Artist Honl introduces cyanotypes to student creators

Artist Ellie Honl visited the Kinetic Gallery on Wednesday April 5 to teach a free class on cyanotypes. The students created their own pieces and learned about the history of the medium. (Elizabeth Jacobs/Staff Photographer)

Most people know what a blueprint is, but not many know that this style of printing is not just for architectural plans—it’s actually its own form of artwork, known as a cyanotype. 

In an event planned by special education and English double major sophomore Emma Belson—who is the Geneseo Campus Activities Board’s Arts & Exhibits Coordinator—San Jose based artist Ellie Honl taught the process of making cyanotypes. Honl shared some of the history of early photograms to a group of eager students on Wednesday April 5 in the Kinetic Gallery. 

Cyanotypes are made similarly to film photographs. There is an exposure period in which the image is created, as well as a development period. When it comes to cyanotypes, however, only the outline of images are left behind, which are usually in white or light blue on a bright blue background. 

Honl led students through the process of making their own cyanotypes. To begin, the students took an assortment of objects, such as seashells, beads, buttons and cereal before heading outside. There, they placed the objects on paper, which had been pretreated for the creation of cyanotypes. This allowed the paper to be exposed to the sun. After 10 minutes, the students brought their creations inside to be developed in a water bath. 

“Cyanotypes are more accessible because the materials are cheaper,” Honl said. “There’s no expensive developing fluid, just water.” 

Because of the wind, a second round of cyanotypes were developed inside with UV lights, allowing students to use lighter materials—such as flowers, bubble wrap and feather—to create impressions. During the exposure time, Honl gave a presentation on the history of cyanotypes, mentioning significant artists who have done work in the genre. As a former associate lecturer of printmaking at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, silk screening and cyanotypes are Honl’s area of expertise.

“I assume that many of you think that photography is a form of art,” Honl said. “Actually, it developed as a form of science. Photography changed everything. It changed art, it changed science, it changed culture.” 

Cyanotypes were one of the earliest forms of photography, as they were first used to create scientific reproductions of algae by Anna Atkins. It only became accepted as an art form when photography replaced it as a better way to create scientific diagrams and reproductions. Christian Marclay, who creats cyanotypes of cassette tapes, and Hannah Lamb, who hand stitchs silk, metal thread and cloth into her prints, are other noted cyanotype artists.

Upon wrapping up the presentation, Honl showed attendees how to treat their own paper so that they could create their own cyanotypes at home.    

In addition to teaching the class, Honl has an installation in the Kinetic Gallery. 

“Basically, it’s about the way people cope with stressful situation,” she said. “If you enter the gallery, the most maladaptive coping methods are on the left, and as you move toward the right, healthier coping mechanisms are depicted.” 

Honl’s exhibition will be on display through April 14.