From the Bookshelf – Cyanotype Reference Books

 In Cyanotype, Printmaking

What reference books sit on your bookshelf? Specifically … good, solid reference material about the Cyanotype process?

A few months ago I shared my 3 favourite linocut reference books. I have been enjoying the quiet of our COVID19-induced isolation and printing my reduction linocut prints. Now that the skies have cleared and we’re heading into a solid dry spell, I’m feeling like its time to take advantage of our glorious sunshine and get myself back to some cyanotype printing.

I’ve been playing with cyanotype for 3-ish years. I find it an exciting process, with a balance of unpredictable experimentation and control. A friend introduced me to the process, and I read online resources and applied practical experience to further develop my understanding and approach to the process.

But I wanted more … I wanted book reference. I love books!

Sit-comfy-on-the-couch-and-read reference books. Make-notes-in-the-margins reference books. Use-my-big-yellow-highlighter-for-important-information reference books. Quality reference books.

And even more especially, reference books about art subjects that interest me. I had found some online ebook reference, but I was struggling to get my hands on quality printed material. And then, along came Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice an exciting textbook style guide written for beginner and advanced cyanotype artists alike; and a deliciously irresistible book showcasing the historically significant work of Anna Atkins

*Note: I have provided links bookseller’s and publisher’s websites. They are not affiliate links, and I do not receive a commission for the sale of these books.

Cyanotype
The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice

Christina Z. Anderson

WOW! This book is an absolute must-have if you’re wanting something that reads in plain English (ie not full of jargon) while still detailing and thoroughly explaining process. It covers everything you need to know for the absolute beginner, while also catering for people wanting to learn about advanced application of the process. I admit that I can be a bit nerdy when if comes to reading technical information, I love it, but there is a limit to how much my brain will process. This book has been so well written … you can skip over any bits that get too technical, and/or you pour over the detail to dive deep in the technical aspects of positive/negative transparencies and photographic reproduction.

It has been written in two parts:

Part One ‘Cyanotype Step-by-Step’ is exactly that … a step-by-step explanation of the process and theory and controlled tests and experiments with the process. It details different results on different papers, different formulas (Classic Cyanotype vs New Cyanotype), different chemistries and toning and wet cyanotype.

Part Two ‘Contemporary Cyanotype Artists’ introduces 30 contemporary artists using the cyanotype in their arts practice. They create work ranging from tradition photographic reproduction to conceptual and abstract concepts. Full of tips and inspiration, this part of the book really demonstrates how versatile and exciting the process can be.

I can’t speak highly enough about how fabulous a resource this book is if you want to really understand the process and push and play and experiment with it.

Author: Christina Z. Anderson
To buy: most online bookstores
Cost: $70-$120 depending where you buy
Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd
Published: 2019
ISBN: 9781138338838

Sun Gardens
Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins

Larry J Schaaf

Who is Anna Atkins? She was an English botanist and photographer, considered to be the first person to publish a photographic reference book. She documented botanical specimens for a scientific reference book using the ‘cyanotype‘ process invented by family friend (mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor and experimental photographer), John Herschel. And she did this in the 1880s!

A few of her original books survive to this day, held in library collections, as priceless treasures inviting us back to a time of relentless discovery and learning. I find it so exciting that a woman in Victorian England had the opportunity to create something so scientifically valuable and creative that stands to this day as a valuable resource.

This book is a testament to the significance of her work and the development of the cyanotype process. It is full of reproductions of her photogram prints. The book includes reproductions of significant letters and documents from the period.

I love this book. In all its hard cover, uncoated heavy-weight paper goodness. The history is fascinating. And having the opportunity to look at the detail of Anna Atkins’ work is a privilege. This book is hard to get hold of now. Hopefully it will be reprinted. If you love cyanotype and want to see the process used in its historical beginning, this book is a must-have on your bookshelf.

Author: Larry J. Schaaf
To buy: at the time of writing this I found it hard to find online
Cost: $300+ depending where (and if you can find it) you buy
Publisher: Prestel
Published: 2018
ISBN: 978-3791357980

Blueprint to Cyanotypes: Exploring a Historical Alternative Photographic Process

Malin Fabbri, Gary Fabbri

This book is available in hardcopy and as a downloadable ebook. I bought the ebook version, printed it out, and inserted the printed pages in a binder for easy reference and note taking (is it just me, or do other people write notes in their reference material, and smothering important information with that trusty yellow highlighter?).

The book was a tremendous resource for me in my earlier months experimenting with cyanotype, and still provides a great reference source for my workshop students.

It is an excellent starting point if you’re looking to learn the basics of the process. It works to take you beyond the basics, building confidence to further develop your own approach and style with the process.

It covers everything from the basics of mixing your own light sensitive solution to exposure techniques to toning cyanotypes.

I found this book to be a great stepping stone in my play and experimentation with cyanotype.

Author: Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri
To buy: alternativephotography.com
Cost: US$12.99 ebook
Publisher: AlternativePhotography.com
Published: 2006
ISBN: 978-1456342227

Do You Want More?

Book (and online) learning is great, and sometimes the only option available. But I don’t think can you beat in-person, face-to-face learning when you have access to it.

I added cyanotype workshops to my in-person workshop schedule last year.

In these workshops, we use the sun as our UV light source; this does however makes us vulnerable to the mercy of the weather. I schedule workshop dates around typical weather patterns, balancing with the a-typical reality of chaning weather patterns.

The first workshop date fell in the middle of a cyclone barrelling down the coast of south-east Queensland, so was inevitably postponed. Attempt 2 – success. Date 3 – the full force of COVID-19 postponed that date. There are 3 workshop dates coming over the next few months. Fingers crossed the rain (and COVID-19) behaves itself and we’re full steam ahead.

I love the cyanotype process! Simple chemistry invented nearly 200 years ago and pioneered by a woman!

I have finally started to get some of my cyanotype play into my online gallery. And I am building my online library of cyanotype sun prints created by students in workshops.

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