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Sunny Skies Bring Out This Artist’s Blues!

When Robin Byrnes is feeling the blues, she pulls out her bottles of chemicals. Sometimes, though, the results are rather psychedelic.

But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Byrnes specializes in cyanotype art: a monochrome photographic process that produces, as the name suggests, cyan blue images. She treats cloth with a special chemical mixture and it turns blue when exposed to light. More than 170 years old, the process was long used to make blueprints.

Although she can and does print on paper, Byrnes is currently working on cotton fabric. By using dyed material and the science of colour-blending, she can produce monochromes in other colours as well, e.g., yellow fabric producing a green image.

Byrnes likes how the technique can make an image look old and traditional, or, using multiple colours, she can give it a pop-art feel, like the singer and the “punch buggies” that hang on her living room wall.

Although cyanotype is a scientific process, it relies heavily on the whims of nature, which leads to a lot of surprises.

After producing a large negative on a transparency (up to 13 by 19 inches), Byrnes lays the negative on the chemically treated fabric, puts it under glass, and lets it sit in the sun for, oh, 25, maybe 30 minutes. It can depend on the time of day, atmospheric haze, or the possibility of a passing cloud.

After washing the remaining chemicals out of the cloth to make the image appear, she’ll see if her surprise is a good one or a bad one.

“Any time it turns out I’m surprised,” she laughs.

If the negative isn’t sharp enough or the contrast isn’t high enough, she might not be happy. It’s a bit like the old days of film photography: she never really knows what she has until the processing is finished.

“I like to make rags for my studio,” she laughs.

For her upcoming show at the Kiwanis Gallery, Byrnes is unveiling her collection of about 40 images of Central Alberta artists and their work. They aren’t all typical examples of what people consider art, including art forms such as goldsmithing, tattooing, or building guitars.

This will be her fourth solo art show – although all of them have been rather recent. Byrnes graduated from the University of Victoria with a BFA in 1978, but was rather too preoccupied with teaching art and the rest of life to produce very much of her own.

Her first solo show was in the Kiwanis Gallery in 2011, with a series of paintings on a theme of mental illness. Since then, Byrnes has had shows in the HUB and the Velvet Olive, and has contributed pieces to several local group shows.

Artist Proof opens at the Kiwanis Gallery Oct. 16. First Friday November 1st will feature Robin’s work and the artist will be in attendance.

Robin Byrnes with a cyanotype of a belly dancer for her upcoming show at the Kiwanis Gallery. The images behind her are also cyanotypes using cloth already dyed in various colours.


I AM the Arts

I am a mother, daughter, sister, friend and dog guardian.

I am a procrastinator, daydreamer, and secret baseball addict.

I frequent Red Deer’s live music venues.

I am Robin Byrnes.

Join me in discovering the best our city has to offer.