We were blown away when we saw the digitized album Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes (also known as “sun prints”,  made by placing on object on chemical-treated paper in the sun) that she made in the 1800s. Atkins, the first woman to make photographs, used the cyanotype process to document algaes and made some poetic, often pleasingly abstract images. It got us looking into this ancient photographic process. We realized that we could not only easily make our own sun prints, but that there were some very cool uses for them.

Anna Atkins, New York Public Library
Anna Atkins, New York Public Library

The process is pretty straightforward: you mix two chemicals (available here) to make a photo sensitive solution, then brush it onto cotton-based watercolor paper OR cloth. Place an object on the sensitized material and then directly in the sun. The UV light will create a lovely blue negative effect once you rinse the paper. You’ll find detailed instructions here and here.

Emma Freeman Photography
Emma Freeman Photography

If you DON’T want to bother this from scratch method, you can simply buy treated paper or kits. The problem we discovered is that many of them use rather cheap paper; they’re fine for getting started but lack the beauty and texture of fine paper.  Freestyle Photographic Supplies has a range of good pre-sensitized quality fabrics and papers, as well as a sensitizing powder kits you can apply to anything you want.

Just google “sun print” or “cyanotype” to see the possibilities…

Emma Freeman Photography
Emma Freeman Photography

We found some real beauties at Emma Freeman Photography, above, and at cherepaha_cherepakha’s instagram. She posted charming ways to use her cyanotypes as placemats, placecards, notecards, postcards, wrapping paper…

instagram/ Cherepaha_Cherepakha
instagram/ Cherepaha_Cherepakha

You can also use the cyanotype process directly on fabric, so it holds huge possibilities for banners, tablecloths, bedspreads…We found complete instructions, with images,  at The Blanket Appeal of Giant Cyanotypes, work by artists.

Ualani David and Brandon Ng
Ualani David and Brandon Ng

Check out the complete album of Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes here.

Anna Atkins, New York Public Library
Anna Atkins, New York Public Library

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.