Studio updates and articles


Wild Clocks

6 December 2020

The British Sundial Society have a feature on my cyanotypes of sundials in their December 2020 Bulletin. They contacted me having seen my sundial cyanotypes on instagram and I am very pleased to share the article here in case you’re not a member of their Society 😉

Wild Clocks

Anne Guest

 

I am a visual artist and my artwork is inspired by the natural world. I am particularly interested in the relationship between plants, insects and birds. I use the cyanotype process to make my work and I have recently started to incorporate diagrams of sundial into my artwork.

Background

Migratory birds serve key functions in the interconnected systems that keep nature healthy, including pollination and seed dispersal of crops for human and livestock consumption and control of the numbers of insects.

Birds use the sun as a navigation aid like a compass to migrate across vast distances which allows them to make progress towards a goal without having to reassess their position constantly. In a local environment birds use solar clues such as shadows cast by hedges for orientation which shows both direction of the sun and time of day – like a sundial.

Flowers respond to the sun in different ways. Many flowers will follow the track of the sun throughout the day much like the shadow from the gnomon   showing the direction of the sun on the face of a sundial. Others open and close to match the intensity of the sun. Some flowers face east in order to warm up more rapidly in the early morning which results in a significant increase in the number of pollinator visits.

I use the cyanotype process to make artwork in which photosensitive chemicals are exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun to create an image. To incorporate sundials into my work about plants, insects and birds follows as a logical extension.

 

The Cyanotype Process

The cyanotype is a photographic printing technique that does not use a camera. It was introduced in 1842 by John Herschel (Ref1). A year later Anna Atkins created a series of books using the cyanotype process to document plants. (Ref2)

The cyanotype process was once extensively used for engineering drawings and is the origin of the term ‘blueprint’. Technical blueprints were used by engineers and architects for reproducing technical and specification drawings rapidly and accurately. The process is characterised by white lines on a blue background, a negative of the original. The blueprint was eventually superceded by cheaper and simpler copying processes.

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.

I currently use a variation of the classic cyanotype formula. These solutions are stored away from light and mixed together in equal quantities when ready to use. Once mixed they again have to be stored in the dark.

I apply the combined chemicals to 300 gsm alkaline free watercolour paper evenly with a sponge and allow to dry for an hour or so in a darkened room. The paper has to be strong enough to be able to withstand thorough washing in water following exposure. I find the best results are when the coated paper is used within 24-48 hours.

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.

It is important to me that I use properly delineated diagrams of sundials and I select them from royalty free sources via the internet. (Ref 3)

The sun provides a convenient source of UV (ultraviolet) light with parallel rays 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 to gold metal leaf detail by hand once the cyanotype image has dried completely. This is a delicate process which involves applying a special glue which dries until tacky –approximately 10 minutes and then apply the gold metal leaf, rubbing away any excess. I then apply a clear shellac varnish to prevent to gold metal tarnishing.  I use the gold metal leaf to represent the sun, in some pictures I create a disc (Fig 3) and in others I make a spherical dotted line (Fig 4). I also sometimes apply the gold metal leaf to highlight specific elements of the picture, for example the bees in Fig 5.

I chose to make these cyanotypes at this size and shape in order to reflect the more familiar circular horizontal sundial.

It is a fascinating process which has an element of serendipity in that I never quite know what the image will look like. Combining images of sundials with plants, insects and birds highlights how the rhythms of life are reliant on the cycle of the sun, hence the title of this series of works: Wild Clocks.

And to use the sun to create an image of a sundial adds a sense of completeness to these images.

I use a book called Cyanotype – The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice as my go to reference book and I thoroughly recommend it if you are interested in learning anything further about this process (Ref4)

References

1.A biography of John Herschel can be found on wikipedia.

2.Images of Anna Atkins cyanotypes can be found at the following website:

https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/cyanotypes-of-british-algae-by-anna-atkins-1843

3.Sundial geometry diagrams sources include:

Larive and Fleury: Dictionnaire des Mots et des Choses (Dictionary of words and things) Georges Chamerot, Paris (1895) and

Wellcome Collection freely licensed digital information at  www.wellcomecollection.org/works

4. Christina Z. Anderson: Cyanotype – The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice, Routledge (2019)

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter in Mind

13 November 2020

Every year I participate in some fundraising exhibitions – it’s a great way of supporting organisations and issues close to your heart. This year I have made work for Nottinghamshire Wildlife, Explorers Against Extinction, Artists for the NHS and A Letter in Mind. The latter is run by The National Brain Appeal that raises money for The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and has been running for 7 years. I have supported this fundraiser since a friend of mine received some amazing treatment from them. They have a different theme every year and this year it was ‘Everyday Things’ – they suggested it could be the daily ritual of a walk, a favourite mug or a much-loved bag. However predictable and routine these things are it is whilst doing them or using them that we take time to reflect and take stock. I spend a lot of my time outside and like a lot of people during lockdown I felt a reconnection with the natural world. This is the artwork I submitted, called ‘The Swing’ and just looking at in makes me feel relaxed. Each artwork is sold anonymously for £85 and all the money goes to the charity. Each year well known creatives also submit work and part of the fun is trying to see if you can spot any work by anyone famous – I mean, who wouldn’t want, for example, a Grayson Perry original for £85! Anyone can submit work so if you fancy it look out for the call next year and have a go! You could be exhibited alongside Anthony Gormley or Mark Dion (a personal favourite).  If you’re feeling charitable there are still some great artworks available – hop over and have a look https://www.nationalbrainappeal.org/product-category/artwork-shop/

Smoke Art

6 November 2020

Ever wondered how I make my art using smoke?

I’m very happy to share my process but if you decide to give it a go please please be careful. It is literally ‘playing with fire’!

hand holding a candle under horizontal piece of paper

I start by making stencils from cardboard. I attach these to the paper I am using for my image. I have used all sorts of paper but personally I prefer a smooth surface. At last 300 gsm as it has to be able to withstand a bit of heat, fire and flames! I attach the stencil (s) to the paper using either bits of masking tape or white tack. This is really tricky as they have to be sticky enough to hold but not too sticky that the surface of the paper is disturbed when you remove them. Once everything is secure I suspend this horizontally as I need to be able to use a lit candle in an upright position to direct the soot from the candle onto the paper. The next difficult bit is balancing getting the flame close enough for long enough without burning either the paper or the stencil. Even with a lot of practice this can sometimes go very wrong. I always have a fire blanket and extinguisher by my side. I have sometimes had to use the fire blanket but so far not the extinguisher. The stencils are stuck on fairly loosely so that smoke can waft under them to create the soft ephemeral look at the edges. When I am finished I turn the whole thing over and carefully remove the stencils. The heat from the candle is enough to warp them (I guess the paper dries out) so I can only use them once. The soot then has to be fixed using a fixer spray in the same way you would do for pastels or charcoal drawings. If I want to add more layers I need to start the process again.

I love making this art, there is an element of serendipity involved which always makes it exciting to see the finished piece.

Let me know if you have any questions

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

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Cyanotype.html?id=sRaGDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y – 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.


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