Patience pays off – discovering Cyanotype

Every now and then my Instagram feed shows me these gorgeous botanical handmade blueprints and it got me curious. What is it, how is it made and most importantly: can I do it? So I dove into it and learned that it is basically making prints with sunlight that reacts to a chemical solution on paper. Sunlight, you say? Well, that I have. Plenty.

The paper with UV sensitive solution has been in the sun for a short while and changes color.
It does not turn blue until you rinse off all the chemicals. After letting it dry for about 24 hours it will be fully developed to a much darker blue.

I researched the starter kits and decided I can do it myself. I bought two shady bags of substances online 😉 and I was good to go. You can find detailed descriptions of what you need and how to do it everywhere online, so I won’t bother you with it too much. But here’s a short list of the things I have to make these cyanotypes:

  • Ferric ammonium citrate in powder (25 grams mixed with 100 ml water)
  • Potassium ferricyanide in powder (10 grams mixed with 100 ml water)
  • Watercolor paper (it should be able to hold up when rinsing in water)
  • A flat brush for applying the solution to the paper
  • Some gloves to protect your hands
  • A room without UV light. Close the shutters or prepare them at night. Light of a lightbulb is fine!

Now you can prepare your paper by mixing the two liquids in equal parts and brush the UV sensitive solution onto your paper. Let it dry completely (in the dark! As soon as UV light hits the solution it will start to develop) and you are ready to start printing on it. What else?

  • A subject to print such as dried flowers or anything that can be flattened* and has an interesting shape
  • A glass (or plastic) photo frame to press the subject on your paper
  • Clips or clothes pegs to keep it in place
  • Sunlight
  • A timer and some patience
  • Running water

*you can print non flat stuff too, anything that (partly) stops the light reaching the surface of your paper, but the light will go around it and the subject may cast shadows, affecting your shape. It’s fun to experiment: I tried it with some grapes, a chain and garden scissors.

This was bit of dirty feather but it is the bits that are stuck together makes this a very interesting print.

I played with the exposure time, from 2 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the subject. If you have a closed shape that does not let through any light it does not need long, you’ll end up with a silhouette anyway. When you have a dried flower that you can see though holding it up to the light and you want those details and veins to show up on your print, you’ll need more patience.

I tried printing this flower of the trumpet vine with an exposure time of 30 minutes, 1 hour and 3 hours. You can clearly see the difference the exposure time makes in the amount of details printed. In the longest exposure time you can see more details in the middle, but the more transparant part of the petals on the top are disappearing into the background. Two hours would probably be better. It’s all about the balance. And experimenting. I am just getting started and learning from all my mistakes.

Experimenting with exposure time on the (same) flower of the trumpet vine. 30 minutes, 1 hour and 3 hours.

And it all depends on the texture you are working with. The dried poppy below was a lot more delicate to begin with, so that only took 30 minutes to show this level of detail. Exposing it for too long would have made the petals disappear into the background even more.

Needless to say this is a lot of fun and I am totally addicted. It’s fun and easy to do, quite low cost (I spent about 20 euros on the chemicals that will last me for a very long time) and the possibilities feel endless.

The poppy has very fragile petals and they let through a lot of light. I left this out in the sun for about 30 minutes.
The white lines are folds in the petal and the lighter blue is overlap of two petals.
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