Cyanotypes by the river

There are two aspects I love most about art. First is the process, more so than the finished work. I lose myself in exploring, experimenting, trying, failing and succeeding. You probably know this already. I’m indeed an artistic Jill-of-all-trades so to speak. Usually when I’m in the zone I’ll narrate to myself out loud too while I go along – I adopt a kind of Delia Smith cooking voice. No idea why.

The second is making work directly outside in nature. In short, nothing beats being completely absorbed by this creative flow while connecting to something much bigger. The very thing that inspires me. Besides, outdoors really is the best artist’s studio of all.

A few days ago I went down to the river with a heavy backpack, a rough plan and a dog I should have left at home. My river has been super important to me over the past year. As I’m recovering and building my strength and life, I’ve begun to notice just how fundamental art is to both this AND how I coped with cancer. I’m still very much a work in progress in this respect. But I will say this, art has been as crucial to me as the conventional treatments and integrative medicine and self-care on my journey, and this is definitely shaping my future.

Anyway, back to the river. I’m still working on my Prussian Blue project, but I’ve also been thinking of other things to try. I made cyanotypes three plus years ago, but that was working with digital negatives. This time I wanted to work more directly with the water itself; attempt to capture and distill the movement and light.

The day before I prepped the various papers with the cyanotype chemicals, popped them in an old photo-paper lightproof bag to keep them safe overnight. Thankfully the next day was a beautiful sunny, peaceful one. At the river I tried first sealing the paper in a cellophane bag with duct tape and putting it in the water.

But trying to get the paper into the cellophane, then sealing it with duct tape was a real pain. I wasn’t quite happy with the results either as the light didn’t pass through as well as I hoped. Washing the paper in the river was lovely, though. Meanwhile, Delia was chatting away while I problem solved.

So next I decided to see what would happen if I just put the paper directly into the edges of the water. Let the water lap, let the leaves, gravel, stones and debris create the images without too much intervention from me. Although the dog trod on one of them. But that actually created some interesting detail with the disturbed grit. Oh and and a mozzie landed on another, shortly before biting me on my builder’s bumcrack. Note to self: Put repellent in the backpack too.


A handful of the cyanotypes didn’t work out too great. Mainly either wrong choice of paper or underexposure gave me weak results. But most of them did work out good. These initial experiments have me pretty excited to continue seeing what other possibilities there are out there. I love the subtle shifting tones, gradations and random chance element. And of course, the process.

cyanotypes collage

Since then I’ve been back to the river with some different papers, a different stretch of the water, and at a different time of day. I’ve learnt some new tricks and come up against some new problems but I’m enjoying myself hugely and I’ll update again soon with how the project is progressing.