May 15, 2014

Cyanotype Prints

A few months ago, I posted some images from an 1803 botanical text book. Here. I didn’t like the way they looked, and knowing that I can’t leave anything in its original state, I started playing with them on Photoshop. I hit some button or another, and the prints were magically transformed.

They went from this:
Botanical scan (5)
to this:
Botanical scan (5x)

I inverted the colours, so the blacks and greys turned into whites and light blues, and the pale yellow background turned into a dark blue-print or cyan blue. I think the detail of the engraving shows up a lot more on the cyanotype.

It turns out that there’s quite the history of cyanotype botanical prints, first rendered as prints of algae in England by a woman, Anna Atkins. She placed the specimen right on the paper coated with solution of potassium ferricyanide and a ferric ammonium citrate and let the sunlight do the work. image

Where the algae was thinner, more light got through and where it was thicker, less light entered, so the paper stayed white. You can read more about Anna and the cyan process here. imageShe published three volumes of British Algae, and each page in each volume had to be individually printed. imageAll of the known copies are in museums and libraries now. However, many of the museums and libraries have digitized the images from the books.

The great thing about Photoshop is that you can play around with the images numerous times, but you should always save a copy of the original. Lighter background? When I do this, more of the shading and foxing on the paper shows. Botanical scan (7x)

Black background orBotanical scan (6x)

white background?Botanical scan (6x)_edited-1

It was fascinating to learn about cyanotypes, and to see what I can do when I play with Photoshop!


  1. Oh, those are truly beautiful prints and you've done them justice playing about with the cyan colorway. They remind me of the sun paper kits you can buy. I have one at home right now ready to do a fun project with my daughter on a sunny day. I shall show her this blog as inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Not sure why, but Feedburner stopped delivering your posts to my e-mail box almost two weeks ago for nor reason (along with about 15 other blogs it was sending). I still show up as subscribed, but nothing is being sent. Thought you should know as this may have happened to your other subscribed readers. Cannot figure out how to fix this -- tried unsubscribing and resubscribing, but that doesn't work either. There's no assistance for this on Feedburner's site that I can see.

  3. You have had two winners lately! These prints are lovely---- think of them in a room with blue and white Chinese pottery. Also, I loved the Wry stuff.

  4. These cyanotypes are beautiful. Are you selling them? I'm searching for some for our bedroom! How do I contact you?


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