Sunday, June 24, 2007

Canvassing for Linen

Since hemp is not legal to grow in the states and Canada, (although you wouldn’t be able to tell up here), and I don’t want to blatantly break the law on this project (why risk deportation from the Great White North?), I decided to grow flax to convert into linen. I could also use the seeds for linseed oil, but 1), seed and fibers are harvested at different times and 2) I’m hooked on using walnut oil ever since I started using M. Graham paints several years ago. It smells better and my brushes clean up nicely with only walnut oil & soap, saving me the effort of creating turpentine from scratch.

When I was in Colton, I visited K’s Nursery, bought three flax plants for a total of $6, and a bag of potting soil for $2.00. Very helpful and friendly people. Unlike other Nurseries in the region, they sell a lot more than just Christmas tree saplings.
They don’t have a website but follow the link for their contact info.

Here’s two shots of the plants in April:

I planted them at my parent’s property. Here’s a shot of their condition as of today (thanks sis!). They were moved a bit to make way for a walkway to my parent's new house (thus the different background). My plan for these three plants is to let one be harvested for fiber (for a proof of concept test), and the other two for seed. If I’m lucky, I’ll have enough flax from the seed to make a canvas.

Coming up: My visit to the Squaxin Island Native American Museum, and Fibrefest International 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

We Have Paint! (One color anyway)

When I got back to Vancouver, I did a number of things to my parent’s soil to turn it into paint-ready pigment. (This is just proof of concept, so ignore the modern tools like plastic bowls, sledgehammers, knives, etc)

Sift: This was to remove really large particles.

Slurry: Make mud and let it settle to let the coarse heavy particles settle at the bottom, and finest particles separate to the top.

Drain: Duct tape, it works for everything!

Dry: My own dried out mud puddle. Cool cracks, huh? Looks like almost all the breaks are three lines from a single point.

Separate: Found it was easiest to use a carving knife. The coarse particles came right off, and the silt was harder, and actually carved pretty well. Too bad it’s so fragile, or I could sculpt with it.

Crush: I didn’t use a mortar and pestle this time, but will on my next test batch.

Mix with oil: Used M. Graham Walnut oil, and mixed it with a palate knife for about a half hour or so.

Final paint: Not too bad considering I made it from my parent’s front yard dirt! It’s still a little coarse, as it has the consistency of chocolate icing. I’m going to do a slurry on the fine pigment to see if I can get better results. Still, better than ketchup.

Other ideas with this soil;

I ran magnet I found on a shopping cart (cow magnet being marketed as a kid’s toy) through the pre sifted stuff, and it picked up iron particles! I’m going to try to isolate these, and rust them (maybe keep in water for a while?) to get an iron oxide powder for a really deep red.

Firing the silt may create darker colors. I’ll have to try this sometime too.

Next post: Details on how the canvas is coming.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

M. Graham Factory Tour

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve taken the trip to my parent’s new place in Colton, OR, but I’ve finally been able to catch up with enough things to get back to documenting this project. The most exciting part was when Alyssa and I met Art Graham, owner of M. Graham paints. In addition to some invaluable tips that he had for my project, he also showed me how they made paint, and as luck would have it, they were making my favorite oil color when we visited; Ultramarine Blue.

If you would like to learn more about the best paints I’ve ever used, I’ve devoted an entire page to the visit.

Here are some things I’ll try based off of his advice:

Earth Tone Pigments
Many earth tone pigments are literally that: they come from dirt. Now, the pigments that any professional paint maker would use are going to be a lot more refined and have a much, much higher level of quality control and consistency than I’ll be able to come up with, but it is reassuring to know that I can actually use that beautiful red-clay color from my parent’s property in my work. The suggested way to do this is to filter the earth and remove any inconsistent particles, then crush it repeatedly. Afterwards, mix it with water and let it settle. The finest particles will settle at the top. Skim these off, and repeat the process. When done, I should have a substance about as fine as talcum powder, which can be mixed with the medium.

Black & White Pigments: Am I Willing to Kill an Animal for this Project?
Art mentioned that I might want to try pulverized chicken bones for white pigment. Apparently, the earliest tempura paints were made from egg yolk and ground chicken bones. Also, if I can burn the bones properly, I may also be able to get a really good black from them, too. This brings up a question that I’ve been wrestling with for a while on this project: am I willing to kill an animal for art? I think it will be a lot more justifiable if the rest of the animal is used too, but except for slugs, spiders, flies, mice and a few very unfortunate barnacles, I can’t say that I’ve ever killed anything. It’s funny how something that our race used to do to survive now brings with it such a moral dilemma. I’m going to experiment first on bones from leftovers. That at least delays my decision on black & white tones for a few more weeks.

Walnut Oil Medium
For walnut oil, I could do what Leonardo Da Vinci did: boil the walnuts and skim off the oil.

Green Pigment

Oxidized copper. I’ll see if I can find any copper ore on or near my parent’s place. If it’s off the property, I’ll have to see if someone is willing to trade it for labor, or perhaps something I’m already growing.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Pay Dirt!

For Easter, we visited my family, who had just moved into their new property (40 acres near Oregon City). Most of the property’s soil is a deep red clay. This soil is what reignited the idea of this art project in my mind. I thought that it might make a nice pigment.

As luck would have it, when we visited, my sister’s foundation on her new house was being installed (my sister, her husband and kids live on the same property), and there was a huge mound of dirt from which I took samples.
While I was there, I was able to do a couple of tests on the soil. As I didn’t have time to finish them, I smuggled some back to Canada with me.

But, I was able to create a slurry (i.e. mud) and let the contents settle. There turned out to be a fair amount of silt on this particular sample. The idea is to use the silt as a pigment.
More on this soil and my results up in Canada on the next post!