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Automatic writing: a time performance

A look at photographic artist Jo Howell’s recent text based cyanotype artworks.
Close up of cyanotype text before exposure 2022 by Jo Howell
What is automatic writing?

Surrealist automatism is a method of art-making in which the artist suppresses conscious control over the making process, allowing the unconscious mind to have great sway. Early 20th-century Dadaists, such as Hans Arp, made some use of this method through chance operations.


Automatic writing / Automatic poetry: suppress conscious control over the creative process, let the unconscious mind have control.

Spiral, automatic writing with cyanotype by Jo Howell

Following this loose system I filled a watercolour pen with cyanotype fluid and began writing on large pieces of paper. The only other rule was to think of something in particular, like the moon, to write text that free-flowed on that subject. This showed me several different things about using photography with this process.


The actual physical process of covering a large sheet in text takes time. Each piece can take up to a hour to get onto the paper. As the time passes the cyanotype solution used as ink begins to expose. The yellow words begin to turn green then blue. It’s a beautiful collaboration between the artist and light.

Moon, automatic writing and cyanotype by Jo Howell

Filmed as a Timelapse the process is more easily viewable to an audience. There are not that many people who would watch someone write for an hour! But, in a gallery space showing other text works, and also making new text art as people view the work would be a fun way to engage people in the process.


There are a million different ways that one can write! That is the exploration at the moment. I’ve looked at impenetrable text, writing in shapes, and including images. All of these just touch the surface of the process. It’s photography of time, light, and innermost thoughts.

The most visually striking ones for me so far are Spiral, and the 3 moon pictures.

Decanter, automatic writing with cyanotype by Jo Howell

What do you think of this direction?

Have you explored something similar?

Let me know in the comments!

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