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