Cyanotypes: An Easy Summer Activity

By Greta Solbrig on July 17, 2023 in Blog

Looking for an easy summer activity to do on your own or with your family? Try art in the sun! Still used today, cyanotyping is a form of photography dating back to the late 1800s. The process relies on a special type of paper coated with an iron rich solution that is sensitive to UV radiation. Leaving parts of the paper unexposed will create an intentional pattern resulting in a form of art called a photogram!

Getting started:

Most of the supplies you will need are already in your backyard! The only additional tools needed are a thin piece of glass and cyanotype paper, which can be purchased online or at a local craft store.

  1. Carefully arrange your favorite plants on top of your sheet of paper, making sure you’re following proper plant collecting protocols if you’re somewhere other than private property. TIP: Flatter plants or plant parts, like leaves, work best! 
  2. Once you have your desired layout, press a clear piece of glass over your work, holding your plants in place.
  3. Now place your work outside on a sunny day and watch the magic happen! The exposed parts of the paper will gradually darken, and once the color reaches a bronze hue, remove from the sun and head inside.
  4. Remove your tools and rinse the paper in a tray filled with water for at least three minutes. The paper will take on a cyan blue tone, and upon removal will darken as it air dries.
  5. Flatten any wrinkles once dry and enjoy your new photogram!

Image of a before and after of a Cyanotype

Explore More:

Here are a few more ways to engage with your family while exploring plants and light!

  • Explore shadows: Use chalk to trace shadows of natural objects outside. You can create you're own scenes or see what nature has created for you already! Or track how a shadow changes as the sun moves by tracing the object every hour couple of hours. 
  • Do some reading: Enjoy nature themed books and illustrations created by playing with light/shadows from author and illustrator Elly MacKay. MacKay designs scenes on paper, cuts them out, then assembles, lights and photographs them creating magical worlds. Favorite titles to check out include If you Hold a Seed and Butterfly Park, among others. 
  • Do a science experiment: Investigate how plants use the sun to make chlorophyll/food. 
    • You will need a live, freshly picked leaf, clear bowl, water and a small rock.
      • Fill a clear bowl with room temperature water and place your leaf in the bowl. Place the small rock on top of the leaf to fully submerge it.
      • Then, place the bowl in a sunny spot. Wait a few hours and observe!
      • You should see small bubbles forming on leaf edges. If you see the bubbles, you're actually witnessing a leaf releasing oxygen during photosynthesis!
      • Experiment further with sunny and shaded areas or the amount of time you let the bowl sit. Which location produces the most bubbles and why?