I never really gave the cyanotype process much attention, until now. The renewed interest stems more from practicality than divine inspiration. I have a stack of paper that isn’t any good for platinum printing and it’s too expensive to throw in the recycling bin.
There is something to be said for that kind of inspiration being the best kind. My expectations are very low which leaves a lot of room for just having fun. It’s easy to forget that making art is supposed to be fun and not a burden. The business of making and selling art; that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Fun facts about cyanotypes
- The process was discovered in 1842 by Sir John Hershel, an astronomer, who needed a simple way of copying his notes. Hershel is someone who you should know about.
- Cyanotypes (blueprints) are incredibly archival when properly developed. Some of the original cyanotypes exist today pretty much in their original condition.
- In 1843, Anna Atkins was the first person to use cyanotypes to illustrate and publish a book. The book was called “British Algae: Cyanotype impressions”.
- Cyanotypes develop in water. You can control the contrast and color by adjusting the acidity of the water. Using lemon juice (citric acid) or vinegar (acetic acid) are two household items to use for this purpose.
- Cyanotypes are made using ultraviolet light (sunshine).
- The material for cyanotypes is very inexpensive so you can afford to make lots of mistakes as you learn.
I’ve always had cyanotype solutions on hand, but never really dug into it seriously. For one, the tonal scale is a little tricky to figure out if you’re used to regular silver printing. So, this summer I decided to start making images specifically for this process. While cyanotypes are pretty forgiving if you tend to err on the side of contrasty negative, like all things it has a sweet spot and I intend to find it. I’ve been going through my film archive and printing images that were too thin for platinum.
A good analogy for platinum and cyanotype prints is the difference between an acoustic guitar and a banjo.
It’s fun to learn new things. Eventually, I’ll create some digital negative profiles for cyanotypes but for now, I’m just going to kick it old school.