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  • Writer's picturePeekay

Leaf Skeletons and Cyanotype Variants

This is a test print, or rather a sketch of a hybrid cyanotype + inkjet print that I intend to develop in becoming a long-term series about death and climate change. SIDENOTE: The idea of combining cyanotypes with inkjet printing was first impressed upon me by my art confidante and personal photo critic, Aspen Hochhalter. She and I studied art and photography together during our undergrad and graduate school days and a few years ago, in 2015, she came to SIU to give a workshop on the Cyanotype + Ink process. I'm not exactly using her process, but it definitely lead me to a what if moment as I worked to figure out how to use materials, chemicals and methods to best achieve a certain aesthetic.

Ever since my dog (Peekay) passed away due to a series of unfortunate events during one of the hottest weeks of 2018 from heatstroke while I was out of town, I've been trying to come up with a way to make a series of images that subtly addresses climate change and the relation it has with reforestation efforts.

Peekay on his paddleboard

Before I purchase a Mavic Pro drone and travel to various national parks to capture images above various tree lines and to collect tree leaf specimens from endangered tree species, I decided to test out the format and formula to execute this developing series about loss, hope, and the environment.

leaf skeleton
Leaf Skeleton

The first step is to figure out how to make leaf skeletons, so as to produce cyanotype contact prints that capture the delicate details within the structure of a leaf. Making leaf skeletons is straight forward process, but it takes a massive amount of time and a dedicated ventilated area to allow for the constant simmering of leaf soup.

Originally, I was content with making contact prints of leaves on traditional printmaking paper and generating cloud-like forms via chemical bleaching means. I had ran out of traditional hot press printmaking paper over one of the few weekends I get to work in the Photolab, so I decided to be cheap and pass my time using the remaining inkjet paper on a roll that I was never going to use. This "what if" moment lead and continues to lead me down a rabbit hole, which I feel I have finally understood.

The second step involved figuring out the exposure time in the UV exposure unit, which is easy and straightforward. 55 minute exposures are our Photolab's UV unit isn't ideal, but it works.

In my graduate school days at East Carolina University, my paper of choice was always Stonehenge hotpress printmaking paper. Printing on inkjet paper was a new frontier with new problems. First, inkjet papers used for cyanotype printing, without a proper pre-acid wash treatment, will bleach out. I tried printing on the front and back of inkjet paper out of curiosity. I pre-coated my paper with with fumed silica since I had a bucket of the stuff. Producing a streak-less fumed silica cyanotype is a challenge. For leaf skeletons, I don't need the fumed silica, but for digital negatives, I see the advantage.

Below, is an example of a cyanotype on inkjet paper. I could not remove the slight yellowish color in the highlights, even with a citric acid wash.

cyanotype print of  leaf skeleton
Cyanotype print of Leaf Skeleton

Once I figured out that it was possible to print cyanotypes onto inkjet paper with the appropriate pre-acid wash precautions, I set up myself for more challenges via toning options. Below is a pre-dried cyanotype that was toned for a slight rose color in the highlights. As for the electric blue streaks around the leaf form, those were produced chemically with an acid salt that I'm still learning how to control. My goal is to control those electric blue streaks with these salts. Witnessing the explosion of blue that re-emerges from a bleached cyanotype is incredible. I don't think it's possible to make those blue blooming formations permanent. I wish I could, because they are spectacular to see.

Below, are more variants or possible directions that I was considering for this budding series. The misty tree line on the bottom of the image is stock photography and the tree rings is a lo-rez file of a Bryan Nash Gill tree ring print with a masked out center. I was toying with the idea of making tree rings like Bryan Nash Gill, and printing them on the inkjet print, too. However, I don't think it would be feasible at the moment, because I don't have the studio space for such an activity nor a cache of tree stumps. If you haven't seen his work, check it out! The size and scale of tree ring prints would be another factor, too. I imagine that it takes multiple attempts to get a perfect tree ring, too.

Anyways, the process I am pursuing is simple enough, minus all the trial and errors. Pre-edit and print digital imagery on digital inkjet paper that allows for an area for a cyanotype contact print to be achieved. The dimensions of these cyanotype+ inkjet print sketches in this blog post are about 11x14 in, which is a manageable size.

Cyanotype + Inkjet with Brush marks
Cyanotype + Inkjet with Brush marks

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