it’s all about the process

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The creative process is a process of surrender, not control…
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise
.  –Julia Cameron

In January I participated in a two-part workshop to learn how to make cyanotype and Van Dyke brown prints. We created negatives of our own images on an ink-jet printer, and harnessed the power of the sun to develop the prints.


Our instructor explained the process, which includes coating the paper with the cyan or Van Dyke brown solution, sandwiching your negative and the paper into a holder, and exposing it to the sun.  He shared some of his test exposures as well a a finished print.


My classmates and I took turns preparing our paper, printing out our negatives, and readying the images for exposure to the sun.




I had selected an image of stark trees against a wintery sky, which I thought would translate well to the blue and brown print medium and provide good contrast.


And so the printing process began.

in the sun


There was an issue with the Van Dyke brown solution, causing it to create muddy prints. The negatives didn’t print as strongly as we had hoped as the instructor’s printer decided to be finicky that day.   The sun, too, was uncooperative as it danced in and out behind a moving cloud cover.  Some of the prints were underexposed, and some overexposed.


In the end, the cyanotype prints were the most successful of the day.  These were the test prints, and some day in the future we will make a full-page prints using the process that worked best in our tests.


So though the final products were not perfect, the process was educational, entertaining, and fulfilling.  Being able to let go of the end product allowed me immerse myself in the learning, and appreciate the images that resulted.

There are lots of online resources that will teach you about making your own cyanoptype  and Van Dyke brown prints, as well as the history of the process.  Try these:

Alternative Photography: Cyanotype – the Classic Process
Alternative Photography: Beyond the Blues — Van Dyke Brown
Inscrutables: Cyanotype – Super Easy Photo Prints at Home
Cyanotype, Photography’s Blue Period, is Making a Comeback (New York Times, February 5th, 2016)

You can also purchase special sunprint cyanotype paper and play with printing using objects like leaves, ferns, or items around the house.

Give it a try, and enjoy the process!



  1. This processes look like fun, and the results have a sublime handmade aesthetic. Do more! I love digital, but it has compressed so much of the time and so many of the processes required to make a print. Ironically, time saved is sometimes time lost.

    • Thanks Mark! It was great to spend time working on photography in a new way, not rushed or easy. The unpredictability made it magic.

  2. Lucy, these are all fantastic! What a brilliant course. Will you go back in the summer when the light is better?

  3. What a cool workshop! I’d love to attend one like this. And I love the results; those prints remind me a bit of vintage Polaroid peel-apart film.

  4. This looks like it was amazing. I remember getting the squares of cyanotype paper at the museum when I was a kid and being totally fascinated with it. I might have to get some for my kids (and maybe my own stash!) Thanks for sharing this with us!

  5. I’m so intrigued with this! Perhaps I can find a way to do this with my students (after playing around with it myself…) I try to impress upon the kids I teach how important it is to let their creative process flow without worrying too much about the end result.

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