sunprint_finalgreenJune 01, 2015

sunprint_finalgreenJune 01, 2015Down here in Florida, we are lovin’ the sun! Summer vacation is days away and so I thought I would start the week off with a fun-in-the-sun art project. Actually, this is a great lesson in science too (art tends to bring everything together 😉 ), as well as a perfect introduction to photography.

Sunprints are essentially cyanotypes, and cyanotypes are most commonly known as “blueprints.” Back in the 1840s, John Herschel discovered the cyanotype process as a way to reproduce notes and drawings, or to replicate the silhouette of natural items such as leaves. The cyanotype was soon adopted as a method for making reproductions of architectural drawings. A sheet of paper or a piece of fabric would be coated with a light sensitive chemical solution composed of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate. The original architectural drawing would be made on a semi-transparent paper (like tracing paper), laid on top of the light sensitive chemically treated paper/ material, and then weighted down flat with a piece of glass. Then, the sandwiched materials would be placed under the sun. The light penetrates through the glass and the transparent paper, but the black outlines of the drawing prevent the light from passing through, acting like a negative. The result would be that everywhere the light touched, or exposed, would turn blue (cyan) and everywhere the light was protected from, or unexposed (the drawn lines), stayed white.

Although it is possible to mix the chemistry yourself and create sunprints from scratch, there are much easier and safer solutions for making your own cyanotypes, and the results are really lovely. I happened to have some left over Blue Sunprints 100% (Mixed Color) Cotton Fabric Squares from one of my classes, so I thought I would demonstrate this process with those. The pack comes with 5 of each color, including: violet, lime, raspberry, orange, and turquoise, for a total of 25 fabric squares. The creativity is endless with what you can create with your sunprint fabric once you have completed the exposure. We will revisit that idea in a future post. You can also purchase a variety of cyanotype treated papers, which are also very fun, but I like the fabric because it comes in a bunch of neat colors and encourages creativity with what to make next with the lovely printed fabrics. I would also like to note that Lumi makes a product called Inkodye which allows you to turn pretty much any fabric into light sensitive material and then you can make your own sunprints on anything your heart desires! It’s on my list of things to play with, so I’ll keep you posted.

Learning Objectives

Students will learn the foundation of photography which involves using chemistry to create a light sensitive solution that when exposed to light causes a chemical reaction, or image to be captured. Students will make what is referred to as a cyanotype or photogram by taking objects, laying them onto the light sensitive material, exposing the material to light, and then “fixing” or making permanent by washing with water. Students will see how exposed areas turned blue and unexposed areas, when rinsed, turned a different color (color of the fabric). This project also teaches the concept of negative and positive space.


found objects like leaves, lace, feathers, etc, and a board

found objects like leaves, lace, feathers, etc, and a board

  1. Found objects (leaves, ribbons, lace, feathers, nails, washers, textures…)
  2. Sunprint fabric
  3. Board to lay and pin materials onto
  4. Pins
  5. Sun
  6. Sink



Step One: Preparing and Composing Sunprint

The sunprint fabric comes in a light sensitive bag and it is important that it is never opened in sunlight, as this will cause light leaks and possibly ruin the fabric. Although the fabric says it can be used under fluorescent lights, I prefer to do everything under low light. I simply closed my blinds and turned the light off in my bedroom and that worked perfectly. There was still enough light to see, but no direct light.

I like to work on a piece of foam-core board. Pin the corners of the fabric down, arrange your items into a creative and balanced composition, and pin down any items that may blow away with a gust of wind outside.

arrange objects into a balanced and creative composition

arrange objects into a balanced and creative composition

Step Two: Exposing Sunprint

Carefully carry the board outside and place down under the sun. The instructions say to expose in the sun for 10-15 minutes. The Florida sun midday is intense, so I recommend experimenting with 5-10 minutes, if you are in a super sunny climate. Make sure that the sunprint is not in a breezy area and stand guard to make sure none of the items blow off.

carefully lay sunprint outside and expose for 5-10 minutes

carefully lay sunprint outside and expose for 5-10 minutes

use a variety of materials and shapes to create textures and a wide range of values

use a variety of materials and shapes to create textures and a wide range of values

Step Three: “Fixing” Sunprint (making permanent)

Bring the sunprint inside and remove all of the items. You will notice that there is an image, showing you what was exposed/ unexposed.

sunprint_removepurpleMay 31, 2015

bring inside and remove items, you will see the exposed and unexposed areas

sunprint_removegreenMay 31, 2015

when you remove the objects the unexposed areas will be blue, but after washing, the color will reverse! whoa!

Now, all you have to do is rinse the fabric under cold water for a few minutes until the water runs clear. Oooh and Ahhh over the loveliness that you just created!

sunprint_washgreenMay 31, 2015

notice that the blue color was rinsed out of the unexposed shapes and the exposed area (negative space) is blue after washing

Hang up your fabric sunprints to dry and begin thinking about what you can make out of these lovely fabric photograms. I will be brainstorming too and will show you what I come up with in a couple days! I can’t wait to start playing with my sunprints :).

sunprint_finishedJune 01, 2015

finished sunprints after drying. i dried them inside to prevent bleaching from the sun. also, avoid washing with detergents that contain phosphate as that will damage the color of the fabric.

I would love to know some of your creative ideas too! Share in the comments if you have some great ideas!



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blog portrait_thumbnail3hi! i’m trish, and welcome to my cozy home on the internet. i am an artist, art teacher, life-long-learner, and lover of life. there is not much i don’t love. some of my many favorites include creating with my hands, the color green, birds, smiling, and outdoor adventures. some of my not so favorite things include spiders, bell peppers, and math. (more...)

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