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Discover the Wet Cyanotype Process with H. Lisa Solon

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Known for my botanicals in cyanotype, I have recently been inspired to break the rules of this 175 year old process and wet my prints before exposure. Primarily using water, although I've grabbed a variety of spray bottles from my studio with all sorts of cleansers in them, I create images with an ethereal quality that capture the feeling of the sea or the night sky. I have titled this ongoing series Water Garden. The unwashed prints, the just washed prints and the dry prints each have a unique feeling. Pushing the boundaries of the cyanotype process has opened up a host of new possibilities for me. I hope this guide inspires you to do your own experiments. Have fun!

Here's my step-by-step process for making a “Wet Cyanotype” (with notes on variations):

1. Prepare Photographers Formulary original cyanotype dry chemistry according to the directions. Let cure 24 hours or more.

2. Coat watercolor paper (or your favorite paper or fabric with a good amount of cotton fiber in it) using a hake brush and force dry with a hand held hair dryer. Feel free to break these “rules” and dilute your chemistry, use another kind of brush, and/or let the paper dry overnight in a dark place. I have found that air drying the paper and letting it age for a few weeks can create more color shifts. Older paper also seems to offer interesting results.

3. Place coated paper on the base you will expose it on and spray it with a bit of water. It is this addition of water that makes it a “wet cyanotype” . You could brush the water on, wet the base or the back of the paper or even not dry the cyanotype chemistry completely.


4. Place a leaf or a negative on the treated paper. (Be careful with your negatives. When I tried using my digital negatives printed on Pictorico OHP it was stained by this process.) I use a fresh leaf directly from my garden but you could use a wet plant, wet a dry plant, wet the side of the negative that will touch the treated paper, etc. The moisture content of the plant influences the result, younger plants have more moisture as will those after heavy rain.

5. Cover with glass. Or plexiglas, or wet the cover, or don't cover it at all. You could try spraying it again with water or only partially cover it. Take the whole idea down to the seaside, lake or river and try it there, just be mindful of the environmental impacts.

6. Place in the sun for about an hour, this varies based on where you are working. A light box works as well. I have tried leaving the print out for several hours to days, in the sun, rain, night, etc. but I am usually too impatient for that.

7. Remove the cover and the plant and behold the exposed but unwashed image!

8. Wash in gently running water for 5 minutes, marveling at the color when it first hits the wash and when it is done washing.

9. Let dry and smile!

You can see more of my work on my Instagram feed @hlisasolon and my website: www.hlisasolon.com

Please check out #wetcyan and the marvelous work of these folks on Instagram: @lindaclarkjohnson, @kristamccurdy, @molliebosworth, @atwaterdesigns, and @cholena_artist. 

I am sure Anna Atkins and Sir John Herschel are proud!

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