Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Cyanotype of a sunlit forest path.

Lately I have been experimenting with a somewhat magical old photographic technique called cyanotype. Basically one mixes a couple of chemical solutions together, paints the resulting photosensitive mixture on watercolor paper, allows the paper to dry thoroughly, places a negative onto the prepared paper inside a clamped glass frame and allows it to be exposed in the sun for a few minutes. The print is then developed in running water. Voila. You get an interesting all-blue image.

This winter we set up a darkroom off the atelier which allows me to explore some of these simple techniques that seem a natural extension of printmaking to me. If you have an interest in old photographic image-making methods, visit my Pinterest board on the subject, to find some wonderful links. Step-by-step directions for making your own cyanotypes are found there. The community that embraces this craft tends to be very warm, helpful and enthusiastic, so feel free, as I did, to ask questions of the experts. In my experience they always answer.

I started by using photographs for my prints, which lose a lot of detail of course, but can look quite interesting and moody. The technique works perfectly well for drawings and collage also. I haven't tried it, but apparently it even works with leaves and other organic materials.

On Lynda.com you can take a class with Brian Taylor who uses cyanotype as a first step in a process that adds color with another chemical on top of the blue. I have bought the chemical and begun to experiment with this further refinement, but have not so far gotten anything worthy of sharing with you. Brian makes beautiful books out of his images and explains his entire process from start to finish in the on-line course. When I want to treat myself, I buy a month of Lynda.com access and I have found some really wonderful courses there. Brain's was one of my favorites.

Here is a gallery of my first attempts at this interesting technique. My favorite image is the last one. It was actually made with a positive, rather than a negative, so that everything which was meant to be black turned white and everything else turned a shade of blue. This was a collage I put together in Photoshop with a map imposed on top of a photograph of a local church. I was amazed and delighted with the detail of the map lines and type, which are completely legible in the resulting image. In that one I am showing you how the edge of the paper looks with the solution painted on a bit randomly. I like the way the whole thing turned out. I feel inclined to leave the image uncut and incorporate the sloppy edge as part of the final presentation.

Made from a negative. The lake at La Ferté-Bernard

Emily in a Paris café. I like the detail out the window. The mid-tones, however are almost completely lost. Still, I am happy with the mood.

Made from a positive of a pencil drawing.

Photoshop collage

The church at Lavardin with a map superimposed over the image. Here I used a positive, so tones are reversed.


  1. I do like the final image,Nancy.And, yes, keep that edge!It adds a moodiness, I think. My friend, Anna, produces some lovely cyanotypes from organic material. http://booklike.blogspot.com.au/search/label/cyanotype

  2. Thank you for this exciting post ! I just added some of your cyanotypes to my Blue Art Board. :)