Bringing Art Home: Wreath Photogram DIY


This holiday season, we’re kicking off a new feature: “Bringing Art Home,” a column that draws decorating, entertaining and lifestyle inspiration from great works of art. Each installment, we’ll show you how to capture the look or feeling of a particular work of art and bring it into your home. No need for fancy frames or auction house savvy — just a bit of craftiness, and you’ll be on your way to creating miniature masterpieces! Today’s wreath-themed DIY was inspired by photograms, an early photographic process developed in the nineteenth century.

Until recently, with the advent of digital photography, very little had changed about the photographic process. Ever since pioneers like Louis Daguerre introduced the medium, the photographic process has essentially consisted of coating a substrate (be it paper, cloth or metal) with light-sensitive chemicals and exposing it to light. Although most photography consisted of exposing these sensitized substrates through a small lens, some early photographers opted to place objects directly on top of their materials. The result was an imprinted white silhouette, known today as a “photogram.”


Above images, clockwise from upper left: Thereza by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1853; Photogram by Anna Atkins, c. 1850; Poppy by Anna Atkins, 1852; Ferns by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1850s

Photograms were of particular interest to the scientific community in the nineteenth century. Prior to this new technology, scientists often had to make do with drawings and etchings when making references. Photograms (and the photographic medium in general) allowed for previously unimaginable levels of accuracy and detail — a boon for scientists who wanted to study things like plants, for example. People like illustrator Anna Atkins and photographers Thereza and John Llewelyn are some of the better known proponents of this technique. Unlike biologists who might have stored specimens inside test tubes or jars, these early photographers documented their subjects with light.

Although the process of creating a photogram is one of photography’s most basic techniques, the results are often stunning in their simplicity and beauty. To celebrate the season, we’ve adopted this classic process for the winter holidays in the form of a wreath of pine branches. For full instructions for this simple DIY, continue after the jump!

Materials

  • Lumi Inkodye, a photosensitive dye that can be applied to paper or fabric
  • paintbrush
  • plastic cup or bowl
  • piece of solid-colored cotton fabric (lighter colors work best)
  • a few pine branches (You can often find evergreen branches and scraps for free this time of year wherever Christmas trees are sold.)
  • a piece of cardboard, cut to the size of your fabric
  • thumbtacks
  • laundry detergent

 

Directions

1. Cut out the amount of fabric you’d like to use for your piece. We opted to tear our edges rather than cutting with scissors to achieve a more rugged edge.

2. Place your fabric on a piece of thick cardboard and tack down its corners.

3. After shaking your bottle of Lumi Inkodye for 10 seconds, pour a small amount into a plastic cup or bowl.

4. In a dimly lit area, apply the Inkodye to your fabric with a paintbrush. You can apply it wherever you like, but keep in mind that your image will only show up where Inkodye is applied. We opted to apply Inkodye to most of the fabric.

5. While the Inkodye is still damp, arrange small pieces of pine branches on top of your fabric in the shape of a wreath.

6. Once you have achieved a satisfactory shape, pin down your pine branches with a generous amount of thumbtacks. Make sure no pieces are hovering above your surface. Each piece of pine should be firmly pressed onto your fabric for maximum coverage. If there are any unruly pieces, be sure to tack them down.

7. Bring your entire project outside or to a well-lit space. Expose to direct sunlight for roughly 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the strength of the light. Depending on how overcast the sky is and whether you decide to use glass on top of your branches (a slightly fancier option), the exposure time might be 2 to 3 times as long. The Inkodye should darken significantly from its original state before you remove it from sunlight.

8. Once your image has been exposed, remove the tacks and twigs from your fabric and wash it twice in a washing machine. Be sure to use detergent and hot water. This will remove any excess photosensitive dye and allow your image to fully develop. Once washed, tumble dry low or hang your fabric out to dry. If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can also hand wash your fabric with laundry detergent or strong soap for roughly 15 minutes.

9. That’s it! Hang that fancy photogram up on your wall!

Missi

I love this! I love it so much. I made our wedding invitations by making a sunprint with ferns and text on an overhead transparency. This makes me so happy and nostalgic!

ann

I have one question though did you use more than one color paint and mix the red and the blue to get t he purple?

Amy

What is the source for the Anna Atkins images here, especially the one on the upper right from 1850? Anyone know if it is possible to get prints of these? I’ve only been able to find some of her algae images from the NYPL, which doesn’t include the two images here.

Natalie

Beautiful DIY! One question: after you wash it, is it still necessary to keep it out of direct sunlight?

Seth Carper

Beautiful design! Does the inkodye have to be purchased through Lumi, or is it available at craft stores such as Michaels or A.C. Moore?

Riane

I used muslin and when I washed it, all the dye washed out!! What kind of fabric did you use?

luci

yo soy de argentina y es la primera vez que veo este proceso y me encanta la idea de que pueda hacerlo yo misma! me gustaria saber si esos materiales se venden en argentina, mendoza, ya que no puedo comprarlos por encargo no cuento con una tarjeta de credito .

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