Thursday, March 22, 2007

First Pigment Test

I really, really need to get in touch with local First Nations (Canada) and Native American tribes (US) in the Vancouver and Multnomah areas. Not only do they have a huge depth of knowledge and experience in creating pigments and art, they’ve been doing it for generations using things that occur naturally in the area I’m doing my work.

In the meantime, I’ve tried a few things on my own. Lightfastness is an issue (how resistant paint is to fading over time). I may decide that a few years will be sufficient if I want an expanded palate, otherwise I’ll probably be restricted to earth tones.

By the way, I used M. Graham walnut oil in these tests, which worked out really well. I may end up planting my own walnut tree for the medium!

Leftmost: this is soil I collected from my shoes from a recent visit to my parent’s land. This is the red clay that I hope will be usable as a pigment. However, it got mixed with dust and soil from my basement. Its consistency looks like poo. I got a better collection from Alyssa’s shoes on the right, and it looks a little better. I need to think about how to strain out impurities for more consistency.

Sawdust: This dust collected from the sanding of the wood blocks I made for Ravenna. It’s Tupelo, a nearly white wood. Not only does it not grow lpcally, it makes a terrible pigment. The only use I could see for this would be as a paint extender and drying retarder. It took about a month to dry, compared to a few days for everything else.

Blueberry Pie Juice: Alyssa was cooking, and I stole some of the pie juice! It’s pretty much sugar and blueberries. It worked out pretty well, when used without walnut oil. Only concern here is fading over time.

Beet Juice: This also worked out pretty well, but did not blend at all with oil. Probably that whole “water & oil does not mix” thing. There may be other ways for me to get this color in oil. Beet powder perhaps.

Turmeric: Looks like baby poo. If I can strain out the particles, I may get a decent result.

Rosemary & Cinnamon: Not worth the effort.

OK, back to the drawing board!


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Peanut Butter!

So, I’ve had this idea kicking around in my brain since early college, but have been putting it off until now. It came from a discussion an economics teacher had with us; what’s does it take to make a jar of peanut butter?
OK, when you go to the store, and plunk down under $4 for a jar of peanut butter, you really don’t think much about it. It’s pretty much like anything else you pay for. It’s easy to find, and pretty much looks and tastes the same as the last time you got it (you know, homogenous). Let’s keep this simple and presume we’re talking about all natural peanut butter (my favorite is Adams. I’m not getting any sponsorship for this project yet, but if I did, it should be from Smucker’s Inc. My motto: “You can’t sell out if you’ve never bought in!” Now where’s my free jar of Adams?)
Anyway, let’s figure out where all the stuff that makes up a jar of peanut butter comes from:

From farms, mostly in the South East region of the US. Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina. I just found out on the internet that unlike other nuts, this one is not grown on trees. It comes from a little plant that has flowers on it. Cute.
Jar: Ok, obviously it’s mostly glass, but that’s not all.
Label: It’s got a sticky side, a paper-like substance and ink.
Lid: Metal, a rubber inner seal, some sort of anodized coating on the inside, Paint on the outside, with a lovely logo (some sort of offset printing technique, I’m guessing)
That’s about as far as the discussion went in class. But thinking about it, I realized it didn’t stop there:
Not including all the transportation to get all these items into the peanut butter factory and then onto the shelves of your local store, we’ve covered the basics of the component parts. So, how do you make each part?
Peanuts: Grown
Water irrigation
Soil , fertilizers and/or pesticides often used (natural or otherwise). Soil maintenance, (tiling, cover crops in the winter, all sorts of things)
Harvest, via manual labor or big huge gas powered machines.
Glass: Made from silicon dioxide (sand) and other materials at a high heat in a big industrial factory.
Glue: gelatin (from horse hooves or synthetic sources)
Paper: Trees, hemp (outside of the US anyway), or other things that you can get cellulose out of.
Ink: All sorts of recipes, but dye based inks include solvents. Oh boy.
Metal: Smelted from ore, or recycled from other metal products, again, in huge industrial factories that I tend to drive by on the highways, but never actually get to visit. (I’d love to tour these places)
Paint: Binder, Dilutant, and additives. Binders can be anything from natural oils to epoxies. Dilutants include water, alcohols, ketones, and petroleum distillates. Additives include pigments or dyes as well as thickeners, stabilizers, etc.
Hey, this project is about making a painting from scratch, not peanut butter! But, you could say building those tools (tractors, factories, logging trucks, etc) would be a step back. If you keep going back far enough, I believe that nearly everything we do these days derives back to smelting ore, harnessing oil (into fuel, plastics, etc), and creating fabric. No wonder oil companies are so rich! Of course, this does worry me about what’s going to happen we’ll eventually run out of oil…
So, one idea behind this project is to connect all the processes that are behind a finished item that we take for granted, and consciously realize them. What does it take to truly be independent? What is the best art I can produce when I do everything myself? Actually, scratch that, I don’t think I will be able to do everything myself. I’m planning on restricting the bulk of the materials to come from a small geographical location. Specifically, my parent’s new property. They are in the process right now of moving to 38 acres outside of Oregon City. It’s mostly forested, and has a red clay soil, which I heard things do not grow very well from. Since I’m up in Vancouver BC, I’ll have to do a bit of delegation on some (OK, a LOT) of the things to get this project rolling.
Anyway, my project has to be at least two steps back, most likely more. I’ve already decided that I won’t be smelting my own metal, because
1) It’s very likely that my parent’s land won’t have the necessary ore to smelt copper & tin (to make bronze) and
2) old-school smelting releases all sorts of nasty chemicals, like arsenic, into the environment, and I don’t want to mess up my parent’s property (at least, not that much)
So, I think one acceptable work around would be to grow something, or do something in exchange for some scrap metal, from which I could build my own tools. Any thoughts on this? Please comment on what would be a good starting point!