a place for the curious

Tag: cyanotypes

Staying blue

two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?

The well

a mountain in cyan blue

Dark and brooding:
Curman’s Los Molinos

I’m occasionally surprised by how dark my storytelling can be. As often as not, I’m happier when I write about a brooding, towering mountain than a little, yellow duck. When I open the big book of writing, there’s often a dank, mossy well to draw from. It’s deep and it’s far from pretty.

I sometimes wonder where my ideas come from, but I really haven’t a clue. I doubt anyone does. I guess it’s a matter of ‘take life, stir and turn up the heat’. What boils over isn’t reality. It’s something else and when it arrives it’s barely controlled. It’s easy to go too dark. Just as it’s easy to get too silly.  However good or bad I am at this, I know that telling stories isn’t merely about trying to come up with ideas. It’s about control. Watch the beast grow, give it a name in the night and see it come to life. A realistic life. Does it look real? Can you smell it? Taste it? Touch it?

If you can you see the strings, I’ve probably done it wrong.

Every creative endeavour seems to be a little like this. There’s a freedom and beauty to creativity, but there’s also a lot of precision. Capturing the moment just once might take no effort. But do it again. And again. That’s what they call practice. Ultimately, it’s also a fine-tuned level of control.

Next time the ideas come calling, be they dark, be they feathered, be they scaled, I’ll be there. And one day perhaps I’ll even be ready.

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