I am subject to enthusiasms, especially when it comes to making things.
The most recent bee in my bonnet was making cyanotypes. Many people know them as sun prints: you get (or make) special paper, expose it to the sun masked with something interesting, and get a beautiful blue and white print.
This enthusiasm started with wedding research. I’m getting married in September, and a recently married cousin gave me a ridiculous stack of Martha Stewart wedding magazines. Although very pretty, they yielded surprisingly few ideas.
One idea that did appeal was cyanotype place cards, done up with ferns and whatnot.
I did a bit of research, and established that although pre-treated cyanotype paper ran roughly a buck per sheet, there were lots of great how-tos on-line explaining how to do it yourself.
I ordered the chemicals . . . and then we bought a house and moved and six months went by.
That may not sound like the proper course of an enthusiasm, but I’m not quite that obsessive.
Rob and I finally got around to mixing the chemicals up a couple weeks ago. There are two separate chemicals involved, green ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Mixed separately with distilled water, they are fairly stable. Once combined, they become UV sensitive, and should be used to treat your paper or fabric reasonably promptly.
I’m not going to go into the details here – we followed the excellent how-to on instructables.
There are a bunch of other how-tos on line.
We used rice paper instead of watercolor paper. It took the solution beautifully, but was somewhat delicate when it came to rinsing the completed prints.
First we treated the paper, then dried it. Apparently you can do the prints on a wet medium, but that has complications.
We then locked the paper away in a light-safe box (cardboard box wrapped in a trash bag, stored in the basement) and waited for a sunny day.
That could have been a long wait in Washington in winter, but we got lucky.
We got a sunny two-hour slice, and made the most of it.
We started by printing a test strip that indicated that the best exposures would be between five and ten minutes, depending on the desired shade of blue.
Then it was off to the races!
We printed some ferns:
We printed a couple photographs, printed out on transparencies:
We printed some blackberries:
For the natural-object prints, it was important to pin the materials down with a piece of glass. Even so, you can clearly see where the leaves and stems were not pressed down firmly.
That could either be a bug or a feature, depending on your outlook. We chose to consider it a feature!
The hardest part was rinsing the prints. As mentioned above, we used rice paper, which has many advantages but is rather delicate when wet.
I rigged a wash basin with a laundry basket and a hand-held shower nozzle. It worked pretty well, although if we left prints in too long they formed some signs of wear.
The whole thing was a blast, and offers lots of options for further fun.
You can print on fabric as well as paper, and it is color-fast (although you have to be careful about what detergent you use).
There is a great book on the subject:
My enthusiasm has temporarily run its course, although this summer I’ll probably do some fabric.
I would recommend cyanotypes to any craft-minded person. It would be great fun with kids, too!