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.


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.