Our friend is a photographer who works strictly in the old school ways, meaning he uses no digital manipulation on his photographs and crafts all of his stuff from film. There have been times when he has tried to explain photography tricks and styles to me that go right over my head, seeing as I am of the digital age when it comes to picture-taking, but he mentioned something a few weekends ago that got me wanting to try this technique called cyanotype.
This printing process has been around since the mid-19th century, courtesy of Sir John Herschel, and was mainly to preserve and copy diagrams. Anna Atkins, it is recorded, was the first to use this technique for documenting plant life. There are plenty of websites out there in the Land of Google that will tell you all about cyanotype’s importance in the world of engineering, architecture, and blueprints, but I find that stuff boring. Instead, I was more drawn to how botanists used the technique to preserve things they found in nature: flowers, algae, ferns, etc.
This technique involves two solutions but I won’t get into that stuff here. While researching cyanotype, I came across a few websites that suggested using other solutions or adding chemicals to the two original solutions in order to give longevity to the paper one uses in this method. I would hate to be held responsible for someone losing their eyesight in a horrible potassium ferricyanide explosion (see, I just gave you one-half of the concoction right there – you find the rest!).
Last week, our friend brought over two bottles of solution, mixed media paper, a paintbrush, and a case for pressing objects to paper and gave Elle and me a quick tutorial. So for a short time one afternoon, while he and a bunch of other bearded men poured concrete in my backyard in exchange for a lunch of hot dogs and future hot tub time, Elle and I played with chemicals and paintbrushes, henbit and dandelions. And sunlight. That’s the most important part of the whole process.
A bonus was blowing the mind of a little boy who was visiting us that afternoon, too. He wanted to help with the water wash process. Remember hypercolor t-shirts from back in the 1990s? The change of colors from light green to Prussian blue in a matter of 3 seconds practically made his eyeballs pop out of his head.
Here are our first (and, so far, only) attempts at cyanotype. (Click here to view other people’s cyanotype art.) Come springtime when there are more plants outside to play with, we will definitely try this again.