Anthotypes are a way to create fine art images from garden and household plants. The elegant process was originally invented by Sir William Herschel in 1842. An emulsion is made from crushed flower petals or any other light-sensitive plant, fruit or vegetable. A coated sheet of paper is then dried, exposed to direct full sun-light until the image is bleached out. This is done ideally in a printing frame over 1-3 days or more depending on conditions and negative/material. What you see is what you get. No fixation is required. You can follow the gradually emerging image as you go. Results vary greatly from plant to plant and the strength of the emulsion employed. The resulting images are exquisite and often almost wispy or dream-like. The Anthotype process is a beautiful way to make images and is certainly the most environmentally-friendly.
For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:
- What is the method of creating an Anthotype?
- What materials do I need?
- Will there be enough sunlight to develop the image via transparency or photogram object?
I predict that moderate to full sunshine will be required to complete to bleaching process and the process will take longer depending on the amount of light available. I am also under the impression that thick water colour paper, possibly 300gsm, will absorb more solution and allow for more vibrant colour, however thicker paper may take longer to bleach due to the amount of pigment that it can hold.
The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (Library Resources)
The Anthotype is a Greek work that means flower. The process was invented and developed by Sir John Herschel, later being experimented with by more post modernist artist’s. The process consists of using only organic materials that are environmentally friendly and pleasant in toxicity causing no harm via inhalation etc. The method was first created in early 1840s and is a bleaching method using natural UV light from the sun.
Herschel carried out a number of experiments based around this process which included; the use of different flower petals and vegetation, experimentation with light from the sun and alcohol. However, after experimenting with these elements further, Herschel decided upon two possible paths to go down for further investigation, which were;
- To experiment with selective filtering of light for manipulating exposures.
- Experiment with the use of natural pigments from flowers to make the images, via bleaching the colours with the sunlight.
In 1832, Herschel conducted an experiment that involved the use of two glass tubes, filled with palatinate of lime (Calcium Chloroplatinite). He filled a glass with liquid and the red coloured solution from the petals has prevented the platinum lime water from being influenced by UV. This confirmed that the action of light determined the precipitation of marinate of platinum by lime water. To experiment further, he made a solution from red rose leaves soaked in sulphuric acid, to release the colour and experiment on the violet end of the colour scale.
Herschel carried out his first plant dye photograph after studying the light sensitivity of natural plant matter. He also used coloured objects that reflected the light of the same colour tone presented in the petals juices. However, he discovered that the colour pigment created when the juice was created did not always present as the same colour in the final outcome. This was due to the way different types of flowers and vegetation react to acidity, alkalinity of the solution.
Due to these technicalities exposure times varied depending on the type of flower, plant or vegetation used. It is said that flowers like the Yellow Japonica or Beetroot can work efficiently, often developing within several hours to several days.
There is no need to wash or fix the image after development as the sun has done all the work already. It is said that blue tone pigments are easier to expose but harder to preserve. In this case the image could be scanned onto the computer and then printed onto Japanese rice paper which looks appealing and is easier to preserve.
There are a number of artist’s successfully carrying out this sensitive process, however upon research I came across two artists which were particularly appealing to me;
Hans de Bruijn uses beetroot and achiote juice to create his images, then scans them and makes them black and white, presumable upping the contrast to digitally enhance them. His work has an otherworldly and space like appearance, with lots of texture and very sharp in detail.
Silvino Gonzalez creates anthotypes, gum-oils and gum-bichromates which are all natural photographic processes which can be used in cresting images via sun bleaching.
Materials required for the process:
- Acetate printing paper
- Watercolour art paper
- A dozen petals from colourful flowers, berries, leaves or other plant
- Mortar and pestle or a food blender
- A bowl for mixing the ingredients in
- Water (distilled if possible) or alcohol
- Cheese cloth, coffee filter, cotton cloth or a very fine masked strainer
- Paint brush
- A glass clip frame or contact print frame
- A large size positive (not negative) or items to make photograms
- Plenty of sunshine
- News paper to protect work surfaces
- Gloves and apron or an old T-shirt
Work in a dimly lit area and prepare a dark drying area before starting the emulsion process.
- Grind, mash or plant/petals
- If the plants, leaves or berries are too dry, dilute a little with a few drops of either tap water, distilled water, denatured alcohol, vodka, lighter fuel, paraffin oil, olive oil or rapeseed oil.
- Once it is blended or crushed into pulp, strain it through the chosen filter.
- Once it has all drained through use a tea spoon to remove any excess liquid, discard the leftover liquid and pulp in the filter.
- Ensure that the cloth is thoroughly cleaned between different emulsions to avoid contamination or use a new filter for each strain.
- Brush or drip the emulsion onto the watercolour paper (both add different qualities to the final print).
- Coating with a brush allows visible brush strokes on the paper.
- Place photogram objects or positive print onto the paper to make a print.
- Place in contact print frame and lock
- Leave in the sunshine for days or even weeks to bleach the print.
Materials Purchased for the process:
- 16 Sheets of A4 Watercolour Paper (180gsm)
- 60 Acetate Transparency Sheets A4 for Laser and Copier
- 50 piece set, coffee machine dripper filters (24cm)
Experimenting with my own Anthotypes:
After researching the work of Hans de Bruijn, I decided to experiment further with creating my own anthotype with the use of beetroot juice to obtain a more concentrated stain. I did not make use of a photo frame this time but stuck the acetate to the paper after it had dried and stock to a piece of card and placed in the window.
I followed the same method as above, only this time I used a different acetate which had a clear background.
This attempt was the most successful, due to the use of a glass sheet to hold down the overlay. It’s unfortunate I only implemented this part way through the process, through discovering taping them to the window was allowing the transparency to came away from the pigments layer. There are certain sections that are more detailed than others, possibly due to light intensity and variations in the pigmentation of the paper.
The anthotype process has been interesting but challenging, due to the longevity of the exposure time. After unsuccessful results with plant pigments, some relatively legible results have been achieved using beetroot juice. It has not been a particularly interesting process to implement, due to the nature of just leaving it to one side for as long as possible.
 ALTERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. (2016) Anthotype: Step by Step Instructions to Making a Print Using Plants. [Online] Available from: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/processes/anthotypes/anthotypes-making-print-using-plants [Accessed: 27th January 2016]
 JAMES, C. (2009). The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Chapter 6, pgs 138-144. 2nd Ed. Delmar: Cengage Learning.
 JAMES, C. (2002). The Anthotype Process pdf. [Online] Available from: http://www.geraldbivens.com/rd/james-anthotype-process.pdf [Accessed: 08 May 2016]