Salted and Breaded, but Never Baked
Several years ago I began to make the transition away from paper based collage work to more dimensional work that has an organic feel to it. One of the first upcycled materials I began to experiment with were toilet paper and paper towel tubes. I quickly learned what materials could be applied to the outside of the tube in order to give it a crusty textural look. I also learned what materials could be stuffed in the tubes in order to make them look as if various types of growth were sprouting out of their tops.
People often praise the use of color in my work. Though I am not certain, I feel the vibrancy and natural feel of the color is derived from the various dyes I use as opposed to paint. Acrylic paint, when applied to many surfaces other than canvas, tends to have a plastic and somewhat fake feel to it. Paint is bright, smooth, and its luminosity at times can be harsh. Dyes on the other hand, readily soak into natural materials whereas paints tend to coat. In essence, dyes leave the textural qualities of work like mine in tact whereas paint would destroy it by smothering such materials in a thin coating of colored latex. The crusty, dye infused coatings on my work allow the light to bounce off at irregular angles creating a diffuse warmer hue. The challenge for me then, while experimenting with dyes as an external color choice, was to find a material that was cheap enough to cover large sections of artwork and could soak up either dyed water or sprinkled dye sprayed with water. My first choice was salt.
At first I began to experiment with regular table salt. It was an excellent medium for soaking up color, but its granules were so small that the textural element I was looking for was lacking. I even did some experiments, with varying degrees of success, in growing dye infused salt crystals. Unfortunately, the crystals remained small and the process was too involved for large scale application.
Quickly I began to think of larger types of salts which would give my work a more pronounced textural element. I experimented with road salt, or de-icing salt. This type of salt was too large and often too dirty for use. I tried breaking it up into smaller granules but found the process to not be worth the time and effort. The only good thing about de-icing salt was the fact that it is so cheap, still though, it proved to be unworthy of the task at hand. The next salt I began to use was Epsom salt. Its granules were medium size; it soaked up water well, was relatively cheap, and easy to apply. For the next few years I used Epsom salt as my main material for producing texture on my work. Some days I would chuckle inside as I bought four large containers of Epsom salt, thousands of cotton swabs, and lighter fluid from a grocery store, all of which were supplies for my artwork. I can only imagine what the cashier thought – maybe she thought I had some kind of alien skin rash?
I later learned that the major downside to Epsom salt was at times it tended to get brittle and turn into a powdery white substance. Sometimes it did this despite the coats of acrylic spray and matte medium I used to ensure the Epsom salt remained stable. Most of it did not get brittle but even in small amounts I felt the look detracted from the overall beauty of my work. The salt was originally used on my first Polyp pieces, a little bit on my first Accretion piece, on my first Termitaria install, and a little on my first Peridium piece.
Accretion #1 (Yellow middle part -- salted, all other pieces are breaded.)
Peridium #1 (A mix of salt and oatmeal mostly on the sides of individual pieces.)
Termitaria Collinasia (All pieces have been breaded.)
While using Epsom salt I began to experiment with oatmeal. It was a little more expensive than salt and a bit chunkier, two qualities I was not thrilled about. It did however have a strength that salt did not possess, that is it did not break down and turn white in some instances like salt did. Still though, it took me a year or more after some of my initial experiments to come around to oatmeal. The real change of heart came when I got a small mechanical grinder that allowed me to crush the oatmeal into rough flour. Now I had a material that was relatively cheap, easily applied, could readily soak up water, and did not degrade as easily as salt did.
So yes, at first my art was salted and now it is breaded. And no, you shouldn’t try and eat it for the outside is always coated with acrylic sprays, and either matte medium or polycrylic. Recently, in order to increase the subtleness of color variations on the surface of my material, I have also been applying various amounts and types of colored sand. Soon I hope to begin experiments on how to dye my own sand. I am doing this because the variety of colored sand you can buy at craft stores leaves out many colors I wish I had access to. I will also be looking into how various other grains work when crushed up, and I have even given some thought about experimenting with sawdust. This will have to wait though for I do not currently have access to a steady flow of sawdust by which to do experiments with.
As you can see, I am always trying out new textural elements, materials, and colors which I feel are more natural and pleasing to the eye than paint could ever be.