Cyanotypes – making paper negatives

•September 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I have written before about Cyanotypes, particularly about processes.

While waiting for a new box of acetate sheets , which I normally use as digital negatives, I explored the use of paper negatives.

The process is straightforward and gives peoiple more flexibility when using different domestic printers, as some printers are not ‘acetate friendly’.

Firstly, produce a digital negative, by inverting your image and flipping horizontally using photoshop or gimp:

the result can be printed as usual.


The digital negative

spray olive

Oil (olive in this case) is rubbed on the back of the neagtive to make the paper translucent.

Baby oil and other oils may also be used -just experiment!


After spraying I gently smoothed the paper to allow complete and even coverage.

Surprisingly the paper does not stay too oily -in this case it becomes quite dry. Some people use white bees wax as an alternative, but I did not find it so easy to apply.


The negative was used to expose on sensitised paper and the result then washed.


The final print – a little underexposed. This is common while experimenting. The oiled paper negative does not allow so much UV in as an acetate negative and you may have to allow up to 4 times the exposure time as an acetate negative.


The paper negative


Paper negative ‘oiled’ and ready for exposing in the sun on sensitised paper.


The result, still a little under exposed. Still experimenting with times as each negative has different qualities and allows different amounts of UV light.

Worth trying!

Processes such as the above, will be further explained during the exhibition of cyanotypes between 24th and 28th September 2015 , where there will be workshops and demonstrations.

Viewing the Blues

•August 5, 2015 • 1 Comment


Viewing the Blues will be exhibited on 24th-27th September 2015.


What was the origin of the exhibition?

My love of Blues music was the starting point (notice the blog posts on this site).


Secondly –  the origins of the Blues, starting in West Africa, through slavery and past emancipation.


Thirdly – the cross-over, after emancipation , to new opportunities for -ex-slaves, to develop and enjoy their music (see Juke joints etc).


Fourthly –  the interaction between ex-slaves and new indentured labourers (mainly coming from the Indian sub-continent).


Fifthly –  my interst in photography,particularly image making using the cyanotype and anthotype processes.


Sixthly  – Sita Harris, my talented wife, invited me to join her in the same space as her exhibition of watercolours

and her website:


The content of my exhibition will focus on three dimensions:

i. Slavery and emancipation



The slave trade was driven by a huge demand for agricultural labour. Whether it was the USA, the Caribbean or the Indian Ocean islands, plantations of sugar, tobacco and cotton enslaved thousands of mainly African peoples to a life of hardship and sometimes beatings and particularly harsh punishment.


on paper


on cloth


ii. Blues  and blues musicians

Blues music has its roots in Africa, in the sounds that travelled the slave ships and that evolved during the black people’s struggle in the Americas.

Beginning in the seventeenth century and extending into the nineteenth century after emancipation, the unaccompanied vocal music and call and response singing that slaves brought from West Africa meshed with a variety of other elements –including European church music, popular minstrel songs ragtime music to create this new sound that came to be known as the blues.





toned print


Maybe our forefathers couldn’t keep their language together when they were taken away, but this-the blues –was a language we invented to let people know that we had something to say. And we have been saying it pretty strongly ever since.

BB KING at Lagos University , Nigeria 1973.

Bending the Blues The King


iii.Indentured labour, mainly in the Indian diaspora




It was slavery that brought West African people to the Americas, brought their music , language and song.

It was slavery that forced these West Africans to keep some semblage of culture by using it in their field hollers and call and response singing.

It was  emancipation that allowed these same people to join together in Juke joints and enjoy playing and singing music that had roots in a number of West African countries.

It was emancipation that brought indentured labourers to work on sugar and cotton plantations.


The exhibition starts to weave these connections together.

During the afternoons of 27th and 28th September there will be two hour workshops on the cyanotype process.

Participants will learn about cyanotypes by making their own. If they are pleased with their work they can frame their work of art on site.

Each workshop costs £5 which includes the cost of the sun printing light sensitive paper. This will cover the costs of two pieces of sun print (cyanotype) paper, per participant. Email to reserve your place with your name and phone number.


Notes on the Cyanotype process

Cyanotypes were discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and are created using a solution of iron compounds to produce a cyan blue print. A variety of effects can be achieved by varying the substrate (watercolour, cartridge, cotton cloth) the amount of sensitiser , time under UV and toning.

Initially the process was used for reproducing diagrams (coining the term “blueprint”) and was only later used for photography. One of the first people to use cyanotypes for photographic printing was Anna Atkins who produced the first photographic book of cyanotype prints in 1843.

Paper, card, cloth, glass or any other naturally absorbent material is coated with the Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate and dried in the dark. Objects or negatives are placed on the material and exposed under UV light and processed by rinsing in water to remove the unreacted iron solution.

Cyanotypes and ‘Alternative’ photographic processes.


Alternative processes have a lot to offer in terms of creative freedom, experimentation and beauty. The subtleties offered in tonal variation within blues and after toning, browns and even pinks make each print unique.

I have made them the foundation of my image making as a photographer and teacher.

As well as cyanotypes I have experimented with Anthotypes (using plant and fruit extracts as sensitisers) and the use of recycled materials.

The final image, its beauty and its mystery, can be the objective but personally I also find the practical process, involving experimentation, particularly satisfying.

Some background to the Cyanotype process:


You may have missed the exhibition at the Barbican -but get inspired by watching this:

Cyanotype toning: Wine Tannin

•August 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Originally posted on MP Photography:

It probably looks like I have an obsession with toning – I don’t.  Not really.  Among all the reasons that I love working with cyanotype, the bright blue color isn’t one of them.  So, I have to tone my images.  Though I like the shades of black/brown/purple that I get from toning, I’m always looking for a toner that won’t stain the paper and ruin my highlights.   

So far, I’ve been pleased with basic toners like green tea, coffee, and black tea.  Tannic acid works well – when I can get it to work.  It’s also expensive.  I don’t use tannic acid much these days.  The biggest problem with all of these toners is they all stain the paper really badly, tannic acid a little less. 

I’m happy to say that my recent test of Wine Tannin looks good.  I won’t say it’s the holy grail of cyanotype toning, but it barely stained…

View original 407 more words


•July 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Now in its third year INTERNATIONAL BLUES MUSIC DAY  will be celebrated across the globe on August 1st 2015.


A day for the international community to unite in celebration of the blues, including it’s many icons, legends & pioneers & to help elevate & support the vast pool of modern day blues artists & practitioners around the world”     
Johnny Childs – Director IBMD



Celebrate and Educate – everyday!

Ornette Coleman and the art of improvisation

•June 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last week blues guitarist BB King passed away , this week, it is another great –Ornette Coleman, jazz saxophonist.



Having bought his first saxophone with money he had earned from shining shoes, Coleman learned to play it as if it were a toy.

“I didn’t know you had to learn to play,” he told the Guardian.

“I didn’t know music was a style and that it had rules and stuff, I thought it was just sound. I thought you had to play to play, and I still think that.”

This is the approach Coleman had and was a fundamental attitude that led him to be such a great innovator and improvisor.

If there is one joy when you hear jazz,it is through the power of  improvisation.


Ornette Coleman Trio 1966


The free flow of connected and sometimes even unconnected sounds, in response  to one of your fellow musicians.

It is the wonder of creativity that if you are watching live,means that you are witnessing something that has never been heard before, and if not recorded at the time, may never be heard in thesame way again.

Such is the power of improvisation.


one quote tells it all:

In 1986, the guitarist Pat Metheny recounted the experience of playing alongside Coleman in full improvisatory flow:

““The challenge in this situation is that sometimes Ornette plays and stops, then I have to play.

The other night in Washington, we did this tune called Broadway Blues, and he played the most perfect musical statement I’ve ever heard.

I gave it my best, but I have no pretenses of improvising at that level.



……and what influenced him?

“Actually, when I was in elementary school, I saw a saxophone.

A band came to my school, and I saw this guy get up and play this solo.

And I said, ‘Oh man, what is that! That must be fantastic!’




In some ways, as educators, or parents, or friends, we must give as many opportunities to children to listen, to watch musicians and to experience playing an instrument to have the opportunity to be inspired.










A quote from Robert Wyatt:

 “What has always warmed my heart,” he writes, “has little to do with his influence on younger improvisors.

It is the timeless vocal beauty of the actual sequences of notes and phrases he could come up with, and the feeling of pure living joy of playing they can communicate.”


Cyanotypes – how blue can you get?

•March 21, 2015 • 1 Comment

Looking at other posts on my blog you can see I like the Blues! So working on cyanotypes allows me to extend my interpretation of blues :) As it is her birthday this week, let’s remember Anna Atkins, who was born 216 years ago and produced the first book to include ‘photographs’ which were in fact,cyanotypes. annaatkins algae2

Anna Atkins from her book  Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions ( October 1843) 


My first post on cyanotypes explored the range of possibilities for making and using cyanotypes; this post goes into more detail on making cyanotypes at home. fernblue1   The process, in its simplest form, is to mix two chemicals to produce a ‘sensitizer’ solution which is then coated on to paper -such as watercolour or cartridge paper. The image can be produced as a photogram -by putting objects onto the paper which will then mask parts of the paper and remain white while exposed areas will turn blue. The alternative is to make a digital negative (same size as the image that you want e.g. A4. What you need: A ‘sensitiser’ – for cyanotypes this is composed of two chemicals which can easily be bought online  and can be mixed at home. The two chemicals are Ammonium ferric citrate and Potassium ferricyanide ( also called  Potassium hexacyanidoferrate(II) ). Each chemical is mixed in water (ideally filtered ). mixing chemicals

Using a plastic pipette to mix small quantities of ‘sensitizer’. 

Once the sensitizer has been made (see below) paper, cloth and even wood can be coated to make it sensitive to UV light (the sun or other UV source such as UV tubes). What is helpful is that coating materials can be done under a household bulb (not a fluorescent tube) rather than a safe light. Dissolve the chemicals in water to make two separate solutions. Add Ammonium ferric citrate (25 grms) to 100 mls of  water into one container and Potassium ferricyanide (10 grms)  to 100 mls of  water in another. Stir with a plastic spoon until the chemicals dissolve. These two solutions when kept in brown bottles can last a few months. Of course , if you are unlikely to coat many sheets,then just halve the amounts noted above (which I normally do to keep the finished solution, i.e. the sensitiser, fresh.) Mix equal quantities of each solution together in a third container. Unused solutions can be stored separately in brown bottles away from light, but will not last very long once they have been mixed. Dispose of any unused chemicals in an  environmentally friendly way. Once you have coated the paper or other material ,  let it dry for  a few hours (although it is possible to use it straight away). To gain an image, the senistised material is left in the sun (or other UV source) for anything from a few minutes to half an hour depending on your position on the globe, the time of the year and the time of day. For example, in March at around 11.00 am at a latitude of 51 degrees N and 2 degrees W , exposure was between 8 and 12 minutes (see below). leafphotogram1

Photogram with leaves being exposed  in Spring sunshine for 10 minutes

    An image can also be  formed using a digital negative. eleneg1 An image was found,  adjusted in photoshop (can also use another program such as  GIMP  – www.gimp.org0.) ; and then inverted to produce a negative ( invert once you have adjusted contrast etc)  re-sized to fit an A4 sheet and printed on an acetate sheet ( overhead transparency sheet – £10 for 100 sheets approx.). If a digital negative is not used then objects, such as leaves or shells, can be used to  produce a photogram (as above with leaves). test strip ele It is a good idea to make a ‘test strip’ to understand the levels of UV at that particular time. Cover 3/4 of the image on first exposure , then uncover 1/4 every 3 minutes or so. Then you can calculate the best exposure time (12 mins was too much so 9 mins was chosen). ele exposed

Exposed image with digital negative (A4) at top left.

When the print has been exposed, process your print by rinsing it in cold water. The wash  removes any unexposed chemicals. The water will run yellow at first. washing cyan ele still   changeofcolour wash

Washing prints – water runs yellow at first.

Wash for at least 5 minutes, until all chemicals are removed and the water runs clear.   * Cotton cloth can be sensitised and processed in the same way as paper and is very effective.   cloth negexposed

Two negatives are placed on a piece of cotton cloth (A2 size approx.)

washing cyan cloth

After about 10 minutes exposure to Spring sunshine, the cloth is washed. Notice the yellow colour washing out.


    * cloth washing clear

The water is becoming clear after 5 minutes of washing.

The blue colour is accentuated as it is oxidised. The final print/cloth can now be left somewhere to dry (lie flat or hung using pegs). Frame the result or make a cushion cover!

Toning cyanotypes.

When you have explored the miriad of cyanotypes in all their subtle shades of blue, why not tone them brown? The process is another adventure in exploration. Some will say bleach first then tone, others say tone then bleach, others may say bleach, tone and then bleach again. Plenty to experiment with! The easiest and cheapest bleach is sodium carbonate (washing soda -not caustic soda!) – 1 teaspoon in a litre of water will do it. The cheapest toner is tea (black tea ,but can use green -just experiement) – put 5 or 6 teabags in warm water (if you are a tea lover -make your cups of tea and leave the part used bags in a jar for a day).

So, one method -bleach your cyanotype for 15-30 seconds. Now soak your print in the tea (should be dark brown) for about 15 minutes – can be more or less depending on the strength of your toner and the range of shades you want in your finished print. Dry and enjoy the toned print. toning 1 bl and br

The tea toned example (on right) with its blue ‘original’ (on left) before bleaching and toning.

Subtler shades of brown can be achieved with less toning and weaker solutions.

  Keep a notebook handy so that while experimenting you can decide on the optimal conditions for the tones that you desire. More to come on this one. Any questions?

Hubble – the last 25 years

•March 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

hubble 25


Forget men walking on the moon, the real news has come from Hubble.

If we did not have the cold war ,provoking US man agains Soviet man, we may have been able to focus on unmanned space exploration and spent the funds more effectively, in terms of  creating real and new knowledge.

Anyway lets celebrate 25 years of Hubble and marvel at the images that have taken us to the edge of the universe(s).

Planck_CMBfirst stars

images of the first stars and galaxies


and if you want to understand how they are discovering distant galaxies -watch this:




pillars of creation

Hubble launches its 25th anniversary celebration with new look at iconic “Pillars of Creation” image of the Eagle Nebula. The famous image was first released in 1995. This more-detailed depiction, captured by an instrument installed on the telescope in 2009, includes streamers of gas floating away from the columns and a jet-like feature that may have been ejected from a newborn star.




debris disk around starsHubble

Dust disk around a star.



Jupiter is in the news at present

jupiter jan 2015




jupiter moons

Jupiter’s moons in full view



spiral galaxy


At first glance, galaxy NGC 7714 resembles a partial golden ring. This unusual structure is a river of Sun-like stars that has been pulled deep into space by the gravitational tug of a bypassing galaxy (not visible in this Hubble Space Telescope photo). Though the universe is full of such colliding galaxies that are distorted in a gravitational taffy-pull, NGC 7714 is particularly striking for the seeming fluidity of the stars along a vast arc. The near-collision between the galaxies happened at least 100 million years ago.



orion nebula


A stunning image of the Orion Nebula



And what about this breath taking composite image of the Andromeda Galaxy

andromeda galaxy large



The largest #Hubble image ever assembled, this sweeping view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars. And, there are lots of stars in this image — over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.



Hubble Mania -a new competition from the Hubble site:

Thirty-two Hubble images. One champion. Who will win it all? Your votes will decide. In celebration of Hubble’s 25th anniversary, we’re pitting some of Hubble’s best images against each other in a single-elimination bracket. Your votes will determine the victors for each round. Download and fill out the bracket to predict which image you think will win each head-to-head matchup, and which will make it all the way through to the championship. Then come back and vote each week, starting on March 4 at 9 a.m. EST.

Some of the ‘competitors’

hubble saturn hubblenebula hubble mars hubble jupiter



1bea5923ca404c6316949113d1b50639 1bf632e9aa26a97f0d0e854ff3cb002a
1fc0e719986c2b1d237931224e7db7ba 3c4089b5151b273ee80a9937ea752110 04a883771af3e473c097b077bc7987f6 5bf311201f34e43a84a9ba84352693e5



Access the Hubble site and drift into space – it will make you feel humble!


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