Cyanotype Life

Abi Lewis @aklewis_ (Artist in Residence 2021-22 Kickstart Programme)


Abigail(Abi) grew up in Burnley, and her family are from Nelson and Brierfield. Having moved away from the area to study, she is now returning, and finding new inspiration in this experience. As an artist, Abi has trained in Textiles Design and Surface Innovation at Bradford School of Art ( Bradford College). During her time with us Abi has been able to explore the area she grew up in, noticing new surroundings again. Abi is now working with In-Situ as a freelance artist on Kill Your Desires with Mums 2 Mums and has secured ACE funding for Along the Same Line, a collaborative project on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.



82 is the number of my mum and dad's house, across from the hospital where I was born, my home for almost 20 years.

I grew up in Burnley, I never felt any sort of strong connection to the area apart from living here and knowing that my Mum and Dad grew up around Brierfield and Nelson. There was never anything telling me I needed to stay, I was always encouraged to take any opportunities from Mum and Dad so I wasn’t afraid of leaving. I struggled to find interest in high-school, I fought with listening to teachers, hated maths, I didn’t like sitting down, apart from drama, dance and art, all of the outlets to calm or maybe excite my hyperactive brain. I think my mum must've spent an absolute fortune on ballet shoes and dance classes. The Saturdays spent at dance classes, Dad picking us up, treating us to a couple of DVDs from Blockbusters, I can distinctly remember the peppermint flavour of Poppets. I enjoyed all the lessons that didn’t have to be a certain way, a method you had to follow, an outcome, it didn’t have to make sense, a way to distract from real life, I could pick up a paint brush and I would be focused on just the canvas, I’d have forgotten for a moment an argument from the morning rush with my sister over whose is whose hair straighteners, where’s my f’in brush!

As a family we’d go to watch my brother Jake at his gigs, music is a massive way we communicate, belting Elton John on a Saturday night, Mum in the mosh pit at Orange Goblin, from Steps to Metallica, a way we express ourselves.

During College, I dropped my art class and focused on Textiles. I think it was here that I found for myself that not all art is on a canvas, I could shape my feelings into physical pieces that represented my emotions, I always enjoyed drawing, collaging, the link between theatre and art always became a language I liked to explore within my work, especially mixing fashion and art together as they go hand in hand. With textiles I could embellish these ideas from paper to 2D or 3D techniques.

After Uni I felt like I wasn’t in the right place, I suppose I should've listened to all the conversations that my Mum and Dad would mention of family that have now passed. I’ve been able to reconnect with the areas of Brierfield and Nelson, places I felt I no longer knew only fragments of younger memories. Though I now feel like those pieces of the jigsaw are just the beginning in finding out about my history and how the area I’ve been working in for the past 7 months means more to me. During this time I’ve been making cyanotype art pieces with my brothers Zak and Jake, not really understanding what Cyanotype was, they joined in on The Gatherings Artist Bethany White’s workshop in Downham and immediately enjoyed the process of it and wanted to explore this technique.

Cyanotype is a photography method that uses blueprints with coated paper and light. Combining water and chemicals ferric ammonium Citrate (green) and potassium ferricyanide (red). Once placed onto paper or fabric the chemicals react to UV or natural light.



I liked the idea of collaborating with my brothers and also having the space to make pieces together, experimenting and enjoying each other's company.



The first few weeks we were outside holding onto the last bit of sun, we developed stencils using paper, card, motifs and random equipment that Jake brought, music on, probably something like Clubland Classix or perhaps it was Fela Kuti, a mix of things, I feel like the music was a way of us deciding what type of day it was going to be.





As yellow-green turns to a rich blue, the sun exposes the iron in the chemicals, the reaction causes the compounds to change and you are left with a strong prussian blue.




It’s a strange transformation as the two chemicals start off green and red, once you’ve mixed the chemicals in water it produces a mucky yellow green mixture.


The colour of the blue can change depending on time of exposure, fabric used, we tested different ways of exposing our prints including the use of UV light when the December skies had taken over. Of course, this posed new challenges as we now discovered those quick natural light cyanotypes now could take a good day or so to develop. I think this disturbed our enthusiasm during some of the sessions as we immediately blamed ourselves thinking we had done something wrong instead of factoring in the possible outcomes whilst testing our fabric.

Has the old mixture gone bad? Did we wash the samples too early? Did the temperatures of the water affect the prints? Why did some fabrics fade, the list goes on.

Jake sent me a few photos of what he’d taken on walks in the countryside, of wind turbines and trees and a photo of the backstreet of his old house. I suggested turning them into negatives and printing onto acetate sheets, seeing how photography could develop our pieces.


Week by week our samples were piling up! I didn’t realise we’d done so much to be honest, each time we met up we were just being creative and enjoying the time spent, I guess sometimes I pressured myself thinking of what the outcomes would be, where does it lead next but as I’m figuring out during my time with In-Situ, art can be the conversation, the connecting, the doing, the days that seem to go wrong or the days it’s going great, the times I feel like it’s not coming together the art is all this part too and not just the physical work.

_ _ _

Coming into the end of December and the beginning of the new year, we were excited to be back in The Garage. It’s been a strange quiet month. I’ve felt a real sense of dissociation with what's happening and not having that interaction, I was struggling to begin writing this.

I’ve now started freehand embroidery on some of our samples, replicating Zak’s drawings, the repetitive circles and lines, and about embroidering words and thoughts that I’ve been feeling during the whole process of the workshops, and translating this onto fabric.


As we’ve been in the space, we’ve discovered history into our own family, we’ve found a book that includes a photo of our Grandad from our dad’s side Richard Lewis who plays a tailor in the production of A Merrie England that was a part of the Centenary Celebrations in 1961. I’ve found out that my Grandma Nellie worked at Smith & Nephew making coffin liners.




Init’ lovely that we're all finding connections back to a place where our family once was, finding a photo of my Dad's Dad in a book at In-Situ makes me feel like we did know him somehow, I mean with this nose it's got to be our Grandad!

Yano I feel like it would be a shame if I didn’t try and carry this forward into future work, even if it’s just gathering more photos, me and my brothers were finding out this info in a haphazard way, picking up books whilst creating.

Bringing my family into the process has brought Jake and Zak to a place they’ve not known about and making a connection to the place where they grew up and discovering in the archive.

We don’t have grandparents any more - the opportunity was always there growing up - go visit your Grandad - he’s just down the street - and I never took that opportunity until it’s too late.

My Mum always makes a family joke, ‘ you always start and you never finish, but you do, never finish cause it's always the next thing, and the next thing….


During this residency, it's all happened during lockdown my Grandad passed away and they’ve only just given keys to the new house owner - Mum offered me the chance to go and have a last look, she took fragments of the wallpaper, and that's it, it's all sold and it's a new chapter for someone else living there. Slowly, I’ve been developing pieces that me and my brothers have made, using my sewing machine, constructing these pieces onto my mannequin to contour the fabrics loosely shaping and layering these together.



At the moment I’m busy, with two of my friends Joseph and Danny as we start our first collaborative project called Along the Same Line exploring the Leeds to Liverpool Canal and making wearable art pieces as mates, inspired by our home- towns of Bradford, Brierfield and Liverpool. Finding proper connections with the people in the area of Brierfield has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve taken from my residency. Whilst learning about my own family's past I’ve learnt the beginnings of where others have started, as this traineeship role has come to an end, my journey here in this green town, hasn’t. Thank you to Paul and the In-Situ family for making me a part of the team and an extended part of the family.