and the image emerging more clearly (or not!) once the print has dried.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/222532387″>'''Twas on a Wednesday morning …..</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

My first experiment was to layer some leaves on the paper.

The look of it appealed to me but I thought the process could work better if items placed have clearer outlines so I decided to create a digital contact sheet of some pressed poppies I had photographed

 

There are two versions, the first exposure was pale and there was a leach of colour for some reason. During second exposure I had moved the negative slightly when I was checking it and there is a ‘double’ effect which I think is more interesting. I had bought some wooden cut-outs of butterflies so I tried those next and then decided to add to them so I layered some flower heads on top of the sun-print. By serendipity there were two tiny greenflies I hadn’t noticed when I re-photographed and these can be seen.

 

I had photographed my hotel bedroom whilst staying in Bath so decided to create digital contact negatives from the images and see how these turned out. A good result.

 

I uploaded jpegs of some of the prints to my Instagram account which, of course, meant I had to scan/re-photograph.  What was interesting was the difference between the scan and photograph as the photograph retained the slightly crumpled look of the original sun-print but the scan image was flat. You can see the differences above.  I also prepared a contact sheet as I wanted to print on some washi bamboo paper (which I thought would suit the colour of the sun prints) and then take to show members of OCA Thames Valley Group. The contact sheet also shows the differences as seen below.

 

What next? Well I have some ideas in relation to Assignment 2 and my dad’s letters and have already begun experimenting. I am also booked into a Cyanotype Workshop on the 2nd July down in Portsmouth with Russell Squires who is an OCA tutor and was also my tutor for Context & Narrative so it’ll be good to see him. In the meantime, below is a little more information on the cyanotype process.

The Cyanotype Process

This process was invented by Sir John Herschel in June 1842, for contact-printing photographic images on paper in Prussian Blue see here  .  Anna Atkins, considered to be the first female photographer , quickly used the process to create photograms of botanical specimens and, with her friend Anne Dixon, hand-printed several cyanotype albums. Coincidentally, as I began to write this blogpost, John sent me a link to an article about Anna Atkins  in the online Guardian  However, the cyanotype process only came into wider use after Herschel’s death in 1871 when a French company (Marion et Cie) marketed a cyanotype paper mainly for plan-copying and it was from this that the word blueprint came to be used.

You can prepare your own light-sensitive cyanotype paper by treating it first with a solution of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate or buy paper (or fabric) which has been pre-treated and then place natural objects or photographic negatives to contact print using some form of daylight – natural or artificial. When the treated paper is exposed in this way the light reacts with the solution on the paper and causes a pigment Prussian Blue to form. When the exposure is correct the paper is rinsed to wash the unreacted iron away, then, as the paper dries, the Prussian Blue colour is revealed. I should add that treated paper can now be in different colours – green, yellow, violet. Also the resulting prints can be dyed with liquid such as tea.

 

References

http://www.sunprints.org
http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/vexhibit/_PROCESS_Cyanotype_01/2/0/0
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jun/23/blooming-marvellous-the-worlds-first-female-photographer-and-her-botanical-beauties

 

 

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12 comments

  1. These were even more lovely in the flesh when Catherine showed us at the Thames Valley Group. I am particularly enthused about your bamboo paper, and the lovely texture it gave the prints.

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  2. Great experiments, Catherine. With so much sunshine about, I think I will order some! I really like your hotel bedroom prints and the yellow flowers on your cyanotype image. Do you think you will be using this method in one of your upcoming assignments?

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    1. Now is definitely the right time to try, although John told me he uses a sun lamp as well sometimes. It would be great if I could use cyanotype prints for the last two Assignments although I can’t think how at the moment. I have had an idea for continuation of Ass 2 though but am waiting until after the Workshop next weekend.

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  3. Fabulous Catherine, I’ve been experimenting with cyanotype’s too but haven’t got round to writing about them yet ! The workshop sounds fantastic, looking forward to reading how that goes.

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