Last week I had been thinking a lot about tea pigments, their relationship to society, watercolor painting and science. Before I elaborate on my thoughts, I would like to define paper (solid media) and pigment (dissolved in a liquid media).
The paper used in water color is made out of 88-96 % cotton1. In water color, the type or quality of the paper is very important. In more detail, cotton is mostly α-cellulose1, which is a long molecule made out of repeating building blocks (β 1,4 glycopyranose),2 with very little contaminants. Additionally, the paper can have different textures, depending on how it is prepared; hot press is smooth and even, cold press is less smooth, and finally, the rough paper is highly textured.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a pigment is: a substance that imparts black or white or a color to other materials especially: a powdered substance that is mixed with a liquid in which it is relatively insoluble and used especially to impart color to coating materials (such as paints) or to inks, plastics, and rubber.
The connection between science, society and art lies in the use of paper, pigments and water. In art this is called water color, in science it is called paper chromatography. Below, I will explore three different cases that illustrate the same process but are used for different purposes.
The first example came up this week when I was talking to one of my colleagues that came back from a trip to the Dominican Republic. During that trip, she visited the Centro Cultural Perello’ (Figure 1) that had an exhibition called “Papel y tinta de caf” in which the artists (children) created landscapes on paper using coffee as the pigment (Figure2).
In science, paper chromatography has been used to separate mixtures into individual components. In fact, in 1950 Roberts and Wood3 used paper chromatography to study the different polyphenols (antioxidants) in tea leaves (Figure 3 shows the result they obtained using paper chromatography). Nowadays, paper chromatography is not used as often. It has been replaced by Thin Layer Chromatography and Liquid Chromatography.
Watercolor painting is performed when a pigment (that is either suspended or soluble in water) is transferred into the paper and it is used to create art. Watercolor pigments can be made of inorganic molecules (containing metals) or organic molecules (containing atoms such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen). The following web page has a comprehensive list of many pigments used in art (The Color of Art Pigment Database). The following figures show how different pigments can diffuse differently on paper. Figure 4 shows various figures that have been painted using watercolors: the first square has been painted using only red pigment; the second square shows a mixture of pigments (blue and red) that traveled evenly, showing a homogeneous smooth color; the third set includes the two middle circles and was painted using a mixture of blue and red pigment (an attempt to make violet), and it can be observed that in the top circle the blue pigment diffused at different rates compared to the red pigment, thus causing a strong blue coloration close on one side and a red coloration on the other side; the final set shows a similar effect, but in this case, the circles were painted using blue and yellow pigments.
This past week has been a slow one as I am unpacking studio work from recent artist residencies at VCCA and the Anderson Center. In two weeks’ time, I will be in Paris to work on photographing and interacting with the Marie Currie notebooks at the NbF in Paris.
During the last seven days, I had a bit of time to reflect on the aspect of stain and molds and my ongoing conversation/experimentation with Montse’s. This seems to be correlating with my unpacking and viewing not only recent residency work but a much more broad-based concurrent unpacking (and divesting) of earlier artwork and exhibition documentation.
Stain, aftermath, residue, and imprint keep reappearing in one form or another in all my work. These interests also carry over in to another concurrent project - uranium, its radioactive properties, its implementation, and its aftermath. I am curious to see how these various projects overlap and evolve. What will rise to the top as more expansive themes? I have uploaded some of my concurrent uranium-focused projects to add context to the investigation of the teas.
I am hoping before I leave to try some of the innovative approaches to Cyanotype chemistry suggested by Montse - combining ferric cyanide and tea (which as she mentioned might replace the hydrogen peroxide or the ferric ammonium sulfate). An exploration of how iron in blood might react, as in the tea, to the iron in the Cyanotype chemistry. I look forward to the teas and materials Montse is sending to me this week and will forward her my test results when I have a chance to work with them.
Also, as a post script... Montse and I have been discussing my coming to Flint to exhibit our work and perhaps engage in experimental sciart workshops with the students. We are currently working out the possible structuring of this interactive work and scheduling logistics.