Soft as Butter by Susan Watson Knight

‘Knight’s interest with the cyanotype began in her father’s architectural office where she first encountered engineering blueprints. The intense hue and technical precision became the trigger for her exploration of the horse bit’s evolution and design. On first glance, the objects in these cyanotypes look enigmatic and vaguely disturbing, almost like obscure medical instruments or handcuffs that pit cold metal against soft tissue as a means of restraint… Knight’s collection of nickel, copper and stainless steel bits with their joints and rings and shanks create tantalizing geometric patterns suggesting interlinked, stick-figure outlines of bodies united in a common purpose, like rider and horse.’ – Fiona Capp 2012.


Documentation suggests that the use of the equine bit dates back to approximately 3500-3000 BC. These original designs were fashioned from rope, bone, horn and wood. Metal bits evolved between 1300- 1200 BC and were made of bronze. Equine bits rest on the sensitive bars of a horse’s mouth and work with either direct pressure or leverage depending on the type. From a design perspective Knight is interested in the purity of these forms and the pragmatics of rationality and functionality. From a riding perspective Knight is aware that a heavy-handed rider can make even the mildest bit painful. The dressage rider strives to develop independent hands that maintain gentle consistent bit contact and a quiet dialogue with their equine companion. Knight’s dressage trainer shared insightful advice that should be a mantra for all equestrians regardless of discipline ‘assume your horse’s mouth is as soft as butter..’


What is a cyanotype?

The making of a cyanotype is reminiscent of the magic found in a photographers’s dark room, when the photographic image begins to appear through a mix of chemicals and interplay of UV light and dark. The process is partially one of control and discovery. Cyanotypes date back to the 1700’s, with a history linking chemistry and photography; known also as photograms, photogravure prints, sunlight prints, blue prints or cyanotypes, it is the latter which accurately refers to the colour. The cyan in a cyanotype is often a highly saturated deep electric blue / aquamarine, although cyanotypes can be dark charcoal or green grey too. As the chemical process has etched tiny stipples into the etching plate, the colour appears on paper as soft as cashmere; the tonal effects are similar to that of a watercolour.

February 19, 2019