Working with Cyanotype Process

OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting on 15th July 2017

Attached is a PDF of the notes I made for the OCASA website as they again provided funds for tutor Jayne Taylor to join us.

Notes for OCASA on 15th July 2017 OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting

I showed the group a selection from the Cyanotypes I created at the recent Workshop I attended (see here   ) and some further experiments using old glass negatives.

The glass negatives are fascinating to work with (I’ll be unpacking some more later today) and I am continuing to upload my ongoing experiments to my Instagram account . In addition to thinking about how I can ‘present’ these variously sized pieces of work I am also thinking whether I can use  cyanotypes of enlarged extracts from my father’s letters from Egypt as development of Assignment 2.

 

They haven’t exposed as clearly as I would have wanted but, as John said, the other cyanotypes I am creating can be regarded as practice models and some of them are very clear.  Both he and Jayne were also interested in the small negatives I had created to use

and thought it would be good to find ways of utilising them as items in themselves.

My brain is still circling around topics to use for the critical review (Assignment 3) but keeps leaping ahead as well to Assignment 4/5 so Jayne suggested I create a mind-map. I have used them in the past but need to guard against being distracted into spending too much time making sure that the map itself has ‘correct’ links.

I also mentioned my idea for a project which will take me back onto the Copse and my intention to use wool to create work in the landscape itself. I’ve already started on this and tagged it on Instagram first as #weftwood, but then decided that #interruptedlandscape would be good as an overarching title for this kind of work. Here’s a taster video I created when I first began

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/226924929″>In the Beginning</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The project will build fairly slowly according to weather conditions and I’ll be writing more fully about in a later post.

Workshop : An Introduction to Cyanotypes

Workshop with Russell Squires at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth

Russell Squires   is a photographer, based in Portsmouth, who uses both traditional and digital processes in his fine art practice.  He is an OCA tutor in addition to teaching at other Institutions. The Workshop was held at the Aspex Gallery  https://aspex.org.uk  – a contemporary art gallery which is in a slightly hidden-away corner of Gunwharf Quays – a designer shopping outlet set in the re-developed historic waterfront of Portsmouth.  It’s a pleasant environment, especially on a lovely Summer’s day.

Russell had asked us to send him two jpegs beforehand so that he could convert them into digital negatives ready to use for cyanotypes (in fact he’d prepared two of each and explained to us that this gives a better contrast and structure) and had also prepared a set of treated paper to use (necessary given the relatively short amount of time we had). These were handed to us together with a proof contact frame to hold the prepared paper and objects/digital negatives.  Russell then quickly took us through aspects such as useful accessories; the formula/recipe for the cyanotype solution, how hydrogen peroxide can be used in one of the rinses after the print has been exposed (creates a deeper blue), the best type of brush for painting the solution on the paper (no metal parts),  and the type of paper that he uses ( Goldline Watercolour 200gsm )

We were shown how to weigh and prepare the solution (NB use de-ionised or mineral water to mix and a wooden stick – nothing metal) and then each of us prepared one sheet of paper ourselves which was then placed to dry, in a closed cardboard box to keep it in darkness,  ready to take home at the end of the day.  Next was to set up our first print, using a variety of objects and materials, place in the contact frame and then under a UV tube rather than out in sunlight.  Whilst waiting for the exposure to take, Russell told us some of the history of the Cyanotype process (John Herschel’s invention, Anna Atkins’s botanic prints) and how cyanotype prints came to be used for ‘blueprints’ and later family portraits because they were so cheap to make. Russell also showed us some of his own cyanotype  which varied from various kinds of blueprints  as here to cyanotype prints over-sewn with red thread. He also gave us names of some other contemporary artists who use the process in various ways including Stephen Turner who currently has an Exhibition of his work in the Gallery (see further information below).

Two prints were created using object/materials and then another using a digital negative.

 

2. After peroxide rinse

 

I enjoyed watching the prints emerge complete – through one water rinse, another rinse with water plus a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide, further clean water rinse and then hung to dry out.  We prepared a further print but there was insufficient time to rinse it out. This proved to be my one ‘failure’ because I left it over a day to rinse out and it came out very pale.  I actually quite liked the paleness, but have begun to colour it in using Marshalls oil pencils for a different effect.

 

Some Contemporary Artists who use Cyanotype Process

Walead Beshty

Best known for his work in photography but he also uses many other media in his artistic process such as travelling with unexposed transparency film in his luggage and thus expxosing it to airport x-ray scannersHe has also exposed colour photographic paper to coloured light from a horizontal enlarger and processed this with a large-format colour processor, see here

A year of artistic process captured through cyanotypes

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/108348294″>Walead Beshty in The Curve</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/barbicancentre”>Barbican Centre</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Annie Lopez has made dresses from old patterns using material that has been printed using the cyanotype process

Rosie Emerson  mainly works on representing the female form. She creates screen prints using unusual materials and has also created hand finished prints using cyanotypes and acrylic paint see here

Stephen Turner

Turner’s multi-media work focuses on changes between human-made and natural environments. His most recent Project has been The Exbury Egg   a collaborative with Space Place & Urban Design (SPUD) and PAD Studio architects. He worked with the designers to create the Egg  which he used as a self-sustaining work space . It’s a fascinating construction, as you can see if you follow the link, and Turner used it to study the life of a tidal creek and create artwork in response.

I missed seeing The Egg itself when it was installed at Gunwharf Quays but, fortunately, there is an ongoing Exhibition Everything Comes from the Egg   at the Aspex Gallery( from June to 3rd September).  I was able to visit during lunchtime and found it fascinating.  There are many cyanotypes which he created using different materials ,such as discarded packaging, as a base plus  architectural drawings; small egg-shaped sculptures and glass jars filled with local flora.  I found it all very inspiring.

 

Interim thoughts

This was a thoroughly enjoyable workshop for me and I was surprised how quickly the time went by.  The Gallery was a lovely space to be in and Russell had created an excellent structure for the day – entwining creative work with information, practical skills and discussions.  I felt good to come away with completed creative work, think I now have a good grasp of how to create Cyanotype prints and am already thinking of  ways I can use them in my coursework.

 

References

http://russellsquires.co.uk/about/
https://aspex.org.uk
https://aspex.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/everything-comes-from-the-egg/
https://exburyegg.me
https://www.artsy.net/artist/walead-beshty
http://www.phxart.org/exhibition/annielopez
http://www.rosieemerson.co.uk/about.html
http://www.rosieemerson.co.uk/portfolio.html
http://www.spudgroup.org.uk/exbury-egg
http://www.stephenturner.org.uk
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/spacemonkeypress?ref=l2-shop-info-name

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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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