Feather Cyanotypes, Part One

For the last few sessions of the Sketch of the Week, I've been showing you various and sundry feather sketches I've done intermittently since 2014. I'd always wanted to do something with these drawings, but wasn't sure what to do until I took a cyanotype workshop earlier this year. Today I'll start showing you the project that finally put these neglected studies to you.

I began by making a series of cyanotypes with feathers I had collected during my walks around Roswell. I'd started collecting them in June, and gathered them periodically until September. A large portion of the feathers were found during my commute to the Museum, but there were also quite a few from the Spring River Trail. Most of them had come from doves and pigeons, but there were also specimens from Mississippi kites and other birds. While I didn't collect every feather I saw, I still ended up having about two hundred more than I needed. I like to be thorough.

When it was time to make the cyanotypes, I mixed the chemicals, coated the paper and set them in a dark space to dry. While they were setting, I started by making patterns with the feathers on extra sheets of paper, giving myself the time to achieve a sense of compositional intent.

Some patterns like the one above are variations of vintage natural history illustrations, while others channel the Golden Spiral and other essential forms. I had originally planned to experiment with different patterns ahead of time at home, but my cat kept trying to eat the feathers every time I brought them out, so I arranged everything at the studio instead, working quickly and spontaneously.

Once I had settled on my patterns, I recreated them on the coated paper and set them out in the sun.

Cyanotype after about 20 minutes of sunlight exposure. Originally a light green, the chemicals turn to an olive gray.

Here's what the cyanotype looks like prior to the rinsing process. 

Once I brought them inside, I rinsed them initially in water, followed by a bath in hydrogen peroxide to accelerate the development process. I then returned them to a water bath for about 15 minutes before setting them out to dry.

Here are the developed cyanotypes:

The process of creating feather patterns reminded me of an assignment I had to do in a college art class, one that entailed taking abstract cut-out shapes and arranging them into a composition that conveyed a certain mood or feeling. The feeling I was going for here was a quiet appreciation of nature, a recognition of the beauty that can be found in our everyday surroundings. These feathers were basically the record of my walks to work, a commute that I've done so many times that it's difficult to remember a specific day anymore, yet each of these feathers, themselves multiples, contain their own subtle nuances in shape, line, and color. Collecting these feathers encouraged me to slow down and take another look at what could easily become invisible.

Making the cyanotypes, however, was only step one in my project. Stay tuned next week to find out how I put the drawings that inspired this endeavor in the first place to use.