Cyanotypes – Printing With the Sun
Lazy summer days. These are the days I long for. Summer days hold the most beautiful treasures. Summer is slow and hot. Sometimes it brings the adventure of long-awaited vacation, sometimes endless days of boredom. And somewhere in between something magic happens. An unexpected new interest pops up.
Summer memories linger and stick together and ask to be seen and thought of in a different way. Those moments of lazy boredom mixed with adventure become inspiration for new creations.
Three summers ago I picked up a sun print kit when my family and I were camping along the shores of Assateague Island State Park –a long and beautiful barrier island off of Maryland and Virginia, with wild horses! You may know her famous sister island from Marguerite Henry’s children’s book Misty of Chincoteague.
Since that trip three summers ago, I’ve wanted to experiment with the sun print . The alternative photography process is called a cyanotype. Paper is treated with an iron solution which is light-sensitive. Here you can place an object directly on the paper and expose it to light, creating a photogram or essentially a negative image. You can also use large format negatives to create a positive image.
For my first experiments I opted to order Cyanotype Paper from B&H Photo Video and create my own photograms.
I grew up in the days of film and I miss creating this way. Photography in high school and college was a full hands-on experience in creating art. There was a slowness to the process which necessitated a lot of thought; selecting–and knowing–which film to use, loading the film into the camera, being limited to 24 or 36 frames, and thinking about each shot as a single image.
Once the shots were taken, a delicate and particular process began to even be able to see what you had selectively captured.
As I type this I can’t help but think of the time spent for a single image and how much I enjoyed that process.
The process of photography itself felt like a meditation in creation.
Now when I head out with my camera–whether it’s with my always-with-me and most accessible iPhone 7plus, where I share my photos on Instagram, or my Canon–I am no longer limited by the number of photographs I take. The way I interact with each image has a vastly different feel. I no longer spend this meditative time with a group of images, unless I am purposing to use them for a specific project.
A few weeks ago I found a local artist who was offering a workshop making cyanotypes. My summer start making sun prints had left its mark. I couldn’t wait to sign up and learn and create.
The process of creating cyanotypes brought back those memories and feelings of just starting out in photography.
We mixed chemicals and waited.
I looked at each object I wanted to make an image of, I considered the paper I had and cut it to the size I wanted for each image, I brushed on the chemicals in a darkroom and waited for my paper to dry. I then composed my image in the darkroom before bringing my paper out into the sunlight.
I waited for the sun to expose the image and then brought the paper back into the workshop to wash and stop the developing.
This process was slow and unhurried. We met from 12-5. Those five hours flew by. I could have stayed in that space for hours more.
Now I can’t help but dream up ways to take over and convert a small portion of our own house into a mini darkroom and get lost in the creative process of making more cyanotype prints.
What is it that you love to create? The thing you could spend hours doing and it feels like no time has gone by?