Negative to Positive

(posted 05/11/2024)

Untamed is the best way to describe my process of creating cyanotypes. Sources for the images I develop outside with sunlight are quite varied, and the possibilities are so endless that I really have to reign it in every time I work on these. My cyanotypes are not just created with found objects like leaves and flowers, but I also create photo negatives from various digital images and then make the sun prints using the negatives instead. These negatives can start as photos I’ve taken with both my phone and digital camera, images of my finished art works, and some scanned images of antique ephemera. I also recently began to use photographs rendered with Midjourney Ai.

To make the process even more complex, each time a cyanotype is made from a negative, I usually change up the sun exposure time and/or the treatment of the paper. Manipulating the surface of the watercolor paper with additives like soap, salt, or vinegar can create really cool textures and effects. There is risk with additives though, since I don’t use them often I’m less sure of how the images will turn out. But that certainly adds to the fun of it all!

My creative process tends to be more intuitive than scientific, so I rarely keep detailed records when I change things up. “Mistakes” don’t bother me a bit. I’ve had several instances where I take a “bad” cyanotype and after adding beeswax and pigments it becomes a favorite Suncaustic piece. I scan most of my cyanotypes too, so that I can digitally alter them and use in other composite or mixed-media works. I’ve built up quite an interesting collection of digital images on my laptop over the years. You might even notice some of my favorite images show up time and again in different pieces.

Several of my recent cyanotypes began as digital negatives I made from Midjourney Ai images. I recently learned the technical term for creating these synthetic pictures using Ai: synthography aka synthetic photographs. My turning them into negatives and letting sunlight develop them gives them new life as cyanotypes. I like to think of it as a reincarnation of the Ai generated art when I take those images and put them through the age old cyanotype development process.

Here’s a sample piece I’m currently working on. It’s a self-portrait, inspired by how I felt as a young girl. Here’s the original photo I directed Midjourney Ai to generate:

Here’s the image after I digitally altered it on my computer. I flipped the image horizontally, cropped out some branches, added more cattails and the blue heron, and changed the whole color scheme.

This is the negative image I printed on a special translucent film:

And finally, the cyanotype image developed by the sun in 5 minutes just the other day.

The setting is similar to a pond we had on our property when I was young. It was always a big deal when we saw blue herons or cranes flying over the house on the way to the pond. I can still recall the stillness experienced whilst gazing up at the long, quiet flight of a crane over the meadow toward the welcoming water.