A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to participate in a three-day cyanotype workshop organized by the UP Iris, the university-wide student organization of the University of the Philippines. Here's a step-by-step guide to making your very own cyanotype print!
It isn’t everyday that the chance to learn an old photographic process firsthand crops up, so when we – that is, I and Lomography’s community manager @icequeenubia – learned about a cyanotype workshop organized by the UP Iris, we knew we had to go. Photographer Sandra Dans was the lone guest speaker.
As the name implies, the cyanotype is a camera-less photographic process that produces cyan-colored prints. It was discovered by John Herschel in the early 1840s and was used mostly to document various plant species.
Cyanotype is fairly easy to do, but what’s most difficult about it is acquiring the chemicals needed. We’re told that one would need a particular certificate just to purchase potassium ferricyanide, at least here in the Philippines, because it’s highly toxic.
Without further ado, here’s a tipster to making cyanotype prints at home!
What you’ll need:
- substrates, or printing materials that are durable and water-absorbent such as watercolor paper, illustration board, and cloth
- a pair of gloves, apron, and face mask
- a tray and wide brush for applying the solution
- distilled water
- potassium ferricyanide
- ferric ammonium citrate
- oxalic solution, tap water for washing
1) Separately dilute 25g of ferric ammonium ferricyanide and 10g of potassium ferricyanide in 100ml distilled water each. Combine and mix well. The mixture would result in a yellow-greenish-colored liquid. Don’t forget to wear your gloves, mask, and apron!
2) Head to the darkroom to apply the solution on watercolor paper using a wide brush. You may actually use any substrate so long as it’s durable and water-absorbent. Some of our fellow participants experimented with other substrates such as cloth, illustration boards, and even glass. Leave it to dry overnight.
3) Time to expose the prints! The substrates should have turned green overnight. Personally I was apprehensive at first, but hopeful all the same, because some of the substrates turned blue – including mine! Apparently, this could happen if another chemical contaminated the substrates or if the substrate used was chemically-treated. Still, we were encouraged to work with them because, who knows, it just might work.
Place the substrates inside folders and take it out only when you’re ready to expose it under UV light, either natural or artificial. As for us, we left ours under the sun for no more than an hour – although exposing time can actually be anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours, during which there would be “crazy” shifts in color until it finally turns silver. For my prints I used two of my photographs, inverted to make a negative, and printed on acetate. Some of the participants did this, too, while others placed objects such as toys, flowers, and other plants directly on their substrates, like so:
4) Lastly, wash the prints first with oxalic solution and then with tap water. Hang the substrates to dry inside the darkroom overnight.
Here’s another one of my cyanotype prints!
Aside from learning how to make cyanotypes, the three-day workshop also consisted of lectures about the pioneers of photography. It was a fun experience all in all; I’m already looking forward to attending my next photography-related workshop!