How to Make Sun prints

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Whether you went to the seaside or the mountains or stayed local this summer, chances are you have a pile of natural keepsakes, picked up while wandering, which now sit in a bowl or on a table in your home. Not sure what to do with them? You can use those shells, dried flowers or other mementos to make a unique and everlasting sun print.

Sun prints, also called cyanotypes, rely on a chemical reaction involving light-sensitive paper and the sun to create silhouettes. They result in beautiful prints colored white and cyan-blue. Cyanotypes were invented in 1842 by the English scientist and astronomer John Herschel and have been used since by architects, botanists and artists to create practical but stunning images.

But you don’t have to be an artist or chemist to make a sun print. Plenty of affordable kits that have everything you need can be purchased at craft stores or online, and cost around $20.

Start by gathering your keepsakes and trying out different compositions on your table. Remember, the paper is light sensitive so it’s best to have an idea of what you’d like to do before you start working with it.

Since the image will be a silhouette, think about graphic or repetitive arrangements, but keep in mind there really are no rules. Arrange dried flowers to make a small bouquet. Create a radiating pattern. Layer shells or rocks or other three-dimensional items to ultimately create various shades of blue. Fill the paper fully or put a single item in the middle of the page. Can’t set up something you like? Try sprinkling the items gently on the paper to see where they land for a more abstract and fluid arrangement.

Credit…Christy Harmon/The New York Times
Credit…Christy Harmon/The New York Times

After your desired composition is in place, rearrange your mementos quickly on your sunpaper and lay out the sheet in direct sunlight, either inside or preferably outdoors on a nonwindy day. (The process works faster in bright sunlight, but this can also be done on an overcast day; it will just need to sit a little longer.) After a few minutes, the paper should turn almost white. After exposing it for one to five minutes, remove the keepsakes and gently rinse the sheet with cool water for about a minute. Dry flat.

As you rinse the paper, it will gradually turn from white to blue again, and become even darker once dry.

Most kits come with quite a few sheets of paper, so if you don’t get it right the first time, keep trying different compositions. Once the paper is dry, press it in a book overnight to smooth it out even more, then frame your sheet and marvel at your craftiness. It’s a great way to create some beauty from a summer you may rather forget.

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