All posts by Sarah

Photographer, writer, web developer, tea drinker, collector of old cameras and books, obsessed with Polaroids, plays classical violin and cello. Lives in Dorset, UK.

Chicken Stew

British Jewish Penicillin with an Asian Twist

This is great for using up any leftovers from a roast, is budget friendly and healthy. This post is more of a guide than a recipe.

My version bears only a passing resemblance to the stew my grandmother made in that it contains chicken and carrots – I think that’s it in terms of similarity although I’m sure hers was authentic Jewish food. Mine can only be called that because I’m Jewish and I make it. It’s probably not Kosher either, although using Marigold Vegan Bouillon would probably remedy that.

Ingredients:

  • Cooked chicken carcass or leftover cooked chicken and stock (I’m using 600ml of stock)
  • Onion
  • Leeks
  • Red chilli or chilli flakes or powder
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mixture of vegetables. I’m using 4 carrots, 2 parsnips, a sweet potato, half a butternut squash.
  • Red lentils (two handfuls, about 2/3 cup)
  • Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon

The Bit You Can Skip if You’re Rushed – Chicken Carcass

First, strip the chicken carcass. I have three bowls when I’m doing this. One for bones, one for skin and chewy bits that I give to the dog, and one for nice meat that I’m going to keep and add to the stew. If you are unlucky and you don’t have a dog, you can add the gristle and skin etc to the carcass to make the stock but it will add extra fat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with a halved onion and some salt and almost cover with cold water. If you want you can also add carrot and some celery. I don’t like celery so I don’t. Add any bones from the legs or wings – basically all the horrible bits. Put the nice bits of chicken that you can eat in the fridge to add to the stew later. Feed what you will to the dog.

Put the carcass on to boil – you’re looking to reduce the liquid by about 1/2. Just boil it down for a while. I put this on after lunch and let it boil until I’m ready to start cooking, but it doesn’t have to take that long. Just don’t let any fussy kids or fussy grown-ups see it as it doesn’t look great. When this is done, strain the liquid into a jug or bowl and put the solid remains into the food compost bin.

Making chicken stock with the carcass

If you’re using leftover roast chicken and there’s any gel like material in the roasting tin don’t use that yet, but hold onto it to add to the stew later. This is really tasty stuff so don’t waste it.

Alternatively if you don’t want to be bothered with all of this just use cooked leftover chicken and when it comes to stock use ready made.

Drained chicken that I used to make the stock. The yellow bits are lemon – I used lemons to cook the roast chicken and I have left them in for this. This is pretty scary looking.

The Stew

I’m not going to put amounts in here because this is to taste. If you like a thin stew that’s more like a soup then use less vegetables and a lot more liquid. If someone is ill, use more garlic, ginger and chilli because these help unblock noses. If you like ginger, use more ginger. If you hate garlic, leave it out. I used 2 cloves of garlic, one large red chilli and a thumb sized piece of ginger. This gives quite a chilli kick, so if you just want the chilli to add a gentle warmth then use half.

Chop up a leek or two by quartering them lengthways then slicing into small pieces. Soak the leeks in cold water for a few minutes and then drain them. You’re looking to rinse out any little bits of grit or mud that can sometimes get in at the top. If they’re large untrimmed leaks I do this a couple of times. If they’re extra trimmed and beautiful don’t worry, just chop them up and rinse. If you don’t like leek, use an onion instead.

Cut up your veggies into similar sized chunks, use whatever is in season or whatever you like. I vary the amount of vegetables depending on how many people I want to feed.

If you’re using fresh chilli, ginger and garlic then prepare those. I freeze my fresh ginger and chilli, so I cheat at preparation for those by using a microplane grater straight into the pan for all of it as well as the garlic.

Using a microplane for a frozen chilli – this is what’s left over

The microplane works really well for frozen chilli and the seeds just sit on the top so are automatically removed. Fresh chilli isn’t always available in my local shops, so freezing it works well for me and I’ve not noticed any difference in flavour.

When you’re ready to cook the stew (this takes about 2 hours for best results), take a large saucepan (I use the one I made the stock in) and add a small knob of butter and some olive oil. Add your leek and cook for a few minutes, then if you’re lazy like me you can microplane in the chilli, ginger and garlic. If you’re working from fresh, let the leek soften first and then add those ingredients and cook until you can smell the garlic is cooked – probably about 3 minutes or so (the smell of garlic changes as it cooks, but you don’t want it to go brown or get bitter. Soft and cooked is what you’re going for, not browned).

Cook leeks with ginger, garlic and chilli

Tip in the chopped vegetables, mix it all up and put a lid on for 20 minutes on a low heat to give everything time to soften. Add a little water if you’re worried about anything burning or sticking, but if that’s happening you may have the heat too high. There should be enough moisture in the vegetables to stop that. Resist the temptation to keep taking the lid off and stirring it. Just let it be for 10 minutes and check.

Mix vegetables with leeks

When the vegetables are beginning to soften, add in a handful or two of red lentils if you’re using them (I measured this at 2/3 cup). Then add in your stock (from your drained chicken if you’re using it, otherwise a chicken or vegetable stock of your choice) and top up with cold water if needed depending on how much liquid you need to just cover everything. If you saved any gel like stuff from the roasting tin, now’s the time to add it. Give it all a stir and bring it to the boil. For the lentils, you need to let this boil uncovered for 10 minutes. You can skim off any foam that rises to the top, but you don’t have to. When it’s boiled rapidly for 10 minutes, turn it down and let it stew on a low heat. Add a lid and top it up with boiled kettle water if needed and depending on how much liquid you want.

After cooking for about an hour

When it’s been boiling away for an hour give it a taste to see if it needs anything – maybe salt or pepper? I often add a bit of Marigold at this point just because I love the taste of it. Remember that the flavour will come down a bit when the chicken has been added.

The final stew

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, add your chicken pieces – the nice bits that you saved. I let the chicken sit on the top rather than stirring it in as if it makes its way to the bottom too quickly it can burn and it’s difficult to stir the stew with dumplings or matzo balls sitting on the top, which you should also add now if you’re making them.

Life in Lockdown

It’s March 2021. We’re approaching the point where this time last year, the UK went into its first lockdown. It feels like a good moment to reflect on what’s happened this last year, and what might happen in the next few months.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope as well as sadness. My partner had his Covid vaccination yesterday and I hope that I will get mine in the next couple of weeks. My daughter had hers several weeks ago and my eldest son should get his by July. Hopefully the youngest will follow shortly after that.

Like almost everyone, I’ve found this latest lockdown a real struggle. January was worst but I managed to muddle through February staying fairly sane but with an awareness that I would easily slip into depression if I didn’t recognise and tackle things that were having an effect on my mood. By the beginning of March announcements from the UK government about when the lifting of restrictions might happen had been made, and a return to school was in sight for my children. That announcement helped a lot because one of the worst things for me has been seeing my youngest son (aged 16) struggling.

There’s a feeling that life could be back to some form of normal by the middle of June if the pace of the vaccination programme continues in the UK. Thanks to the NHS, that’s likely. My local GP surgery are vaccinating all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The appointments are timed precisely to the minute, and the whole operation seems to be running like clockwork. I was surprised at the amount of relief I felt when I got the text from my partner asking me to put the kettle on as he’d had his vaccine and was on his way home. It was quite an emotional moment. I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but thanks to a lot of very hard working people, we’re getting there.

When the first lockdown came into force, I became obsessed with growing things. I planted so many seeds and grew all sorts. I don’t have a greenhouse but I do have a south-facing porch and so I filled it with seed trays full of courgettes, tomatoes, salad, peppers and whatever else I could get my hands on. I planted more than ever before in my garden and that’s been useful as just last week I was picking home grown kale for a recipe.

This time around I’ve taken to doing a few online cookery classes with Waitrose Cookery School via Zoom just to do something a bit different. I’ve learnt how to cook some new dishes and picked up some great cooking tips. So I’ve been cooking from scratch a lot more as it’s increased my confidence in the kitchen. All the same, I can’t wait until the local cafes, bars and restaurants open and I can eat a meal I’ve not had to plan or shop for that’s been cooked by someone else.

The other thing I want to do when the restrictions ease is see my daughter and her fiancé without being worried about not being able to hug anyone, then I want to go to the cinema, and then book in a trip to London. It’s funny to realise how important going to the cinema is to me; it wasn’t until cinemas opened after the first lockdown and I immediately booked tickets for The Empire Strikes Back that I knew how much I had missed it.

Through this whole time I’ve continued to keep a diary almost every day, a habit I developed as part of self-reflective practice on the photography degree. There’s not a lot going on, but I can always find something to write about and I find I write more and more each day.

At the beginning of the lockdown last March, I had a lot of photography I knew I had to get on with and catch up on. I’d been to London in early February and that, as usual, had been inspirational and sparked a lot of new ideas. So the first couple of months were okay. I found I had a lot of ideas I wanted to pursue although there were some I couldn’t because of the restrictions. I had begun some work on religion and had several contacts lined up to photograph and interview as part of this. I got one interview done and then had to stop. I didn’t want to put myself or anyone else at risk for the sake of a photograph.

Some self-portrait work during the initial lockdown in 2020

I tried some self-portraiture with mixed success. There was a story I was trying to tell, but being stuck indoors I felt I couldn’t quite get there; the emotional aspect of the work was getting to me. There was a brief but not total respite during the summer in terms of lockdown, but it didn’t help with my creative block. I visited family in London, I saw my mum which always leaves me with mixed feelings, but as a family we didn’t feel comfortable travelling or staying overnight anywhere so we didn’t get any real time away from the house. We did get out to a few restaurants and shops. I felt safe going out to eat, but I didn’t like the experience of shopping anywhere – not being allowed to touch or pick things up before you buy them, not able to try make up, it all ended up being easier to just get online and so my bad Amazon habit has just got worse, even though for a few weeks I purposefully tried to always look for an alternative locally before I resorted to bolstering the earnings of Jeff Bezos.

My great-aunt Viola died from Covid aged 99. This portrait is from 2018.

My photography has reflected how I have felt the last year, that I’m living in some endless day in this house that is repeated over and over, and the only punctuation points are the days I walk the dog. These days represent the furthest I travel from the house during lockdown periods. There’s a bench at the furthest point on my walk, and some time during June 2020 I took to sitting at it whenever it was free, and taking a photograph from that point. That’s built up into a photographic project during lockdown which is a diary and probably hundreds of photographs all taken from the same point on the same camera for the same reason, usually on the same days. As the restrictions in England come to an end, I think it’s likely to coincide with the time this project really kicked off for me and I will have a years worth of work that perfectly represents how I have experienced life during this period. I’m going to start adding those images and extracts from the diary to my main photography site soon, and will probably put a shortened version of it on this site.

Transfer Images to Plaster

How to Transfer an Image onto Plaster

This post will show you how to transfer a laser printed image onto plaster.

Keep in mind that this technique probably won’t give you a perfect result. For me, part of the reason for this process is the introduction of slight imperfections that add character to the final piece.

Steps:

  • Create a plaster base (method below) using Plaster of Paris in an appropriate waterproof container.
  • Make a laser print of the image you want to transfer.
  • Coat plaster and image with gloss or matt acrylic medium and allow to dry.
  • Transfer image.

Creating Your Plaster Base

To create the base first prepare a mould. I use take away containers or other plastic from my recycling that has been cleaned and dried.

How much plaster to mix depends on the size and thickness of the work you’re creating but I used 300g of plaster and 150ml of water to create a block that was about 10cm x 15cm and 2cm deep.

Mix two parts Plaster of Paris to one part water, or according to instructions on the pack. Pour the plaster into your mould immediately and let it set, preferably overnight. While mixing, wear gloves and a mask and wipe up plaster spills immediately. It’s not terribly dangerous stuff, but you don’t want to breath it in or get it in your eyes.

If you want to hang the plaster plaque, fix something to the back of the mould now.

When dry, first gently sand the surface of the plaster using fine grade sandpaper. Dust it off and then apply acrylic medium to the surface of the plaster where the image will be. It really soaks it up, but apply a couple of coats and let each one dry thoroughly before applying the next. Gloss tends to give a better result if you don’t mind a shiny look, but I like matt medium and the added textural quality from the imperfections that are introduced.

Preparing & Transferring the Image

Print your image on a laser printer. Apparently this also works with a photocopy, but I haven’t tried it and so cannot recommend it. Inkjet will not work for this technique.

Remember when you transfer your image it will be reversed, so if you’re using text or you want it to appear exactly as it was, reverse it before printing so it comes out the right way.

When you’re ready to do the transfer, trim your image to size, coat the front of it with plenty of acrylic medium and lay it face down on the plaster which you should also coat with acrylic medium again at this point. Both image and plaster should be liberally coated with it. Then, gently but firmly, rub or brush the back of the image to get rid of any air bubbles and to encourage the paper to stick to the surface of the plaster. Pay particular attention to the corners and edges. Carefully remove excess acrylic medium with a damp sponge or kitchen towel.

The plaster block with the image stuck on face down

Leave it all to dry thoroughly. I often become impatient at this point, but if the acrylic medium has not dried properly then there will be gaps in the final image.

When dry you might find that parts of the image haven’t stuck to the surface of the plaster properly or have bubbled up. If this happens then using a sharp craft knife, carefully cut into the bubble to make a slit, add more acrylic medium, press it down firmly and if you think it’ll help cover with baking parchment followed by something heavy on top to stop the bubbles forming.

Using baking parchment stops any acrylic medium that escapes from sticking and tearing the paper when you remove it.

When it’s all dry and well stuck down, gently rub the paper from the surface of the plaster. It helps to moisten your fingertips before you do this. In circular motions, gently rub the paper with your fingertips; this will remove the paper but leave the image stuck to the plaster surface. You’ll see balls of wet paper forming and underneath that your image will appear. Keep going until it’s all revealed and clean.

When all the paper has been removed and everything is dry, you can add paint or other embellishments to the surface.

Sealing the Image

If you want to seal the plaster, use a few coats of acrylic medium. Just make sure everything is thoroughly dry beforehand or the surface of the piece might bubble. You could also try a spray varnish.

Other Methods for Transfer

Instead of using acrylic medium, you could try using citrus solvent to transfer your image. Print your image with a laser printer, apply the citrus solvent to the back of the paper, and rub the back of the image very hard to transfer the image onto the plaster. You might have to do this several times to make sure the image has transferred, so don’t move the image until you can see the result.

Why You Might Use Plaster

I used an image transferred to plaster to represent fragility, imperfection and decay. Using this technique, the finished piece is never going to be perfect; there will be flaws – areas that didn’t transfer, bits crumbling off, etc. To initiate and hasten the decay I left my pieces outside on an exposed windowsill for several months, causing the images to bubble and fade, and areas of the plaster to rot.

Decay and Surface Bubbling

How I Dealt With My Dog’s Separation Anxiety

I have a rescue dog, Jasper, who has always hated being left alone. I’d had two other dogs before Jasper, worked in a kennel as a teenager, grew up with dogs and have done volunteer work as a home checker for a dog charity. So I had quite a bit of experience with dogs but I struggled with this problem – so don’t worry if you’re struggling too.

You need to teach your dog how to be left alone so try to approach this in stages if at all possible.

When You Do Go Out, Make Sure Your Dog is Safe:

I put up physical barriers both to stop Jasper being able to hurt himself and to keep him to one part of the house so he’s not wandering around a large area. For my house these were a gate to the kitchen and a stair gate. The aim is to keep your dog to one or two rooms so that they can’t wander through the whole house. Obviously make sure there is water available and that they are left somewhere familiar. Look around the room and work out what they could hurt themselves on (yes, it is exactly like having a toddler). Assume if they can hurt themselves they will. They are stupid enough to chew through electric cables, they can eat whole boxes of tissues, they can kill themselves by eating the squeak from a dog toy.

Jasper loves chocolate and will steal it whenever he gets a chance. He got into the larder one day and stole several bars of dark chocolate. This impromptu meal involved a trip to the vet, enforced vomiting, a stomach full of charcoal and a sleep over of several days. I’m determined he’s not going to do that again, and the physical barriers of gates are the only way I can be sure of stopping death by chocolate when I’m not around.

New bins with lids he can’t lift with his nose were essential for Jasper. If he does manage to get to them he can’t open them. Again, this is from experience; he was very ill after eating the contents of a bin shortly after he arrived because I just wasn’t expecting a him to be able raid it and eat the contents.

Make Leaving Positive:

I got Jasper something called a lickimat and I really cannot recommend this enough. He wasn’t interesting in a Kong or other toys, but this worked immediately. It uses the idea that dogs lick to calm themselves – licking releases endorphins and so they feel calmer when they lick. The lickimat is plied with various treats, I mainly peanut butter (you don’t have to buy a special dog version but make sure it is Xylitol free), meat dripping mixed with grated carrot (yuk), liver paste for dogs, crushed biscuits or whatever is safe for dogs and will squish into the mat. You can really cram food into it and it’s difficult for dogs to get it all out if it’s sticky.

I approached using the mat in stages. First, I gave Jasper the mat a few times when I was at home so I knew he couldn’t hurt himself with it and that he liked it. I let him watch me preparing it too. As soon as he’d finished I took it away and hid it.

Next I let Jasper have the lickimat when I got ready to go out so he was distracted at that point – a point that used to cause him stress. You have to be aware of where the stress point is for your dog; Jasper knew that shoes and a coat meant I was leaving. When I noticed this I occasionally put shoes and a coat on, kept them on for a bit and took them off again without going anywhere. Now he’s not so sure I’m leaving when I have shoes on so seems less stressed about it. I’m just a strange human who sometimes wears a coat in the house for no reason!

When I make the mat he sees it happening. The mat is so special for him that it is the centre of his attention – this even beats his ball obsession. The mat is ready and he knows it and doesn’t care about anything else. When I’m ready to walk out of the door I give him the mat.

I’ll stress again that he only gets the lickimat when I go out; as soon as I get home I subtly swipe it, clean it and put it out of reach.

Make Sure Your Dog Gets Practice:

Dogs need to practice good behaviours. Most of the time I can keep Jasper with me, but I am aware that if there was an emergency and I had to leave him then if he wasn’t used to it, it would be unfair on him. I make sure he is regularly left alone for an hour or so as it gives him practice.

Like a lot of dogs, during lockdown he went backwards in terms of separation anxiety as he had the whole family around all day. When lockdown lifted I knew I’d have to start all over again with training him to be left alone and it was a real pain.

Jasper’s lockdown; cuddles all day, every day

Getting Extra Support:

I employ a dog walker. I know I’m lucky to be able to do this and that it’s not an option for everyone, but it has been great for Jasper because he loves the different walks he gets a couple of days a week and the new doggy friends he’s made. It’s been great for me because now when I do have to go out for a whole day I know that the dog walker will take Jasper for a decent walk and settle him in afterwards, that he’ll pop in and let him out in the afternoon, or will keep him for the day depending on our arrangement and how long I’m gone for.

If you can’t use a dog walker and you don’t have family or friends nearby that can help you could always try something like ‘Borrow My Doggy‘ so that your dog gets to know someone new who might like to help out occasionally. I’ve done this in the past and it worked well for everyone involved.

It can be very stressful when your dog is anxious every time you go out and it can end up feeling like an insurmountable problem. But there is hope. Jasper is still not where I’d like him to be, but with a little effort and common sense we’ve overcome a range of unhelpful behaviours together, and doing that has really strengthened the bond between us. I loved my previous dogs, but I get so much more from Jasper because I’ve put so much more in. And yes, spaniels are harder work than some dogs and they need a huge amount of exercise (Jasper typically covers about 8 – 10 miles a day on his walk), but they are worth it.

Make Challah for Shabbat

Despite my lack of religious belief I recognise that there is a power in the routine and structure of keeping Shabbat. It’s a difficult acknowledgement for me because I seem to fight both routine and structure at a visceral level, but Friday night was an important part of my childhood and I kept that desire to set Friday night apart when I had my own family.

Whatever goes right when I keep Shabbat has a knock-on effect for the rest of the week. Making Challah bread is a big part of that, and along with lighting candles on Friday the ritual provides structure that my life is lacking elsewhere. Obviously you don’t have to be Jewish to do this, and you could pick any day to mark out as special. I find it a helpful thing to do, especially during times like lockdown when one day can start blending into the next.

Chocolate Chip Challah.

The Recipe

I have tried various Challah recipes and I think this is the best. It is adapted from Claudia Roden’s ‘The Book of Jewish Food’ and it makes two loaves which is what you need for Shabbat.

If there’s any left after Friday then the chocolate chip version is great toasted and eaten with marmalade, and plain challah is excellent as French toast with cinnamon, blueberries, honey and greek yogurt. I’ll post that as a separate recipe later on!

Ingredients for 2 Challah

  • 1 pack easy blend dried yeast
  • 250ml lukewarm water
  • 50g sugar (75g for sweet version)
  • 2 eggs (plus extra yolk for glaze)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 650g strong white bread flour
  • (50g dark chocolate chips)

Method

Measure everything out. If you want to make this in a food mixer you can just chuck everything (except the chocolate chips if you’re using them) into a mixer with a dough hook and set it running. Keep an eye on the mix – it should look slightly sticky but come together into a smooth dough. If it looks dry add a little more water, too wet add a little more flour. It takes about 5-10 minutes to mix.


If you’re making it by hand then add about a teaspoon of the sugar and all of the yeast to the warm water. Stir well and leave for 10 minutes or so until it all froths. (If it doesn’t froth you’ve probably forgotten the sugar. I do that a lot).

In a large bowl, beat together the two eggs and then beat in the remaining sugar, the salt and the oil. Add the frothed yeast mixture to that lot and give it a stir. Then add the flour bit at a time and mix. When you can’t mix anymore knead for 15 minutes or so until the texture becomes stretchy and elastic.


You’re after a dough that is a teeny bit sticky – it shouldn’t be too dry, but it should eventually lift off the edges of the bowl into one smooth blob.

With either method, when you get this smooth, stretchy dough put it in a large greased bowl, cover with beeswax food wrap or a clean damp tea towel and leave to rise somewhere warm for a couple of hours. It should double in size.

When it has doubled in size divide it in half so you will have two loaves.

Split each half of the dough into three to make strands approximately 30 cm or so in length. For each loaf plait the 3 strands together on an oiled baking sheet and leave them to rise for another hour or so. Then beat the yolk of an egg and brush it over the bread to glaze it (freeze the egg whites as they’re good for meringues).

Bake for about 40 minutes at Gas 4 180°C, or 350° F until it’s brown and sounds hollow when you tap the base. This does get very dark because of the egg glaze; don’t worry it’s not burning and the texture is amazing as you get a good crust with a soft inside.

The only advice I’ve found useful for plaiting Challah is to start in the middle and plait to the end, then start in the middle again and plait backwards. There are a lot of people far more adept at this than I am so give YouTube a try if you can’t work out how to do it.

Sweet Chocolate Chip Version

I often make half this dough chocolate chip just by adding about 50g of dark choc chips to one of the two loaves before plaiting. However, if you know at the beginning that you want all the challah to be chocolate chip then use 75g of sugar instead of 50g in the initial mix. Put the chocolate chips in after the initial rise before you plait it, not at the beginning of the process.

At synagogue plain challah is torn up and served with salt; you can sprinkle some on before eating. At home we have it with salt or with butter, but always tear it rather than slice it.

Happiness and Gratitude

If you’re feeling down a good idea is to write down at least three things you’re grateful for as a daily habit. I started to do this some time ago and quickly saw an improvement in my mood along with a more positive general mindset and a greater sense of self-worth.

I began this as a response to finding the Action for Happiness website, printing up their ‘Ten Keys to Happier Living’  poster and gradually trying to incorporate some of these ideas into my daily routine.

The American psychologist, Martin Seligman, conducted a study in gratitude. The essential essence of his findings were that grateful people are happier. You can read about this research in a book co-authored by my partner, This Book Has Feelings, if you’d like to find out more.

‘Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an ‘upward spiral’, helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation – the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.’

Action for Happiness Website

Sitting in the local leisure centre waiting for my children to finish their swimming lesson, I began to write my first small list of things I was grateful for. I saw a toddler in a red and white striped bathing suit enjoying the water. At that moment, my mood was lifted by the sight of the joy being experienced by a little girl I didn’t know. So that was one of my first entries, one of the first things I wrote down that I was thankful for. And having written it down means that I still remember it now, and the memory of it still makes me happy and I am still grateful for that moment.

Some days I do this I have to stop myself writing pages and pages of things I am grateful for. Other days I struggle to find more than being alive, my family, and having a roof over my head – but that’s a lot.

I think back on the very difficult times in my life and wonder if this advice is up to the challenges I faced when I was homeless, when I suffered a miscarriage, when my mum was put into a psychiatric hospital, when I was taken into local authority care as a child? But it is. Even in those times I had things to be grateful for, even if it was only the fact that I was alive and somehow managing to cope with horrible situations. And now I can look back and know that I am a person who has made it through; I am very grateful for that.

Taking time to notice all the things I have to be grateful for is the most effective step in improving my mood I’ve ever taken. It encourages a healthy way of looking at the world, because when you’re actively looking for the good things in your life more and more of them show up. So if you’re feeling down this is certainly worth a try.

If You Feel Depressed, Do This Now

Feel Better Now

My partner is a psychologist, so when I saw a talk with Martin Seligman and Richard Layard advertised I told him about it straight away. I watched about 2 minutes of it with him and I learnt something that might be useful to share on this blog, where part of what I write about is steps I’ve taken to improve my mood and increase happiness. 

Go and find someone who needs help, and help them.

Martin Seligman

I’m paraphrasing here, but Seligman said he’s often asked by people with depression what is the one thing they can dnow to feel better? He said he tells them to go and find someone who needs help, and help them. Altruism is the most powerful tool we have to keep ourselves happy.


(Featured image from the Wellcome Trust Credit ‘A depressive man standing by a country pond in the pouring rain – not helping his state of mind.’ Wood engraving, 1869.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))

Developing Black & White Film

A Really Simple Guide to Developing Film at Home

I couldn’t find a really simple guide to developing film when I needed a refresher, so this post is to fill that gap.

If you want to give film a try don’t be put off by not having a darkroom. You don’t need a darkroom to develop film and you don’t need a darkroom to print your film images. Just scan your film and print with an inkjet printer.

There are three main stages to developing a film and when you get used to it you’ll be able to do all this really quickly:

  • Mix up your chemicals.
  • Load your film into the developing tank.
  • Develop, stop, fix and rinse the film.

The Things You’ll Need

There are things that you have to have, and things that are useful but not essential.

Essentials:

  • Access to water and a sink / drain
  • Measuring cylinders that you won’t ever use for food; 3 that measure at least 300ml would be a good start
  • Chemicals
    • Film developer – I use Ilfosol 3
    • Stop – I use Ilfostop
    • Fix – I use Ilford Rapid Fixer
  • Developing tank
  • Thermometer
  • Scissors
  • Bottle opener
  • Light-tight changing bag
  • Timer or stopwatch (I use my phone)
  • Disposable gloves
  • About half an hour in time

Things that might be useful:

  • Accordion bottles to store chemicals for reuse.
  • Sous Vide for temperature control.
  • Funnel.
  • Film hanging clip (useful to hang film up but a peg will do for that).
  • Negative sleeves to store your films when they’re dry.
  • A copy of The Darkroom Handbook by Michael Langford.
  • Wetting agent if you live in a hard water area.

If you’re just starting out it’s worth buying a film developing kit that comes with  most of the things you’ll need rather than getting all the bits separately. Just be aware that if you get the more expensive kit to develop paper and film, the trays you get for prints are quite small – about A4 size (or 8×10 inch). If you’re going to go on to make enlargements in a darkroom then think about what size prints you’ll want to make before you invest.

Now You Need to Find Out About Your Film

You need to know what the ISO of your film is and what type of film it is before you can work out development times. The film name and ISO information should be on the film canister itself. When used with a film processing chart this gives you times for development, stop and fixing of your film. The chart also shows the ratio of water to chemical you need to mix up.

The Darkroom Handbook by Michael Langford gives a lot of information about the different types of developer/ fixer combinations you can use for various films if you want to experiment. However, keep in mind that much of this is just trial and error, and there are still new film emulsions and new photographic developers being released – including pre-mixed pouches – that you might like to try. I use Ilford films and chemicals so I’m going to stick to Ilford for simplicity.

An Example Using the Film Processing Chart

I use a lot of Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 ISO. So, let’s look at the Ilford film processing chart for how to process this. I’ve highlighted the bits I need for my film in yellow.

The chart lists the various Ilford films along the top and the developers on the left hand side. So going along the top line until I find my film – HP5 Plus, gives me options for the different ISO options this film is available in. I’m looking at how to develop ISO 400 film. Next, I look to the column on the left for the developer I’m using which is Ilfosol 3. There are two numbers next to this that indicate how to dilute the developer – the ratio of chemical to water needed develop this film. If this is all sounding a bit mathematical, don’t worry; I’ll show you exactly how to do this maths step-by-step.

Now read horizontally from these developer dilutions until you get to the column for HP5 Plus 400, you’ll see a number; this is the time, in minutes, that developing will take. If I use developer at a ratio of 1 part developer to 9 parts water then it will take 6.5 minutes to develop the film.  If I use developer at a ratio of 1 part developer to 14 parts water it will take 11 minutes.

Obviously using less developer is cheaper, but I tend to go with the shorter time. In the top left, notice I’ve highlighted the temperature of 20 degrees. It is important to note that this process is temperature dependent. Also notice the highlighted areas at the bottom of the page. These give you times for your stop (which halts the development process) and fix (fixes the whole thing in place). There’s also information about agitation – the chemicals need to flow over the surface of the film; you need to make sure that happens by physically moving the developing tank.

The Developing Tank

The next question is how much liquid do we actually need to mix up? To answer this you’ll need to check your developing tank.

On the bottom of my tank it says ‘1x35mm = 290ml’ i.e. One 35mm film needs 290ml of liquid. I round this up to 300ml to make the maths simpler. If you’re developing two films or a medium format film it will need more liquid, but the example here is for one 35mm film.

Mixing The Chemicals

Mix up the chemicals before you begin. You need them all ready to go before you start developing. You can now buy some of these chemicals ready mixed if that’s easier.

Mixing the Developer

Okay, lets work out how much developer we need:

I’ve already said my tank says 1x35mm = 290ml on the base; that’s the amount of liquid that needs to be sloshing about for the 35mm film to sit in. I round that up to 300ml because the maths and measurements are easier that way.

Working out ratios is just splitting everything into equal parts.

I need 300ml of liquid and the film processing chart says to dilute 1+9, so I need a total of 10 parts.

Each part will be equal to 300ml /10 = 30ml

One part developer to 9 parts water means that I will need (1x 30ml) of developer and (9 x 30ml) of water, so 30ml developer and 270ml of water.

Make a note of your development time. Mine is six and a half minutes.

A Note on Temperature

The water needs to be at a temperature of 20 degrees. I’ve highlighted that on the development chart – it’s in the top left corner. I find it difficult to get water from the tap at the correct temperature, so I usually measure out the water and leave it to stand for a couple of hours. However, if you can’t get water to the correct temperature you can adjust your development time. For warmer water you need less development time, for colder you need more. I wouldn’t go below 18 degrees for your water temperature.

There are instructions for water at 24 degrees on the card of the film pack, and the chart works the same as above. There are helpful charts and instructions on manufacturers websites about adjusting development time for temperature. If you’re planning on doing a lot of developing and printing then it could be worth investing in a sous vide – a simple cooking instrument that heats water to a specific temperature and keeps it there.

Tip: Remember, you can do all of this in the light. The chemicals don’t have to be kept in the dark, just the film.

When you begin to mix these chemicals remember that none of the chemicals for developing film have to be prepared or kept in the dark. However, if you’re not going to use the developer straight away (it keeps for a few days), then don’t leave it in direct sunlight on a windowsill, and don’t shake it. The film has to be kept in the dark, which the development tank should do for you because of it’s design; don’t be tempted to open the tank up until you’re rinsing the film in water at the end of the entire process after the fix.

Mixing the Stop

To stop development, the instructions (rather confusingly listed under ‘Fixation’ at the bottom of the chart) say Ilfostop at a dilution of 1+19 for 10 seconds at 20 degrees. (I’ve highlighted this in yellow). You can just rinse in water, but I’ve not tried it so can’t say what the results would be.

I use 300ml of stop.

This time there are 20 parts (1 + 19), so that’s 300ml/20 = 15ml per part. So that’s 285ml of water at 20 degrees and 15ml of Ilfostop.

The time for this is 10 seconds. Make a note of it.

Mixing the Fix

I use Rapid Fixer. The instructions (under Fixation) say rapid fixer at a dilution of 1+4 for 2 – 5 minutes at 20 degrees. Again, I use 300ml of Rapid Fixer, so, although I’m sure that you’re now bored with the maths bit I’ll do it anyway…

1 + 4 means I need 5 parts, 1 fix and 4 water.

Each part will be 300ml/ 5 = 60ml

That’s (1 x 60ml) part of Rapid Fixer to (4 x 60ml) parts – i.e. 240ml of water.

Honestly, I don’t know what the difference is in fix times; I fix for 5 minutes. I tend to assume 5 minutes is best but 2 is okay if you’re in a rush. I have no evidence for this belief though!

Time 5 minutes. Make a note of it.

Loading the Developing Tank

This is probably the most frustrating part of the whole process, so don’t do it in a rush! Make sure you can sit down somewhere undisturbed, put on some soothing music and steel yourself for a lot of swearing if you don’t have the patience of a saint.

Open the developing tank. Inside it, you’ll see a white cylindrical cage; this is what you load your film onto, the film spirals onto it. To do this you offer the edge of the film up to the notches with the tiny ballbearings and you twist the frame to feed the film onto the spool. This all has to be done in a changing bag or a darkroom without any lights at all.

Sometimes this goes very smoothly. If it does, you’re allowed to feel really smug about that, because usually it’s a total, utter nuisance. This is what happens for me: it goes on part way and then won’t go on any more; it buckles and scratches the film; the film slips out of the notches. My advice is that if you have a film gone wrong (which I do) or a spare film you’re not worried about ruining, then practice with that in the light, then with your eyes closed so you get used to the feel of it all. Also practice taking the developing tank apart and putting it back together again so that you can do it with your eyes closed. Because all of this has to be done in the light-tight changing bag.

Get your equipment together: your film, bottle opener, scissors, all parts of the developing tank. Put it all into the light-tight changing bag and zip it all up.

Put your arms into the holes in the changing bag; if you have a long sleeve top then that works well because moving your arms around can cause the bag to slip down your arms. If it does it might let light in, and your film will be ruined. A long sleeve top helps to stop that from happening.

In the bag, open up the developing tank and find the spool the film will go onto. Put the rest out of the way. Using the bottle opener, lever the top of the film canister off and then remove the film; don’t unravel it. Be careful with the film canister – it can be sharp so try and push it to the corner of the bag out of the way with the bottle opener. Now get the scissors and feel for the shaped end of the film; you need to cut this off. Then put the scissors and the cut bit of film out of the way.

Now you need to get the film onto the spool. Feel for the tiny ballbearings with your fingers; there will be notches in the spool at that point. Twist the spool so those notches line up and offer the edge of the film up to the notches and push until it feels like it’s gone past the ballbearings. Then gently twist the spool trying very hard not to touch the film as it unravels. When you get near to the end, the film will still be attached to a small piece of black plastic; you’ll need to cut it off. Then wind on the rest of the film, and reassemble the development tank. Remember to put the spool the right way up; the film needs to sit at the bottom of the tank. Make sure the development tank is totally secure before you remove it from the light-tight changing bag.

That’s all the difficult bit done now.

Developing Your Film

Before you begin you should have your film loaded into the lightproof tank, and all your chemicals ready, at the correct temperature and within easy reach, and a note of the timings. A stopwatch or timer is very helpful too. You’ll need access to the sink and running water now.

Remove the lid from the lightproof tank and quickly but gently pour in the developer, starting your timer when about half of it is in the tank. Gently agitate the tank for a few minutes either using the bar in the centre of it, or by carefully swishing it about or inverting it several times – but don’t shake it. My development time was 6 minutes 30 seconds. I gently agitate the tank for about 2 minutes and then try and agitate it regularly throughout the process – maybe once every minute or so. The aim is to have the liquid moving gently over the surface of the film. The instructions say ‘invert the tank four times during the first ten seconds then invert a further four times during the first ten seconds for each further minute’. But I sometimes lose developer that way and so I prefer my gentle swishing method.

When you are 15 seconds from the end of your development time, begin to tip the developer out of the tank. You don’t need to open it, the liquid will just spill out of the sides. When the developer is out, pour the stop in immediately. Swish it about gently while counting to ten (my stop time is 10 seconds) and tip it out. Then add the fix. Tip the fix into the tank, gently agitate it about for a minute and then keep agitating every minute or so. I do this for about 5 minutes. Then tip it out.

The Rinse

 When you finish the fix and pour it out you can open the tank to rinse the film in water; you don’t need to keep it dark at that point. I tend to leave it in the tank under running water at as close to 20 degrees as I can get for about ten minutes occasionally emptying it all out and letting it fill again.

I live in a hard water area and so at the end of the rinse I use wetting solution. If you’re using it, you only need a few drops. I add it at the end of the rinse with a pipette. By that time I have often become impatient and removed part of the film from the reel to have a peek and see how it looks.

When you’ve finished rinsing, if you’ve not already done so, carefully remove the film from the development reel. If you have wetting solution remaining in the tank then dip a film squeegee or your fingers into the tank and then run down the length of the film to remove excess water droplets. If you skip this step you can end up with marks on the film from droplets of water that have dried.

Use a film clip or peg to hang the film up. If it’s very old film you might find it also helps to put a clip or peg on the bottom too because old film likes to try and roll up again. Try and keep it straight because if it buckles it can scratch.

And that’s it. Let it dry overnight if possible, then you can carefully cut it into strips between the frames. How many frames on each strip will depend on your storage method. At the moment I am using Hama Negative Sleeves for 35mm film which take strips of 6 frames. If you’ve developed medium format film then you’ll probably be looking at cutting into 3 frames.

My next steps in this process are to scan the film and then print on an enlarger. But those are for another post…

Feeling Anxious? Try CBD Oil

Four Great Reasons For Using CBD Oil

I’ve been using CBD oil daily for a couple of years. It has had a lot of positive effects on both my mental and physical health that I’d like to share.

Pain Relief

1 I initially tried CBD oil because I’m allergic to Paracetamol and I began showing signs of an intolerance to Ibuprofen too. This was a nightmare for me, as I was left with no access to painkillers. So when I developed a flu that lasted for a couple of weeks that left me aching all over, I was so uncomfortable that I was willing to try almost anything. 

I visited several health stores and did some research online to find an alternative painkiller, and eventually someone suggested I try CBD. 

CBD is derived from cannabis. I’ve never tried cannabis as I’ve always avoided drugs of any sort because my mum has severe mental health issues. Having a mum who is psychotic, it’s always been important to me that I am in full control of my own mind. Plus my ex-step-father, who I disliked intensely, took drugs. But I looked into CBD and found that the psychoactive component is removed which gave me the reassurance I needed to give it a try. 

I initially took about four drops of oil and my assumption was that it probably wouldn’t work at all, but that if it did any effect would take several weeks of regular use, with a gradually increasing dose, to become apparent. I sat on the sofa feeling miserable and ached from head to toe.

An hour and a half later the pain had completely gone.

The instructions said to take the oil 2-3 times a day, and so I decided that I’d continue on a gradually increasing dose, twice a day for a week or two, until I was fully over the cold symptoms.

Anxiety

2 However, as well as the initial pain relief, I started to notice a lessening of the anxiety symptoms I’d been suffering. For a long time I’d been experiencing waves of anxiety and panic, seemingly for no reason, and was really struggling with it. I didn’t want to start taking the prescribed medication that my GP was recommending because of all the nasty side-effects. But within a week of using CBD regularly the anxiety had lessened considerably, and I’ve continued to make improvements ever since. 

I really can’t overstate the positive effect using the oil has had on my anxiety symptoms; they seem to have completely disappeared. It is difficult to put into words, but I feel I have some stability or boost that I needed or that the anxiety reaction is just not there in the way it was before. That’s what the doctor claimed the anti-depressants would do for me, but using CBD I’ve had no side-effects whatsoever. The panic feeling has just disappeared.

Sleep

3 Then there has been the effect on my sleep. Before I started taking the oil I was waking up every single night at 3am, and this had been going on for about three years, maybe more. Maybe two or three times a year I’d sleep through, it was that bad. No matter how much exercise I did, no matter how careful I was about keeping to good sleep habits and regular sleep times I couldn’t solve the problem. But when I began using CBD oil the situation improved instantly. I now sleep through the night almost every night; one or two nights a month I wake up at 3am. It wasn’t an effect I was expecting. 

Chronic Fatigue

4 My daughter has chronic fatigue syndrome and she’s tried CBD oil. She says it helps her ‘about 40% of the time’. She’s found herself able to function for longer than she usually would when using the oil. However, she does not take it regularly and is on a lot of other medication which could interfere with its use.

How I Take It

I take CBD daily. I put the drops of oil under my tongue and leave them there for a few minutes. When you begin taking the oil it tastes foul, but you get used to it quite quickly and if you keep it under your tongue you don’t really taste much anyway. I then swallow it down with a little warmed milk. I don’t know if this is the best way to take it, but it works for me!

Public Transport in London

A Photographic Subject to Explore

Using public transport in London is a matter of course for me. If I won the lottery tomorrow (I haven’t got a ticket so I won’t hold my breath) I would still much rather travel by train than by cab both for the opportunity to people-watch, and to visit some of the stations which are a work of art in themselves.

The London Underground and public transport system are an ongoing subject for me, and one that I get a surprising amount of inspiration from

London is Red

I didn’t realise how prevalent red was in London until I lived in Manhattan for a while, where the visuals seem to hang on the contrast between dark grey and the bright yellow of the ubiquitous cabs. The contrast is particularly good after rain; there’s something very beautiful about it all. But for London, red is the main event.

This prevalence is due to the public transport system – the red buses, the red circular element of the tube station signs and the Santander Cycles. But red is also the colour for post boxes and telephone boxes, and is also an important colour in many of the uniforms you’ll see like Horse Guards, The Queens Guard, and the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London.

Public transport in London isn’t just tubes and buses; there’s the river boat service too, and there are also the bikes. The river boat is great for commuting between The Tate and Tate Modern and you can get some more unusual views from it.

Above: Santander bikes, Below: views from the river boat service

When taking these images I was doing some work on self portraiture and was also becoming aware of the importance of soundscape, and experimenting with making recordings to accompany still images. The green in the second of these images was a result of the advertising image on the wall opposite me as the train was pulling away from the station.

One of the photographers I researched on my degree course was Thomas Ruff; I looked at the work he’d produced about 9/11 and that led to me creating my own work on images that had been degraded, using a shot taken on Westminster Bridge that included a London bus.

Sometimes the station escalators are a subject in their own right. There are those stations where they are so steep that if I don’t look down at the floor I can feel like I’m falling backwards. Is that just me? I really liked the shot of the man in grey trousers, so this was one I posted on Instagram. I even took some film as it seemed like such a typical view.

There are a lot of strong leading lines and symmetry to look out for.

You can also try experimenting with reflection, night images, movement, details and unusual angles.

Then there’s experiments with glimpses of buses, taxis etc near the iconic landmarks of the city. These are perhaps too much glimpse and not strong enough, but I like the idea so I’ll retake some of these next time I’m visiting.

Create Your Own Cyanotypes

We’ll briefly cover history & science of cyanotypes, compare the three main options on chemicals and look at how to make an exposure.

History & Science

A Mini History

The cyanotype process produces a beautiful, Prussian-blue coloured print. The process was developed in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, an English astronomer, as an easy way to make copies of diagrams. For much of the 20th century cyanotypes continued to be used as a quick way to produce copies of technical drawings for engineering and architecture. These were called blueprints, and the term is often still used today.  

The cyanotype process was quickly picked up by artists and was very popular during the Victorian era. Anna Atkins, sometimes called the first female photographer, began using cyanotypes to create images of her botanical collections, and published a book of cyanotype images in 1843. This is thought to be the first ever book illustrated with photographic images. 

 A cyanotype made by Anna Atkins from her 1843 book, ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’.

The Science

Cyanotypes use a mix of two chemicals; Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. The mixture of chemicals produces a light sensitive iron complex. When exposed to ultraviolet light the iron becomes unstable and combines with ferricyanide to produce a more stable iron molecule which produces the classic cyanotype blue. The unexposed chemicals don’t change, and rinse out easily in water. You’ll see them coming out as the yellow/ green colour in the water as you rinse. 

When you expose your paper, the parts that sunlight reaches will remain blue, the parts where it can’t reach will be white when the paper is rinsed. You can create various blue tones by varying these light levels during exposure, by using a negative or by moving items around if you are making a photogram.


Options on Chemicals

There are three main choices of where to start with creating your cyanotype. I’ve listed them from lazy photographer to obsessive.

1 The easiest way to create a cyanotype is to buy some pre-coated paper, like Sunprint paper. This option is safe, quick and easy, which makes it brilliant for beginners & children. There are no messy chemicals to handle and mix, and the unexposed coated paper lasts well as long as you store it in its light-proof packaging. However, the paper is thin, it’s more expensive than other options, and there are not many suppliers so it can be difficult to source.

ADVANTAGEDISADVANTAGE
Easy to UseNot much choice of supplier
No messExpensive
Stores wellNo paper choices
I have used Sunprint paper, there are other brands available.

2 Next in terms of ease is to use a Cyanotype kit. These tend to have two bottles which are solutions of Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. You mix the solutions together in equal quantities and then use the mixture to coat paper which may be provided in the kit, or paper of your choice.

The problem with pre-mixed liquids is that you don’t know how long they’ve been stored for before you get them, and although individual solutions will last a reasonable length of time, the longer the storage the more likely you are to experience quality issues. These kits also tend to give out plastic bottles & utensils.

However, if you know you want to create a reasonable amount of cyanotype prints or you have a specific surface to coat, this can be a good option.

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Mix as neededCan be expensive
Coat any paper or fabric*You don’t know how old solution is when you get it
Fresh solution lasts six monthsCan create waste
*FOR BEST RESULTS, PAPER OR FABRIC BOTH NEED A HIGH COTTON CONTENT

3 The most complicated option is to use powdered chemicals. These powders need to be weighed, water added to make the two solutions, then these solutions are mixed together and used to coat paper or fabric. This can be a bit messy and time consuming, but is probably the cheapest way to make cyanotypes if you’re planning on producing a lot.

You’ll need to use paper with a high cotton content. When choosing paper, think about the type of result you want to achieve. For very crisp results chose hot-pressed watercolour papers, for more texture you can try cold-pressed papers or Khadi paper.

Fabriano (Acquarello) papers are a popular choice, but I’ve used paper by Daler Rowney, Khadi, and even packing paper I found in my Amazon delivery and all have worked perfectly well. Whatever paper you choose, remember it will have to stand up to being rinsed thoroughly.

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Very long lasting & easy to storeMessy
Can create a lot of solutionDangerous to breath in
CheapSometimes difficult to obtain

Remember, if you’re coating your own paper then you can create interesting textures by allowing room for visible brush strokes. You can also create circular images, or only partially coat the paper. This gives you a lot more creative freedom.

Simply brush the solution onto paper and allow to dry in a dark place, or dry quickly using a hairdryer.

Cyanotype on Khadi paper made with freshly mixed chemicals.
Packing paper cyanotype (test print)

Creating Your Cyanotype

So you have your paper, it’s a nice sunny day and you’re ready to go. Now what?

Exposing Your Paper

Arrange your artwork on your cyanotype paper indoors or outside in a shady spot. Try to work reasonably quickly if you are outside – even in the shade the paper is being exposed to UV light. When you’re ready, place it in direct sunlight to expose the paper.

When you think the exposure is finished, rinse the paper thoroughly in water. The water will turn a yellow colour where the chemicals are being rinsed out of the unexposed parts of the paper. Rinse until the water is clear. 

Leave your paper to dry. You’ll notice that the image will continue to change as it dries. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take photographs of the various stages as the image dries as interesting colours can come and go.

Some tips…

Want a bit more information than that? Let’s look at exposure, and a few different ideas for how to make an image.

Exposure

Because the levels of UV light vary depending on latitude, time of year and weather, it’s very difficult to give advice about timing or exposure. Development time can change from minute to minute depending on the conditions in the UK. The exposed paper tends to turn a dark blue/charcoal grey when it’s being exposed, so when you see this very dark blue/ charcoal colour, the image will have been exposed for long enough to create a cyanotype. 

However, if you want to be as precise as possible with your exposure, you can create a test strip.

Remove a strip of your coated paper, and create marks along it, dividing it into about 10 even sized bits; they don’t have to be exact, this is just a test. I put a piece of grass on my test strip so I can check the whites, and then cover it all with a heavy piece of paper or card that will block the light. The idea is to gradually reveal each piece of the strip. So if you reveal and expose the first strip for 2 minutes, then reveal and expose the second piece for 2 minutes, then move the paper down further and expose the third strip for 2 minutes, the first will have been exposed for 6 minutes, the second for 4 the third for 2, etc. Obviously, as you go along you’ll get a strip where from the bottom, each section will have twice the exposure of the one before it.

How long each section should be exposed for depends on how strong UV light is where you are. In the UK on a medium/ high UV day, I’d go for about 2 minutes per section for 10 sections.

When you’re done, rinse it under cold running water and for best results allow it to dry. You now have a strip showing you what your exposure will look like for each time period.

Photogram

Most cyanotype fans begin with photograms as they’re fun and easy to create, but can give stunning results.

To create a photogram, you can use any objects with an interesting shape. Place it on your cyanotype paper and expose the paper on a bright, sunny day.

This is the technique Anna Atkins would have used to create her images. It’s the easiest way to make a cyanotype and a lot of fun. Plants are traditional, but experiment with  various opaque and semi-transparent items, or even fabrics. You could try a favourite toy, a feather, your hand, a spring, or keys. Sir John Herschel used lace to make cyanotypes. Try arranging items in patterns, and if you’re using lots of objects remember that you don’t have to leave every object on for the whole time. You could remove some objects after a little while to create various blue tones or patterns. 

One of Sir John Herschel’s lace cyanotypes

For best results arrange your objects on your paper indoors, and if your items are light then cover them with a clear acrylic sheet or a piece of glass to stop them moving around and to keep them lying flat. If objects aren’t lying flat then the edges will be blurry.

You can’t always tell exactly what will happen with a photogram, but think about shadow shapes and how much light gets through your objects to help you figure out what your image might look like before you start. 

If you made a test strip you can use it to see how long you might expose to get different shades of blue. This image was created by removing some of the foliage after a few minutes. Although it’s not particularly successful, it illustrates the way blue tones can be created.

Contact Print

You need to produce a negative the same size as your required print for this technique. You can use one of your own digital photographs, or download a test negative from Epic here. Print it onto transparent material, like inkjet transparency film, to create a negative. 

If you use your own photograph then as well as a printer you’ll need access to some software so you can create your negative. You might be able to do this on your phone, but there are a few steps you’ll need to take to make a negative: 

  • Make your image black & white
  • Adjust the contrast of your image. An image works well if it has some black areas and some white areas. If the image is very grey without much black or white then it might not make a good cyanotype. Adding more contrast can help with this.
  • Invert your image. This step makes all the dark bits light, and the light bits dark – it makes it a negative.
  • Print the image in black ink onto transparent material. You can get specialist materials, but for most purposes inkjet transparency film works well.  

It helps if you have a stiff base of some sort to make a contact print. Even thick cardboard will do, but it needs to be slightly larger than the cyanotype paper you’re going to use.

Put the cyanotype paper onto the base, and put the negative onto the cyanotype paper, and a clear acrylic sheet or glass on top of all that. Fix it down, but remember the fixings will show in the final image if they pass the edges of the cyanotype paper or create a shadow over it. If you’re going for a really good print, creating an exposure test strip with the negative in place will help you get the best results.

A rough test print of various negatives

The featured image for this post is a Japanese stab stitch book with cyanotype covers.

Also try toning the cyanotypes or creating a wet cyanotype by adding household chemicals.

A Lonely Poppy on the North Dorset Trailway

A Photographic Diary, July 2019

In case you were hoping for images of fields full of poppies, this post isn’t it. The majority of the field looked like this…

But what made me pause mid-cycle, get off my bike and get my iPhone out was this single plant, its petals saturated a deep red because of the slightly overcast weather.

I’ve not altered the blown-out highlights in the sky of this first image to illustrate that this issue forced me to change my viewpoint, and ultimately resulted in better shots. There was a barbed fence in the way, so I couldn’t get as close to the poppies as I’d have liked to, but for a quick set of images captured on my iPhone I’m reasonably pleased with them.