I’ve been a graphic designer for about eight years now (ten if you count freelancing in law school), and about 2% of that time has been spent making things with actual paper. I’m fairly crafty and somewhat capable with my hands, but printing on paper is something at which I never really became adept. I also like to do things the hard way sometimes, and I value that which is unique, therefore it made little sense for me to design our invitations and send them off to a printer. I decided to do the only reasonable thing and make each invitation by hand.
I always thought cyanotypes were lovely, and the blue worked so well with our theme. I was inspired by the hauntingly beautiful Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins, published in 1843. Though her prints of sea life are quite beautiful–
what really intrigued me was the tiny type and details and I thought, I could do that. Feminist bonus: this book represents the first photographic work of a woman, and the first book produced entirely by photographic means.
First, I started by creating a transparency. No–first, I started by finding 150 blue and gold envelopes at Blick in the clearance section for $3.00 which determined the size of the actual invitations. Then I designed the thing in Photoshop and printed it out on a sheet of transparent film.
Pretty soon I got wise and realized I could get the job done three times as fast if I printed three of them on one sheet. In hindsight, I probably could have done four, but thisll work out. Next, I bought four large sheets of paper in varying shades, textures and weights just for fun, along with some light-sensitive dye, wash, and a cheap paintbrush. The whole thing cost me about $30, not counting the envelopes.
How it works
First, I go to a dark place (physically, not metaphorically) and brush the dye onto the paper. It’s kind of tough to see where the dye is going (and to photograph, see first photo in post) because it goes on pretty clear and, well, you’re sort of in the dark. But I got the hang of it after a while, and I kind of like the areas in the finished product where you can see some of the brush strokes. Next, it’s important to let the paper dry a little. The transparent film doesn’t breathe, and if too much moisture is trapped between the film and the paper, the dye just runs during exposure and separates from the film and nothing is legible. Once I’m confident that the paper is just right, I place the film on top, slide it inside of a folded-up mailing box to keep it dark, take it outside and place it on top of the cardboard in a sunny place. A sheet of glass leftover from repairing a broken window holds it all in place. Then, we wait.
When it’s done, it’s critical that the unexposed dye be rinsed out as best as possible. This is tricky, because if the paper gets too wet, the dye will run and the text won’t be legible. But if you don’t rinse it well enough, the unexposed bits will gradually turn blue. Not as deep as the rest of the paper, but a faint blue nonetheless. This isn’t horrible, but it wasn’t what I had in mind. So I prepared a bath of hot water and soap (not sure if any soap will do, but I’m kind of a sucker so I bought the special SolarFast rinse that goes with it), laid the exposed side down flat in the bath and kind of skated it on the surface for a minute, then rinsed it with hot water.
Some of them turned out beautifully–
and some were more imperfect. And I think that’s what I love about them; I love the brushstrokes and the variation in color. I got a matching stamp and some silver ink to dress up the envelopes a little.
These are also imperfect. At least our guests knew what to expect.