Monday, April 06, 2009

Exploring solar-powered techniques Part 1: Sunprints

I don't know whether it's a subliminal effect of "Earth Hour" or just the fact that at last it is a little cooler here and I can actually enjoy being outside again, but recently I've tried out two art techniques that rely on the sun (or UV). Both are things I've been interested in trying for a couple of years (!) but had to wait until my studies were done.

I love many of the old photographic techniques that are now experiencing a revival as "alternative techniques", especially photograms and cyanotypes. Historically, the greatest proponents of photograms are Man Ray, who re-named them rayographs(!) and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The basic concept is that instead of using a camera and film, you place an object directly on photo-sensitive paper and expose it, then fix it and rinse as usual.

Cyanotypes, also known as blueprints, were traditionally used for plans in architecture and for recording botanical specimens. It's a simple process that can be used for photograms or with a contact negative (where the negative is placed directly on the paper, rather than using an enlarger).

I've been planning to buy a cyanotype kit from this photographic store in Melbourne, when I knew I would have some time to experiment, but last year when I was at the Tate Gallery, I saw these "Sunprint" papers in the shop. Although designed for kids, I knew some people on Flickr had used this type of thing to good effect, and besides at less than 5GBP, there was nothing to lose.

The papers sat among my supplies for nearly a year and when I stumbled across them about a week ago I was a bit dismayed to see the packet said: "use within 6 months of purchasing" I rushed out to give them a try.

One idea that relates to process and change that I didn't have a chance to explore in my masters was "the life cycle". I've had a number of ideas about this that I hope to eventually explore, and one symbol I'm drawn to is the chrysalis. So rather than using objects for my sunprint test, I decided to use a drawing of a chrysalis that I was preparing on transparency for a workshop (more about this soon).

I think the paper manages to pick up a surprising degree of subtlety from the image, considering it was drawn with a chinagraph pencil. The beauty of this paper is that it comes ready to use and is processed in ordinary water, so it's low toxic. There's only a bit of testing with regards exposure time, if you want to be really picky. If you'd like to see some more examples take a look at Sunprint and Photograms groups on Flickr.


  1. That looks like great fun. Thanks for the write up about it. I really like your results!

  2. I love blueprints, to me they are fascinating especially the intricate line drawings of building floor plans.
    The effect that the chinagraph pencil gives is neat, almost like a pastel sketch.
    You always explore such interesting forms of art, thank you for the education and information.

  3. I've got some of those packs from the Tate too... oops, better rush off and check the use-by date! Thanks for the warning. I love your chrysalis.

  4. Anonymous7:02 PM

    This is fun, isn't it. I had a go at cyanotype recently. We tried it at work. We went out and picked leaves etc along the river outside then exposed them & got a print. What a lovely thing to do on a sunny morning at work.

  5. I'd like to try cyanotypes too, but I have trouble finding a dark space enough space - my house is too light!