Bluebell Blueprints - chemistry, sunlight and creativity

So far on the Hospital Rooms blog we've been taking a closer look at some of the amazing work  created for our completed projects at Phoenix Unit, Snowsfields Adolescent Unit, Garnet Ward and Eileen Skellern 1 PICU. We have lots more to share about how these projects developed and the impact they have had on service users and staff.

However, this week we want to bring you the latest from our current project at Bluebell Lodge, part of Central & North West London NHS Trust. Bluebell Lodge provides long-term inpatient rehabilitation care to men aged 18- 65 who have complex mental health problems and who have found other units unable to meet their needs. The average stay of service users is between 6 and 18 months, during which time individuals are supported to develop the skills needed for independent living and coping strategies to manage their mental health. 

In keeping with our previous projects, we have commissioned leading contemporary artists with diverse practices to create site-specific work for Bluebell Lodge: Anna Barriball, Rachael Champion, Tim A Shaw, Bob & Roberta Smith, Mark Titchner and Steve Macleod. In addition, Turner prize winner Anthony Gormley has generously donated a work to the project, which will be installed in Bluebell Lodge in the coming weeks. At this early stage of the project, our artists have been meeting with service users and staff to learn more about Bluebell Lodge and discuss ideas for how they might work together to transform the environment. We have also started a series of art workshops, led by our artists, for residents at Bluebell Lodge. These sessions offer an opportunity for the service users and staff to discover new approaches to making art, explore their creativity and produce work with our artists which will inform the final artworks made for the unit.

 

175439_960n.jpg

Steve Macleod

Bluebell Lodge will be Steve’s second project with Hospital Rooms, after working with us on our very first project at Phoenix Unit, a psychiatric rehabilitation unit in Springfield Hospital in South London. A landscape photographer, Steve is interested in the impact nature can have on our health, emotions and imagination. Immersing himself in the landscape he photographs, his images use the natural world as a conduit for conveying states of mind, the inner experience of the landscape, and are less concerned with a strict realist documentation of geographical locations.

As well as a photographer,  who has exhibited in galleries such as Black Box projects and Griffin Gallery, Steve is also creative director at Metro Imaging, award-winning experts in professional photo and fine art printing. Steve is also passionate about education and regularly lectures on photography and mentors emerging artists. He has been a dedicated supporter of Hospital Rooms since the charity's inception and has offered his expertise on all of our projects, working closely with a number of our artists at Metro Imaging to decide how best to reproduce their work in print.

Following an initial visit a few weeks ago, Steve Macleod returned to Bluebell Lodge last week to lead a photography workshop with a difference for the residents. 

For his workshop Steve decided share the extraordinary art of cyanotype. This is a photographic printing process which does not involve the use of a camera and produces stunning cyan-blue prints. The procedure was first discovered by the English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842 and used primarily as a means of reproducing notes and diagrams. The process continued to be used by engineers into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost way of way of replicating drawings - literally 'blueprints'.

Cyanotypes are created using a surface such as paper or cloth coated in a photosensitive solution comprised of two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide

 For the workshop at Bluebell Lodge, Steve prepared a batch of coated paper at home, mixing up the chemical solution, applying it to sheets of absorbent watercolour paper, and leaving the paper to dry in the dark. (Image courtesy of Steve Macleod,  @stevemac65  )

For the workshop at Bluebell Lodge, Steve prepared a batch of coated paper at home, mixing up the chemical solution, applying it to sheets of absorbent watercolour paper, and leaving the paper to dry in the dark. (Image courtesy of Steve Macleod, @stevemac65 )

 When coating surfaces with the photosensitive solution it's important to use a metal-free brush as the chemicals will react with the metal, affecting the quality of the solution. (Image courtesy of Steve Macleod, @stevemac65 )

When coating surfaces with the photosensitive solution it's important to use a metal-free brush as the chemicals will react with the metal, affecting the quality of the solution. (Image courtesy of Steve Macleod, @stevemac65 )

Paper prepared with the solution will react to UV light. If the photosensitive paper is left to expose in sunlight with an object placed on top, an image of that object will be left printed on the paper, where the light has been blocked from the paper. Depending on the strength of the light, the exposure time required to produce a print can vary. On a blazing hot summer's day, with the sun high in the sky, conditions for Steve's workshop were perfect and most prints took no more than a few minutes to make. Once exposed to the light for a period of time, the paper is removed and rinsed in cold water, washing away any unexposed chemicals. It is at this point that the deep blue of the cyanotype emerges, bringing greater clarity to the contrasting white image that has been captured. 

 In the patch of sunlight in an open doorway, a cyanotype is in process. Glasses belonging to one of the residents at Bluebell Lodge cast a shadow which blocks the light whilst the rest of the photosensitive paper reacts and becomes gradually paler.

In the patch of sunlight in an open doorway, a cyanotype is in process. Glasses belonging to one of the residents at Bluebell Lodge cast a shadow which blocks the light whilst the rest of the photosensitive paper reacts and becomes gradually paler.

 When the glasses are removed, the shadow they cast has left behind a white print which becomes fixed and permanent as the paper is rinsed and dried.

When the glasses are removed, the shadow they cast has left behind a white print which becomes fixed and permanent as the paper is rinsed and dried.

Anything that will block the light can be used to make a cyanotype. Service users and staff at Bluebell Lodge experimented with all kinds of objects and materials. Some tried flowers and leaves from the garden, snooker balls, stencils, netting, and items from the unit's art room. Others made prints that were more personal - using reading glasses, a treasured rosary or creating a print of their own hand. Steve had brought with him a container of ready-mixed photo-sensitive solution so participants had the option of coating their own sheets of paper. This also provided the opportunity to experiment with the application of the solution and discover the effects of only partly covering the paper, brushing on the solution so that some areas of paper were left uncoated (see the third image in the row below).

Glasses belonging to Steve and two of the residents at Bluebell Lodge are used to make a joint cyanotype.

 

While the sun is shining, why not try making your own cyanotypes at home?! Steve prepared his own coated paper but pre-prepared paper is not difficult to get hold of and a number of outlets sell it online. It is sometimes sold as 'sunprint' or 'sunography' paper. With these packs of coated paper all you need is sunlight, water and imagination. The process is so easy to do and a great activity for all ages to enjoy. 

 


Seasalt+logo (1).jpg

Our project at Bluebell Lodge is supported by Arts Council England and Cornish fashion brand Seasalt. You can find our more about how Seasalt are supporting this project in next week’s blog post…

 

 A hand print cyanotype is rinsed in a bowl of water, allowing the image to become fixed and permanent.

A hand print cyanotype is rinsed in a bowl of water, allowing the image to become fixed and permanent.

Our projects would not be possible without the generosity and support of Hospital Rooms’ friends and donors. With your help we can transform more NHS mental health care environments across the UK and give more people the opportunity to be touched and inspired by the unique and radical work that we do.

Your donations really do make a difference.