Lately it has been so sunny which makes me want to make cyanotypes! I first discovered cyanotypes on my A Level Photography course. My exam theme was light and I wanted to take photographs only using light. So basically a cyanotype is a way of making photos without a camera, using specially prepared paper and a sunny day. Here I will tell you how to prepare the cyanotype paper and how to produce a print!
First of all you need to aquire the materials to make the cyanotype liquid. This is made up from a number of chemicals, and you can get lists of ingredients and quantities on the internet, but as I am not making a large number of prints I buy a kit. Stone Creek Silk sell a “Cyanotype (Blueprint) Chemicals Kit” for £8.50 which makes a good quantity of liquid and includes instructions. When making up the liquid BE CAREFUL! READ ALL THE SAFETY INSTURCTIONS! Although it is a fun and fairly easy process, you are dealing with serious chemicals which need to be handled properly. The most important thing to remember when mixing the chemicals is to do so in a dark environment as the mixture (obviously!) reacts to light and will be unusable if you left it out in the daylight. Once you have mixed the chemicals up according to the instructions, you can store the liquid in a brown glass bottle (in the dark). Apply the liquid to paper using a brush or a sponge and leave to dry in the dark (are you spotting a dark pattern?) Once the paper is dry you can start to make a print!
Collect your objects you want to make a print of. I like to use glass bowls (you get nice patterns from the light refracting) flowers and lace. You can also go the historical route and turn negatives into cyanotypes (use a photo software on your computer to turn your photograph/drawing/ painting into a negative image, then print it onto acetate made for printers) Keeping your cyanotype paper in the dark for as long as possible, lay it outside in full sun then quickly place your chosen object/negative onto the paper. Do not move it and don’t cause a shadow over the paper as these will show up on the finished print!
When you first lay out your paper, it will be a sort of green/grey colour, but as it reacts to the sun, it will turn to a grey/blue colour (this is how a cyanotype works. The parts covered from light will stay the same colour as the paper they were applied to, the exposed sections turn blue!) There is no set time to leave the paper out in the sun, just look for the colour change and experiment (make sure to have lots of paper prepared) The next step is to wash:
You need to wash the print to remove the cyanotype mixture that did not react to the light. place it under cold running water and wash it until the water runs clear (The stuff that comes off will be green) Be careful not to rip your print when waggling it in the water as it will take some time before it is properly washed.
I like to lay out some old plastic bags by the sink to put the wet cyanotypes onto to dry. As they are drying, check the surface to see if there is any green liquid which didn’t get completely washed off. If there is, just wash the print some more. Basically that’s it! Once it is dry it’s done! Here are my finished pieces:
These aren’t the most brilliant prints! I just did them quickly for this tutorial, but you can see what an effective technique it is. Also I have talked about applying the liquid to paper, but you can also put it onto fabric (the flower image above is made on fabric) wood, anything that will absorb the liquid really. The thing I love about cyanotypes is the surprise result and the experimentation factor. I hope you try it out yourself, it’s so much fun!