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What's your Cyanotype?

In our first painting of 2023 I will introduce you to the 'photographic' process known as Cyanotype. This early form of photocopying uses sunlight to develop the image. So in this Artist Master Class I will show you how to achieve a similar look just using watercolour!

This beautiful medium has been used within art and industry since it was invented in the 1840's. The process (also known as a blueprint) involves coating paper (or other surface) with a combination of chemicals which are UV sensitive. Once dried, your 'image' (this could be a natural form, object or even photographic negative) is placed on top and exposed to sunlight (similar to a sun print). When the image is developed (by washing the surface), the areas that remained exposed to the sun develop into a deep blue colour and the areas which remained covered (by the image) appear white. The image that is produced is a bit like an X-Ray mixed with a negative.


In our watercolour version we will recreate the look of a Cyanotype using paint rather than chemicals. We will use a combination of Prussian Blue (the synthetic colour used as part of the Cyanotype process) and masking fluid (to reserve the image). We will work in layers building up the shapes and values using natural forms as out inspiration ~ but you could use an image. Take a look at this short teaser video to find out more.



The thing I love about Cyanotype is the slightly ethereal feel, as the image created is like a negative silhouette, but in some cases (depending on the exposure length and the image used) there are also slightly blurred, paler blue areas and edges. This creates a striking image where the pale shapes contrast with the deep Prussian Blue.

From researching the Cyanotype process, I discovered that the distinctive Prussian Blue was actually the colour used by Japanese Woodblock artist Hokusai ~ known for the iconic 'Great Wave', which is one of my favourite images. Perhaps this is why I like Cyanotypes too!




If you love the colour too, you might like to find out more about how it was accidentally invented by two German alchemists when they were actually trying to make Florentine Lake ~ a red colour. The Blue which resulted was found to be non-toxic and light stable. This invention of Prussian Blue was a real breakthrough as there was now an inexpensive way to create a deep blue paint (Lapis Lazuli was used previously in the creation of blue pigments including Ultramarine). Consequently this new colour was seized upon by artists, industry and scientists alike. If you would like to find out more about this amazing colour, its history and its uses visit this fab website: https://www.artinsociety.com/prussian-blue-and-its-partner-in-crime.html you'll discover how it has been used in medicine and even its more sinister use in the creation of Cyanide!


Once you have discovered the technique behind the watercolour cyanotypes, you can use the same techniques to create a range of different images ~ you don't have to limit yourself to using natural forms. Let your imagination go wild and discover other themes or items you could use.


And if you fancy having a go at the real thing you can pick up Cyanotype starter kits. I've just purchased one from Cyanotype.co.uk and can't wait to give it a try and see what it can do!


Happy New Year & Happy Painting!

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