Weekend with Cyanotype

I am so excited to share (and experience this weekend).  I always write my posts in short “in between” moments as I am doing my “weird” things…(would hate to write so many words in a single setting…).  This means as I am writing this I have not fully lived my weekend and have no idea if it will work… and be “awesome”(that is what my 6 year old would say).


At this moment I have mixed the chemicals. (Love the mad chemist vibe… not sure why “mad”… except that I don’t know exactly what I am doing… and one is a something-cyanide… which sounds dangerous) I bought a kit  (here is the link)and this one was excellently priced and much easier than what I had previously imagined.  I have received two bottles with powder in them.  You just add water to both bottles and then let it sit for 24 hours.  (For those who are reading this and happen to be chemists… or just nerdy… voila… the details of the bottle contents … Bottle A contains Potassium Ferricyanide – C6N6FeK4.   Bottle B contains Ammonium Citrate – C6H5+4yFexNyO7.)

Before I go much further… I want to offer some back story.   I do not consider myself a photographer…  in fact when I was little I didn’t consider photography art.. (hope I don’t loose followers with that admission)…  Let me explain better.  My father is an artist (an oil painter).  When I was young I asked him why he didn’t paint more “realistic” paintings…   and he answered with… if you want realism take a picture.  (This made me think that pictures were not done by artists… )   I have since matured (a little) in my understanding of art.. but still have a small bias (don’t we all)…   I made friends with a wonderful artist (photographer) and my eyes were open to some of the more experimental and creative things one can do with photography…(this excited me… and really made me rethink photography…  no longer will it be something I just do to remember my vacations and family events).  I have been experimenting on and off with photography ever since…    My first experiments were with polaroid transfers and lifts.


I bought this camera (my wife is so patient)… and started on the road to some of my first experiments with photography… I will share some of those pictures… below… (boy I am way off topic… I will come back to cyanotypes… but first… if you look closely you will see a set… I now call the dead family… was trying for a “sleeping” family… some how the concept failed)

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SO….   I love playing with and creating “atypical” photography… and I have wanted to try my hand with Cyanotypes for some time now.   I will be finally  doing them… not just myself but my entire family will join this activity (love it when we are all able to do this together)

For those already sick of reading… and who don’t want to learn the process here is a before and after picture that sums up what I did.  (This was an old negative that I found… I knew it was someone on my father’s side but the negative was broken into four pieces… cracked… dirty…and I couldn’t tell who it was… wasn’t sure this would work )




Isn’t this incredible… and when I saw this appear…  I recognized my grandmother right away… what a beautiful picture of her… and what a beautiful/magical process..

click… continue reading if you want to discover the process… (really “awesome”… and even my 6 year old could fully participate with this process)

The process for cyanotypes was invented in 1842.  The kit I purchased uses the same chemicals.  This was discovered by John Herschel for the purpose of reproducing notes and diagrams (blue prints… others found more interesting uses)  Anna Atkins (thought to be the first person to publish a book with photographs) used this process with plants to document different species.  She laid the plants directly onto the chemical.   We are going to follow in her footsteps.. (with the exception of the negative I have of my grandmother).  You can do either… (children love looking for plants and then placing them on the paper and watching the magical process).   If you don’t have large negatives you can use a photo editing software and invert the colors (I also make it black and white)…  Then print them on ink jet transparency paper.  I didn’t have any transparency paper so… I will only do the one negative and the plants…  Below is an example of a photo I have prepared for this process.   (I took this several years back in my wife’s home town… the bushes look like giant gumdrops)


Here is the Process:

You need to do much of this in low/no light because the chemicals react to the light (that is what makes the pictures).   I did this in my closet…   Yes I was in the closet… and my whole family joined me…Have an idea.. when I write “in the closet” you will know that this part has to be done in low light… got it?

STEP 1 (In the closet… fun huh… sorry no pictures… no light)

Mix equal parts of both chemicals… but only what you need because it will only last about 4 hours.   (you will not need that much…and it is easy to mix more if you need to).

STEP 2 (in the closet)

Put the solution on the paper, cloth, etc… (the surface you want the image to be on… think even wood works).   I used high quality cotton paper… water color paper.   Don’t add too much just enough to coat the surface and then let dry.  Should not take long.

STEP 3 (in the closet)

Place the paper on a hard surface.  Place negative or plant onto the paper and then place glass on top of this.  I clamped all together using spring clamps this is to keep the glass tight.  It needs to be for negatives if you want a clear picture.


Step 4:

Place in the SUN… (forgot to say…. “come out of the closet“)…  this should be left exposed from one minute to 30 minutes depending upon the sun… (not sure what you do if you live in England...).   I had very bright sun so only set it out for about 3-5 minutes.  My kids loved watching it go from  yellow to green… then blue… then a really ugly brown. (see the brown below… we have removed the leaves… this is my 6 year old doing this)


Step 5:

Place paper into water and rinse several times.  (you will see the brown go away and it will start to turn blue)


Step 6:

Now place the picture into a bath water with some hydrogen peroxide…  this is the oxidation phase and it makes the blue brilliant.  (You can see my son… who is having fun doing this…. he had to wear his swimming suit… not naked)


Step 7:

Well… actually your are done… just let it dry.  AWESOME!!!! (quote from Ben)   Here are some examples of what we created this weekend.  (My daughter wanted to dye her hair with it…   I almost said yes… but not sure what the chemicals would have done to her… plus my wife would have killed both of us)

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26 thoughts on “Weekend with Cyanotype

    1. Thanks Judith… (I found it very interesting as well )… and there was a moment that I was almost going to say yes… but then I heard the voice of “reason” (my wife) in my head telling me “don’t you dare”…

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  1. Your awesomeness knows no bounds…always so wonderfully interesting and amusing and charming…what beautiful works of art…and your son is the icing on the cake…children are just so inquisitive and fun–great role-models for us all…thanks for sharing…you always make me smile 🙂

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  2. Catherine, Thank you so much… you are so correct in stating that so much is being “side-lined” and even forgotten because of our modern society… I love trying to rediscovery old ways… and reconnecting to our past (like my grandmother… she was beautiful)


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