Intro to Cyanotypes: Creating Beautiful Botanical Prints with Ease | Sarah Rafferty | Skillshare

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Intro to Cyanotypes: Creating Beautiful Botanical Prints with Ease

teacher avatar Sarah Rafferty, Artist and Nature Lover

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      What the Heck is a Cyanotype


    • 3.

      Project Description


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Preparing Paper


    • 6.

      Drying Paper and Storage


    • 7.

      Choosing Plants


    • 8.

      Creating a Test Strip


    • 9.

      Exposing your Prints


    • 10.

      Wrap Up


    • 11.



    • 12.



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About This Class

Want to create beautiful prints using the power of the sun? Join me to learn how with cyanotypes!

In this class you will learn how to create a set of botanical prints using the oldest photographic printing method to date: cyanotype printing. I will walk you through the process, step-by-step so that you gain an understanding of both the process as well as the elements that contribute to a strong composition. You'll learn everything from:

  • Choosing the right supplies for the process
  • Preparing and drying your paper to set the foundation
  • Selecting your botanicals for your artwork
  • Exposing your prints to create the final piece

Whether you're completely new to the process or have some experience and want to learn a few tips and tricks, this class has got something for you.

Meet Your Teacher

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Sarah Rafferty

Artist and Nature Lover

Top Teacher

Hi, I'm Sarah!

I am an artist, a nature lover, lifelong maker, and the owner of Atwater Designs, a cyanotype design studio that creates original cyanotypes, fine art prints and paper goods, as well as textiles and wallpaper. After teaching for 16 years in the traditional classroom I decided to take AD full-time, sharing the beauty of this process with the world. I love working with my students whether online or in-person and I am passionate about sharing what I know with you!

My exploration of nature is an ever-evolving attempt to dissect what is happening with the changing of the seasons and how they can relate to communication - basically I am obsessed with being outside! I call the Brandywine Valley in southeastern PA my home with my husband, dog and cat. 

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1. Introduction: I love nature and being outside is such a joy and such a peaceful part of my life. Hi, I'm Sarah, and together we will be creating blue and white botanical prints using the oldest, the photographic process we called, the cyanotype. My journey in art and nature have always been intertwined. It started with my dad. He taught me everything he knows about plants, mostly from the garden, but really ventured into being outside and exploring nature together. Because of my love of nature and my love of art, I started a business called Atwater designs three years ago. I have had the privilege of being featured in numerous magazines. My designs appear on fabric, wallpaper, wrapping paper, greeting cards, and many more. My work gets to be in the homes of many people around the globe, creating peace in their homes that remind them of the magic of being outside. In this class, I'm going to take you step-by-step in order to create the most beautiful cyanotype prints. I will help you to tear paper, coat paper store it appropriately and then find the perfect specimens to create your prints from. I am so excited to help you learn how to create that perfect Prussian blue print. You're going to enjoy this class, if you love being outside in nature, if you love art, if you love creativity, we just like just like trying something new. It's also totally kid friendly, so bring your kids along. The project for this class is to create a set of cyanotypes. I can't wait to see what cyanotype you create in your set. You can design postcards, reading cards, or original prints that you're going to hang on your wall. 2. What the Heck is a Cyanotype: In this lesson, we're going to talk a little bit about the history of the cyanotype. What the heck is a cyanotype anyway? Here are some examples of some cyanotypes that I've created that are blue and white botanical prints. Now, a cyanotype is always a blue and white print. You can use lots of different materials to create a cyanotype. But in this class we're going to go over botanicals. Have you ever been so taken by something in nature that you want to capture it? That you want to maybe study it or bring it home to remember? I feel like this all the time. I'm constantly collecting and curating and photographing because I just love being outside. I love all of the things that nature provides me, mostly a feeling of peace and belonging. When I came across the cyanotype process, I just instantly fell in love. Sometimes a photo just doesn't quite do it. I'm always taking pictures of things in nature, but sometimes I want to capture a more poetic feeling of being outside. Cyanotypes help preserve natural elements in a slightly different way than a photograph. Enter the cyanotype. Let's break it down. This word is often mispronounced. I like to break this down into the two parts of the word. Cyan is blue. Cyan is the same word used in the CMYK color profile that you might have heard before for printing or for newspaper printing, offset printing. C is for cyan, M is for magenta, Y is for yellow and K is for black. Just remember cyan as blue and then you'll remember how to pronounce that. Then type is print. Essentially this word means blue print. The cyanotype, or the blueprint, was founded in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, mainly as a way of reproducing documents, which we now refer to as blueprints. He spent extensive time making copies of various documents that needed reproduction. It was like an early Xerox machine. About a year later, a friend of Hershel named Anna Atkins was experimenting with the process as a way of recording seaweed and algae for scientific research that would then serve as visuals for the book by William Harvey. She then went on to record many different kinds of plants, seaweeds, algae's, ferns, flowers, and has a library of beautiful cyanotypes. One of which is this seaweed, and it is stunning. Her work is gorgeous and she's an inspiration to many of us who use the cyanotype technique. The cyanotype today is a little different. Since Atkins the cyanotype has gone in and out of popularity with a recent surge in creative experimentation, mostly through photography programming and classes like Skill Share and the sharing that often occurs via the internet, mainly Instagram. Now that you know a little bit more about the history of the cyanotype, be inspired. You can go ahead and look on Google, Pinterest, and search the web for other cyanotypes images. But remember, be inspired by them, but don't copy. The world really needs your individual voice. In the next lesson, I'm going to describe the project in detail. I'll see you there. 3. Project Description: For this class, we are going to be creating a set of cyanotypes, meaning eight of the same size print. In order to do that, you want to make sure that all of your paper is the same size, which we will go over in the paper prep section. Think about how all of these cyanotypes will work together as a set of greeting cards, maybe of postcards you want to send it to friends and family, or prints that you would include on a gallery wall in your living room. There are tons of different ways and tens of different sizes for this project. Be creative, but take a little bit of time before you get started to think about what set you want to create. Now that you know the project in more detail, we're going to get started by prepping our paper to make cyanotypes. 4. Materials: Now that we've learned a little bit about the history of the cyanotype, we're going to talk about the materials you need to create one. I'm going to walk you through all of the materials that you'll need to get. You'll need to get brushes, you can use foam, plain paintbrush, a Japanese brush, or really any kind of brush that you would like to see those kinds of brushstrokes when you brush the chemical onto the paper. In addition to the brushes, you're going to need good thick paper. I recommend a 120 pound or 90 pound printmaking paper. I really, really love bright white Stonehenge paper, but you can go with any kind of watercolor. The thicker the better because it really holds up in the water gouache, which we'll learn about when we head outside. Then the next part that you're going to need are the cyanotype A and B. This is the Jacquard cyanotype kit. You can get it on Amazon, you can get on at Dick Blick. You can see my resources list for links to where to purchase. It's really, really easy to use. You just get it in the mail and then it comes and you add water and shake it up, and it's all good to go. In addition to this cyanotype solution, you're going to need something to measure the solution with. I prefer to use this old beaker. You can tell how well loved it is, but you could also just use a tablespoon or a small measuring cup at home. I also have used when I'm creating a lot of cyanotypes or a big one, a fourth of a cup measure. Anything where you can just measure one to one ratio. Now that you have some history of the cyanotype and you're gathering your materials list, you'll be ready to go. Let's get started. 5. Preparing Paper: In this lesson, you're going to learn how to tear your paper to be the size that you want all of your prints to be. This is an important part of our project because the project that we're doing is a set. We're working on building a set of Cyanotypes types that are all the same size so that they go together. We can make postcards or you can make original prints that you could hang in a gallery wall. But the object is that we all have the same size print, so there's many, many to choose from. If you're tearing your paper, you can really choose whatever size you want. If you want it to be half the size or if you want to do lots of mini prints, it's all about folding and tearing paper. In this part I'm going to teach you how to tear paper so that you get that nice ruffled edge known as a decal. If you are one who wants to buy these things from scratch, the links are in the resource guide and materials list provided at the bottom of the screen. I recommend that you buy large sheets of printmaking paper. They're available at Dick Blick or off of several other websites that I mentioned in the list. You'll get a big sheet of paper and from that sheet, you'll tear into whatever size you wish. This is one section of the tear. Each edge of that paper comes already pre-decaled but in order to get something that matches that, we wouldn't want to just cut it with scissors, we want to make sure that it gets that same rough edge. In order to do that, you can fold your paper in half, creasing with your fingernail, and then pull the sheet apart. That gives you a rough edge. But you could also do this by measuring using a ruler to get exactly the right size. In this case, I want an 8 by 10 sheet. I'm going to make small marks at the eighth and then take my ruler, line it up on the little hash marks I've created and tear up making sure that I have even pressure on the ruler. That then creates a nice rough edge so that every edge looks more decaled. The key is to get enough paper that you have a lot to coat, so that you can coat all of your paper using the cyanotype solution and there you have a lot to work with. One of the things that happens with cyanotypes is, you're going to mess up, something's not going to turn out and you want to make sure that you have more than enough. I usually start with a nice stack of paper in the kit. You have 10 sheets of paper and we're going to work to coat 10 of them in this lesson. Now we're going to mix the solution and coat each piece of paper. You'll need a dark space for each paper to dry, because I prefer to coat these at night and then let them dry overnight to just ensure that they are really, really dry. I don't like to rush the drying process, although if you really, really want to, you can try to dry it with a hairdryer. I'm going to put 50 percent part A. It's a 1-1 ratio, and then 50 percent B. Again, 1-1 ratio, mix it up and pour it into our nice flat dish, just like a cooking show. Then this is a really important piece of coating your paper. A lot of people tend to dip their brush once or twice and then just go straight to the paper. But you really need to make sure that it's saturated. There is a fine line between the right amount and a little too much or little, too little. This is what you want to see, a nice, even coating. You want to do this relatively quickly. This I would call done. Then I'm going to move that out and go to the next sheet of paper. Again, let me show you. I'm coating using up and down strokes in a nice-even but pretty thin coating. You don't want to pull your chemicals and you don't really want to put too much, too many brushstrokes all at once. You can re-dip your brush. In order to get the project to really feel like it goes together for our project gallery, you want to do similar brushstrokes on each and every piece. As you can see here, I'm doing a little bit of brushy strokes here and here. But it's like pretty even. But I'm leaving a slight white edge, a border. You can choose to paint your solution all the way to the edge, creating the blue all the way to that decal, that can have a really nice effect. If you want to do that, I suggest doing that on all 10 sheets so that they match. The key here is matching each brushstroke to the next one for this particular lesson so that all of your prints go together. [MUSIC]. As this sheet is drying, you can see that it's really even, there's not a lot of differentiation between the top and the bottom or the middle. Some common mistakes when coating paper. First one is pooling. You can see right here that a common mistake is when people put too much of the cyanotype solution onto the paper. That's really not good for the exposure part of the cyanotype. Another common mistake is that people don't put enough solution on the brush, and what you get is sort of a dry, streaky look. That just doesn't work for what you really want, that nice-even coating. Be sure to get your coating right there in the happy medium. Not too much and not too little. I recommend coating all of your paper all at once. I like to do this because you really get into a rhythm with the brush and you really get into a rhythm of having them look the same so that you're getting that real feel for a set. But if you only want to do a certain amount, it's totally fine if you wanted to just use part of the solution and then put the rest away into a small light, tight bottle, something where light isn't really going to see it. But I personally think it's easier to just use all of the solution up at once and coat all of your sheets at once. Because the good thing is once they're dry, you can just store them in a drawer or a black bag or something that where there's not a lot of light that comes through. You could just store them for several days, weeks. You can even store pre-coated paper for a month or two, as long as there's no light getting into it. Now, that you've coated all of the paper for the project, I want to make sure that we also include a few test strips for our exposure time outside. A test strip is something that will help us to get the right time for the amount of sunshine that we have in our given environments. In order to do this, just tear a nice skinny strip and coat with a simple line of solution. I'll tell you more about the test strip when we get outside. To recap this lesson, you learned how to tear paper if you're going to work from large sheets and how to coat the paper so that it's even and makes for a perfect cyanotype ready to go once it's dried. In the next lesson, you're going to learn how to properly dry your paper and we're going to talk a little bit more about pre-coating and storage of that paper. 6. Drying Paper and Storage: Now that we've coded the paper with the cyanotype solution and let it dry overnight in a dark space, it's time to store your paper before we go outside and get started with plants. In order to store your paper properly, you want to make sure that you use a light tight container of some kind. When I say light tight, I mean, something that light cannot pass through. I like to use a black photographic bag, but in the event that you don't have one of those, no problem, you can also use a black trash bag, a grocery bag like a trader Joe's kraft grocery bag or a box that light can't get through. Stack your paper up and put the top sheet face down on top of the other sheets so that all of the solution sides are facing one another and no solution side is facing out. That way, it's just an extra precaution to make sure light doesn't get through. In the next lesson, I'm going to show you all the materials that we need outside before we get started actually creating the cyanotype. 7. Choosing Plants: Now that we're outside, we're going to make sure that we have all the materials ready to go for creating your actual cyanotype. The first thing that you'll want is clippers in order to clip your plant materials, you can also use scissors, just a plain old pair scissors will do just fine. Twine to set up a line so that you can hang your wet prints to dry. Then you'll need some clothes pins in order to hang them. You could also use binder clips or anything really that can secure your print to the line. Next, you'll need glass. I prefer to use two pieces of glass to sandwich the paper and the plants so that they don't blow away in the wind. Then during washout you'll need something in order to wash the print. You can use an old Tupperware bin, a cake pan, a brownie pan, or anything from your kitchen. We love to bake. I prefer an old photographic pan because I have a lot of them lying around. One of the things that people tend to get a little confused about when making cyanotypes is choosing exactly a plant that will help the cyanotype look the best. People often look at plants like this and think that would be so cool because you can see all those veins. But a cyanotype doesn't really function that way. It captures the silhouette of the plant. You'll get a big white blob on your paper. This leaf, it doesn't really do the job. We want to look for things that are more variegated like a fern. There's lots of space in between each one of these. Some columbine is also a good plant to use. Grasses tend to be awesome because there's so much variation in each one of the little stalks. I also have this great vase full of plants that are perfect for cyanotypes because of how variegated they are. When you choose your plant, you want to make sure that you choose something that isn't too full and heavy, and you want to make sure that there's lots of room for empty space so that the plant shows all of those different variations. Now that you know the difference between what not to choose and things to choose that are a little bit more variegated. Now you want to compose your image before you actually start. I like to compose inside typically, because then you're not in a hurry for the sun. But because we're outside, we're just going to go for it out here. I really love the way that this bachelor button looks so free and open, and so I would start to lay it out and see what it looks like on the paper or the glass before I actually do the print. I would do that here, take a few things, maybe clip one part off, clip another part off. Then you can curate your plant so that it comes out more the way that you want it to look than just sticking a plant on there and just hoping for the best. Have fun with the actual composition part. That's going to get you a much better print. 8. Creating a Test Strip: Now that we're ready to get to work outside, we're going to get our test strip out. Remember when we were upstairs and we were talking about the test strip, the long skinny piece that was going to be used in order to capture what amount of time we need to expose our prints for? That's what we're going to do first. You're going to take your long skinny sheet, make sure it's face down so it doesn't get exposed and then find something that's pretty solid. I'm going to use this bachelor button because it's just a long solid, all the same and it's going to fit my paper pretty well. I'm going to put that down onto my test strip, cover with glass to make sure it doesn't blow away, and then I'm going to take it out into the sun and I'm going to expose it just one minute at a time in increments so that we can see exactly how much time we need in order to expose and get the print just right. Now that we're ready to expose the test strip, the reason that we create a test strip is so that you can get an exact amount of time for each print that you create. When you create a test strip, we are going to make one minute exposures. I use my phone as the timer. Each minute builds on the next minute, showing us an incremental change and from that we can pick exactly the time that's right for our environment. My environment's going to be different than someone else's environment who lives in Arizona. So it's really important that we be aware of what your sunshine is, what time of day you're exposing your prints, and make sure that that time gets as correct as possible for the outcome. Once you do your minute increments, we're going to wash it out and then from that washed out print, we're going to make sure that we choose the time that's correct for us. I usually make one test strip and then I do my prints within an hour or two of that test strip. I don't need to make a test strip every single time. One minute's up. Next one. You can see the difference here. This part has been exposed and this part is fresh. We're going to keep seeing that line. I'm just using a piece of cardboard. You can use a piece of black paper, you could use a manila folder. You can use anything that's pretty opaque, lying around the house. You can even use a book. It doesn't really matter, just something that's going give you a nice straight line across. One of the most important things is to just make sure that you're going to get the correct exposure for wherever you are in the world. We're at the last increment, and you can really see the difference between what's been unexposed and what's been exposed by the sun. Those lines will help us determine what our time will be once we do the washout. Right here you can see this section is going to be a different time because of this line. The further down the test strip, it gets harder to tell the difference. But in the washout, we'll be able to decipher the lines a little bit more clearly. Our time is up and we are going to now switch this to the water bath. I take the plant off. You can see where it hasn't been exposed and the places that it has. Now I'm going to take our test strip and I'm going to submerge it into the water bath and move it gently around by the edges. I prefer to move it kind and down so that the solution of the cyanotype that hasn't been exposed, gets washed away and it falls to the bottom of the water. You can really start to see here when it hasn't been exposed, it just becomes really light, and this part of the solution will essentially just wash away. But the longer it's exposed, you can see the richness of the blue come through. We know that a minute is not long enough. I would even say two minutes is not long enough. But between three, four, and five minutes, that's our golden time. In order to know exactly how long to wash out, the most important thing is that when you bring the paper out, it drips clean, that it doesn't drip that yellowy solution that wasn't exposed. When it's still dripping yellowy solution, you'll know that's not fully washed out and you'll want to make sure to keep washing. This one looks pretty good. 9. Exposing your Prints: Our test strip worked perfectly. We need to expose this print in our conditions for five minutes. So I'm going to compose my image with the flowers that I've chosen and then I'm going to set my print out for five minutes. The composition of the plant, that's really the most important part. What I was saying before. If you want to do this part inside first, you can go ahead and do that inside. It's really important that you try to take your time. If you're comfortable and you have one leaf and you put it down, go ahead and do it outside. If you want to do it, you could do it in the shade and then bring it out into the direct sunlight. I am choosing several different flowers that have lots of variation and then I'm going to put the glass right over top, smoosh those flowers down, give it a little push. That helps flattened everything out. Then I'm going to move this from the shade into the direct sunlight. Since we have established that our test strip looks the best at five minutes, we're going to expose our footprint at five minutes. I use the timer on my phone, I set it and then just let it bake. When you watch it bake, you can see the change occur on the paper. It goes from a yellow to a more bluish teal. There's almost a silvery color to it, like a gray. So by the time the five minutes is up, you'll be able to tell that your print is generally ready. Make sure that in your area that you do the time that was right on your test strip. Our five minutes is up and we're going to remove the glass and get our water bath ready. I'm going to take the plants off of the paper and submerge it into the water and give it a nice shape just like we did with the test strip. You can start to see that unexposed part of the paper come through. That's the yellow of the solution that hasn't been exposed yet. I like to give it a nice little gentle tap. Just like our test strip, once the print goes from the yellow of the solution to the white of the paper, that's when you really know that it's pretty much washed completely. Sometimes this takes a while and sometimes it does takes a few minutes. But I prefer to leave it face down and give it a few taps before I really call it done or ready. I'm going to do the same thing with this print as I did with my test strip and just make sure that it runs clean. Once we take our prints out of the water, you're going to put them on the line with using your clothes pins and just let them hang dry until the paper is no longer wet at all. When you hang your print dry with the clothes pin, it doesn't really matter where you put your clothes pin, you can really just hang it anywhere. 10. Wrap Up: Now that you've exposed your prints and they're hanging to dry, now is time to reflect on what we've just done. Things to remember: Make sure that your plants are really well considered before you make your print. That's the most important part of creating a synotype. Also, make sure you have your paper ready to go. Because this is a quick process, you want to make sure you have all that ready. One last thing to remember is always change your water. You don't want to just keep washing and washing in the same water bath. You want to make sure that it's good, fresh, clean water, so access to a hose can be really helpful. Most importantly, have fun. Now that we're done with the washout of each print, we're going to leave them to hang in the sun so that they can dry completely before we bring them inside. When we bring them inside, we're going to make sure that they're ready to go and that your project is complete so that you can put your finished images into the project gallery. I can't wait to see what you create. 11. Conclusion: Now that we have concluded this class on how to create blue and white botanical prints using the oldest photographic process called the Cyanotype , were ready to upload your project to the project gallery. We've gone through step-by-step on how to create a Cyanotype. We've learned how to tear paper, making sure that it's all the right size for our particular set of prints that were making. We've learned how to coat paper so that it's just the right amount so that you get that perfect Prussian blue during exposure. We've learned how to make a test strip. We've learned how to compose an image thoughtfully and how to develop that image. We've learned how to hang your prints to dry. I hope you've gotten to spend some time outdoors connecting with nature and getting creative with this process. I can't wait to see the sets of botanical prints that you've created until next time, I'll see you on Instagram. 12. Bloopers: Hi. My name is Sarah. You got it. I love nature. At water designs is a cyanotype studio and we create, and even wallpaper. With my love of nature and my love of art, I didn't create, I started. The first thing you're going to need is clippers or scissors in order to. Okay. I'll start again. We're done outside and we're going to make sure that everything is dry. We can take them inside and we'll finish our project to complete the project. What is it called? We'll complete the project. Let's start from the very beginning. Okay. I had everything else so ready, but I didn't practice this. Now, we have concluded this class called.