Graphic Grey

Friday, 29 November 2013

Day 26 - Blush and Stain 2

This Saturday!

Come and chat with me at gallery/ten and find out about the unique techniques I have used in Chroma Utopia!

I'll be present in the gallery from 1- 3pm on Saturday 30th September to answer your questions and have a chat.

Last chance to see the work!

Chroma Utopia

until 30th November 2013 open 10 - 5 sat

gallery/ten, first floor, 23 Windsor Place, Cardiff CF10 3BY

something take your fancy for christmas? collectorplan interest free credit is available on all purchases

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Day 25 - Saturation

Saturation: Acrylic, pigment, resin and surface preparation on fabric. The pigment was allowed to soak into and saturate the fabric before spreading upwards in waves.

51 x 31cm plus frame

On show until Saturday 30th November 3013.
Available through gallery/ten, Cardiff

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Day 24 - Field 2

It's all a big experiment... Plant pigments (buttercup, cherry blossom, buddleia), cellulose and resin on glass.

The essence of a field, preserved.

REMINDER! Last chance to see the show! Chroma Utopia ends 5pm Saturday 30th November. It's in gallery/ten, 23 Windsor Place, Cardiff.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Day 23 - Dioxazine

Dioxazine. What a great name! Dioxazine Violet is the name of a particularly wonderful shade of purple which I’ve recently fallen in love with.

But despite its synthetic-sounding name it actually comes from coal tar, and has a molecular structure based on carbon. It can be created synthetically, but the process isn’t economically viable.

It was discovered by Carl Graebe and Carl Glaser in 1872, and as a pigment is resistant to light, heat, alkalis, acids, soaps, oils, waxes, solvents, and water. This means it’s great for using in car varnishes, printing, textiles and polymers, and in a in a wide variety of inks and paints.

The colour is so strong and dark when concentrated that it can be used as the pigment in black Indian ink.

So this brings me back to my exploration of pigments and their hidden ‘fingerprints’ of colour; plants contain pigments of various hues, and so it appears do man-made dyes.

In my ‘Dioxazine’ painting I decided to apply the coloured glaze over the entire face and experiment to discover whether the spread of the pigment could be controlled to follow the shape of the hair. It was a great surprise when the wonderful orange was revealed to contrast with the purple. The face became less important than the pigment and its separation out into components of pure colour.

Day 22 - Field 1

Plants contain pigments of such surprising colours. The summer of 2013 preserved here in resin forever!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Day 21 - Blue Hue

Well, Blue Hue is an interesting piece...

I searched for years to find a non-brittle resin that could be painted with, and with a fast curing time so it would retain its form. I wanted to extend my work beyond the boundaries of the picture plane. It was only after collaborating with a polymer chemist that I found what I was searching for.

This is an industrial resin, usually used at sea to fix oil rigs and buoys, and it has all the qualities I am after!

See more 3 dimensional resin paintings in my online portfolio and also at gallery/ten

Day 20 - Exuding

It's the final week of the exhibition! Read the latest newsletter and see photos from the gallery/ten show in Cardiff here.

Exhibition until 30th November 2013; gallery/ten open 10 - 6 tues - fri + 10 - 5 sat

Something take your fancy for Christmas? Collectorplan interest free credit is available on all purchases

Friday, 22 November 2013

Day 19 - Chroma 4

The colours revealed in Chroma 4 are truly intriguing. What I also found to be intriguing was the way the glaze reacted with the resin as it dried. The colour bubbled up and formed 3 dimensional raised areas on the tile. Why? Who knows! That's the beauty of experimentation! But I have the process recorded and it appears to be repeatable. I'll discuss the whys with the polymer chemist when we next meet up.

This is one of the greatest perks of a project focussed on experimentation. I can mix any substance with any other, observe the reactions and see where it takes me. If it works I log the process, take photos and continue, and if not, well it's back to the drawing board. I can never predict successfully what will happen but the more I work with these substances, the more I've been able to refine what I do and achieve results that get me somewhere. I love the surprise element and the creation of unexpected beauty!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day 18 - Luma

The Chroma Utopia exhibition is on until 30th November at gallery/ten, first floor, 23 Windsor Pl, Cardiff CF10 3BY

I'll be in the gallery from 1 - 3pm on 30th November, the last day of the show! Pop in for a chat, learn some more about the project and perhaps even snap up an arty Christmas gift!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Day 17 - Black to Bloom No. 2

Black to Bloom describes the 'blooming' of the pigment as it spreads out through the glaze. The pigment diffuses and mimics the circular spots already on the canvas. This painting is composed of a multitude of different layers to play with the viewer's perception of space and depth within the picture plane. The canvas is semi-transparent, and then layered with acrylic glazes to create the image. The whole thing is then coated with resin into which is suspended a layer of chromatic pigment, both obscuring and enhancing the image beneath.

Today was spent with the art and design students at Gower College, Swansea. I was one of a group of entrepreneur role models invited into the college to talk about our businesses and inspire the students with hints and tips about how to succeed in their chosen creative careers. I was truly impressed with the input and response from many of the students and am sure they'll go on to great things as long as they remember to follow their passions and believe in themselves.

The whole event was arranged by Big Ideas Wales, a wonderful organisation that exists to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and get the young people of Wales interested in starting up their own businesses. I left art college without a clue about business but managed somehow to navigate my way through by trial end error to the place I am today. I only wish something like this had existed when I graduated. I think it was just my stubbornness and determination to prove that it is possible to make money from art that kept me going through all the hardships and pitfalls of being an artist. Art can be a successful business but you need to learn how to operate as a business in order to make things happen.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Day 16 - But Not Forgotten

But Not Forgotten harks back to my more traditional style of painting in acrylic and varnish on upholstery textile. My main aim with this painting was to incorporate the rose motif on the fabric (top right and bottom left) into the flowing pattern of the hair. When matching an image with a piece of fabric, one of the most essential things to get right is the positioning of key features (eyes, nose, mouth, hair) so they fit amongst the pattern and aren't obscured. At the same time it's vital to me that any pattern on the fabric remains visible. Wherever possible I try to make the pattern and painted image blend together until it become impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Day 15 - Floribunda No 2

Floribunda No 2 above.

Thought I'd include some of the lovely gallery/ten installation shots of the show too:

Day 14 - Chroma 3

Following on from yesterday's post about my experience with experiments, Chroma 3 shows some tiles that are slightly unusual. The glaze cracked in a crystalline pattern as I poured the resin; initially I felt this was not a good thing, but I revisited the tiles the following day and fell in love with them. There's something lovely and organic about the green one, like moss or lichen creeping over a stone, and the fragmented structure of the white/transparent tile reminds me of ice crystals or snow.

I guess this shows something important that I've learnt: don't react too quickly if your art hasn't gone to plan and if the thing you end up making is not the thing you set out to make. Sometimes the most aesthetically beautiful results can arise by pure accident but you need to make sure you give enough time for the redeeming features to reveal themselves.

Day 13 - Chroma 2

These pigments spread across the tile richly, like an oil slick on water. They looked black and unexciting to the eye until they were allowed to spread.

I love this surprise element of making art. I often set something up and leave it reacting overnight. Entering my studio the next day is an eagerly anticipated experience; sometimes a moment of joy when I find the thing I've created to be a wondrous thing of beauty; sometimes of moment of puzzlement when I see I've made something interesting but am not quite sure what to do with it; and sometimes disappointment when the art I've left to form has failed.

I've encountered so many kinds of failure when making this experimental work. The glaze may slump off without setting, the colour may be too strong and obscure the image underneath, and I'm losing track of the times the resin has overflowed and glued the artwork to the table or floor. I have small mounds of escaped resin everywhere in my studio! But it's all a learning curve and wouldn't be as exciting if there were never any failures. So I learn from my experiences, pick myself up and move on....

Friday, 15 November 2013

Day 12 - Black to Suffuse

This painting is one of my favourites. Peer closely and you can really see the way the fractured layer of glaze is suspended within the transparent resin. The movement of the various coloured pigments through the glaze is also clearly visible, with the tide marks of colour mimicking the floral pattern on the textile beneath. For this reason I think this glaze is one of the most interesting and successful.

I'm happy to say that there's been a good amount of positive press coverage in the Chroma Utopia show. A nice full page article in the Western Mail last week, and also this one online on alt.cardiff website, and Creative Boom.

Ooo, and lovely new portfolios of my work are viewable here.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Day 11 - Chroma 5


The one I almost didn’t make… Chroma 5 was the last set of tiles I assembled. I wasn’t sure that any of the tiles I had left belonged together to make a set, but after looking at them in various arrangements for weeks this set of 3 tiles finally found each other. If I’m ever unsure about work I find that leaving it somewhere conspicuous in my studio for a while, and seeing it out of the corner of my eye, is the best way to decide what to do with it. Chroma 5 has since proved to be very popular.

Today I have been back in my studio playing with pigments again and making new resin tiles. I’ve had a number of commissions recently; someone has requested three sets of tiles based on Chroma 5, and although the process makes it impossible to replicate accurately, at least I can aim to get the colours similar. The pigment colours can be picked to suit the client, as can the choice of plants for plant pigment tiles. This makes my resin tiles customisable, and a perfect gift! I’ve also had a set requested using pigment from wedding flowers… a lovely way to remember a special day.

Commission some of your own either by contacting me or gallery/ten.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Day 10 - Floribunda No 1

This painting is the face of the Chroma Utopia show.

It’s a busy time for me and my artwork in Cardiff at the moment. Not only do I have the solo exhibition at gallery/ten, but today also saw the official opening of Cloughmore Health Centre in Splott; a fabulous building for which I designed the interior artworks.

I was commissioned by EMP Projects and Apollo Medical to produce designs for interior windows based on the industrial heritage of Splott, Cardiff, South Wales. The designs were painted in watercolour and then transferred to vinyl, using areas of opacity and transparency to add interest. It was a great challenge for me as it pushed me to find ways of adapting my layering techniques to create ‘functional’ public artworks.

The whole building in its entirety is a thing of beauty. From its eco credentials to the slate and oxidised steel exterior and the spacious, contemporary interior, it is indeed a design to be proud of.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Day 9 - Field 3

Every plant and every substance in the world contains its own unique pigment combinations. For Field 3 I extracted and released them from buttercup and buddleia plants, revealing the intrinsic fingerprints of colour particular to each.

It’s always a surprise to see the result of my experiments, especially when the pattern that appears is unexpected as this!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Day 8 - Gauze 2

A different Gauze painting, again on glass. I washed pigment onto the reverse before turning over to paint the image on the other side. The whole thing was then layered with resin and more pigment to create a sense of depth and distance, perhaps like peering through mist or a thin voile curtain.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Day 7 - Chroma 1

This is where it all began. Playing about with experiments in my studio I discovered the ‘fingerprints’ of pigments. Every dye and pigment has its own unique ‘pattern of colour’; or, as F. F. Runge, the 19th Century German analytical chemist would have put it, it forms its own ‘pattern picture for the friends of beauty’. Chroma 1 shows the brightness of pure colour set free from binder and substrate.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Day 6 - Burst

Ah, Burst, the last painting I painted for the show. I always leave the pigments and resins soaking overnight to allow the colours to develop on the canvas. This means the results are unpredictable and sometimes disastrous! But for Burst it seemed to me that everything behaved perfectly. The colours spread exactly where I wanted, the resins soaked in exactly right, and the glaze is glorious. If only practice could make perfect, then I would be assured perfect results in every painting from now on!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Day 5 - Gauze 1

Firstly I want to thank all of the lovely people who came to the launch of my show yesterday. Thanks! You made the evening very wonderful! And also a big thanks to gallery/ten for being such a great venue.

My Chroma Utopia calendar continues today with Gauze 1; chosen as it was the first piece to sell in my show. Gauze 1 extends my experimentation with layering and the creation of depth within a 2D picture. It began life as a sheet of glass onto which I painted, both front and back, using acrylic and a number of different pigments. I then proceeded to pour a variety of clear industrial resins over the surface of the glass, allowing them to mingle and create bubbles and tiny imperfections – hence the slight obscuring of the painted figure and the title of ‘Gauze’.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Day 4 - Fluoresce

Well, my show opens tonight, and I have to say I think it’s the best collection of work that I’ve ever put together :-)

To celebrate this I’ve chosen to show you ‘Fluoresce’ today. It may be my favourite piece in the whole show. Look closely at it and you’ll see the carefully layered surface- fabric, acrylic paint, varnish and then a number of glazes which work around and beneath the portrait below. The coloured glaze is suspended amidst clear resin, playing with our sense of depth perception and obscuring some of what’s beneath but also adding a delicate pattern of cracks and tessellations amidst glorious diffusing colour.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Day 3 - Vermillion

A wonderfully rewarding day today spent with the people from Menter a Busnes and Big Ideas Wales being trained to deliver entrepreneurship workshops to young people in schools and colleges. So inspiring to meet all the other entrepreneurs too… my head is now filled with new and wonderful art schemes!

I received no business help at all when leaving university and deciding to become a self-employed artist so I can’t emphasise enough how important schemes such as this are. I’m ready and willing to pass on my skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, just let me know!

I guess one of the important things I’ve learnt about myself as I have progressed through my art career is that I have an unending supply of ideas and drive to try new things and develop techniques for making art in ways that have never been thought of before. Can an artist be an entrepreneur? Well, yes of course, it's just a way of thinking! Collaboration with other industries and learning from businesses outside the art world has proved vital to my success and to drive my practice forwards into new and unexplored territory.

Above you see my artwork ‘Vermillion’. This sums up perfectly my curiosity and desire to engage with materials in unusual ways. It came about as a result of me ‘playing’ in my studio with fabrics, pigment, acrylic varnish, soluble fabric and rubbery industrial resin. It really proves that you never know what you can make with a material until you experiment, ignore the instructions and use it in an unusual way.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Day 2 - The Green Fuse

Whew, too much work late at night and so another very short post…

The Green Fuse was one of my first (successful) experimental works. It’s made with a combination of various scientific and industrial materials and processes which I have adapted to use in an art context.

Here plant starches and pigments are combined in resin to create gorgeous chromatic glazes. The colours evolve and grow organically through the resin. The whole is then mounted on white acrylic for display.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Day 1 - Black to Bloom No. 1

The first painting I completed for the show. Here I paint in acrylic on primed canvas but I have started to use some of the chromatic glazes I developed during my research with the polymer chemist and scientist.

The technique for creating the glazes is a closely guarded secret as I think it's something new and truly unique to my practice. The layers of additional colour upon the surface of the painting are sometimes transparent and sometimes semi-opaque, and add extra depth to the work.

Chroma Utopia Calendar!

As it's almost time for my exhibition and nearing Christmas too I thought I'd do my own version of an advent calendar for my Chroma Utopia show... 27 days between now and the close of exhibition, and 27 paintings in the show, so I plan to post 1 painting per day on my blog plus a little bit of background info on the work. Of course, if you want to know and see more you'll need to come to my show!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Chroma Utopia

r u t h   m c l e e s
chroma utopia
8 – 30 november 2013

tuesday-friday 10-6 | saturday 10-5

gallery/ten presents a solo exhibition by artist ruth mclees. mclees graduated from university of wales institute cardiff in 2004 + has since widely exhibited her vibrant portraits throughout the uk

‘chroma utopia’ is a body of 28 new works which showcase mclees’ latest experimentation into the crossover of art + science. mclees’ fascination with layering – that of placing transparent glazes over the surface of a painting – has become the recognisable signature of her practice. this recent collection of work sees a natural progression to mclees’ portraits, where glazes, resin + glues skilfully interact with the image underneath, serving to highlight + reveal the painted figure

inspired by the work of the 19th century german analytical chemist, f.f. runge, mclees transformed her studio into a laboratory in order to explore the artistic potential of industrial + scientific materials. the results emerging from this experimentation are presented here in a series of colourful, jewel-like paintings, where pigments are separated into their pure components to create chromatic glazes from which utopian figures emerge; ‘perfect colour + perfect beauty are united’
all work will be for sale + collectorplan is available. for further information on the artist, see

click here to download the exhibition catalogue

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Experiments and the Cost of Failure

One of the most important things to me is my ability to use art as a vehicle for playing with new materials and processes with the goal of creating original artworks. Often there are failures when all I manage to make is a mess... But thankfully the successes are more regular and I manage to make something I'm proud of exhibiting. 

These artworks are duly placed in a gallery on public show with a purchase price, and they are sold. But here's the crunch: we all have a pretty good idea of the life of an artwork made using traditional materials such as oil and acrylic on canvas or board. However these new materials have never been used in artworks before, have never been stored for long periods or displayed in artificially heated homes in strong sunlight, so how can an artist judge how long the life of such an artwork will be? And what should any potential buyer be told? I usually make enough tests to know how a material will behave in the short term, but it's obviously not feasible to test its resilience long term over years or decades. 

The buyer of any such artwork has a right to know that their purchase will last for a certain length of time, but how long should this be? 10 years? 50 years? 100? And how much should the inability of an artist to predict how a material will behave over time hinder that artist from experimenting with new materials and the creation of new art forms? Art cannot remain in the past, relying only on the deployment of traditional materials; surely contemporary art is only contemporary because it breaks boundaries and forges new paths.

And after a sale has taken place, what then? If the purchased artwork crumbles in strong sunlight or droops off a wall, what are the buyers' and artist's rights? The buyer could demand a refund I guess if the work was recently purchased, or perhaps ask the artist to 'fix' the work. Perhaps any buyer should accept there is an intrinsic risk when buying any experimental artwork, that the art may not last for the duration of their lifetime. 

I suppose what concerns me the most is that issues such as these may hinder the creation of new and exciting art. Experimentation is my lifeblood, and I believe it's necessary to enable my art and the art world to thrive and move forward. 

The best way to end my thoughts on this I think is to look to the work of the great German artist Sigmar Polke who deliberately made art that would self destruct over time. Perhaps that's the best solution of all!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cloughmore Health Centre Commission

Great to be able to put some of my project experiments to good artistic use. I've been commissioned to produce artwork for printed vinyls to decorate interior windows in a new health centre being built in Cardiff. The designs are inspired by the industrial heritage of the area, primarily the local steelworks, which has been in operation since the 1890s. To reflect this, it seemed appropriate that my designs reflect not only images of the steelworks and the surrounding area, but also incorporate colour taken from scraps of local steel. Recent experiments have involved playing with scraps of iron and steel, and making them rust. I've then used the rust colour to make watercolour type prints; perfect for colouring areas of my artwork designs and adding an extra layer of meaning to the work.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Window Commission

One of my designs for interior window vinyl for Splott surgery. Sky is rust print.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Substrates Update

After waiting for both test substrates to thoroughly dry I can report that the cellulose seems to have been quite successful, appearing smooth and free of cracks. However the surface is pretty fragile so I'll need to be very careful when applying the pigment so it doesn't flake away.

The silica and plaster mix has cracked in places unfortunately. However the uncracked areas have formed a solid, workable surface, so I want to persevere with these materials. Today I've remixed using different proportions of silica, plaster and water and again left them to dry. I've also applied pigment to the cellulose, and again am waiting for it to dry in order to gauge success.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Precipitates and Substrates

Precipitate: Noun
A substance precipitated from a solution.
Substrate: Noun
A substance or layer that underlies something, or on which some process occurs, in particular.
To be usable, all pigments need to be carried in some sort of solution. As the solution dries, the pigments (the precipitate) bind to whatever surface it is that they're on (the substrate).The vibrancy and permanence of the colour will depend a great deal on the choice of materials selected both as binder and substrate.
I have been obtaining pigments from natural materials in a wonderful array of colours. My next challenge is to learn how to create perfect surface finishes worthy of artworks, and fix the pigments to create colours that will last.
If I was dyeing a cloth I would use a bath of alum to fix the pigment to the cloth, but the process becomes more tricky when dealing with pigment applied to a solid, flat surface. 
Last week I visited my sister in London for a few days. She is a paper conservator and has a great interest in, and knowledge of, natural pigments. Historically, pigments of this sort were used in inks to colour documents and artworks, and so must now be recreated by conservators in order to repair these old works and gain an understanding of how best to preserve them for the future.
Fiona has done many tests using natural dyes on paper and explained to me the need for binding mediums to make the pigment usable and hold the colour on the page. Pigments are fixed to a precipitate formed with alum and potash or to a chalk substrate.
However I have found in my own tests that when trying to use my pigments on other 'artwork' surfaces such as glass and board and with the addition of industrial solvents and resins, these chalky substrates tend to fracture and crack as they dry.

In an attempt to resolve this issue I've spent today experimenting with alternatives.
Initially I wondered about using something like traditional gesso or egg tempera as I figured both of these might be a little more flexible than the chalk and water slurry I have been using. However when discussing it with my chemist he came up with a couple of suggestions which may be better suited to mixing with the solvents and resins I am using. As I'm always keen to try something new, this sounded like a great plan, and so I got out my gloves, mask and digital scales and got down to business.
Option 1 is cellulose powder, which is very sticky when mixed with water, so no additional binder is needed. It's also very absorbent so should be able to soak up the maximum amount of colour.
Option 2 is silica; this is similar to the stuff you sometimes find in tiny packets inside handbags and the boxes of new shoes. Its water absorbing properties are used to protect products by soaking up any moisture in the air, so it should be perfect for absorbing pigment solutions too. I also added a dash of plaster to the mix to increase its binding properties.
Both mixtures have been used to coat a selection of surfaces and I'm now waiting for them to dry. My chief desire is to eliminate the cracked texture that reoccurs throughout my earlier trials. Hopefully the drying process won't take too long in this warm weather and I'll be able to gauge my success in a day or two.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

'Eclectic' Show at Panter and Hall until 28th June

'Through a Glass' seen through the window of Panter and Hall gallery, Picadilly

Polyurethane Foam in a Pint Glass

The Essence of Foams

I have noted in many of my resin experiments that when I add certain substances and pigments to resins, the cured resin contains thousands of minuscule bubbles; it's a kind of solidified foam. Although I've learnt recently that this is caused by oxygen and moisture, it's still incredibly difficult to recreate deliberately for artistic purposes. And when I do, although it looks awesome, the structure is unstable and breaks easily. Not good for making permanent art.

My quest for mastering the creation of bubbles was something I put to Pete the chemist upon his last visit to my studio. Apparently the reason that my foams are so breakable is because when the bubbles form they don't stay separate from one another, but instead their walls conjoin to form 'super bubbles' made up of a multitude of tiny ones. Think of the crossover part in the centre of a figure of eight splitting so the two loops become one giant misshapen hole. Without a regular structure, and with walls too weak to support their length, these bubbles cave in upon themselves as soon as they are subjected to any force. So what's the solution?

Well it seems that the only thing to do is design polymers with the specific goal of creating a structurally sound foam. This is where a polymer chemist comes in, designing a resin which deliberately foams as it sets to create millions of tiny, evenly sized bubbles which remain intact and whole, and do not join with their neighbours.

Pete introduced me to the exciting world of polyurethane foams during his recent visit to my studio. A small quantity of resin was mixed with its catalyst and poured into a pint glass... And then it foamed! It foamed so much that it almost escaped from the glass! Once it had set I sliced it through, and the perfect structure of bubbles was revealed. It's put me in awe of polymer chemists, because however does someone go about designing a material that always reacts in such a specific way?

I'm not yet entirely sure what I'll do with this piece of research but I'm fascinated by it nonetheless.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pigments and Solutions

I pledged to share my research as part of my current Arts Council project; the only thing I’m finding is that now I’m well and truly immersed in exploration, it’s become difficult to know what exactly is useful and worthwhile to share!

The freedom to experiment has encouraged me to dabble with materials and processes all over the place, but I seem to keep returning to recurring themes. Yet again I find myself attempting to extract the ‘essence’ of various things; all of them objects with a capacity for being imbued with any amount of personal significance. This week the objects have been flowers. I’ve always been interested in capturing the soul of things. My Fabric of Life project was a series of portraits of people from my local community, painted upon fabric which they had donated.

This could have been an old item of clothing imbued with deep emotional significance and memory, or furnishing fabric remaining after the redecoration of a home. Clothes, furnishings, fabrics and patterns provide unique clues to the identity and personality of their owner. By using fabrics with a past life within my painted portraits I desire to capture a depth of substance and facets of character which paint alone cannot describe.

In addition, clothes and furnishings are transient by nature, but once captured and preserved within an artwork they attain a new level of permanence. I think this is what has also interested me about flowers; they often mean so very much (think of wedding bouquets and the Victorian’s language of flowers LINK), and yet their existence is so incredibly fleeting.  But what if I could extract the essence from a flower and preserve it forever?

For me as a visual artist, an object’s essence is definitely made up of its pigment or colour. Surely if each species of plant and flower is unique, this must mean they contain their own personal series of pigments within their leaves and flowers? In this way, I suppose the colours extracted from a particular plant species to be some kind of unique fingerprint in a combination specific only to that one species.

So how to find out? I remember extracting chlorophyll from leaves in high school chemistry lessons; mushing leaves up in a beaker filled with solvent or alcohol. This seemed as good a place as any to begin.

I mashed up leaves and blooms in acetone first, then repeated the process using surgical spirit and alcohol (vodka). Varying quantities and concentrations of pigments were obtained as a result. However the colours were pretty disappointing, being neither strong nor bright. I decided that more research was needed.

Websites on natural dyes and dying were my next useful source of information, advising to boil the plant material in water for an hour and then let stand overnight at room temperature to extract the maximum amount of pigment. I tried this but once again wasn't impressed by the results. Further improvements were still required, and so I contacted my collaborative chemist for assistance.

Apparently there are three main methods of successfully extracting pigments from plants: the acidic method, the alkaline method and the alcoholic method. Of these I intend to try only the second two, as the acidic method involves boiling hydrochloric acid; something I don't think is very advisable to try at home! The alcoholic method can be easily done by boiling the plants in a solution of alcohol (I intend to use surgical spirit). The alkaline method is similar, boiling the plants in a solution of sodium carbonate. The chemist has assured me this is a fairly benign process as long as I have adequate ventilation. A variation of the alkaline method can also be done using a solution of sodium hydroxide... this is otherwise known as caustic soda- I won't be boiling that in a hurry!

Watch this space for the results... I'm off to the hardware store now for my supplies.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013