Another great post from my contributor, Jennifer Polson!
We are nearing the end of July and there is still a lot of sunlight to burn and my kids need to keep busy! If you are looking for a fun way to pass time on a hot, sunny summer day, I have the perfect alternate photography/art/science hands-on activity for you and your kids. Roll up your sleeves…it’s time to make Cyanotype sun prints!
I first learned about Cyanotypes in my university alternative photographic processes class. This course was my favorite photography experience at Texas State University. I loved learning how to produce my own photographic prints using chemistry and classic alternative printing methods. We experimented with many different techniques including: Cyanotypes, Tin types, Daguerreotypes, Gum bichromates, and Gum oils. Cyanotypes (also called sun prints) were the first alternative process that we had to master. Cyanotype is a traditional alternative photographic process that requires treated paper, objects, the sun, and water to produce a cyan-blue print. They are super easy, inexpensive and lots of fun. Commercial Cyanotype kits are available so you can actually produce Cyanotype photos at home with your family.
I bought my Cyanotype kit at www.sunprints.org. The cost was reasonable, just $20. Priority 2-day shipping is available and standard shipping takes about a week. Part of the fun of this project is the journey. Walk with your kids to the mailbox to see if your package has been delivered. Stop along the way and pick up interesting objects like leaves, stones, feathers, and flowers that can be used to make your print. Search around your house collecting items that have or can create unique shapes like, seashells, buttons, rubber bands, and string.
Once your kit arrives, let your kids open the box to see what is inside. I love receiving and opening mail and my kids love getting packages too. Our kit included sun print paper, a sheet of clear acrylic paper and a piece of cardboard. The kit instructions were so easy-to-follow and included step-by-step pictures. Show the pictures to your kids so they can help you make the prints.
Have the kids arrange the objects they gathered then arrange them flat on the sun print paper. Cover everything with the clear acrylic sheet. This step helps hold your objects in place so they will not shift when you move everything into the sunlight. I forgot this step and the wind blew a few of my objects away. Talk with your kids. Ask them what they think is going to happen when they block the paper with an object. Will the paper stay the same or will it change? Let them make predictions.
Head outside and leave the paper in the sun for about one to five minutes. Watch the time carefully. More that five minutes will over-expose your prints. While you are waiting walk around with you child, talk about the differences between the sunlight and shade. How do they feel when they are in the sun or shade? The paper will turn a lighter shade of blue the longer you leave it in the sun. The best time to make sun prints is when the sun is high in the sky or around noon. We made out prints about 6pm and the evening sunlight created long shadows on our prints.
Once you have exposed the sun print paper you will need to submerge the paper in a container of water for about one minute. Some people add a drop of lemon juice to the water to produce a deeper shade of blue. Lay the wet prints flat to dry, and when they are completely dry you can put them between the pages of a book so they will not become wrinkly.
The boys loved seeing how their sun prints turned out and the experience created a few good teaching moments for me. We learned about the effects of light and shadows and tapped into our inner artists by creating interesting compositions on our sun paper.
I really enjoyed making Cyanotype sun prints with my boys. I even created a few works of my own to experiment using the midday sun. If you decide to try this project with your kids, remember to enjoy the journey and have fun!