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  • mel anderson

The Magic of Cyanotypes

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

It was a strange place to go, the potter in me did not expect it. The illustrator, the graphic designer. There were no clues as to why I followed this long and winding path to printmaking, a process I had no interest in at all. My kiln door had rusted shut and I was poverty stricken. It was a challenging time to be me. If I couldn't work with clay ... I searched around for what I could do. I had been using photography for some time, to define my world, observe and interrogate my life and figure out where I fit. Taking photos helped me connect with others and find a way to relate to people. To understand. Because I don't. People confuse me.

Using transparencies, feathers and coated paper, I sandwich the work under glass sheets and expose in the sunlight.
Exposing cyanotypes.

Photography is a way to reframe and honour the beauty in the everyday. Repetition is always a comfort to me and, in time, I was quick to edit all the images I had captured. Everything could be cropped, adjusted and reimagined. Beauty is a construct and this little world I created, this reflection of my own inner world, personally curated and safe, was so much kinder than the real world out there which just kept kicking me when I was down.

Multiple cyanotypes being exposed in the sun.

Why cyanotypes? How did I find them? Decide to follow them? I do like things I can do myself with little equipment, skill or materials. I searched for methods to create exposures with the sun, I sought out the chemicals, kits, and dreamed up ideas. And, of course, in time I grew to love them. To find them a delightful diversion from a life which just kept beating me over the head like a blunt object. And I could take my suffering and find the beauty in remaking it. In the sun.


I followed the stories. They grew. Like the branches and roots of trees they kept multiplying. One idea leading to another and before I knew it I was lost in the process and adding layers and more layers. I am a complex and difficult person - a simple image was not enough. I had to layer multiple images. To add embellishments, my handiwork over the images in pen and ink and paint.

Then I moved onto phosphorescent paint. Glow-in-the-dark. Mostly, I was trying to capture the bioluminescence of the river at night. The face of the river by day and by night. In the one artwork. It entranced me, this work that was both honest and unashamed of itself and also, at night, a labyrinth of light and mapping and layers and annotations and mark-making that felt like the unconscious rising to the surface to show itself at night despite it being hidden. Even from itself.

I could analyse my works, after the fact, and tell you what they mean, what they show me about myself. But that is after the fact. It is in the making that I find myself, work through my emotions and deep feelings to keep myself sane. The making is the gift. The journey is the point and the end is the means to the discovery.


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