Making cyanotypes

These were made in the back garden with sunography kits. You put objects on the paper/fabric, cover with glass or plastic to hold everything down, then leave them to expose. It takes 10-15 minutes in bright sun, the weather turned cloudy when we did ours and the orange one ended up having close to an hour. Once exposed, you rinse the prints under running water for at least a couple of minutes and dry them on kitchen roll/paper towel, swapping for a dry towel after 15 minutes. There is no fixer required.

We found that although you can expose on both sides, the image from one side will show through slightly to the other side.

Fox Talbot and Anna Atkinson were early pioneers of photograms. They tended to be of horticultural specimens rather than underwear, however Fox Talbot made several using lace.

I am exploring this because I want to make a calotype of the Fox Talbot window by deconstructing a polaroid image and using the emulsion as a negative on Sunography paper.


Die-cutting school photos and considering shapes

Drizzly Easter holiday day, so I promised the girl the rare treat of an afternoon in my den with her pick of pens, die-shapes, and a selected pick of papers. This forced me to sit down with the die-cutting machine and try out a couple of ideas that have been on my mind.

I wanted to work with a rephotograph of an old school photo of me and do some die-cutting, manipulating the cutouts.  I’ve recently sadly decided that for the purposes of working with photographs, the most versatile dies to use are not the detailed asymmetric ones of particular objects (manuscript writing, kitschy hearts, fairies, flowers) but the comparatively boring ones of plain shapes. For a woman who is essentially all about the bling, this was a hard fact to accept. But, recent readings  and playings around Mobius strips, toroses and klein bottles have got me thinking about the deceptively simple nature of these shapes, and seeing more of the beauty and the potential in the simple. So multipacks of circles, ovals and yes, symmetrical hearts arrived today. I think I need to add in rectangles and squares too. The beauty of these shapes is that you can flip the cut-out shape over and re-insert it in the gap, thus reversing part of the image from front to back and vice versa. Circles and squares add the extra possibility of rotation, which I was keen to explore. I like the idea of an image cut into concentrate circles with the image staggering outwards, though I didn’t get quite as far as that today.

Ovals excite me tremendously, they have such a heritage with the whole vignette thing, the delicately painted miniatures, lockets, and even landscapes – Stefan Schaffeld told me about the landscapes made with the aid of a dark glass mirror and these were sometimes presented as ovals. So I think that will be next.

This is another area that I want to explore. School photos manage to combine the qualities of being both sacrosanct and ubiquitous. I’m going to pick some up from ebay and charity shops and continue my explorations with photos of people other than me. I am still mesmerised by the possibility of presenting both sides of a photograph on a single plane. On the middle photo you can see the Fuji branding on the shapes. It will be interesting to combine cuts from a photograph with for example cuts from a second photograph or other materials (thinking particularly of my atlas here, or combining portraits of myself and my daughter, as I briefly tried a while back, see below…)

Speaking of which, does anyone know the name for the 2d shape that looks like an off-centred polo mint? Would it be an off-centred circular frame?

Another thing to try arising from this work is to try it with Polaroids and seeing if there is any scope to include it in A5. The problem is getting the picture to hold together.

Die-cutting portraits, acrylic frames & updating my paper log

It’s been a fragmented week outside of my main coursework on A4. Some good stuff has happened though and I need to document it and have faith that it will form steps in my creative process.

Firstly, as well as this blog I keep a sketchbook of notes and ideas and trials. I need to write a separate blog post about this, but this week realised that I had to find a way of adding my prints to it in such a way that the prints were protected, secure, visible and removable. I ended up with some plastic cd sleeves that attach to a page via a self-adhesive pad on the back. They have flaps that fold over and secure with another self-adhesive patch, which I chose not to use as I don’t want the prints to catch on the sticky when being removed/replaced. As a first step, it’s fine. I want to get some sleeves that are clear plastic front and back as they will be better for work where both sides need to be visible. I can attach those with magictape down one side so that the sleeve is secure and can be turned like a page. The print below is a normal portrait, die-cut into three pieces and then assembled with some pieces upsidedown, so you don’t get the whole picture at once but you do get front and back in one go. You can see that I haven’t pushed out all the tiny windows yet.


I had posted on the  OCA discussion form about my need for acrylic frames that were transparent front and back and that could be bought independently of the print. These would be ideal for showing altered polaroids and prints without running the risk of damaging an already vulnerable object. I had a very helpful reply giving me a link, and a name, for such a frame. I’ve now found a UK supplier and will put a trial order in over the next day or so to see if the sizing fits with my work.

Finally I have done some more work both embossing and die-cutting Polaroid and Instax prints. I have learned that the emulsion in polaroids bleeds white, and that in Instaxes bleeds black.  Cured Instax prints have a back that turns a remarkable iridescent gothic plum once passed through the die-cutting machine. Again, a very perspicacious comment on Instagram pointed me to the Claude glasses of the 18th century that allowed painters to apply a “filter” to their landscapes and to paint those landscapes with their backs to them. This fits perfectly with my fascination over fronts and backs. Going back to the Instax prints, they acquire little crystals within the purple too, absolutely beautiful.


Die-cutting an accidentally exposed Instax print

Following my initial experiments with normal photographic prints and Polaroids from my Polaroid 600 I decided to spend a spare few minutes putting a blank Instax through the die-cutting machine to see what happened. This one was accidentally exposed about two weeks ago when I thought that the film had run out and opened the camera, so it developed as plain white.

When it came out the black back of the print had turned to shades of a gothic iridescent plum, with little bubbles of liquid visible. I loved this effect. I had chosen an oval die to mimic miniatures and lockets. When I flipped the cut-out over it looked like an egg.

Next up is doing this again with actual images, both newly developed and older, to see what happens.

egg instax




Die-cutting Polaroids

The next step in my die-cutting series was to die-cut a polaroid. This is an interesting process because you are not just cutting a shape from a polaroid, but also submitting it to a significant amount of pressure as it goes through the steel rollers in the machine. It’s a bit like putting a jelly through a mangle.

My first go involved quite a detailed die that has the word “love” inside a heart shape. I didn’t have quite enough pressure to cut through the entire polaroid, so ended up with a few bits of the die detached. What was really interesting though was what happened on the back of the print. The film emulsion squeezed through in several places, making something that was unique and defining of that moment in exactly the same way that the image on the other side was.  You could never make another one the same. I posted about it on the OCA board and received some encouraging feedback.


So the next step was to try it with a simpler die and a bit more pressure. I spent another afternoon with a Fine Artist friend, who always provides a welcome change of perspective on new work. She asked what it would look like if I didn’t develop the image first, if I didn’t allow it to develop in the dark… relentless avenues for exploration. My camera had a “new” film in, by new I mean an unused out of date film. So I took a picture of not much, steeled my nerve and left it face up in a bay window for 20 minutes or so. In the meantime I took some more photos of my friend’s own desteuctive project on my daughter’s Instax camera. They were actually too good to cut – I need to put a plain film in next time rather than one of the cute bordered ones!

Let’s go back to the Polaroid. It came out looking like a glossy deep blue ceramic tile with some variations. I used the plain heart metal die, added another shim to the machine to give more pressure, and cranked the rollers. This time it did cut right the way through, making me think that I can pop out the cutout, invert it, and rephotograph  or mount it so that you can see both sides of the print at once. I’ve not done that yet. The back was gloriously squidged with emulsion again. We’re a couple of days on now and the colours on the front have changed. I wondered about mounting it in a double sided acrylic frame so that the work is presented and protected whilst retaining the ability to be handled, which is one of the defining characteristics of polaroid prints. The OCA forum again came good in informing me that I need to search for “magnetic acrylic frames” (thanks Stefan!) and I have a couple of sources saved now. I also used a couple of existing polaroids that had been developed some time ago, one turned out well, the other didn’t have enough pressure to work well (not shown yet).

So I am very keen on the idea of developing this further, quite possibly for A5. Next up is exploring acrylic mounts, flipping the cut-outs, and trying the same thing with the smaller Instax prints (I will need smaller dies for that too). I really like the idea that something unique has been made from the original, and that the back can be as engaging as the front (possibly more so in some cases).


“Cut” – a die cut photobook prototype

This was born from the images I took for A1, and the die-cutting of photobooth portraits as an idea for development in A2. Many of the images I took for A1 found their way into a family Blurb photobook, and I found myself wondering how I could add something to the pages. Colour and cut were what intrigued me. There were practical considerations too – how would I put an actual book through a die-cutting machine (think a pasta machine but capable of slicing textures and textiles from paper to leather and thin plastic). Then the by now getting slightly old issue of actually cutting images of someone who’s very dear to you indeed.

I love a book that does something. Stan Dickenson’s reworked Textbook of Physical Chemistry amazes me anew every time I see it. Click here for the literal film of the book (link goes to You-tube and opens in a new tab).

I started by sketching out a layout. I wanted to use plain coloured pages amongst the photographic pages, that I would then cut with the die-cutting machine to give shapes or patterns that would reveal part of the photograph beneath. I wanted the colours to tone with the photo that they “framed”, so I used the sampler tool in Blurb to select a colour from the photo that would show. This colour will always be opposite a different photograph, so needed to work with that image too. I wanted a book that could be read forwards and backwards, though it’s yet to be seen how the same cut-out page can work with photographs both before and after it in the book. I think this prototype will show any changes that I need to make in choosing and placing photographs. I’m also curious about adding texture by embossing – this could be either to the photo pages or the plain colour pages.

I took advantage of a 40% Blurb discount to build and order a book. Because of the need to fold the covers entirely back to get pages into the die-cutter, I decided to choose a soft back rather than a hard back. I’m not quite ready to start constructing books from scratch but I might need to if this doesn’t work. All photos cover the entire page, there are no borders as I didn’t want bits of white poking through the cuts. The book arrived and looks great, the binding is very flexible and the plain coloured pages look like they’re meant to be there. That latter is a relief, I thought they might look a little odd in real life. There is no text in the book at all apart from the cover and title page.

/to be continued

Continuing 13/4. I die-cut the book carefully, I had to bend the front and back back on each other to feed the page to be cut into the die-cutting machine. It worked to a point, but is not essentially an improvement on the uncut book. I think the coloured pages worked well, they provided a break between images and were in sympathetic tones. I did wonder if it work better to cut the photographs with a view through to the plain page, but my coloured pages were in the wrong places to do that. I need to park this one for a while and see if any ideas turn up for improving the execution.

9/5 continuing again

A comment from another OCA photography student reminded me about this work. I made a very rough video. Looking at it makes me think that the work is not as bad as I thought.