Cyanotype photography on different materials

One of the joys of working with a chemistry that is as versatile as cyanotype, is that you cannot help but explore different surfaces for printing on. This can mean that there is a lot of trial and error, and a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Cyanotype is currently enjoying a bit of a resurgence. In this new era of environmental concern, and of lockdowns, many alternative process photographers have turned to the blueprint to satisfy the need for analogue process. This is because you can use cyanotype at home without the need for a darkroom, and it is the least toxic of all of the chemistries usually involved in darkroom processes. This allows for people to get creative as well with what materials they choose to print on.

Re-using, re-cycling, and re-purposing everyday items for art can be extremely rewarding.

Jo Howell

Re-using, re-cycling, and re-purposing everyday items for art can be extremely rewarding. It turns waste product into relevant art. We need to be more conscious about the environmental impacts of the art we choose to create.

When I am doing darkroom based photographies with silver nitrate I always dispose of my waste chemistry through a sump, this allows the heavy metal particles to settle in the sump so they are not released into the wider environment through water drainage. You don’t need to worry about this with cyanotype. The main component is iron. The most abundant substance on earth. I water my ornamentals with the waste water! (Not my veg mind you!)

Anywho, bearing that in mind. Here are some unusual surfaces that I have applied cyanotype chemistry to in the last few months:

1. Cyanotype on paper doily

During a workshop session one of the participants brought me a big bag of random arts and craft items. In the bag was a pack of paper doilies. Each doily is made up of 2 layers of a slightly wax coated paper. I took the layers apart and I applied my cyanotype solution to the least shiny side of the paper. At first I thought that the doily was resisting the chemistry, but on the central layer I managed to get this slightly spooky print. Jane Hackworth is the wife of important northern railway man, Timothy Hackworth. She died before the advent of photography so the only images available of the lay are a victorian silhouette, and a painting.

Through his contributions to the railways Timothy Hackworth is venerated and remembered, but his wife who was also an important community figure, who campaigned for girls education and encouraged philanthropic action, is largely forgotten. Without Jane Hackworth, women of the North East may not have had access to schooling. I think the doily adds to the femininity of the piece.

2. Cyanotype on painkiller boxes

We should legalise drugs on codeine box by Jo Howell

A by-product of illness. I’ve started collecting the card from the boxes. In just a couple of months I have a large stash!. My intention is to use the prints on different painkiller boxes to create an animation about the ecological effects of illness on the wider environment. This is my attempt at giving the waste boxes a new meaning. Each box will be a single animation cell. I need 60 boxes to create 5 seconds worth of animated footage. This piece is a test piece. I created a collage back in 2016 from newspaper cuttings and then turned the collage into a digital negative for cyanotype printing. Another friend with a chronic illness bought one of these already, so I think this may be a talking point that is relevant to others as well. Maybe I’m not the only sick note who worries about things like this 🙂

3. Cyanotype on Ilford paper box

This was a commission from London Alt Photo to use a by product from darkroom photography process, an empty Ilford paper box, and give it new meaning. The box had many layers and surfaces to try. So I used test prints and old negs to turn the box into a multi faced sketch book journey. I combined direct printing with collage to create the effect. I then used a label making machine to add title text. This work sold really quickly as well. Printing on different surfaces offers a new dynamic way of making prints. It’s cheaper than my watercolour paper prints, and the odd formats of the net of the boxes gives the images new form.

4. Cyanotype on chocolate box

I liked the idea of the cut outs in the design, and also the fact that I could make this box back into a 3D object. I printed on the inside of the box so the chocolate orange packaging is still visible inside. This was a test print using a negative of the Wearmouth Bridge. A bridge that crosses the river near the ocean. I liked the rivets and the victorian engineering.

5. Cyanotype on tracing paper

Printing on to translucent materials is really good fun. It’s nice to consider things like backlighting and window displays. The tracing paper can be a bit temperamental. It wants to curl when you apply the solution, I just weighted down the edges first. This is great for using in future collage as well. It allows you to create a multilayered image. The definition of the plants was really nice as well. Printing on tracing paper or thin washi paper will create great a lovely effect for paper lanterns.

There are more materials I have tested but I will continue my blog another day. Hopefully, this will help inspire some of you to try different surfaces and to consider the environment as part of the process.

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    • Lots of people still read that entry. The most popular post without doubt is the 10 Awesome things you can do with cyanotype. I guess technical information and inspiration is of most interest to others. Thanks for reading 🙂

  1. I love the different surfaces you used, but I am puzzled. How did you wash these without them disintegrating? I am experimenting on wood at the moment, but would like to try using glass or the tracing paper.

    • Tracing paper was quite hardy so no special treatment. But if I’m working with fine paper the I use a water spray bottle to wash them whilst hanging up. I let my chemistry dry on the paper before use 🙂

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