Wet cyanotype

Cyanotype in lockdown continues…

The weather and nature continues to be glorious. Sunny days, pure blue skies and birdsong are quickly becoming the new normal.

Sunshine inspires me to continue making cyanotype prints. I’ve been looking for some new images to use. Browsing through my old photographs I found images of flowers, leaves and shells, plus I downloaded some historic maps and printed them all out on sheets of acetate.

Images on acetate

I’ve been wanting to experiment more with wet cyanotype. I have tried it before but the results weren’t as colourful as I was expecting. I think they needed to be exposed for longer and I was being too impatient!

I found a short video by Kristy McCurdy on how to make wet cyanotype. I loved the colourful results she produces – moving away from the pure blue and white results of cyanotype – to achieve more subtle greens and varying shades of blues.

Feeling inspired, I had another go…

Using the new images I’d printed on acetate I tried splashing and spraying water, on both the cyanotype paper and on the acetate, before placing them between two panes of glass. I left them out in the afternoon sun for about an hour to expose the images.

Exposing wet cyanotype in the sun

The colours during exposure changed dramatically and were really vibrant and I did hope they would stay like this, but sadly they didn’t. Once the paper has been rinsed under the tap the stronger colours faded and the end results were more subtle.

Wet cyanotype results

I do like the effect it created in the background, with varying tones of blue, which reminded me of clouds.

These examples were created using splashed and sprayed water. Spraying water resulted in a more mottled effect on the leaves.

Wet cyanotype examples – using sprayed and splashed water techniques

I’m still hoping to create cyanotype prints that have more greens and blues in them, but again, I think even longer exposure times are probably required.

Cyanotype collage – mini series #1

I have been binge-listening to the podcast Art Juice by artists Louise Fletcher and Alice Sheridan. Having just discovered them, I’m finding them a real source of inspiration during this strange time, following the Coronavirus Lockdown (in the UK this started on 23 March 2020). On a daily basis I’m not sure if I want to create something, curl up in a ball or shout and scream – or sometimes all three. Art Juice is keeping me focussed on my creativity and helping me to stay sane!

So this month, as we have been enjoying some sunny weather, I decided to revisit the technique of camera-less photography called Cyanotype. I first tried this in the summer of last year and this is some of my early work:

Some of my early Cyanotype prints

I’ve started working on a new series of Cyanotype collages. And perhaps due to the inability to ‘go out and buy whatever I need, whenever I need it’, I’m feeling the need to work small – maybe to conserve resources? I often work in A5 sketchbooks, so my work is quite small anyway, but I wanted to try slightly smaller, so I opted for A6.

I took a few sheets of watercolour paper (I really like the texture) and cut them into 12 x A6 pieces. I brushed each piece with my Jacquard Cyanotype solution and pegged them up to dry in my dark room (otherwise known as my windowless utility room with a red safe-light).

Paper, coated with Cyanotype solution, hanging in the dark to dry

NB: Cyanotype is traditionally made outside, using sunlight – not something that is seen regularly here in the Northern Hemisphere! And I’ve found that having real, fresh foliage, ready-to-use when the sun does appear is not something I can guarantee. So I’ve begun taking photos of plants and leaves that I can print out onto sheets of acetate. They are always to hand and never wilt!

Once the papers had dried I lay a few of them onto a wooden board; positioned acetate images on top; and sandwiched them in place with a piece of clear glass. I carried the board outside and left it in a sunny position for about 10 minutes.

Acetate image being exposed in the sunlight

The exposure time varies depending on the strength of the sun. The colour of the Cyanotype begins to darken in the sunlight, so you can usually see when it is ready. I took the pages indoors and rinsed them under a cold tap to wash off the excess solution to reveal the exposed images. I then hung them up to dry and repeated this process until I had exposed all 12 pieces.

Some of the exposed Cyanotype images

I wanted to develop the Cyanotypes with some collage work. I have boxes of torn paper and scrap fabric so I took some of these and collaged on to each piece. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enhance or contrast the collage with the Cyanotype, but I went for an intuitive approach and let it happen organically.

Beginning to collage on the Cyanotype

I sealed the collage with a coat of matt Mod Podge; worked over the top with wax crayons and pencils and finished off with a few simple stitches using embroidery thread.

The mini collage series #1

I haven’t decided what to do with them yet – frame them or bind them into a sketchbook? I didn’t really have an end-goal in mind but have really enjoyed experimenting with the process. While the sunny weather continues, so will the Cyanotype!

Embroidered altered book

Later this year I will be exhibiting my work at the Leigh Art Trail (assuming Covid-19 lockdown is lifted), with SEVEN, a sketchbook collective that I belong to. This will be our fourth year at the Leigh Art Trail and we’re excited to have a new venue!

We will be exhibiting at the Refill Room – a new shop in Leigh-on-Sea that promotes zero waste and are passionate about eradicating single-use plastic.

In response to the shop’s vision, we decided we would make altered books i.e. we would re-purpose an old, possibly forgotten and unloved, second-hand book, rather than buy something new. The overall theme we are working to is ‘reclamation’ and we are each interpreting this in our own way taking inspiration from the following definition:

etymonline.com (Online etymology dictionary)

So, back in January I chose a second-hand book, which is about Crewel Embroidery. This is not a subject that I’m familiar with, but I have a background in textile design and I’m quite interested in incorporating more stitching into my work. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to experiment and I wanted to be inspired by the book’s content without having any pre-conceived plans for how it would turn out.

I learned the basics of embroidery as a child growing up and have recently begun to ‘reclaim’ or reconnect with embroidery. I joined the Embroiderer’s Guild a couple of years ago and I have been continually inspired by external/internal speakers, who have shared their stories, and I too have shared my ideas, running several workshops for the group. Wanting to use and interpret this knowledge in my own way, I have been using stitch on paper as a mark-making technique.

These are some close-ups of the pages in my book. All will be revealed soon…

Embroidered shisha mirror
Embroidery on paper
Paper and stitch collage

Vintage postcard embroidery workshop

The journey of a holiday postcard

In the pre-digital age, it was quite common to send a postcard home to friends and family, during your holiday. You’d pick out a selection of cards, write a brief message on the back and post them off. When they arrived at their destination, they would be read, put away in a drawer, and then probably forgotten about. At some point in the future, when the drawer is cleared out, the cards will either be given away or thrown in the bin.

Often, when you go to boot fairs or second hand book shops, you’ll find boxes of old photos and postcards that have been discarded.

So, what happens next?

It seems a shame to throw old postcards and photos away, as they are a piece of social history. But what can you do with them?

I’ve recently pondered this thought and came across a couple of artists who give old postcards a new lease of life by embroidering on to them:

FRANCESCA CRAMER – is an Italian textile artist and designer, based in North Wales. She describes her postcards as having “a conversation with the past, like lifting a layer of dust and letting the colour through, adding another chapter.”

Her technique varies from piece to piece where she either:

  • adds something new;
  • colours over a feature of the photograph; or
  • erases something completely.
Francesca Cramer embroidered postcard examples

HAN CAO – is a self-taught artist, living in Palm Springs. She uses embroidery to create new narratives for long-forgotten photographs and postcards found at flea markets and antique shops from around the world.

Her aim with these examples is to bring life to lost images, telling new narratives from the past through thread and colour:

Han Cao embroidered postcard examples

My workshop idea

I’d been asked to run a workshop at my local Embroiderer’s Guild and thought this would be an interesting idea to share with them. Being based in Southend-on-sea, thousands of postcards have been sent from here over the years. So I sourced some old postcards of Southend-on-sea, and the surrounding area, from the early 1900s to the 1970s.

I asked the group to choose a postcard each. The postcards themselves created an interesting discussion as the images brought back fond memories for people who had grown up in the area.

I wanted them to think about how they could change the image they had chosen and bring it to life…create their own story…

I suggested they keep their stitches simple – e.g. french knots, cross stitch, kantha stitch – for maximum effect. Stitching into card is very different to fabric – once the hole is pierced it’s permanent, and if you pierce holes too close together they can create one big hole!

TIP: I would always pierce holes in the card first before beginning to stitch and place a cork mat underneath the card for protection.

Embroiderer’s Guild workshop

The results were quite varied especially as some found the idea of stitching into an old postcard a little troubling! But everyone did have a go.

Before and After postcard by Jo Bund

Hundertwasser handmade book

My sketchbook project for the Leigh Art Trail 2019 was inspired by the artist Hundertwasser: an artist, architect and ecologist. Here is a selection of pages followed by a Q&A for the art trail…

Q. What artist or art movement is your art book / sketchbook inspired by?

Friedensreich Hundertwasser: artist, architect and ecologist (Born Vienna 1928, Died New Zealand 2000)

Q. Why did you choose this artist / movement?

I first came across Hundertwasser and his work during University, where I studied textile design. I love his use of colour and I’m inspired by the pattern-like style in his paintings and architecture. More recently I visited an exhibition of Hundertwasser, Klimt and Schiele at Ateliers des Lumieres in Paris, which was an immersive experience that rekindled my interest.

Q. Where did your creative process start? (ie, a particular image / idea / colours, etc)

Several years ago, I bought a book of Hundertwasser postcards of his lost and stolen paintings. I began by selecting some of these to explore in more detail. Each postcard I chose inspired me to use a different process as a starting point, i.e. the use of bright colours, the spiral, curved lines, cut up and reconstruct…

Q. Which idea came first the book or the artwork? Please explain

Having always used bought sketchbooks in the past I initially thought I would start by creating my own sketchbook to work into. However, once I started to experiment with the artwork it felt a natural choice to create separate pages, of a similar size, which I could then organise and build into a book at the end.

Q. Describe your book – why did you choose this format?

I’ve chosen an oversized landscape format, as many of his paintings were large scale. The book is divided up into five sections (he was known as ‘the painter king with five skins’) which are inspired by Hundertwasser quotes. I have individually hand-punched each hole along the spine of the pages (Hundertwasser was opposed to the straight line, so these are slightly wonky) and the book has been bound with a spiral. Hundertwasser was very passionate about the spiral, which he thought of as the ‘symbol of life’, and it became a consistent motif that he used during his mature years. For the cover I’ve created a repeat textile design of one of my pages and digitally printed this onto natural cotton. Hundertwasser was also a keen ecologist and known for his efforts in environmental protection.

Q. How did you find making your own book? Why?

This is my first book-making project and it came with a number of challenges! The first was deciding how to approach the project – whether to make a book that contained art, or whether the book should be the art? The second challenge was to decide on the format of the book. Books come in many shapes, sizes and there are endless binding options – which can all seem very overwhelming. I decided to keep it simple and make a collection of pages that I could bind together at the end. The cover was the biggest learning curve and I have a long list of people to thank, who helped me with the process – from creating the repeat textile design, to the choice of fabric and printing supplier, to making mitred corners, fitting eyelets and spiral binding…

Q. How did you bring your own art style / process / ideas to your chosen theme?

  • Hundertwasser was primarily a painter, architect and ecologist, my practice is collage art, design and print. To bring my own style to the work:
  • I reinterpreted a selection of his paintings in my collage style using found ephemera and tissue paper to emulate the translucent quality in his paintings.
  • I made a lino cut of his spiral that I used to make prints on tissue paper and included gelli prints in my collages.
  • I made a stream of consciousness doodle incorporating spirals and shapes found in his paintings.
  • In the final section I focused on environmental issues using found ‘letters to the earth’ published by Extinction Rebellion and created collages and a poster design inspired by current environmental projects from Earth Day Network.

What did you learn about the artist / movement during the project?

  • Hundertwasser was a visionary artist who rejected all standardisations, traditional rules, artistic philosophies and techniques in his work.
  • His work seems child-like, as he believed that children have a special creative process free of any custom and tradition as true and real expressions.
  • He rejected straight lines and was fascinated by spirals, as he noticed that there are no straight lines in nature.
  • A major theme in his works was “reconciliation and harmony of mankind with nature”.
  • He planted over 1.5k trees around the world.
  • He was the forerunner of “Creative Clothings Movement”. He designed and created his own clothes (wearing two dissimilar socks was a characteristic of Hundertwasser’s dressing) and also made his own shoes.

Q. What did you learn about your own creative process / art style from this project?

I really enjoy using mixed media collage, creating a weathered and layered look; I also realised how much I enjoy colour! My process is very methodical, although the outcome is often a total surprise, and by working to my own ‘rules’ I found that I stuck to my go-to selection of materials, rather than venturing out of my comfort-zone. The pieces I’ve created have a surface pattern style and I would like to develop these further into a textile prints. 

Q. What was your biggest challenge?

Working as an individual rather than collaborating as a group was a very different approach for SEVEN and was my biggest challenge.

Q. How did you inspire / motivate yourself to overcome this challenge?

SEVEN continued to meet fortnightly throughout the year where we shared our progress and our issues, which the group provided their support on. In between these sessions I would aim to take a small step towards my book each day (however small). I also created a mindmap to keep me focussed on the work that Hundertwasser did and what had inspired me to choose him, which I referred to throughout the project.

Q. What would you like people to take from your book / or your work in general?

My inspiration was to play with bold colour and Hundertwasser motifs/shapes to reinterpret his paintings using my own style and translating them into patterns. There is also a connection to the environmental issues that he cared about (and are still very relevant today) i.e. the planting of trees, recycling, living in harmony with nature, plastic pollution…

Q. Will this project impact the way you create your own art or how you look at other people’s art work? (ie, have you discovered a new technique, something you didn’t know which you can relate to?)

The influence of Hundertwasser has increased my confidence in the use of bold colours. Previously I have favoured more muted colours along with blacks, whites, greys and metallics. I’ve really enjoyed having ‘permission’ to use bold, contrasting colours, which I would like to continue. I have also enjoyed working on a slightly larger scale.

Q. Anything else you’d like to share?

Creativity is available to all and inspiration can be found everywhere. If you don’t enjoy drawing – try found images; if you’re not confident with colour – try using found colour, above all enjoy the process and don’t get too precious about it, perfection isn’t everything.