Sun Prints: A Fun Summer Art Project

Summer’s the perfect time to take your art outdoors, and we have just the project for a nice, warm, sunny day. In this article from our July/August 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Heather Stemas shows you how to use the sun to create cyanotype prints on fabric. These prints can be embellished and framed, used to enhance other artwork, or made into a banner.

sun prints
Heather Stemas uses sunlight to create cyanotype prints on fabric. (Photos by Sharon White Photography)

“Sol” Squares: Making Sun-Soaked Art, by Heather Stemas

There is something haunting and intriguing about photo negatives. Sadly, phones, digital cameras, and computer-generated photo books have ensured that photo negatives really are ghosts from another time. This year, my daughter was given a sun printing kit for her birthday. Sun prints, also known as cyanotypes or blueprints, involve the creation of gorgeous blue-toned negatives or images created by chemical solutions reacting to exposure to UV light.

I was searching for unusual fabrics to use for making gifts and wondered about cyanotype fabric. A quick Internet search yielded cotton fabric treated with a light-sensitive solution in glorious shades of indigo, turquoise, rust, and moss. The following process is fairly inexpensive and requires minimal supplies.

NOTE: Almost anything can be used to create an image on this fabric. Whatever is opaque will block the UV light and create a “negative” or light image, and the part of the fabric that’s exposed to UV light will remain “dark” (the original color of the fabric). A thoroughly opaque item will render a crisp negative; a somewhat translucent item will result in a softer, somewhat fuzzy image.

Materials

  • NOTE: Cyanotype kits can be purchased and used with plain fabric. But for those of us who are impatient, or are not comfortable mixing chemicals, this pretreated fabric makes it quicker, easier, and provides the same results.
  • Fabric (I used 6″ x 6″ cyanotype cotton squares in a mix of colors. These are available online.)
  • Scissors
  • Substrate, flat (I used a book for this, but cardboard or a similar item will work, too.)
  • Flat items, such as feathers, leaves, flowers, flower petals, stencils, etc.
  • Tape: clear, masking, or washi tape
  • Transparency or a sheet of clear acrylic, large enough to cover the fabric square
  • A sunny spot outside
  • Access to a sink or a tub of water
  • Optional:
    • Permanent marker, black (I used a fine-point Sharpie®.)
    • Cardstock
    • Stencils
    • Rubber stamps

1. Remove the fabric from the light-blocking black bag (preferably away from UV light, i.e., indoors), and cut the fabric to the desired shape or size. (FIGURE 1)

FIGURE 1

2. Lay the fabric on top of your substrate and arrange the flat items you want to print on the fabric. Either side of the fabric can be used.

TIP: Roll a small piece of tape and place it under the items to keep them flat on the fabric.

3. Optional: Use the black marker to create freehand words or designs on the transparency or acrylic sheet. Let the ink dry for a minute or two so that it doesn’t smudge, and then go over the word/design again with the marker to make sure the ink is opaque. Let dry.

4. Lay the transparency or acrylic sheet on top of the flat items on the fabric. Tape the transparency to the substrate along the edges so that everything is flat and in close contact with the fabric. (FIGURE 2)

FIGURE 2 and FIGURE 3

TIP: Paper washi tape is semi-opaque, so if you use it to tape the items down it will register on your fabric and create a lovely subtle design as well. (FIGURE 3)

5. Place the sandwiched fabric in a sunny spot. If you notice any of the items on the fabric casting a shadow, rearrange them or change the location so there are no shadows.

6. After approximately 15 minutes remove the artwork from direct UV exposure. Remove the items from the fabric and submerge the fabric in the sink or a tub of water for a few moments. You’ll see the cyanotype start to emerge and blossom.

NOTE: Occasionally the image doesn’t register clearly or very distinctly. (FIGURE 4) I’ve experienced this in about one out of every 15 tries. I haven’t quite determined whether there was not enough cyanotype solution on the fabric, the sunlight was not direct enough, or a combination of both. These incomplete images are lovely as well.

FIGURE 4

7. Allow the fabric to dry on a flat surface. Once dry, it can be framed, embellished, or used to enhance other artwork.

I used my cyanotype fabric squares to make flags inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, fraying the edges and adding beads. Each flag was stitched with metallic thread to create a more substantial edge, and the squares were then added to cord to create a banner.

Design ideas

• Cut or punch designs from cardboard/cardstock to use for this process. (FIGURE 5)

• Create a design on the transparency with a stencil or rubber stamp. (FIGURE 5)

FIGURE 5

• If you are making this for someone else, make it special by choosing things that remind you of that person.


Heather Stemas is a mom, an art therapist, and a life-long dog lover. She finds that her fingers start to ache if she doesn’t make art regularly.


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