Making an artist book with sun prints

I’ve just completed my first artist book for a show “Being Tourist” here in Canmore at Sunny Raven Gallery. For the book, I decided to explore a whole new methodology in printmaking.

Linda Cote-Artist Book Cover

My first artist book “Finding Home” with a handmade cover, and insides using solar or sun printing.

My inspiration came from a field trip I took earlier this year with my son’s Grade 4 class. We were at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies exploring various forms of light and photography as an educational tie-in to this year’s Exposure Photography Festival.  For one of the “stations” in the museum, the kids made solar prints using found objects (leaves, twigs, little toys) and exposing them to the sun. They left a special paper in the sun outside with the objects on top, then after several minutes they brought the paper in and placed it in water to stop the process and reveal the ghostly images.

Seeing the results of this magical process, I knew I had to use this type of “printing” in my art. I chose to incorporate the process into my artist book called “Finding Home”. The book is about my ancestor’s love affair with the Bow Valley and the Canadian Rockies where I now live. From the 1920s on, my family has toured and picnicked and hiked in the mountains, and it’s a passion they passed along to my parents and myself.

Eventually, I also came to live in the mountains, so the book explores a quest for finding that special place that makes us feel at home, whether we live there or visit there. Either way, the mountains have been in my blood for decades.

The book was created using a process that is technically referred to as cyanotype printing; a type of non-silver photographic printing that results in a cyan-blue print. These prints were also called “blueprints” and were popular in engineering circles well into the 20th Century.

Linda Cote-Artist Book Back

A spread of my artist book showing the sun prints.

Although there are many ways of creating cyanotypes, I used a pre-treated paper that can be purchased at some art stores, and makes the process available without having to mix chemicals for the process.

(The website, Alternative Photography, shows the many different ways to get deeper into cyanotype printing.)

For the sun prints part of this project, I needed:

– the special sun print paper (I used a brand made by Nature Print Paper)

– an object to print from (in this case I used negatives printed on transparencies from a computer-generated collage I created from family photographs, stamps and maps)

– a board (I used the back of a photo frame)

– the sun (not the easiest to find during this rainy month of June in Canmore!)

– a tub of water, and

– a drying table with liberal amounts of paper towel

The “photo negatives” were made on computer using my scanned photos and objects collaged together to create the page art.  These were then printed on special transparency paper run through my desktop laser printer.

Linda Cote-Transparencies

The transparency with the image in black/white negative style.

The cyanotype paper is laid on a board to keep it flat, and covered with the transparency with the image “right reading” to yourself. The art is then placed in direct sunlight  — I used the strong sun coming in through my south-facing studio window to good effect. Once the image is sufficiently exposed (times vary depending on the paper and the strength of the sunlight), the paper was removed and placed immediately into water to stop the exposure process.

Linda Cote-Sun Print 1

A transparency of a poem hand-written by my grandfather referring to the lure of the mountains, laid on top of the special sun print paper.

Linda Cote-Sun Print 2

Another negative on top of the sun print paper. What is “white” in the negative will appear dark on the final print.

The paper is left in the water bath for about a minute, then damped off with paper towel and left to dry and process further over night. The print darkened considerably after about 12 hours. These blue sun prints were eventually mounted on beautiful textured paper and sewn into my book.

Linda Cote-Print and Bin

The print just out of the bin and drying on paper towels.

Linda Cote-Sun Print 3

The prints drying on paper towels. They curl a lot in the process, and go from quite light blue to quite dark in about 12 hours.

Linda Cote-Book Assembly

The sun prints were mounted with spray glue onto the white textured paper.

The book cover was handmade by me using a technique similar to one I learned at a bookmaking workshop at the Banff Centre.

Linda Cote-Assemble Cover1

The cover was handmade using book board and paper that looked like leather. The binding end was drilled with two holes, and tied with cord.

Linda Cote-Assemble Cover2

Assembling the binding for the whole book using a strong cord.

The full, finished book with each page described, can be found on my Linda Cote Studio Facebook artist page.

Linda Cote-Cover detail

For the cover, I used a scan of my grandfather’s tin National Park Pass from 1939, and mounted the cut-out of it on the front of the book to look like the real tin plate.

To see this book in person, and other amazing artist books in the show, visit Sunny Raven Gallery in Canmore, Alberta. They are open to the public from Tuesday through Friday (10 am – 6 pm) and Saturdays (10 am – 5 pm). The Artist Book Show runs until July 14, 2012.


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11 responses to “Making an artist book with sun prints

  1. What a wondeful book (I checked out the pics on facebook), and a great use of ‘sun prints’. I have some sun print paper at home but never thought of utilising it through my computer and scanner. Thanks very much for sharing this technique.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment! Yes, it was a fun thing to create. I wanted to capture the photos on “blueprints” because both seem so transitory, and my studio partner and I brainstormed the idea. Then, a few days later, I talked with a local bookmaker, and she was teaching this technique in a few weeks time! Haha…you think you’re original, and then. 🙂 So, I am glad you found this post informative … that’s what this is about: sharing inspiration!

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