June 21, 2017

Experiments in wet cyanotype

Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 1
 I've been making cyanotype prints on fabric for many years. It's my favorite surface design technique, and I feature the prints in many of my art quilts. Over time I've really honed my practice, producing my preferred dark, crisply outlined prints on hefty cotton sateen, by carefully controlling the process and the exposure times.

Lately I've been intrigued by several Instagram accounts of artists featuring wet cyanotypes, tagged #wetcyan. There are lots of variations, and most artists are working on paper, but the main idea is to incorporate moisture and go for very long exposure times, 24 hours or more (a normal exposure is 10 minutes). The process breaks down the chemicals to produce swirls and colors shifts in the prints, and I find that beautiful and intriguing. So I decided to give it a try.

 I started with cotton sateen that I had treated in November, laid on a foam insulation board. I laid down Japanese anemone leaves and Christmas fern fronds as my resist. I used a sprayer to mist water on a pane of glass and covered it all up. I set it all in a sunny location on a very hot afternoon. (All pictures blow up when clicked.)
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 2
 After a half hour I could see funky things beginning to happen, but I was concerned I hadn't added enough moisture, so I spritzed a bit more around the edges and let it creep in.
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 3
 The next day brought a forecast for heavy thunderstorms, so after 18 hours I pulled the prints and brought them indoors. Here's how they looked at that point:
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 4

Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 5
 They were fairly moist, and I thought it wouldn't hurt and might help if they dried before rinsing, so I put them in a dark room for several hours. Finally, I rinsed them out and dried them. This is how they finished:
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 6

Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 8
 I'm happy with the results. I love all the subtleties of tone, and the golden and greenish tints.

But wait, there's more! In the fall of 2015 I made a lot of samples for an article on cyanotype printing I was writing for Quilting Arts Magazine. Towards that end I bought some pre-treated cotton cyanotype fabric from a new-to-me online supplier. It was an OK product, certainly competitively priced, but loosely woven muslin, and not heavily saturated with chemical. After making the samples I had set the rest aside. By now the fabric was well past its prime, but it seemed like a good candidate for experimentation since I had nothing to prove and nothing to lose. So I set up a parallel exposure, this time with a painted fern and Japanese anemone leaves. For this one I misted the foam board as well as the glass.
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 9
 I could see the chemicals moving around the fabric immediately:
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 10
 After the same 18 hour exposure, here were the unwashed prints.
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 11

Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 12
 After drying and rinsing, they turned out like this. Very cool!
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 13
 I was a bit mystified by the pink tones at first. Then I realized that I had used that foam board for making painted prints previously. I always clean it off, and I've never had the leftover paint stains transfer before, but I'm speculating that cooking in the sun on a hot day may have loosened some of the red pigments.
Wet cyanotype, Sue Reno, Image 14
This was successful and interesting enough that I'm going to give it another round of experimentation.  Stay tuned!


HollyM said...

I have not tried the cyanotype. Only inks or Setacolor transparent..I'd like to use glass because it's often windy.

Linda M said...

I have to give this a try. I have some different colors of fabric pretreated!

Anonymous said...

You are such a generous artist to share your working methods. I'm always awed. Thanks!

Sue Reno said...

It's my pleasure to share the process, I hope other artists try it and share their results! There's a lot of possibilities here

Anonymous said...

cool...I noticed the #wetcyan tag on Instagram and was intrigued too. Your results have encouraged me to give it a try on fabric too!

Sue Reno said...

How wonderful, Marsha, I hope you have fun with it!