Experiments with Cyanotype Prints

I can finally cross an item off of my summer bucket list: experimenting with cyanotype prints. It didn’t take long for me to fall head over heels in love with this process, and now my head is spinning with all kinds of ideas. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning, isn’t it? I can’t wait to share my trials so far, and encourage you to attack your mixed-media to-do list before the summer is over.

For this cyanotype experiment I worked with pre-treated paper and fabric, plus as a solution that can be used with paper and fabric to make cyanotypes in the traditional blue as well as other colors. I’ve always loved the deep indigo color of cyanotypes and the dreamy quality of the prints. And the fact that this technique can be worked into any realm of mixed media intrigued me as well.

A day of experimentation with cyanotype prints was incredibly productive and addictive!

Cyanotype (named for the distinctive cyan-blue color) is a photographic process that dates back to the 19th century, and was first used to produce copies. It didn’t take long for photographers and visual artists to adopt the process, and the work that’s been produced over the decades is nothing short of amazing and inspirational. During the process, the print of the object or image stays the same as the background color, while the rest of the surface turns a beautiful indigo blue.

I started out with one print on the pre-treated paper that came in a Super Sunprint® Kit from the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley in California. I’ve been stocking up on flea market crocheted and tatted textiles that I thought would work well for cyanotypes, and this was my chance to use them. A crocheted placement was spread out onto the paper, a sheet of acrylic placed on top, and everything was placed in full sun.

After rinsing, here was the result. Pretty nice, no?

Crocheted and tatted pieces and lace make for great cyanotype prints.

Feeling more confident, I next tried vintage glass plate negatives, also purchased for the purpose of making cyanotypes. These were also placed on the Sunprint paper. I left them in the sun for about 15-20 minutes; make sure to read all instructions for the various types of processes to ensure the best outcome.

The results from this batch were mixed; although I chose images with lots of contrast, some didn’t reveal much of an image at all. Here’s one that did work:

You may get some duds, but trial and error is the only way to understand what works with a new technique.

After that round, I went full tilt, trying Jacquard Cyanotype Pretreated Fabric Sheets with 3-D objects, tatting, and the glass negatives. I also brushed Jacquard SolarFast dye in Orange and Violet on 140-lb. watercolor paper, then placed crocheted pieces on top. SolarFast produces the look of cyanotypes but in a range of colors.

On a bright day, it takes only minutes to produce cyanotype prints.

The 3-D objects on fabric look pretty cool, as does the tatting. By the way, do you see that faint striping on the fabric? I placed the pieces on corrugated cardboard, and the texture showed up as stripes. I like it, but this was a good lesson in paying attention to every detail when making prints.

3-D objects produce different results from flat ones, but both are remarkable.

Here’s the orange print after rinsing:

Similar type prints can be made with a dye solution that intensifies in sunlight.

I tried two of the glass negatives on fabric; these weren’t that distinct, but I still love the hazy quality of them.

I’m eager to try more cyanotype experiments with glass negatives.

The next day was cloudy and rainy, but there was still one more experiment I wanted to try. I saturated some text-printed commercial fabric with blue SolarFast dye, placed a StencilGirl stencil on top, put an acrylic plate on top of that, and sat it by a window.

After a good two hours, here is the result after rinsing, washing, drying, and ironing. I think it helped that the stencil was covered with acrylic paint, creating more opacity. This is another great use for stencils, and a good argument for not cleaning them. However, I think next time I’ll forgo the acrylic plate; I think it hampered the color deepening to a rich, dark blue, especially in overcast conditions. That deep blue portion at the top of the print wasn’t covered by the acrylic plate, so you can see what a difference it made.

Add this technique to your stencil repertoire!

So, what to do with all these prints? What couldn’t you do with them? I created a quick collage on a 4″ x 6″ postcard, and the violet SolarFast print was used to make a simple pamphlet stitched book. The spine was covered with a cyanotype printed on paper.

What can’t you make out of cyanotype prints? I started with collage and a small book.

For a larger collage I stitched fabric cyanotypes to a piece of ledger paper colored with red ink. I love the way the blue pops against the red.

Both fabric and paper cyanotypes can be used in collage.

A scrap of a fabric cyanotype was stitched to a pre-made muslin drawstring bag that I dyed with walnut ink.

Add cyanotypes to bags and clothing for unique pieces.

If you don’t feel like doing your own experiments with cyanotypes, you’re in luck! We have some free downloadable images of cyanotypes for you to use in your artwork, and you can access them here.

Talk about merely scratching the surface of a technique—I can’t write notes fast enough for the next round of cyanotype experiments. What’s on your creative bucket list? I’m glad I finally dove in and tried this, and I hope you find time to find a new passion this summer!

Get even more great mixed-media summer project ideas in this blog post.

In the article “Sol Squares: Making Sun-Soaked Art” in the July/August 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Heather Stemas shows how to make beautiful sun prints.
Discover great techniques for surface design on fabric in Art Lessons 2017, Volume 12: Expressive Surface Design, by Deborah Boschert.
Let Seth Apter show you how to turn your photos into fantastic mixed-media art in the video Photo Play: Techniques for Altering Photos with Paint and Ink.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques, Printmaking


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