pen rainbow

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For The Home: Sunprints

my seashell sunprint
A fun, easy, creative & fast summer craft!

I was browsing the West Elm website last month and came across this neat set of nature sun prints.  They reminded me of my '79-'80 college days when I was a lab assistant in the Biology Lab at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley (the best work-study job ever!).  

I googled "sun prints," and sure enough, it led me to the LHS Sunprint® website.  I've always loved making sunprints, so I ordered a pack of fifteen 8"x 12" sheets in the Super Sunprint Kit for $13.95 and a Super Sunprint Refill Kit for $9.95.  

All of the proceeds from the Sunprint® kits go toward the LHS science & math education programs.  I worked there for a year during my last year at Cal, and as happy as I was to finally graduate, I was sorry that my work-study program at LHS had to end.  I made some wonderful friends, and like these little Sunprint® kits, every day was full of fascinating and creative things.

The sheets come in 3 sizes:  4" x 4" — 8" x 12" — 24" x 36" and range in price from $4.95 (for the small kits & refills) to $13.95 (for the 8" x 12" kits).  

my starfish sunprint

How does it work?  
White paper is embedded with relatively non-toxic blue molecules that are sensitive to ultra-violet light (relatively, as in don't eat the paper or rub it all over your skin and eyes).  When the paper is exposed to sunlight, two kinds of molecules in the paper interact to form a brand new molecule.  This interaction is triggered by specific wavelengths of ultra-violet light.  

The blue molecules convert to a new colorless molecule, which allows the white in the paper to show through.  You'll see this happening very quickly, as soon as the paper is exposed to either direct or indirect sunlight.  The whole process shouldn't take any longer than 2 to 5 minutes in full sunlight.  Indirect sunlight (in a sunny room or outside on a cloudy day) will take longer, 5 - 20 minutes depending on how much sunlight there is.  The non-exposed blue molecules covered by the objects will retain their original chemical composition, whereas all of the molecules exposed to sunlight will change into the colorless compound.  

11" x 14" frames with 8" x 12" mats
When the paper is rinsed in cool water, the water-soluble blue molecules wash away leaving the shape of the objects in white.  Partial exposure caused by ambient light around the edges of an object will cause a partial reaction and a faded blue effect, like an x-ray.  The newly produced colorless molecules react again to the water.  After a minute of rinsing, the water causes the colorless molecules to oxidize into a beautiful turquoise blue.  As the paper dries, oxidation continues and eventually ends in a deep indigo blue background.  Don't worry about a few wrinkles in the paper as it dries.  They barely show when framed.  

Fun Things to Do
It is a truly amazing effect and a great way to use the power of the summer sun to create unique & beautiful art!  You can get the same effect using enlarged black & white photo negatives, since the variations of dark and light areas on the negative will produce a range of shades and a precise image of the photograph.  How cool is that?!  Be sure to check out how to use wrinkled Sunprint® papers to create special mosaic-style fx.  

Click here to see the Sunprint® gallery.  There are a bunch of different ways to apply your creative and scientific sensibilities to this project.  

This is serious fun for all ages, and you'll love the results!