Lisa Shea Photography

How Cyanotypes Work If you've ever seen a blueprint in that classic blue color, then you understand what a cyanotype is about. It creates a monochromatic image in blue. It was the original way in which architectural drawings were able to be duplicated with exact precision.

The cyanotype was one of the earliest forms of photography. To create a cyanotype, one mixes together equal parts 8.1% potassium ferricyanide and 20% ferric ammonium citrate. This creates a blue-colored liquid. The artist then paints the paper, fabric, or other surface with the liquid. Note that the surface needs to be able to absorb the liquid for this to work. A thick paper like drawing paper works well. The paper (or fabric or whatever) is now sensitive to light, so it is kept in a dark envelope until the artist is ready to expose the image.

When the artist is ready, they put something between the sun and the paper in order to cast a shadow to create the image. Often artists use natural objects like ferns or leaves. Artists can use yarn, pencils, or other objects. They can use hands or feet. If artists wish to get more complicated, they can create a setup so the sun (or other light) shines through a film negative. That way it exposes the paper just like it would regular film.

The parts the sun touches initially lighten - but with a rinse these sections are what will become a rich blue. Anywhere the sun touches becomes blue. The sections of the paper or fabric which remain in shadow (hidden by the objects or the dark parts of the negative) will remain the surface's natural color.

How Cyanotypes Work When the artist is done exposing the paper - usually about 10-20 minutes depending on how strong the sun is - they then rinse off the rest of that liquid with water. Adding a bit of lemon juice helps with the color. The artist needs to rinse away the rest of the liquid so that the entire paper doesn't eventually turn blue. The end result leaves behind an image with the parts the sun touched in blue and the parts it didn't touch still the natural color of the surface.

You can make your own cyanotype paper or fabric quite easily. You can also buy pre-treated paper and fabric on the web from all sorts of sources, if you want to give it a try more easily. Enjoy! This is a fun way to be artistic and to connect with a type of photography which began in the mid-1800s.

Gears Cyanotype
Lisa Shea's 8x10 cyanotypes matted to 11x14

Cyanotype Christmas Cards
Cyanotype Christmas Cards (23 total)

Make the World Better
Cyanotypes are amazingly fun works of art which can be made by pretty much any age group. Whether you're six or one-hundred-and-six, there'a cyanotype style for you! It can be incredibly simple, for beginners, or beautifully complex, as you develop skills.

Anna Atkins and Cyanotypes
Anna Atkins is hailed by many as the first woman photographer, primarily due to her work with cyanotypes and photograms. She forged a path in both scientific and artistic fields in a time when most women couldn’t vote or go to college.

Lisa Shea Photography - main page

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