Using the anthotype process, it is possible to print photographs using nothing but juice extracted from the petals of flowers, the peel from fruits and pigments from plants. We’ll share instructions for making anthotypes.
What you need to make an anthotype
Even if you never heard of the anthotype process before, you probably don’t need to go shopping before making your first anthotype. All the tools you need can most likely be found by rummaging around in your kitchen.
- Petals from a colorful flower, berries, or other plants
- Mortar and pestle or electric food blender
- Glass container or ceramic bowl for mixing ingredients
- Water (distilled if possible) or alcohol
- Cheesecloth, coffee filter, cotton cloth or very fine masked strainer
- Art paper
- Glass clip frame or a contact print frame
- A large size positive (not negative) or items to make photograms
Good to have for making anthotypes
- Newspaper to cover work surface
- Rubber gloves
- Apron or an old shirt
- Cleaning cloth
Step-by-step instructions to the anthotype process
The anthotype process is made up of three steps. Making emulsion, preparing the canvas, and printing. Before you start, cover your work surfaces. Put on your rubber gloves, an apron, or an old shirt, cover the work area with old newspapers and you’re ready to go. Plant pigments can stain your work surface blue, red or green and turn your hands rainbow-colored.
1Making emulsion – Grind, mash or mix the plant
An anthotype emulsion can be made from a large number of plants. There are plenty of plants to choose from. The book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants has a huge directory with plants to choose from and you can also find examples in the anthotype galleries.
Pestle and mortar or mixer?
Using the mortar for petals is more economical since a print can be produced using only one or two flowers. Using the mixer will require petals from a dozen flowers to make pulp. If the plants, leaves or berries are too dry, dilute them a little.
Different diluters that can be used – with various result of course! My preferred choice is a few drops of alcohol.
- Tap water
- Purified water (Deionized water)
- Denatured alcohol
- Cheap vodka
- Lighter fuel
- Paraffin oil
- Olive oil
- Rapeseed oil
Using pestle and mortar for making anthotype emulsion
- Needs only a few petals to make a print
- Strengthens arms
- Quick and easy to clean
- Peel does not get into the mix, but is strained away
- Your hands may blister
Using a blender for creating anthotype emulsion
- Fast when making large batches
- Includes pigments from the peel of berries
- A lot of petals needed
- Takes time to clean
Straining the anthotype emulsion
Once the soup is blended or crushed into pulp, strain it though a cheesecloth, a piece of cotton rag or a coffee filter. Once all the liquid has drained through, use a teaspoon to squeeze the excess liquid out, and then discard the pulp left in the filter. Make sure you wash the cloth thoroughly between different emulsions, or the emulsions may get “contaminated”, or use a new filter each time you strain.
2Instructions for preparing the canvas for anthotype
Any paper that will hold the emulsion can be used. Since it will be out in the sun for a few days or even weeks, it is best to start with a sturdy paper. Try a medium or heavy weight watercolor paper before you start experimenting with other base supports. Once you are feeling more confident you can try coating and printing on any material that will hold the emulsion. Just remember that it will be exposed in the sun for quite a long time, so it shouldn’t be too fragile.
Always work in a dimly lit area, since any exposure to sunlight will destroy the color of the emulsion. Prepare a drying area in the dark before you start coating.
Brushing or dipping to coat with your anthotype emulsion?
Two ways of getting the emulsion onto the paper are brushing it on or dipping the paper, both adding different qualities to your final print. Coating with a brush will enable you to leave brush strokes on the paper, adding a handmade quality. Coating by dipping will give you a more even coat.
3Printing the anthotype – instructions
Objects or positives (not negatives, since most of the emulsions tend to lighten when exposed) are placed on the material to make a print. The anthotype is printed in the sun for a few days or several weeks.
The anthotype print develops as the rays of the sun destroys the color of the pigment, bleaching the print.
Each and every emulsion will need a different exposure time. Some emulsions need only a few hours to change color, some a few weeks. Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) will produce one of the most sensitive emulsions. Sir John Herschel found that the juice from merrygold and corchorus japonica was the fastest, changing color as rapidly as ten minutes in clear sunshine while Mrs Somerville found the juice from the dark red dahlia to be speedily changing colors.
The thousands of different plant emulsions will have various colorfastness, and the different strength the sun, depending on your season, weather and geographical location will also matter. One thing that can be said for certain, is that it is a matter of days or weeks, rather than minutes or hours. Patience is required.
No rinsing, fixing or other frills necessary. The print is ready to be hung on a wall and admired. But, be careful the wall the print is hung on is not exposed to the sun, or the darker areas of the print will start to fade too.
This is a short brief of how to make anthotype prints. If you want to explore this further, we strongly recommend the book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants which has very detailed information, and also a gallery where over 100 different plants have been tested and rated. Good luck!