Blue is the colour
London Bridge #1 (proof)
I recently learned how to make cyanotype prints. This is an alternative photographic process which produces captivating deep blue images. Cyanotypes have been around since 1842, but in the last few years, judging by my social media feeds, more and more artists seem to be embracing the technique. After an intensive winter of painting, I felt the need to refresh my work with something slightly different, so I signed up to a one-day workshop at Kew Art Studios with artist and tutor Louise Anderson.
The cyanotype process is straightforward and very quick. To make a print, you coat a sheet of absorbent paper with a light sensitive emulsion and dry it away from UV light. With your chosen materials resting on the paper, and sometimes held in place by a sheet of glass, you expose the image using either sunlight or an artificial UV light source - a lightbox or overhead lamp.
After exposure, you wash the print with running water to develop the image and rinse away the solution and then leave it to dry. A range of materials can be used to create the image. For on the spot image composition, you can simply place 2D materials (flowers, leaves, string, packing materials) or 3D objects (glasses and crockery, random household objects) on to the paper. In this simple artist’s book made in the last 20 minutes of the workshop, I used a few lengths of string, ribbon and thread.
Artist's book #1 made at Kew Studios workshop
Before the course I prepared some inkjet stencils from my archive of photographs, including some of textures created with other printmaking tecniques such as monoprint. You can also draw on the stencil with marker pens. This method enables you to create a more complex, layered image. The stencil (a negative version of the eventual image) is simply laid over the paper and held into place with a sheet of glass if printing with sunlight, or an overhead lamp, or laid face-down on to a lightbox with the paper face down on top. This method allows for a more considered and complex image.
Winter Walk (artist's proof)
So the cyanotype process is flexible and varied. On the one hand, it can be very spontaneous and playful, making it ideal for less experienced artists and photographers. On the other hand artists who have developed skills in other related areas of printmaking and photography will find it both familiar and full of new possibilities.
I will be showing some cyanotypes alongside paintings and screen prints at my next exhibition, UNCERTAIN TERRITORY, at the Upstairs Gallery in Berkhamsted in April.