cyanotype

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.

Encaustic + Cyanotypes = Suncaustics

(posted 10/14/23)

You’ve probably learned one of my favorite combinations in the studio is cyanotype plus encaustic. I refer to them as my “suncaustics” since cyanotypes are images developed with sunlight. I dedicated one of my first blog posts (linked here) to the topic of cyanotypes. Over the last couple years I have successfully used a few different techniques I’d like to share. As with other encaustic mixed-media art, the variations of these two media put together can really be mind blowing!

This piece began as a photo I had taken looking up at some trees in the spring while on a Girl Scout hike with my daughter’s troop several years ago. I made a digital negative of it and printed it on a clear plastic sheet, then made a cyanotype. After covering it with encaustic medium, I applied some orange and yellow alcohol inks to the surface, then fused it with heat.

The next piece was created with another negative photo I had taken of some of the plastic net bags used to hold onions, of all things. After I rinsed the cyanotype I knew it had to be an aquatic image since it looked to be underwater. I added an image of a koi on top, layered with encaustic and here’s the result. The man who purchased it reacted with so much admiration for it, I’ll never forget that!

The above pieces were part of the Beachwood Arts Council Small Wonders show in 2021.

This little bluebird began as a watercolor painting I did, then scanned it to make a digital negative. I added some metallic copper PanPastels then fused with heat. I love the simplicity and contrast of the copper, white, and dark blue. It sold at the 2021 Holiday Market at Reithoffer’s Gallery in Auburn Twp., Ohio.

This next piece was sold at a former local gallery MC Studio in 2021. They put out a call for art with the theme of the moon, and I got to work drawing seed pods of a lunaria plant aka money plant. I printed a negative of my drawing to create the cyanotype. After the encaustic medium was applied, I carved some lines and added metallic pastel to give it a pretty moonglow to go with the plant’s name.

The next suncaustic had a very humble beginning. Every spring I like to take a day and create a whole batch of cyanotypes from botanicals I find walking around my yard. Here’s what the sun print looked like as I rinsed off the developing chemicals.

I really didn’t like the print, so I covered most of it with powder and oil pastel. The resulting blue undertones of the green background and vibrant flowers were a wonderful surprise to me when I was done. It sold at the last Nature & Arts Fest at West Woods in Novelty, Ohio.

And this one was pushed a bit farther. I painted over the wax with some pink, green, and gold set in carved lines, then mounted it on another cyanotype image to give it a unique backdrop in the frame. The acid wash blue effect in this piece also keeps it really interesting!

My latest suncaustic was made from one of my backyard prints. I covered the white leaves and some of the background with oil pastel – I love the blue and green combo. Then to put more life in it, I painted some yellow leaf stems on the surface. The final framed piece is listed for sale on my Etsy site linked here.

I can’t wait to see what my mixed-media experiments in the studio will bring in the future – stay tuned!

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.