If you happen to find yourself in the south of Spain, please do come along to this exhibition of cyanotypes in Órgiva. The gallery is run by artist Vic Montfort who will also have his ceramic art for sale in the gallery workshop. You can expect to see cyanotypes of all sizes and colours, framed and unframed.

What are cyanotypes?

Cyanotype is an alternative photographic printing technique which uses daylight. The process was originally developed for making blue prints for architectural plans and was discovered by scientist Sir John Herschel in 1842. Solutions of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide are mixed together and painted, on a surface such as paper or fabric, in a darkened room. The quantities of chemicals can be played with to achieve different tones.

The process

The way I work to create my cyanotypes is to combine botanicals with an enlarged negative of a nude, in a composition placed under glass, so the elements do not blow away while exposure is taking place outside. Exposure can take between 5 an 20 minutes, depending on the amount of daylight available. The iron salts react to the UV in the sunshine and turn from lime green to a bronze colour. Once exposure is completed, the paper is then rinsed in moving water for 5 minutes, this is when the strong Prussian blue first reveals itself. Toning of the prints can be achieved by using strong tea or coffee. I then often add watercolour ink in the final drying process.

The compositon stage of making a cyanotype

How I discovered the process

I was first made aware that there were alternative printing processes by my friend Catrina Dunn, who was on a photography course. She used to visit me and show me her gum bichromate prints in the early nineties, when we were both in our mid twenties. I already had a black and white dark room in my bathroom at home. While purchasing developing chemicals from Silver Print in London, I asked behind the counter about what other printing methods were available. This was when a very helpful and passionate photographer, shop assistant, introduced me to cyanotypes. I got to work experimenting straight away. I had a full size sun bed to make my exposures on, because the sun in London was a bit rare. So, eventually I got myself between the sun bed and a long roll of prepared paper and did a full size body print, which I gave away. I didn’t like it because it made me look fat! I exhibited my cyanotypes widely across London for a few years before getting into video and other creative pursuits.

The image below was made by photographing a nude in black and white, developing the negative and projecting it straight back onto her. I repeated the process several times, with several poses. This was during 1993, before Photoshop was in my world.

feminine nude projections cyanotype

Revisiting old techniques

A few years ago, I decided to revisit old materials and techniques that I have experimented with over the years, from clay and cling film to watercolour, oils and cyanotypes and to do them again with my new found maturity. I’m finding there is still a lot of scope with cyanotypes and I’m totally addicted to the process of making them. I love weighing out the dry chemicals and experimenting with quantities and application of the emulsion. Thinking about what combinations of botanicals, objects and imagery could work for the compositions. You can never tell until the print is finished, what works and what doesn’t.

Emma Plunkett making cyanotypes

My recent life

So recently my life has been a lot about watching the weather forecast for rain. When there is prospect of sun then next day, I coat sheets of 300g cold pressed watercolour paper the night before. In the morning you can find me running up to the nearest meadow to pick wild flowers with the dog. I have found, that because I don’t have dried specimens to work with, that if I smash the daisy’s with a hammer between two sheets of kitchen towel, I can get them flat enough to stay put under the glass. The poppies attempt to wither away as soon as picked and so are a bit of a bugger to work with. However, I do feel that I achieved my aim to create a cyanotype with the darkened coffee tones and scarlet ink for the petals. You can see this cyanotype for sale in my web shop:

Coffee toned cyanotype with poppies and nude