Using Sunshine to Make Art With Cyanotype

It’s been a year since Covid began. If social isolation has left you feeling drained of inspiration, you are not alone. Hang on a little bit longer. Spring is the perfect time to harness the natural world to help you regain your creativity!

As a photographer, taking pictures and developing film is one of the outlets that I rely on to help me through hard times. Unfortunately, at many points during the past year, observing social distancing rules meant I was not able to have my photos printed. One day, I was looking out the window, thinking about how to get around this predicament, when the answer appeared: sunshine! I could experiment with “Cyanotype” printing, a technique that uses sunlight to capture images. I briefly learned the technique as a university student in Japan, but had forgotten about it until now. I was excited to give it a try. I gathered materials and set out to experiment. What you see below are the results of my experimenting…

Step 1 : Materials

You will need Cyanotype solution, a brush, some paper and processing trays. I bought everything at Opus Art Supply. I prepared the paper myself but you can also buy ready-made cyanotype paper. Once you get comfortable working with paper, you can even experiment with other materials. I played with kitchen napkins, Japanese Washi paper and cardboard.

Step 2: Printing Subjects

Now that you have materials, it’s time to decide what you will print. There are two ways to make cyanotype prints: the first is by creating a negative from an existing photograph and laying that negative against treated paper before exposing it to the sun (this works best for landscapes and portraits). The second way is to actually lay an object against treated paper and expose the combination to sunlight.

Printing a negative is a more complicated procedure that requires you to make a negative image using photo editing software (I use Photoshop) and have it printed on transparency (you can do this at home if you have a printer, but I use Gramma Publications on Commercial Drive). For the simpler method of using an object to create an image, all you really need to do is find an appropriate item to use as a subject. Commonly used objects are leaves and flowers, but you can use anything: your glasses, a piece of jewelry, even a facemask will work!


Step 3: Exposure

Gently place your object (or transparency) on to the cyanotype paper, then reveal to the sun. Exposure time depends a lot on the sunshine level (the brighter the day, the faster the process), but expect somewhere in the range of one to five minutes. Do not forget to enjoy getting some sunshine on your skin! This is my favourite part because I can sunbathe and print at the same time. I know there is not much sunshine in the winter in Vancouver; however, that is why these prints are so precious!

Artist tip: be ready to expose anytime the sun comes out. I study English at Vancouver Community College on weekdays and work on the weekend, so I do not have much time for photo printing. That means I have to be prepared to run outside to expose my images when I see the sun – even if it means running outside in my pyjamas as soon as I wake up!

Step 5: Drying

The last step in the cyanotype process is to wash the chemicals off the paper in cold water and hang your creation to dry. After drying the paper, the beautiful blue colour will appear more strongly.

All instructions are on the package and you can find different people’s techniques on the internet. I took a Cyanotype online course on the website Domestica, which was helpful as well.

Shizuka Yoshimura is a visual & narrative artist, currently living in Vancouver. Born and raised in the countryside of Niigata Prefecture, Japan, Shizuka moved to Canada in 2018. Over the last five years, Shizuka has been focusing on capturing the wonder of nature in her ongoing photography project Blind Spot Observation“. The artist is a zine maker and writer, participating in art zine festivals in Canada over the last few years. She is also a runner with over twenty years of experience. All of her inspiration comes from nature.


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