Images in Cyanotype
Interview by Jean Cunningham
Photos by Adina Keeling
Beth Adler is an artist and printmaker who works primarily on paper. Recently she incorporated cyanotype into her printmaking methods. Cyanotype is an alternative photography process using chemicals and the light of the sun.
She organizes her work in “collections”, creating prints based on a similar theme but with varying images and shapes. The images can be based on natural materials like leaves and flowers or from shapes of items that inspire the artist.
Adler has a studio on Florence Street in Evanston’s West Village Arts District. It is a storefront with huge glass windows and a parkway garden in the front.
Inside the studio are her essential tools: a press, a light box for cyanotype, a large table to lay out work, a drawing desk, a flat file for storage, and many chairs and benches for friends to stop in and chat! For Adler her press is akin to a painter’s brush. It is the means by which she applies ink to paper for multiple images by making several passes through the press.
The chairs are an essential part of the studio since they enable Adler to just sit and consider her creations both in process and finished. She has posted messages on her walls to gain further inspiration. When a collection is done, she removes all the work from the walls, and starts fresh with a new collection. Typically, she does 2 or 3 collections a year.
The studio is her workshop where she keeps dried flowers and vases. It is equipped with a small sink and facilities. She works there nearly every day, typically in the afternoons for 4-5 hours.
The huge windows help her keep a close eye on the sun. With cyanotype, a chemical solution is brushed on paper. Then items such as plant material or cutout shapes are placed on the paper and laid flat where the sun will shine on the entire sheet of items. When the sun hits the chemical on the paper, a chemical reaction occurs, and that area of the paper turns a lovely Prussian blue. But the paper shielded by the plant material or shapes, does not turn blue and retains the original paper color.
Since the sun is a bit unpredictable in Evanston, she recently purchased a UV light box that she can shine on her smaller pieces to create the reaction. But the sun is needed for her larger artworks which measure between 24” x 36” and 18” x 2”5 inches.
Recently, she and her husband were visiting The Art Institute of Chicago, and they wandered into the Ancient and Byzantine department where an area includes ancient pottery vases that are thousands of years old. Adler’s connection to these ancient pieces was immediate.
She then went online and discovered that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a digital archive of hundreds of ancient vessels. She was able to download many images of them. The various photographs of the vases became the subject of her current project.
Adler collected cardboard food boxes –—from friends and family. She carefully unglued the edges of each box to create a cardboard flat piece that she was going to use as the “paper” for the project. Because the boxes were a variety of sizes, she picked a matching size photograph to use on each box.
Then, she painted the former plain “inside” of each box with the cyanotype chemical, laid the
photographic negative on it, and exposed it to UV light. Once the box is washed out with water, the image of the ancient vessel appears on the inside of the box.
Using colored pencils Adler carefully enhanced the printed image by drawing the vase consistent to the original design and adding dimension.
When several works were complete, it was time to create a display for the project. Originally, she displayed each in a two-sided plastic, upright frame where the image of the ancient vase showed on the “blue” side, and the original outside box design was on the other side.
Then as she continued to build on the collection, Adler began folding the boxes back to their original shape but with the ancient vase on the outside. She cut little peep holes on the side of each box so the viewer could see what type of product the box was originally used for.
The vessel project continues to develop. Adler has recently been printing images of vases on regular paper. She is also combining printmaking techniques with the cyanotypes to create a variety of work on the vessel theme.
Adler said, “Evanston is an engaged, and liberal community with a lot of natural beauty.” She regularly integrates what nature offers into her collections. When not creating art, she enjoys walking the lake and gardening, and visiting cultural venues in Chicago and to help generate new ideas.
To learn more about Beth Adler and her art, visit www.hermanadler.com, her Evanston Made portfolio page.
Jean Cunningham is retired after a career in business management and finance. She has written three books and authored many articles in her field, was a speaker at conferences, and taught at the university level. While traveling for business she began painting and drawing for relaxation and collecting art. She and her husband have lived in Evanston for 11 years and are avid walkers of the town and lakeside. She has a BS from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University.