The Art and Science of Cyanotype

Cyanotype by photography pioneer, Anna Atkins

Looking for a fun, kid-friendly (or maybe just easy-for-adults) art activity to occupy some of your quarantined day? Something that functions as a science lesson, as well? Look no further than cyanotype printing.

Although cyanotype is, technically, a photographic process, special chemicals or a darkroom are not required. In its most basic form, all that is needed is some easily-obtainable, specially-coated paper, some interesting objects (leaves, flowers, glass trinkets, lace) and sunlight.

The basic process is simple and safe enough for even very young children. Simply pick a sunny spot in which to place the paper, arrange the objects on the paper, and expose for a few minutes (around 2-5, depending on the strength of the sunlight). Next, remove the objects and wash the prints in regular tap water to develop the image. You will be left with a light image on a blue background. Kind of like an architectural blueprint, which uses the same basic process.

While cyanotype is very simple in its basic form, you can get more elaborate with it, if you desire. For example, you can print photo negatives on transparency film with your home inkjet printer and use those to print your own photos as cyanotypes.

You can also buy the chemistry needed and coat your own watercolor paper, or even fabric and other objects. This is only slightly more complex than using pre-coated paper, but allows for some very interesting results.

If you would like to learn more about the cyanotype process, alternativephotography.com has a wealth of information, including free downloadable materials. This Instructables article details the entire process, including printing a negative and coating your own paper.

It’s simple, safe and fun – give it a try!