Chatting with Darwin: The Galapagos Connection

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I’ve been doing some work on Charles Darwin for my uni course – so far this is the only thing I’ve completed. The cyanotype process was used for covers and pages (about 60 of them). The pages are made from teabags and I tried to get the pages the natural teabag colour towards the spine, and cyanotype blue at the front. I also found out that Coptic binding teabags was not the most sensible way to learn to Coptic bind! It was very fiddly. However I was also very lucky and completed the Coptic binding with only 20 cms of waxed thread over – after an absolute guess on how much I might need.

Both Darwin and I had sailed to the Galapagos as part of a circumnavigation – Darwin around 1835 and me in 2003. Sir John Herschel was a friend and mentor to Darwin – so I thought it apt to use his process. I was also fascinated by the fact that such a great man as Darwin would forget to label his bird specimens with their island of origin – so I have given him a collection of labels to mark this oversight.

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Tea bags

1. No pre-process. 2. Soaked in washing soada before cyanotype process. 3. Bleached before cyanotype process.

1. No pre-process. 2. Soaked in washing soda before cyanotype process. 3. Bleached before cyanotype process.

I really didn’t think cyanotype would work on teabags. I knew that tea was used to tone cyanotypes to give them a brown colour, so thought at worst I’d get a brown colour, but not a blue. I was wrong. Sure enough, it worked in a peculiar manner – the cyanotype solution went blue on application – the sort of grey-blue it might be on exposure. None of the normal yellow at all. I exposed the teabags for 6 minutes – nothing changed – still a grey-blue. However, when soaked in water after exposure they still turned to the usual cyanotype blue. I’d also treated some beforehand to see what happened – very little difference between not doing anything and soaking in washing soda, but a nice white if bleached first. I was pleased to be proved wrong.

The Swarm

Lewis

You just have to love this. Tasha Lewis’s butterflies are taking off – maybe they already have. Anyway, they are going all around the world. I did offer to give them a fly in Rockhampton but couldn’t compete with the capital cities. The butterflies are made of cloth printed with the cyanotype process and they are adhered to suitable surfaces by tiny magnets. You can have a look at their proposed journey on http://www.swarmtheworld.com/. Volunteers will install around 400 butterflies, then pack them up and send them on to the next volunteer in the next town or country. This must be the nicest piece of guerrilla art ever.

Photographic cyanotype

Girls1web

This is my first photographic cyanotype. I’d taken the photograph of my granddaughters, Isabella and Sophia, so needed to make a negative of it before I could print it as a cyanotype. I can’t remember now whether I changed the photo to a black and white in Adobe Camera Raw or in Photoshop, but it was one or the other. I had read somewhere that you could make the perfect cyanotype ‘curve’ to get the perfect negative, however I also read  conflicting ways of doing so. I tried altering my photograph with one of the  ‘curves’ but not with any success. Actually it was a complete disaster with most of the image just not there.  Maybe I needed to alter the negative, not the positive?  This was something I needed to delve further into. I forgot about the curve and made a simple negative using the ‘inverse’ command in Photoshop, saved my file to a memory stick and went off to Officeworks to have an A3 transparency printed. They’d run out of A3 transparencies. I wasn’t having a lot of luck. I settled for A4 and got two, as in general the ink isn’t dense enough to work well so I double them up. Basically it worked – not perfectly – but it did work with around 8 minutes exposure in bright sun. When I sort out the mystery of the ‘curve’ I hope that I can get a greater tonal range, but in the mean time I am happy enough with my first photographic cyanotype.

 

Easter bunny

I’ve no idea why we have a bunny for Easter. Just to prove that I haven’t been totally idle in the studio I am posting my Easter cyanotype. It was actually very  easy to do. I painted the shape of the rabbit with cyanotype solution and when it dried I threw a lace table cloth over it to get my patterned image. I was actually quite pleased with it, but if I’m honest, it really didn’t have anything to do with Easter. I needed a shape for a uni assignment and as I’d pinned a few rabbits to Pinterest that morning – you can guess what shape was in my mind.  Rabbit is currently on exhibition till tomorrow (20th April, 2014) at Gallery 6, Walter Reid Cultural Centre, Rockhampton, as part of the CQ Contemporary Artists My Place exhibition. Happy Easter.

Rabbit

 

I thought I should really look this up and according to various internet sources, the rabbit was noted for its fecundity, so in pre-Christian Germany around the 13th century it was associated with the goddess of spring and fertility Eostra. So that gives us the rabbit. But, what about all those chocolate eggs? Later in the 15th century, and still in Germany, Roman Catholicism presented the egg as a symbol of fertility, and by the 16th or 17th century this idea was merged with the pagan rabbit one in to the myth of the bunny that laid eggs in the garden. So that is how Easter eggs and bunnies came into being.

Tasha Lewis

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The Herd, 2012
Source: http://www.jazjaz.net/

Tasha Lewis is from Indianapolis, USA, and her cyanotype work is just extraordinary. She has certainly taken cyanotype right into the third dimension. The above installation is part of The Herd, her 2012 exhibition at the Napoleon Gallery, Philadelphia. Lewis hand sews her cyanotype printed fabric onto animal forms and uses strong magnets to install the animals on glass panels. Have a look at her web site – she has other wonderful installations.

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The Swarm, 2012
Source: http://www.tashalewis.info/Sculpture/installation.html

Just love her butterflies. The butterfly installations started in 2012 and continue. Lewis says: “My goal is to create a very ephemeral public spectacle toeing the line between subversive and lyrical” and this she does beautifully as part of her Public Guerrilla Installations. 

Source: http://www.tashalewis.info

Robert Rauschenberg

I was pottering around Pinterest the other day – looking for something inspiring on cyanotypes – so was quite excited to come across the work of Robert Rauschenberg. Not that I wasn’t aware of Rauschenberg – I just wasn’t aware that he did cyanotypes. Rauschenberg was introduced to the process by Susan Weil in 1949 when they were both students at Black Mountain College, North Carolina.

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Rauschenberg made this cyanotype, Untitled, in 1951. It is obvious from the above that the model lay on coated sheets of paper with sprigs of foliage and that the work was done inside, by moving a light around to develop the emulsion.

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The exposed print was rinsed in a shower bath. That is Susan Weil (who was his wife at the time) helping.

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And, although it might not be technically perfect, what a delightful print they have made.

Sources for images and text: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/vaporous-fantasies and http://magazine.sevendays-in.com/125/lultima-cianografia-di-bob-rauschenberg/