Cyanotypes

Wings

(posted 05/22/2021)

I keep a list of ideas on my phone and it seems I never have problems coming up with ideas, but I do have problems deciding on the size of my work. I have this nagging urge to go much larger, but at this point I’m still not sure which pieces I want to take to a more attention-getting scale. I have a real affinity for abstract pieces, and will most likely end up doing some larger ones soon. But, the reason I bring this up is that two butterfly pieces were actually inspired by the size and shape of the canvas. I looked at the two old pieces of wood my aunt gave me and thought: “Two butterflies would look great on there.”

In December of 2019, I did a series of four small butterfly collages to enter into the insect art show at the local nature center. I sold two of the pieces and they were really fun to do, so I went ahead and used the same process for the two panels, “Wings No. 5” and “Wings No. 6.” I have a vintage copy of the children’s book “Five Children and It,” by E. Nesbit. I bought it at a used book store when my daughter was very young. She’s thirteen now and I can’t get her to read “Harry Potter,” let alone a vintage book, so I put it to better use and ripped it apart for this and other projects. I think what makes it even more cringeworthy , as a lover of books, is that I never read the book myself. I mean I may have unknowingly destroyed a masterpiece, but hey, I’m sure there are other copies out there.

I learned in a recent Painting with Fire course from Essence of Mulranny that encaustic can be done over a chalk paint surface. There was much discussion and a little debate over the type of chalk paint, but I went ahead and used the old can of Rust-Oleum Chalked I’ve had around for a few years. It worked just fine as the base, and I actually liked starting with a dark background instead of the usual white. I made some templates for the butterfly wings and flower petals from drawings on tracing paper. This allowed me to see through to the book page to make sure the lines of the pages lined up at decent angles on the wings.

When I created my first set of the wings series collages, I didn’t pay much attention to symmetry. The two pieces that sold were lined up symmetrically so I think that did help their overall aesthetic. I hand tore each piece from the book pages, taking care to not include inappropriate words and phrases, and excited to find some interesting ones.

After I glued down the pieces with Yes paste, I applied black ink lines and designs on the wings.

Next, I covered the piece with two layers of clear encaustic medium and fused them with heat. Once smooth and cool, I applied several coats of PanPastels to achieve the soft colors. The pastels need to be blended and fused after each layer. It’s really quite magical how the pastels from the bottom layer come to the surface when heat is applied.

Wings No. 6, Encaustic Mixed-Media by Rachel Rivas-Plata

For the following piece, I took photos of two of the collages and made negative films from them. This allowed me to create cyanotype images on wood, after prepping the raw wood with a couple layers of absorbent ground. The leaf in the middle is the cyanotype of an actual leaf, and the butterflies were done using the printed negatives. The image of the words on the pages came out quite faint, so if I do this again, I will want to experiment with that to see if I can create more contrast.

Wings No. 5, Encaustic Mixed Media by Rachel Rivas-Plata

So, as you can tell by now, I’m very resourceful in my studio. I often use and repurpose old items to give them new life. Reusing my favorite images in creative ways is something I plan to do more of in the future. To see what pieces are available for sale, see my Home page for the link to my shop.

Cyanotypes in Spring – Maybe a new tradition!

(posted 03/07/2021)

I have been researching cyanotypes over the past week or so and ended up ordering the chemicals and some really heavy watercolor paper. I bought Jacquard brand chemicals, which come in powder form in two decent sized bottles for $18.99. You just add water to fill each bottle, then use equal parts of both chemicals when you are ready to apply the base to the paper. A handy sponge brush comes with the kit. It’s super easy! The most important thing to remember is you must paint the solution onto the paper as well as let it dry in a room free of sunlight because UV (ultraviolet) rays are what make the chemicals on the paper react. I bought a very heavy watercolor paper because the paper needs to withstand being rinsed and soaked in water for quite a long time.

This morning, I mixed a very small amount of each of the chemicals in a plastic bowl, then brushed it on to five sheets of the paper. There was a lot left over, so next time I will use very, very small amounts. I closed the windowless bathroom door and let the paper dry for an hour. Yesterday, I had already gathered some interesting pieces from the yard and continued that hunt this morning in my house. I used some dried weeds, pine needles, strings, and even some netted material from a sack of oranges. I took all the materials, keeping the treated watercolor paper in between some cardboard so that it didn’t get exposed to light, into the dimly lit garage and quickly made each compositions. I didn’t have a solid plan, I was just experimenting. When do I ever have a solid plan? Good question but that’s getting off topic!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you try this yourself, read and follow all the instructions that come with the chemicals. There are also several tutorial videos available online that give excellent instructions. I am sharing my experience – not directives.

I took the first ones out of the sun after about 12 minutes. The one I left out the longest (20 minutes maybe?) ended up overexposed and basically a dud. So, I learned it’s best to bring them out of the sun after 10 minutes. I rinsed each one under running water for a couple minutes, then let them sit in water for a couple more minutes. I then laid them flat to dry. Here are the compositions of the four successful exposures along with what they looked like after they were rinsed, but still wet.

I created 2 layers separated by glass.
The fainter images were in the top layer.

I used some old frame glass I had in my studio to hold everything in place. They really came in handy for this project so it’s a win for the studio pack rat ha ha.

I saved the best for last! This last one is my favorite. I am excited to do more of these and plan to incorporate these images into encaustic very soon! I highly recommend trying this yourself. This would be a super fun family project, but you would need an adult to mix, paint, and rinse the chemical solution. Wear gloves and eye protection as well when working with the chemical solutions. The kids can keep busy hunting and gathering all the natural materials.