You probably know by now that I’m passionate about photography. I love capturing gorgeous images through the lens of my camera. But I have recently become fascinated with a photographic art form that skips the hardware altogether. Using photosensitive paper and fabrics, you can pare down the photo process to create simple, yet beautiful, “sun prints” (officially called cyanotypes) that seem to evoke the essence of summertime.
Sun printing dates back to the 1800s, when British scientist Anna Atkins created a series of books documenting ferns, algae and other plant life with what she called “cyanotype impressions.” Atkins, who is considered to be history’s first female photographer, placed her collected specimens directly onto treated paper and utilized sunlight to capture delicately detailed white silhouettes on rich blue backgrounds. The same basic procedure is used to create architectural blueprints today, but the artistic potential is limitless, and it’s so easy that kids will love to help create stunning sun-printed stationary, journal covers, quilt squares, silk scarves, T-shirts and more.
- Sun print paper or fabric (bluesunprints.com)
- Cutting board or stiff cardboard (the same size or bigger than your paper/fabric)
- Glass from a picture frame or a clear Plexiglas sheet (the same size or bigger than your paper/fabric)
- Objects to print (try leaves, flowers, feathers, doilies, lace, jewelry, stencils, cutouts, etc.)
Sun Print Setup
Working in a dimly lit room, place paper or fabric, blue side up, on your board. (It’s important not to expose your print to bright light until you’re ready to begin the printing process.) Arrange your objects on the paper/fabric, and then carefully place glass over the objects to hold them in place.
- Carry your prepared print to bright sunlight (outside works best, since windows may be UV protected and won’t expose the print properly).
- Leave your print in the sunlight for five to 20 minutes, until the paper/fabric fades to almost white (fabric will take longer than paper). On a cloudy day, the process will still work, but it may take longer for full exposure of the print.
- Take the board inside and remove the glass and the objects. Rinse the paper/fabric under cool running water for about one minute or until the water runs clear.
- Lay paper prints flat on an absorbent towel or paper away from direct sunlight to dry. You can use a hair dryer to speed drying. Fabric prints can lie flat, hang from a line, or dry in a clothes dryer. As your print dries, the blue color will deepen, revealing the white silhouettes of your objects.
- Fabric prints are permanent, but should be washed by hand with phosphate-free soap like Dr. Bronner’s (drbronner.com). Rinse thoroughly and dry flat. Printed fabric can be pressed with a dry iron.
- Store unused paper/fabric in a sealed black plastic bag in a cool, dry place.
Artistic Adventure: Toning
If you would like to get a little more adventurous with sun printing, experiment with “toning” your paper and fabric prints. You can change the blue to gold with laundry detergent or take it a step further and use black tea to create a vintage sepia effect. Here’s how:
- To achieve a bright gold print, you’ll need a detergent that contains phosphates (most supermarket detergents do contain phosphates, but check labels to confirm). In an 8-ounce spray bottle, mix 1 tablespoon detergent with enough water to fill the bottle.
- Spray your sun print thoroughly, allow it to change in color, then rinse well in cool water. You can either stop here and allow your print to dry, or you can try tea toning.
- Boil 5 black tea bags in 5 cups of water. Steep for 10 minutes, then cool.
- Immerse your yellow sun print in the tea bath and soak for about 20 minutes.
- Gently remove your print and rinse in cool water.
- As with your original blue sun prints, lay paper prints flat on an absorbent towel or paper away from direct sunlight, or use a hair dryer to speed drying.
For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.
COPYRIGHT 2011 MaryJane Butters
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