I have been a keen photographer for many years. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to do a short photography course, and from Day One, when they gave us disposable cameras to mess around with and find our feet, I was hooked!
Since I first picked up a camera and realised that I had a “good eye”, I have delighted in the fact that I am able to create images. I have for so long been envious of artists, who can paint and draw, who could
create “something” from “nothing”.
Discovering that I had a “knack” for photography was such a gift; being told by my photography tutor on that long-ago course that I had a good, was such a gift. Here was a way to create images.
A while back a wonderful artist I know introduced me to cyanotypes and from my own first experiment with this medium I was completely smitten by this alternative form of photographic development. Cyanotype printing is a very old form of photography. This photographic printing process which produces a cyan-blue print, was used by engineers well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as blueprints. Many of you will be familiar with architects’ blueprints.
The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.
But How Does It Work??
So, how does it work? I like to think that it’s a little bit science and a little bit alchemy … because we ALL want to make magic, right?!!
There are two basic chemicals, let’s just call them Compound A and Compound B. These are mixed together and then painted onto one side of the paper you wish to print on. They are a kind of greeny yellow at this stage.
You have to do this part in a darkened room, because it’s UV light that causes it to develop. What I usually do is paint up a batch of paper in the evening before I go to bed and let it “cure” overnight. I then keep them safely stored away from sunlight, until I’m ready to start creating prints.
The Fun Begins
And this is when the fun begins! I use flowers as the subjects for my prints.
I use wildflowers from the lanes around my beautiful Wiltshire home … Umbelliferae and Wild Mallows and Wild Field Poppies are my favourites. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the jolly oxeye daisies, which grow in abundance right on my doorstep!
I also use flowers from my garden. I have a small garden, but I fill it with flowers of all sorts, but I find that Osteospermums, or African Daisies as they are commonly known, and Cosmos, and Black-eyed Susans all work really well. They are all daisy-like flowers and like the trusty Oxeyes, they make me feel happy and jolly!!
Then What Happens?!!
The way a cyanotype print is developed is through exposure to sun’s UV rays … wherever the sun touches the exposed paper turns a gorgeous deep blue. Where the flowers are laid, the sun is either prevented from touching the paper, or it is filtered through the petals and stems.
This leaves a ghostly image of the flower on the paper … the photographic “print” developed by the sun.
Spice it Up
To spice things up a little, I add various different things into the mix. I love to create wet cyanotypes by spraying water onto the surface of the paper just before exposing it to the sun.
I use coarse salt crystals, sprinkled on the paper, which gives the most beautiful fractal-like patterns. I even quite literally “spice it up” by adding things like coriander and pepper!!
It’s Basically Blue …
But I Like To Experiment
To give variations to the colours produced in the final print, I will also sometimes use dyes and inks in the development process.
I love to use silver and gold ink; they give such richness to the final print.
But my use of colour is sparing. These are, after all, blue prints I’m creating, and I love the cyanotype blues! With the dyes and inks I use, I follow the “less is more” rule.
So, that’s the “science” part … in my next blog, I’ll tell you about the magic!!!