• Photo Diary: The Art of Cyanotypes

    Using sunlight and only a few simple materials, it’s possible to make beautifully tinted blue art with a natural spin. Read on to take a look at some of our favorites from artist Susan Murie and a quick breakdown of the process. 
    Photos c/o Susan Murie

    Tell us a little bit about yourself – what do you do for a living? Where do you live? 
    I live just outside of Boston where I make my living primarily as a Realtor. I have met many other people in the real estate business who are also artists. It’s a great job to have if you need flexibility to pursue other things in your life. Also the tools needed to be successful in terms of marketing your talents are pretty much the same as running the business part of being an artist. I can also do things like take time off to do a residency or travel. I am a member of Gallery 263 in Cambridge.

    How did you first get interested in cyanotypes?
    Several years ago when I saw a magazine article in a cooking magazine about a restaurant that had a wall full of cyanotypes as decor. I was taken with them right away and knew I wanted to try it. You never know where you might get inspiration to try something new!
    I have a background in photography and filmmaking and have always been interested in “alt process” (alternative photography techniques). I created handcolored photographs for many years, teaching the process, as well.

    If someone is looking to make one for the first time, do you have any tips and tricks?
    This is what I did: get one of the “sun print” kits made for kids to get an idea of the basic printing process. It’s an inexpensive intro to how it works and a good way to practice. If you like it you can then go on to the more involved methods outlined in this interview. You’ll be working outside most likely so have a pane of glass or plexiglass ready to weigh your objects and paper down if it is windy. Use objects that both let light through and block the light. Consider that you are really working with shadows.

    Any tips for making sure your cyanotype stands out? (Basically looking for any tips to make the cyanotype look super unique!)
    Patience is the number one tip. Be ready to make more than one print to get it the way you want. Give the print time to develop in the sun (or whatever UV source you use). That’s the way to get rich blue colors. In terms of being unique, I think it take a bit of time to become comfortable with the process, it’s whims and possibilities. There is an element of uncertainty to it, however as you master the techniques you can control a lot. The objects you choose, how you place them and what you do with the final print will make it unique. Intention! 

    Can you explain the process to us?
    Basically the process is exposing a specially treated paper (or cloth) to UV light with objects or photo negatives placed on it. You can coat your own paper with a combination of chemicals or you can order paper already treated. I don’t coat my own paper. I like to get right to the printing part! But I know lots of artists who do coat their own paper. The advantage is you can work with a variety of papers. There is a learning curve with the coating process in how much sensitizer chemical to use, how to coat the paper (brush or floating it in the solution). If you want that unfinished edge look, coating your own is for you. You do have to take safety precautions with the chemicals. 
    Once you have your paper, the process is to place your selected objects or negatives on the paper and expose it to UV light. I use sunlight and I work all year round outside. Knowing how long to expose takes some time to learn and depends on the paper you are using, how it was coated and what effect you are trying to achieve. The print is then rinsed with plain water and dried. You can use other forms of UV light but I haven’t looked into that. Dried prints are archival as long as the paper you have used is also archival. 

    My work incorporates some of the uncertainties of the process such as the placement of the sun in the sky at different times of year or if it is partly cloudy. Sometimes if there is just a light wind I will work without my plexiglass pane to get a bit of movement on the print. I like working with the weather and being outside. I often prefer to work live, with a basic idea and just start with the paper and selected objects right in the sun. I like the spontaneity of that. But someone else may prefer to practice ahead of time on a table or paper how the objects with be arranged. You can also make cyanotypes using image negatives you can print out. You can tone (add an all over hue) your print once it has dried with things like tea, coffee, or wine. There are many online tutorials for toning techniques.

    What other mediums do you like to work in?
    I sometimes add color to a print using gouache or colored pencil. I have made little gouache paintings and painted furniture with my take on florals but I wouldn’t call myself a painter! I hope to take a painting class this year to learn some techniques to use on my cyanotypes. In the past I have created large format photographs of architectural details and gardens and made artists books using some of my photographs. 

    What are you looking forward to working on in 2017?
    I will be doing larger and more multilayered works incorporating other imagery in addition to the plant and object material I have been working with. I also hope to travel a bit and I’d love to do an artist residency somewhere working with images from a local historic photo and object collection and sharing my work and process with people who live in the town. I’m also looking forward to continue to connect with amazing cyanotype artists on social media and hope to find ways to meet up in real life!

    To see more from Susan, check out her site and follow her on Instagram