All About Cyanotypes

by | 12 Jul, 2018 | Inspiration

This month is all about cyanotypes – a process I know a lot of people are curious about!

Invented by British chemist Sir John Herschel in 1842 – at a time when folk were trying to work out how to create stable black and white photographs – the cyanotype process uses iron-based salts to create a light-sensitive base, which is exposed using sunlight (particularly UV light).

Objects – or large scale photo negatives – are placed onto the base; wherever there’s an object, the area is unexposed, so when washed out, you get these beautiful indigo blue and white prints.

It was a process adopted by botanist Anna Atkins in the 1840s to capture plant silhouettes, and later by engineers to make blueprints (that’s where the term comes from – useful pub quiz knowledge!)

Back when the National Media Museum in Bradford held the Royal Photographic Society collection, I was lucky to see some of the first cyanotype prints created, one of the botanical studies books by Anna Atkins…

The prints were wonderful, but in a way it was more touching to see the little human marks in the work – the smudges where the iron salts liquid had got onto the back of a page, a blue exposed fingerprint on the edge of the work.

Today, there are a number of artists working with cyanotypes, including Angela Chalmers (pictured below), Hannah Lamb (we’ll be introducing you to her properly next week!) and Joy Gregory.

Some folk have asked how technical this introductory kit is… not at all, the only technical thing will be measuring out some water into measuring cups (provided in your box) and everything else is pre-measured and ready to go.

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