Capturing Translucent Shadows With Cyanotype

Introduction: Capturing Translucent Shadows With Cyanotype

Browsing through photos I came across a really nifty cyanotype picture.  Cyanotype is a light-sensitive solution that turns dark blue after being exposed to sunlight.  A lot of you have probably seen it when using sun art paper while making the ever popular leaf-and-grass prints of art camp counselors everywhere.

The picture I saw is at this blog:  which explains a process that is complicated and I don't have the same tools that the artist did.  Not to be deterred I decided to try it differently and the result is something wall-worthy

Step 1: Materials

Materials you need:
Sun Art paper - 7 pieces of 4"x6"  4 pieces form the main picture for the top and 3 form the design on the sides.

Mod Podge (or similar glue)


Set of 4; 4"x4"x1 1/2" canvas (I used a 4 from a pack of 9 from Michaels which means I can create another whole set with a square for another project!)

tape to make the sculpture: I used scotch for this because it's translucent which is key in getting shadows with light was well as sturdy enough to hold a 3D shape.  If you used a core of a thin strip of scotch I think that regular clear tape would work.  Also, a turns out a plastic bottle ring (the stuff that comes on 8 pack of soda) could work too if you don't want to sculpt your own

Shallow tub with water to set the paper.

Step 2: Creating the Sculpture

This is time for you to get really creative.  Cut strips of various sized pieces of tape and then join together.  Twist, tape, branch, you name it.  The most important thing to go for here is to build something with depth and with sprawl.  Your sculpture needs to be able to cover the top part of your canvas which when all put together is 8"x12".  This doesn't mean that you're going to have to cover everything, but you're going to want something sizable for interest purposes.

The pattern I followed involved taping 3 different length pieces together into a circle with 2 twists.  Then I took a 2 more lengths of tape and connected  2 seams on the initial circle.   Continue taping various length pieces starting and ending on seams.  You will also need some "support strips" that join the middle loops.  These will begin and end on the loops instead of seams.  The "support strips" can be much smaller and are to keep your sculpture actually 3 dimensional.

If you're using the soda rings, you can skip this step as your sculpture essentially exists.  I'd pull one end of the rings through a hole on the other side in an attempt to make it 3d.

Also experiment with turning the sculpture in different directions.  One side could be better than another.

Step 3: Assemble Paper

Take 4 pieces of the sun art paper and tape together so they form a larger piece.  Take care to line up the edges since we're trying to go for a larger continuous surface.   There can be a little gap since the final result itself will have a gap but in general you want to keep it as close together as possible so the photo is not as jarring when displayed in different pieces.  Lightly tape (apply delicate pressure) the pieces of paper together so you can remove the tape after catching your picture.

The other 3 pages are for the sides so they don't have to be taped together but they also will be getting the shadow treatment.

Step 4: Cast Shadows

This is the trickiest step and will set the tone for your art: capturing the shadows!  Depending on the time of day you'll get different shadows so choose a time that will give you the effects you're looking for.  I've tried noon and 6pm with some equally awesome results.

You'll want to take your paper out and expose to the sun with the sculpture on top for about 1-3 minutes, depending on the amount of light and the density of your sculpture.  I set the ones that I made for 1 minute.  I'm also impatient.

The biggest thing to look out for is wind.  You don't want wind to move the sculpture while you're trying to get the shadow.  You can lightly tape it to the paper to prevent total movement, but you might then get the shadow f the tape because it's not 100% clear.  Aim for a day/time with little to no wind.

At this point you want the sculpture for the main picture and you can cast the sides with something else.  It's important to do the sides because with 1" sticking off the wall, you'll definitely still see them.  You don't have to be as careful because you're only seeing an inch at a time so just any shadow pattern works.

Step 5: Set Shadows

Cover the picture up after getting your shadows so you don't get more exposure than you're looking for.  Submerge the paper in the water.  You can leave it taped or not; I did both and it turned out fine both ways.

The colors come out while the paper is drying so don't worry if your paper looks like it's "wrong".  The magic of chemistry ordains that the colors will switch and become much more vibrant after setting.

Take out of the water and let dry on a paper towel.  This might take some time.  You paper might also crinkle.  If it crinkles, flatten between some books before continuing.

Step 6: Create the Main Picture

Take the main picture and remove the backing tape.  Spread a layer of mod podge on the canvas.  Lay the paper on the canvas delicately making sure to line the corners up along the edge.  There will be extra on the paper that you will want to drape down a side.  Smooth out the picture onto the canvas.  Continue to apply mod podge until the paper is firmly glued down.  Repeat for all 4 pieces for the top.

Step 7: Finish Sides

Take the paper you've designated for the sides and cut into 1" strips.  Fold the paper in half, then half again and cut along the seams.  You can get 4 strips per paper and you need to cover 3 sides for the remaining edges. (1 edge was covered by the drape hang over from the main picture)  Apply the glue and lay the strips attempting to line up the edges as close as possible.

Finish by applying a new layer of mod podge to seal everything as well as add a shiny finish.

Step 8: Display!

After it dries, you're done!  Hang and appreciate your new work of art.

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    2 Discussions


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I found my Sun Art paper originally at Think Geek, but I don't think they carry it anymore. Check out your local teachers' store, as I found more at the one near me. Otherwise there's always Amazon!