Studio updates and articles

My Cyanotype Process Explained

24 October 2020

I thought it’s about time I talked a bit about the cyanotype process – it’s a photographic printing technique that does not use a camera and was introduced in 1842 by John Herschel. A year later Anna Atkins created a series of books using the cyanotype process to document plants.

The cyanotype image is made by applying ultraviolet sensitive chemicals to paper. This is exposed to sunlight to develop and then washed in running water to fix the image.

There are various formulas for creating the cyanotype solution but they all involve mixing various quantities of two chemicals: ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. These are in powder form and prepared by combining with distilled water and storing away from light. I use a formula at the moment from my go to reference book which is called Cyanotype. The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice by Christina Z. Anderson – v=onepage&q&f=false

I apply the combined chemicals to alkaline free watercolour paper – I had been using Fabriano Artistico 300 gsm watercolour paper until recently but I have just changed to Arches 300 gsm watercolour paper as the coating on the former had changed. I always use hot pressed paper as I like a very smooth surface but a lot of people use a textured surface – just depends on your personal preference.  Once coated the paper has to dry in a darkened room before it is ready to use.

To create the imagery I use a combination of digitally prepared and printed transparencies of vintage sundial diagrams, birds and insects. I then place this transparency onto the prepared paper and add real flowers or plants.

I place this on a flat surface outside in the sun and put a piece of glass on top to hold everything firmly in place.

Anything that stops the light reaching the sensitised paper will appear white when developed and everything else will be blue.

The sun provides a convenient source of UV (ultraviolet) light and exposure times vary according to intensity and orientation of the sun, amount of cloud and ambient temperature.  Exposure times can vary from 30 mins upwards. This can be calculated scientifically using a stepwedge test but you soon get a good idea of timings comes with practise using a particular combination of chemical formula and paper.

Once it has been in the sun for the required amount of time the image is developed by holding the paper under running water for at least 6 minutes. It is a great feeling to see the image appear. It takes up to 24 hours for the paper to dry completely and only then can I add the gold metal leaf detail.

I apply the gold metal leaf detail by hand. It’s a delicate process which involves applying a water based glue which dries until tacky – approximately 10 minutes and before applying the gold metal leaf, rubbing away any excess. I then apply a clear shellac varnish to prevent the gold metal tarnishing. If I’m not careful this is a point where the whole image can be ruined which is very annoying.

I love this technique as there is a certain amount of serendipity about the process so you never quite know what to expect. Sometimes the resultant image is no good at all but that’s just how it goes!

If you want any more details about how I make the work just contact me and I’ll try and help!

Offline or Online Exhibitions?

12 October 2020

One of the things that has happened as a result of the covid19 situation is that some art exhibitions have gone online this year instead of being held in an actual gallery. I had 3 pieces of work selected for the Society of Women Artists annual open exhibition – usually this would be held in the Mall Gallery in London along with a preview event. I am delighted to be part of this exhibition and I have been weighing up the pros and cons of online vs offline.

There are enormous benefits to an exhibition being on line: people can view the work from the comfort of their own armchair and the exhibition can potentially reach a wider, larger audience, worldwide.

However, the other side of that is it is difficult to get an idea of the scale of the work, or the surface characteristics. Also it is not curated as such and good curation can enhance an artworks attributes. Also the work is presented as a series of thumbnails and if the viewer gets bored after 2 pages they may leave. In a real life exhibition if someone gets bored they will still scan the rest of the art on the way out.

I have recently taken some of my artworks to be exhibited in The Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham. I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to walk in to a bricks and mortar gallery again and look at the art – examine it, close up and personal, and really study it. Such a good feeling.

There is no easy answer to this question. We live in a digital world and are very used to looking at anything and everything on a computer screen. There are many on line art galleries, including SUPAgallery that represents some of my work.

Even if you think online is not a good way to view an exhibition it is sometimes the only way at the moment and from the artists perspective I am happy to have my work included in an online exhibition because it is reaching a wider audience.

So for me I think it’s great to still have the chance to exhibit and I will embrace this and other opportunities. Check out the poster below for details of the Society of Women Artists Open Exhibition – it’s on until December 31st and well worth a visit, lots to see and don’t forget to vote in the Peoples Choice Award


Embellishing the ladies

4 October 2020

I usually use gold metal leaf if I want to add or highlight parts of my cyanotype image. the gold contrasts really well with the blue and stands up to the white background well. However, sometimes I want to emphasise a thin line or a small detail and so I bought myself a bottle of gold pigment ink and a variety of dipping nibs from Cornelissen who were incredibly helpful on the phone. I thoroughly recommend them. I have added gold ink detail to 4 of the naturalist women cyanotypes as an experiment but I like it and I have had positive feedback the two I posted on my instagram yesterday. So I have added ink to another 2 today. And very coincidently it is ‘inktober‘ – here’s the link so that you can find out about it and maybe even have ago yourself. Anything inky is acceptable. I think. You may have to read the rules. Post it on instagram and see what people think.

Fields of Blue and Gold

1 October 2020

Well this is another blog post about another blog post AGAIN! Don’t worry, this won’t be a habit. It’s just so lovely when other people write positive things about your work. Ruth Millington wrote about 2 series of cyanotypes that I have available to buy with SUPAgallery in her blog series on ‘art for sale: artists in focus’. ‘Under the Sun’ is a series of work which celebrates the beauty and fragility of wild flower meadows which are in rapid decline in the UK. ‘The Naturalists’ is a series of cyanotypes that celebrate women who are at the forefront of promoting the environmental revolution by working with conservation projects preserving flora and fauna.

Fields of Blue and Gold can be read here


The metal gold leaf is applied to the cyanotype once it has dried. It’s quite a fiddly process but I love the result. I used it in these images about meadows to emphasise how precious meadowland is in the UK now. There are quite a few articles about the loss of meadows as we are becoming more aware of the environmental impact man and his habits are having on the earth. is a good place to start to understand the reasons that they have declined and the importance of trying to restore them.

I am really lucky to live near a small historic meadow which is still managed using old equipment such as scythes. It is a pleasure to walk through at any time of year, but especially so in the summer when the wild flowers are abundant.

Shadows of the Sun

1 October 2020

This blog post is about another blog post! The lovely Karen Parker of Intersilient wrote about my solo exhibition called Shadows of the Sun which opened at the end of February at The Coach House Gallery in Winterbourne Gardens, Part of the University of Birmingham. It had to close early because of covid-19 but luckily Karen went before it closed so that you can read all about it here:

Shadows of the Sun by Anne Guest

or if you prefer you can look at this cyanotype image that was part of the exhibition instead. (Please do both)

Little Solace (cyanotype on paper)

Although I have been making cyanotype images for a couple of years now, this is the first time I have had an exhibition comprising only cyanotype images. It was a great way of pushing myself to make new work and explore the medium further. And I loved the experience.

I appreciate some of you may not know what the cyanotype process is or what it involves but fear not – I will give you a brief description now and will do a more detailed blog post (with pictures!) soon.

The cyanotype is a camera less photographic print where light sensitive chemicals are applied to a surface (usually paper but can be fabric, wood, glass) and allowed to dry before placing objects or a negative image on the surface and exposing to ultraviolet light (the sun) for several minutes upwards. They are also known as blueprints because of their colour.

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