How to Create Art Prints from the Sun

These sun-sational art prints are an easy way to memorialize a summer day.

Somewhere between science and magic, cyanotypes are art prints that use the power of the sun to record graphic blue and white prints. Developed in 1842 by John Herschel, cyanotypes are an early form of photography that are made by placing objects on light-reactive paper.

The process is easy: Grab a cyanotype kit (which typically comes with sun-sensitive paper) and place objects on top of the paper in a decorative pattern. Once exposed to sunlight, the paper will change colors only where the sun hits it—leaving you with a monochromatic art print after you remove the objects on the paper.

Plants, shells, rocks, and pinecones are all good sun print candidates. Only the shadows cast by objects will appear, so opacity, size, and shape are key. So is timing: If the sun is directly overhead, shadows will be shorter and better capture the object's true outline. You can also experiment with light angles, exposure times, subjects, and compositions. The process—and the surprise shapes you'll find—is all part of the fun.

collection of blue and white prints
Kelsey Hansen

How to Make Cyanotypes

Supplies Needed

  • Cyanotype kit
  • Natural objects
  • Large piece of cardboard
  • Piece of glass

Step-by-Step Directions

With the right materials, you can make your own cyanotype prints in just a few minutes. Follow these easy directions to make your own art prints from the sun.

Step 1: Prep Your Paper

You'll want to prep everything in a shady spot, or lay everything out indoors and take it to the backyard when you're ready to get started. As soon as the paper is exposed to sunlight, it will start to expose. Most kits also have a light-blocking bag you can keep the paper in until you're ready to get it out.

Step 2: Arrange Your Design

Place cyanotype paper on a flat surface (like a piece of cardboard) and arrange your nature finds on top. If you can, top with a piece of glass or acrylic to flatten your work. The flatter your objects, the crisper the final image will be. Then, top the paper and objects with a piece of glass. Be sure to use glass that isn't UV-coated or the cyanotype won't develop. The glass should be larger than the paper to avoid any unwanted shadows. You can use clips or tape around the edges to keep everything in place while your print develops.

Step 3: Develop the Print

Expose the layout to the sun until the paper looks bronze.This should take about 3-5 minutes on a sunny day. Then, develop your print in a tub of water according to the kit instructions. If you don't have water handy (or you want to complete several prints before doing this step), you can slip the exposed papers back in the light-blocking bag and then rinse them later. Lay flat to dry. Be sure to let the prints dry completely before framing them.

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