Saturday, 2 September 2017

Sunshine and Feathers: Cyanotypes

Cyanotypes on watercolour paper drying outside

Last year I did a little bit of experimenting with cyanotypes; mixing the chemicals myself and preparing the paper and fabric for printing. I really enjoyed the process and the results and a couple of the pieces I made I showed in my exhibition 'As the Crow Flies' at RSPB Geltsdale. I've got another exhibition coming up in October at Farlfield Mill and I really wanted to make some more sun prints for it, carrying on some of the ideas I'd been looking at last year.

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

During the summer in Cumbria it doesn't really get properly dark, at least not until very late. To prepare the solutions and fabrics/papers for cyanotype printing you need darkness as the solution is light reactive. This had been causing me a bit of trouble as our house is very light and our curtains are pretty but not that effective at keeping out all the light! However, I was lying in the bath the other night and noticed that it was actually getting quite dark (this was about 9.30 pm.) I was seized by the urge to create some fabrics ready for cyanotype printing. I got out of the bath, closed all the curtains in my studio and began mixing chemicals (in a health and safety conscious manner of course.)

Preparing the chemicals

Preparing the materials

Preparing the solutions isn't that hard, it just requires a bit of careful measuring and mixing. Painting the prepared solution onto the paper and fabric is also not that hard (however, I was now starting to lose my earlier enthusiasm and wish I'd gone to bed instead!) What is a challenge in our lovely light infused house is keeping the fabric in the dark so that it can dry properly. Using a combination of a fan and getting up at silly o'clock to check on the drying progress I managed to get most of my prepared materials dry and packed away before the sun came up.

In the sunshine

In the sunshine

In the (mostly) sunshine

The next step is to wait for a sunny day. Of course it is usually very sunny in Cumbria but as with all things when you really want it to be sunny it rarely is. I was working in the studio on some embroideries and checking the weather; which was decidedly cloudy and threatening to rain but there were sunny spells. I reached a point where I couldn't carry on with the piece I was working on (I'd run out of fusible webbing) so was feeling a bit irritable and fed up. I decided to risk having a go at doing some sun printing. I closed the studio curtains again and blacked out the kitchen window, gathered my feathers and started arranging feathers onto my prepared fabrics and papers. This all had to take place in the dark so I didn't activate the cyanotype chemicals.

Before rinsing

Rinsing

Rinsing

I then headed outside and let the magic begin! I used glass to weight the feathers down as being feathers they're very light and liable to blow away otherwise. I love watching the chemicals that I've painted onto the paper or fabric reacting with the light. The feathers block out the light and this is what creates the print, it is interesting using patterned feathers as different colours allow different amounts of light through so the chemicals react to a greater or lesser extent, which shows up in the final print. As it turned out the sun continued to shine brightly, allowing me to print all of my prepared materials and the clouds drifted off elsewhere.

Experimenting with splashing before rinsing

Resulting print

When I think the print is fully reacted I cover it up and take it inside (where it's dark) to 'set' it. I carefully remove the feathers and wash the print in water to remove the excess chemicals. At this point the classic blue and white emerges. When printing on silk you can hardly see the print until you rinse it when it seems to appear out of nowhere. I love this part of the process, seeing a print emerge and judging whether it was a good print or not so good. I also experimented with splashing water on some of them before rinsing, a technique I'd seen used by H Lisa Solon on Instagram.

video

I was really pleased with some of the prints I produced, especially some of the ones on paper and a big print on cotton that I'd been planning for some time. There were casualties, I'd tried printing on tracing paper which was very effective but unfortunately I was a bit rough during the rinsing stages and it all fell apart. I'll have another go next time!

The remains of a cyanotype print on tracing paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on silk

Much of my work at the moment is about the sky in the sense that I'm interested in the human desire to transcend and to our tendency to look skywards for inspiration. The feathers I use represent birds which in turn represent us being able to fly up to the next level. Cyanotypes suit these ideas well as they have the blue of the sky and require the sun to create them. Mr. Stitches said that my big print on cotton reminded him of a witch doctors costume which I was really pleased about as this is kind of what I'm aiming for, a shamanistic approach to exploring our need to look beyond what we have and where we are.

Cyanotype on cotton: Exposing

Cyanotype on cotton

Adding stitch

I've started stitching into some of the prints already and I'm looking forward to showing them at Farfield mill. I'm using gold thread to represent the gold of the sun and red to represent blood/life.

Cyanotypes on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

No comments:

Post a Comment