What is happening in Lockerbie and what is a cyanotype? What We Do Now Lockerbie artist Elizabeth Stephenson explains more.
In my role as creative practitioner in Lockerbie as part of the What We Do Now network, I’ve been meeting with people at the weekly Lockerbie Old School-hosted Lunch Club at the town hall, and the Craft Club at the Bowling Green. We’ve been having conversations about creativity, along with some shared activities. This has allowed me to learn about their range of skills and expertise that people often seem to carry very lightly. In this way, I’ve encountered some skilful knitters, crocheters, embroiderers, and ingenious crafters as well as people who enjoy the processes of making and doing.
One exciting conversation that has been unfolding has been centred around cyanotypes after Jessie, a participant, mentioned that she had been given a cyanotype kit as a gift. Cyanotype is a type of photographic image-making popularised in Victorian times using photosensitised paper. Objects are placed on top of it and exposed to the sun’s UV rays for anything from 2 –30 minutes, depending on the time of year; the resulting image is white on a cyan blue ground. As the process is contingent on the weather, so too are the resulting prints. However, that’s one of the charms of working with cyanotypes – every print is a mystery until it’s rinsed and fully dried. As such, it takes a little patience and acceptance that some prints might not turn out as pleasingly as others. The ‘mishap’ prints can still be reused for other projects – overprinting with a gel plate or monoprint, collage, even stitching etc. Nothing needs to be wasted.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working with cyanotype papers between the rain and snow showers and then bringing them together to talk about how we might develop this process as a bigger project. Jessie’s enthusiasm is infectious, and her prints are so crisp, it’s encouraging me to work at improving my own. She described seeing her garden from a new purposeful perspective; she finds interesting plant shapes to expose and knows where she can get the best light for a good print. Sometimes, when there’s a creative purpose, a familiar place can take on a whole new aspect as the details come into focus.
These initial experiments have led us to try the cyanotype process on fabrics. This necessitated the conversion of a pokey wee understairs cupboard into a mini dark room involving a cat’s cradle of string and pegs, a safe light that looks Darth Vader’s light sabre propped up in a corner, and swathes of black Tyvek polythene to make a tent around the door (I got a lot of help with this). There wasn’t much space in there, but I managed to get some swatches of fabric coated with the photosensitising chemicals.
Once we’ve got some fabric prints that we’re happy with and are comfortable with the process, we’re going to work with stitch and embellishment with a view to building a larger collective project. The arrival of Spring means that there’s more light and better weather to catch the sun for our prints. It’s also a good time to be coming out to reconnect with people and the places we share.
Another key aspect of this developing project centres on Lesley who brought her beautiful junk journal to Craft Club for us to see. It’s a work-in-progress collection of found and embellished materials and ephemera in the form of a mixed media book. Constructed and curated by Lesley according to her interests and items that she encounters, the journal is an object imbued with meanings, stories and memories that she explained as she gave us a ‘tour’ of the book.
What if we could draw together our cyanotype explorations into a book, one that might document and celebrate people’s stories of Lockerbie now? Further, what if those involved could share their skills and explorations with others who might want to join in with this, or start a personal journal of their own?