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Sun Printing Workshop with Design Advocates

Updated: May 3

Concourse House is collaborating with architecture-design practice, Design Advocates, on an outdoor learning and gathering space for our families. Throughout Spring 2021, we are working together on a series of sensory workshop experiences exploring sound, light, taste and touch to inform the design process. One of our talented and creative mothers, Forester Thorburn, writes up her experience of the first workshop involving sun printing or cyanotypes.

Photo Credit: Jess Rolls (2021)

Concourse House held a Sun Printing workshop as a part of its Spring Break Arts Program on Tuesday, March 30th, in collaboration with architect Design Advocates. Before visiting the workshop, I was not sure of how the process would go. The flyer said, “explore the garden and print with photosensitive paper, found objects, and sunlight…” When I hear “printing” in the context of art, I think of lithography or t-shirts. I had heard long ago that sun printing is the medium that the term “blueprint”originally referred to, and that it was an early means of reproducing photos and building plans. I wasn’t sure how this would relate to the sun or found objects. What is photosensitive paper? How would one “print” something using any old 3-D object?


The technical term for sun printing is “cyanotyping.” Cyanotyping is a photographic printing process which relies on UV light to copy an object’s shape onto a receptive surface. To create a cyanotype print, place objects on a paper coated with cyanotyping solution and then position the paper under sunlight. The objects will block parts of the paper from reacting to sunlight. The result is a copy of the shapes and shadows of the objects in a rich blue color.



Photo Credit: Fauzia Khanini (2021)

This workshop encouraged us to work with light and space and to investigate the world around us. Concourse House children explored the garden to find objects for their prints. Under the trees, behind the benches, and into the bushes they went. We found daffodils, herbs, acorns, twigs, feathers, and even some sparkly stones. What a wonder it is to find so many interesting things in your backyard!

With light and shadows in mind, we had to think about the shapes and textures of each item. The children were encouraged to think about how things look, how things feel and how things take up space. Flowers are soft, leaves are flat, grass is flexible, rocks are firm. Some things are smooth, some things are jagged. The children sorted their findings on their clean sheets of watercolor paper. In many ways, it was also a science project. The children wondered and hypothesized about what their print would look like after the paper would react with the light. Some leaves have holes, some petals are transparent. How much light do you think will go through them? What will their shadows look like if we position them in different ways? What shapes will these objects make? What can we create when we put different shapes together? Let’s find out!



Photo Credit: Sally McField (2021)

We brushed the papers with a cyanotyping solution and replaced the objects onto them. After the prints sat out in the sun for a moment, we removed the objects and immersed the prints in water. The cyanotyping solution slowly rinsed away from the spaces where the objects once were. Through printing, we made our garden treasures permanent to bring home.






We hung the prints to dry and observed them as a group. We were excited to notice some of the shapes and to recognize where our favorite objects once were. We were also surprised by some of the pictures that showed up. The location of the sun in the sky can determine the length and direction of the shadows of the objects, thus causing some shapes to turn out differently than we might have expected. It was amazing to see what kinds of photographic artworks that we can make with found objects and sunlight. The children certainly had an interesting adventure of exploring the earth and working with the sun!

Photo Credit: Fauzia Khanini (2021)

As a mother with experience in the field of early child development, this was like the epitome of workshops to me. The bold, deep blue color that cyanotyping inherently has was very attractive for my three-year-old son. He loved crunching maple seed “helicopters'' and sharing his found objects with his friends. Most importantly to me, this project was very sensory play-oriented. Sensory play involves activities which stimulate the senses, such as playing in a sandbox, building with play dough, or splashing in water. This was exhibited in the hunt for leaves and herbs and in analyzing what we found. Sensory play is crucial for children’s cognitive development, social development, fine and gross motor skills, and problem solving skills. Working with texture and touch is also very therapeutic for children with a lot of energy and curiosity.


This workshop contains everything that I love to see children participating in. It incorporates a chemical reaction, nature exploration, sensory stimulation, and creation all within just one hour. It was amazing to see how many things that we could do in a short time and a simple space. We accomplished many important lessons in a single workshop. It was an easy, quick and fun project that we could also do at home. With that said, I am inspired to think of similar ways that I can bring my son to learn, play, and create!


Photo Credit: Sally McField (2021)

As for myself, an artist, I am inspired to make more cyanotype prints at home with my own signature styles. I am glad that I have been introduced to this form of artwork. The process of sun printing surprised me, because it feels like incorporating aspects of both photography and sculpture. Cyanotyping and me were meant to meet, because I find myself drawn toward landscapes, natural elements and textures, whether I’m observing an artwork or creating one. What attracted me most was working directly with the sun. I would like to experiment with the ways I can manipulate the appearance of the print by controlling different amounts of exposure to sunlight. I can’t wait to see how many things I can make using cyanotyping!



You could do this at home! Materials and procedures are listed below.


Materials

  1. Cyanotype solution (Can usually be found online or at any craft store or supermarket)

  2. Watercolor paper

  3. A bucket of water

  4. The sun! It is best to do this project around noon for best results, because the sunlight will be more direct. UV light may still come through the clouds on overcast days.


Procedure

  1. First, set up your paper under some shade. The solution will begin reacting when it is exposed to the sun, so you will have to keep it out of the light until you are satisfied with the positioning of the objects.

  2. Gather any objects that you wish to appear on your print. Remember that it is the shadow of the object which will be copied on to the paper. This is because the solution will only darken and stick in the area that sunlight touches.

  3. Brush the cyanotyping solution onto the paper.

  4. Place your objects onto the paper in your desired manner.

  5. Expose to the sunlight for a few minutes. The longer it is exposed, the greater the contrast will be between the sun-kissed spaces and the shaded spaces of the project.

  6. Immerse the paper in cold water until the unchanged solution fully rinses off.

  7. Hang to dry.



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