Print Studio A-Z: C is for Cyanotype


24 November 2016

In order to shine a new light on this amazing part of what we do, we've decided to run a Print Studio A-Z. We'll be using each letter to look at an aspect of the Print Studio you may or may not have heard of before. For 'C', we caught up with Duncan Marquiss, a Scottish artist who held a solo exhibition in our galleries earlier this year. He used the method of Cyanotype to create beautiful feather Cyanotypes for our Editions Programme. Want to learn how to do it too? We're in the process of programming a course for 2017, information will be available in our January - March issue of Get Creative.

Can you tell us a little about what cyanotype is?

"The process was also historically used to produce engineering blueprints."

A cyanotype is a photographic process in which you apply a light sensitive emulsion to a surface you want to expose an image onto. You can make a print on paper, fabric or wood – pretty much anything that the sensitizer will adhere to. You can reproduce an image from a transparency or a negative, or you can place objects on top of the emulsion to produce photogram like images.

The Victorian botanist Anna Atkins famously used this technique to document seaweed and other plants. The process was also historically used to produce engineering blueprints – it’s called a cyanotype due to the distinctive blue colour of the print.

Why did you choose to use it for one of your recent prints created in DCA Print Studio?

I was looking for a way of reproducing an image on fabric. I’d taken some macro photographs of jay feathers that looked almost like machine woven textiles, and thought it might be interesting to visualise that analogy by printing the images onto cotton and denim twill. I was also interested in the communicative function of bird plumage and thinking about clothing as social signalling. Cyanotype allowed me to print the feather photos on fabric, and the blue colour was then a nod to the iridescent colour of jay feathers and the indigo dye of blue denim.

How do you feel the method fits in with your style of work?

"I like uncontrollable elements in all the media I use"

Whilst it was a new process for me it was well suited to the particular imagery I was working with. Also, as a medium it involves a certain amount of randomness– some unexpected marks usually occur due to the application of the sensitizer emulsion by hand or irregularities in the surface.

I like uncontrollable elements in all the media I use – I try to meet the materials half-way as it were, so the composition isn’t entirely my own.

What kind of results should people expect from this process?

It is a relatively simple and immediate process, it’s very satisfying to watch the image forming as you rinse the prints. It can also be done with a basic set-up using daylight to expose the prints – some friends have done great workshops for kids using cyanotypes so I think it’s quite an accessible process. Having said that, the more you work with cyanotype the more possibilities present themselves and I’ve seen some complex work done with the medium by other artists such as Kim Coleman and Lorna Macintyre.

How difficult is it to get the definite results you're looking for (or is that part of the pleasure in using this method?)

"I think that is part of the beauty of the process though, chance operations."

It took quite a few goes to get enough prints on paper for the edition I did for the DCA Print Studio, there were many rejects and lots of variation from print to print. The large fabric works that went into the exhibition however were one-offs as we only had enough materials to have one go at it, so it was a case of accepting whatever idiosyncrasies appeared in the finished image.

I think that is part of the beauty of the process though, chance operations.

I would like to thank Claire McVinnie and Malcolm Thomson in the print studio for teaching me the process and for helping to produce the fabric prints.

Thanks Duncan for a very informative insight into the world of cyanotype!

Duncan created two screenprints and a cyanotype for our Editions Programme, and a publication documenting Duncan's exhibition at DCA is also available to buy in DCA Shop. Please contact for further information on DCA's Editions Programme or have a look at the Editions here.

If you're interested in trying out this process for yourself, we've got a Cyanotype beginners workshop on Sun 22 January 2017, for more information please look here.

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