Marketable Experiments, Semi-Scientific Method

Weeks ago I stopped trying to produce the kind of art that I want to produce in order to focus on learning the basic qualities of my ink. I think I’ve finally got a decent enough grasp of those basics that I can start producing work with some level of control over the outcome. I’ve still got lots of “student experiments” to conduct but I’ve reached the point where my results are consistently decent.

The reason I need to do so many experiments is that ink is complex. There’s hue, which I’ve pretty much got nailed. I can mix up any “color” of ink from the process primaries – cyan, magenta, and yellow. Then there are shades, which are created by adding black to these primaries. I’m pretty good at these, too. Walnut brown is orange and black, for instance.

Then, there are tints, which can be created by adding white or making the ink more transparent to reveal the underlying paper. This gets complex because transparency also reveals the inks on layers beneath, mixing colors together in complex ways. With 4 transparent layers, there are 14 permutations of 1, 2, and 3 ink colors. And this layering is not easy to predict. Tints and shades are almost never mutually exclusive. Think of the 1980’s with all those beiges, and tinted greys. (Some folks use the word “tone” to describe a color that is both a tint and a shade. This class of colors is pretty much all that many artists use, so I’m not convinced that it needs a word or that the word is meaningful in actual use.)

Then there are other factors like ink layer thickness and paper weight that effect the result. There are production methods like the addition of drying agents, tack reducers, and opacity enhancers that will affect the result. It’s going to take a long time to even partially master the ways that each factor affects the final print.

In a turn away from my normal, scientific nature, I’m not measuring the inks in my experiments. I’m testing certain qualities of the ink with each test, but I’m mixing it all off the cuff and just looking at the results. Part of the reason for this is that the quantities I’m dealing with are TINY. It’s impossible to reliably measure. “Did I add .15 grams of black or .16? Isn’t there still about .04 grams still stuck on the palette knife?” Another part of my reasoning is that I want this next art form to be handled more intuitively. I want to achieve the mastery that lets me open cans of ingredients, mix them together, and have a pretty good idea how they’re going to affect the piece that’s building up on the paper.

To build that intuition I’ve got to try lots of things, changing one particular aspect in each experiment and taking note of the results. And, to build up inventory to fill my booth this fall, it would behoove me to start focusing on making my experiments complex and beautiful enough that it isn’t obvious that they’re experiments. I’ll be signing them and labeling each one “Trial Proof” to let folks know that they are unique.

Behold, the first geometric experiment idea!

[Simulated transparency experiment]
The shapes are complex enough to hold a viewer’s attention, and there are multiple locations of each ink layering permutation so that I can see how each resulting color interacts with the colors around it.

[Geometric experiment block]
Here’s the block that will produce this result. It’s a fairly simple shape.

[Two exercises on the drying rack]
[Experiments on the table]
And here are the first two experiments that I’m running with this new block. In both sets, you can see that I’m testing the results of slowly adding pigment to a transparent base. The orange-ish set is a viscous ink. The black set is a watery ink, created with lots of plate oil. I think that the resulting print will not have the problems that I’ve seen in the past with ink layering up until it takes many days to dry the final layer. I don’t know, however what sort of transparency tradeoff I’ll be making with that reduced ink load.

That’s why it’s an experiment, right?

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