August 22nd, 2008

In addition to photo-intaglio printing, I also tried out the the old cyanotype process. A different process poses a different set of problems. Typically, cyanotype requires making the solutions of Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate that are combined in equal parts and paper is coated with the mixed solutions. When dried (in the dark or out of uv light) the paper is exposed to the sun with an object placed on top casting shadows on the paper making an image (like a rayogram). This is then developed in water. It is an old photographic process introduced by John Herschel in 1842. It was used as a photographic process of sorts creating impression of images (such as Anna Atikin’s algae) and used to make other graphic images. It is typically blue – called ‘blueprint’. See this site on alternative photographic processes for more information. For my cyanotypes, I used digitally printed negatives.

Redmond mixes chemicals for cyanotype solutionsThe chemistry isn’t too difficult (Redmond was handling that part – pictured right), but coating the paper requires some diligence. What I found is that it is worth double-coating your paper, it gives a more intense image and it also hides the flaws of uneven distribution/ absorption of the solution. The choice of paper is also important (100% cotton rag water colour paper is a good choice).

For the exposure and the development processes to work well, a good workflow is important. Customising some equipment for the the processes also help. For example, making your own exposure frame using a board and some heavy scratch-free glass; or making a paper folder to carry your coated paper.

Here are prints that used the same images I have been developing for the photo-intaglio, but for cyanotype these need to be negatives rather than positives. While I am showing the images, I might as well tell you something about the creatures.

Cyanotype of sea urchin test
This is the test (shell) of the Common Sea Urchin (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) again. I was amazed that I found it perfectly whole on the beach after a big storm. It’s about 20mm in diameter and pale purplish-pink. A sea urchin’s eating organ is called an Aristole’s lantern after the philosopher who described it in accurate details. Sea urchins along with sea stars, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers are enchinoderms.

Cyanotype of mussel shell
This is one half of a common Little Horse Mussel (Xenostrobus pulex). These are extremely common and are distinct fromt the edible variety.

Cyanotype of brittle star
This is a Schayer’s Brittle Star (Ophionereis schayeri). Like sea urchins, they have a five-fold symmetry.

Cyanotype of brittle star

Here’s a large A3 size poster (click on image to see full size).

Cyanotype of shells

These are all common species that live along the Illawara coast or the Eastern Warm Temperate Zone of Australia. I was able to identify the creatures using Keith Davey’s Life on Australian Seashore site.

Redmond suggests a new recipe for the chemistry which we will try out.

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