Participants hold up the cyanotype print they made at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse Aug. 28. Local artist Chelsea Jeffery, second from right, has been working with cyanotypes during her summer residency at the Jenni House. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Jenni House artist uses cyanotype to document world around her

Chelsea Jeffery uses a historical technique to create prints of everything from plants to garbage

Stiff, navy-blue sheets of watercolour paper are hanging from a clothesline inside Shipyards Park’s Jenni House. On each of them, an object is imprinted in stark white relief — leaves with veins, stems and jagged edges clearly defined on one sheet; a twig with leaves and what could be flowers or buds poking out on another.

The work of local artist Chelsea Jeffery, who’s completing the Yukon Arts Centre’s Jenni House Residency this summer, the prints were created via a method called cyanotype, which involves mixing two chemicals — ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide — to create a light-sensitive solution. The solution can then be painted on paper or fabric. When an object is put on top and the medium is exposed to sunlight, the subsequent reaction turns the uncovered areas blue while leaving the parts covered by the object the original colour of the paper or fabric.

“It’s really just applying objects to a sensitized surface and then capturing something of their physical form in the finished product, which I find really interesting,” Jeffery said, who did her largest cyanotype to date on Aug. 28 — a roughly three-metre-by-three-metre print that enlisted the help of a handful of people who laid down on the treated fabric in Shipyards Park for over 30 minutes.

Originally a printmaker who worked in historical photo curation while living in Toronto, Jeffery’s background in women’s studies and the history of photography led her to discover the work of Anna Atkins, a 19th century English botanist who’s widely cited as being the first female photographer and whose book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, published in 1843, is widely considered the first book to be illustrated with photos.

Although she knew about cyanotype’s historical significance — it was also used by engineers and architects to duplicate designs, which is where “blue print” came from — Jeffery said she never tried it herself until she moved to Whitehorse two and a half years ago.

“When I moved here, (I) didn’t really have access to a letterpress which I loved, so I was like, ‘What else can I do?’ So although this is very different from letterpress printing, I kind of see this as a form of relief printing, so using the surface of an object to create a printed image,” she said.

Along with her interest in botany and plant identification, Jeffery said she was drawn to cyanotype because of the unique process, one that straddles both photography and printmaking.

“I was really intrigued by the chemical process that it involves, it’s a very beautiful process to me. I enjoy mixing the chemicals, I enjoy applying the emulsion to the paper, I really enjoy exposing it to the sun and then kind of seeing the result as you rinse it,” she said.

The making of a cyanotype is somewhat of an art in itself, an evolving series of gentle colours that lead up to the final, bold print. When first applied to paper, the solution takes on a greenish-yellow colour that looks more like a stain than paint. Once exposed to the sun — typically, Jeffery places the treated paper and objects between two sheets of glass and hold them tightly together with binder clamps — the exposed parts of the paper gradually start to turn brown-grey. Depending on how sunny it is, a print typically sits out for 15 to 20 minutes until Jeffery retrieves it and dunks it into a tub of water, where yet another transformation happens; as the water turns yellow, the parts of the print exposed to the sun suddenly turn a deep, dark blue, while the covered fade from an electric greenish-yellow to white. After swirling it around to get the remaining chemicals out, Jeffery washes the print under running water before hanging it up to dry.

Although the majority of her prints so far have been of plants, Jeffery recently started experimenting with making prints of litter. Hanging between two recent prints of leaves and flowers on her Jenni House clothesline were pieces featuring cigarette packages and butts, straw wrappers, a muffin liner and cough drop wrappers. It felt like a natural next step for what Jeffery sees as a medium meant to document what’s immediately in the world around her.

“I would say that our natural world also now includes garbage…” Jeffery said. “I feel like if I were to only select beautiful plants to make prints of, then I’m not really sampling from my environment accurately.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Whitehorse march marks anniversary of Wendy Carlick, Sarah MacIntosh murders

The march, held in Whitehorse’s McIntyre subdivision, also honoured Allan Waugh and Greg Dawson

Axed whistleblower sues Yukon government

Jarrett Parker alleges he was terminated for suggesting kids were not receiving appropriate care

Yukon health minister under fire for handling of group home controversy

Silver calls opposition questions raised in public ‘parlour tricks’

Gwich’in, allies vow resistance as U.S. readies ANWR drilling leases

‘The administration has made my people a target’

Black Press Media acquires two new Alaska newspapers

New Media Investment Group to acquire the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal while Black Press Media takes on daily newspapers in Juneau and Kenai Alaska

Gold Rush star Tony Beets appeals pond fire fines

Beets and his company, Tamarack Inc., were fined $31k for violating portions of the Waters Act

Defence lawyer asks Crown appeal of Kolasch acquittal be dismissed

In factum, Harry Kolasch’s lawyer says it’s clear that police officer used excessive force

Yukon Liberals raise $20,000 at Vancouver hockey game

Silver says no public money spent on trip, party refuses to say who bought tickets

Inspector, CYFN lawyer talk about WCC inspection at justice conference

David Loukidelis and Jennie Cunningham spoke about the Whitehorse Correctional Centre

An early view on how the carbon tax will affect the Yukon economy

If you only remember two numbers from the recently released federal-territorial study… Continue reading

‘New way of thinking’ about infrastructure funding asks First Nations and municipalities to chip in

Some of YG’s 25 per cent share of infrastructure cash may come from municipalities or First Nations

Nadia Moser named to senior national team

Whitehorse’s Nadia Moser was officially named to the senior national team by… Continue reading

Most Read