Editor’s Note: 2020’s first Cyanotype Print Parteh is live right now and runs until the end of April. It’s based over on Twitter, which has one of the BEST online film photography communities in existence. Please do check it out!
If you’re new to cyanotypes, here’s a quick primer from Susan Phillips and if you’re struggling with a lack of sunlight, Anthony Chatain has you covered with a cheap and simple UV-LED mod to give you a kickstart.
Over to Monika…
My journey into making cyanotypes has been a series of toe-dips, rather than a plunge. It started when my kids were little and we were gifted a sunprint kit. This brief foray into photograms was frustrating for all three of us. I was disappointed by the lack of detail the paper had in the finished print (think big white blobs on a blue background); my preschool-aged children tended to accidentally pre-expose the paper while making the arrangement, or preferred objects that were too big for the 5”x7” piece of paper. The kit was set aside to collect dust.
A few years later, my interest in the medium was piqued. A presentation on fabric cyanotypes given at an alternative photography symposium showed me the range of beautiful, detailed artwork that could be produced. And then I found the film photography community on Twitter, where many cyanotype printers shared their work.
No big white blobs on blue paper: the range of what could be done was exciting.
Still, my first experience with making photograms nagged at me, and being pragmatic I wasn’t ready to invest in chemistry when I might not take to the process. (Note that I have little interest in making digital negatives.) I came up with a few ideas for photograms that might work. Then another toe-dip; I ordered some pre-coated paper from Blueprints On Fabric.
Around this time I found some skeleton leaves on a walk. The results of skeleton leaf photograms on the pre-coated paper were gorgeous and I was hooked!
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The way the paper showed the details in the lacy leaves was more than I had hoped for. And the tactile process of arranging items that I loved on paper was therapeutic.
I had gotten to the point where I had several shoeboxes of dried leaves and purchasing pre-coated paper became impractical. I’d run out of paper during a span of sunny days, and when my next order finally arrived it would be the rainy season. Time to coat paper myself.
I purchased the Photographers’ Formulary liquid cyanotype kit from my local photography store and figured that I’d use watercolor paper that I already had on hand. I don’t think I’d had any idea at the time that not all paper worked the same for cyanotype. If I had known, I would probably have been scared off. Erik Gould might have mentioned that some surface texture was desirable. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
I can’t remember how many different papers I tried, but one that I’ve been consistently using is Fluid Cold Press Finish watercolor paper. It has a white base and a lightly textured surface. It comes in blocks of different sizes, is reasonably priced, and is available at many art stores.
On a recent sunny March day, I made a few cyanotypes with Fluid Cold Press paper using my favorite subjects – skeleton leaves and knitting. The exposures are 3-4 minutes made between 11 am and 3 pm. The sun had finally gotten strong enough to produce intense blues and good exposures, a welcome indicator that summer – and more cyanotype printing – was on its way.
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