by Erinn Batykefer

In conjunction with Go Big Read, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s common reading program, Madison Public Library is presenting a series of three cyanotype workshops for adults and older children.  The workshops explore the unique artistic process that artist and author Lauren Redniss used to create the illustrations in this year’s Go Big Read book, Radioactive.

Our friend Trent Miller partnered with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and artist Aliza Rand of Violet Art Studios to organize the event, and last Sunday, Laura and I helped out with the adults and older kids program at Sequoya Library.  We had a blast! Read on to learn more about the structure, equipment, and materials involved in this hands-on exploration of a technique that blurs the line between science and art.

Aliza Rand, who came to cyanotype photogaphy in grad school because it allowed her to create huge, installation-size prints, began the workshop with a brief and fascinating presentation about the history of cyanotype photography.  This included an outline of the chemical process of cyanotype printing, examples of  different printing techniques, and a look at the work of Anna Atkins, an English marine botanist who was the first female photographer.  During the mid-1800s, she collected her beautiful cyanotype photograms into an extremely rare series called Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

The bulk of the program was active– participants found inspiration for their prints in a variety of objects, including some sentimental pieces brought from home. The library provided discarded microfilm reels, craft supplies, and a wealth of visually interesting magazines and books with images of the natural world, architectural elevations, anatomical drawings, graphics and posters, Celtic, Japanese, and Islamic decorative patterns, and even beloved children’s books.

Participants used copy machines and transparency printers to create their “film” for printing, or simply arranged objects on a plexiglass plate to create a photogram.  Watercolor paper treated with light-sensitive chemicals was provided by Violet Art Studios for the program, and a UV light was used to create prints.  It was a rainy day in Madison, but had it been sunny, prints could have been made outside, too!

I feel like a kid again!

Everyone had the opportunity to create three prints during the workshop, and conversation buzzed all afternoon as people chose their images and found new inspiration.  “I feel like a kid again!” one participant exclaimed when we asked her about what drew her to the workshop.  Several copies of Radioactive floated around the room as people looked through the cyanotype illustrations and got excited about upcoming Go Big Read events.  At some tables, the atmosphere was like a book club as folks chatted about their favorite parts of the book.

Just a few of the beautiful final projects:

Want more?

  • Aliza Rand earned her MFA from UC Berkeley in 2010 in Performance Photography and Installation using the medium of Cyanotype photography,  She currently teaches art through Violet Art Studios in Madison, WI, and is one of the two designers for the Couture clothing label, UMSTULPBAR/INVERTIBLE, out of Switzerland.  Visit her online at
  • Violet Art Studios are the brainchild of Aliza Rand and her mom, ceramic artist Helen Kay. They are wonderful collectives (in Berkeley and Madison, respectively) that provide affordable group and private art classes for children and adults taught by professional artists in the community.  Check out Violet Art Studios.
  • Find Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss at your library!
  • If you’re in the Madison, WI area and would like to participate in the third and final Cyanotype Workshop this weekend at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, you can sign up for the event online. Space is limited, so hurry!
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