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Materials for Art and Art for Materials

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If you’ve been poking around my not-quite-finished website and blog, you may have noticed that there are some posts on artists materials, and also on general materials science illustrated with art and artists’ materials.  What is missing from this picture?  Ah yes … art about Materials Science.  Perhaps it’s time to point out some  paintings with sneaky and not-so-sneaky materials science, condensed matter, and chemistry subjects.  I’ll cover drawings in a separate post- later.

Mosaicity (Sold)                                                                             Eyeing G (Sold)
mixed media on linen 12 x 18 inches                                        mixed media on linen 12 x 18 inches
Red bubble cards and photo prints                                           Red bubble cards and photo prints


The first group are fairly literal.  Mosaicity and Eyeing G are concept driven, and hold fairly closely to the scientific concepts that inspired them.  They contain creative interpretations of data and technical graphics associated with polycrystalline mosaic structure and thermal analysis of semicrystalline polymers (DSC) respectively.  These were both commissioned pieces for another MIT Materials Science alum.  As commissions, they are both already sold but small prints and cards are still available through RedBubble (Mosaicity here, Eyeing G here).  Mosaicity was created by layering “crystalline” regions with oil paint over an acrylic background that also had a softly mosaic texture.  This creates a feeling of volume and depth.  Different symmetry elements, lattice structures, and defects (polymer focused) were painted into the domains in the mosaic with a fine brush, or scratched in with a fine point silicone nib.  Nothing is to scale or precisely “technical”, but I can imagine having a bit of fun with the science tucked into the painting.  Eyeing G is all about thermal analysis of polymers with both crystal melting and a glass transition.  Typical DSC curves are overlaid with blocks of color.  The arrangement of the blocky colored areas and their predominant color suggest different phases and types of order.  Softening  and curving of the edges of the blocky regions suggests the second order phase transition from glass to rubbery liquid.  The actual shapes of melting crystalline domains are echoed as well.

Thick Film Birefringence, Schlieren Chiarascuro, and Vector Field all take their inspiration from liquid crystals.  The two smaller pieces are creative interpretations of polarizing microscope images, while Vector Field plays with the Frank Free energy.  For a good introduction to liquid crystals try this pdf presentation from Denis Andrienko in Mainz.

Thick Film Birefringence                                                                     Schlieren Chiarascuro
Oil on panel, 5×5 inches                                                                      oil on linen,  12 x12 inches

Thick film birefringence isn’t very informative if one is trying to analyze a sample in the polarizing microscope.  There are too many layers, too much bulk material, too many trapped stresses and strains, bubbles and other artifacts.  Sometimes it’s worthwhile to just look at the messy failed samples.  Even if there’s little or no information there, they are reminders of the wonder and the worlds within worlds that bring many of us (and the new crops of students) into Materials research.  Schlieren Chiarascuro incorporates the dark schlieren lines where the liquid crystal orientation acts like a set of polarizers and blocks light transmission.  In the painting the schlieren are emphasized using heavy glossy gel media.  The lighter tracery patterns are disclinations and grain structures from a number of different liquid crystals and mesophasic soft solids.  In reality they shouldn’t all occur together.  Schlieren Chiarascuro is a bit of a lump sum record of years of observing.  The changing orientation of the liquid crystalline molecules in between the schlieren and other distinct textures often creates a gradation of birefringence colors, like the shaded chiarascuro in an Old Master’s painting – just with molecules instead of a brush.

                                                      Vector Field  (original is sold, giclee prints are available)
                                                                                       30 x 30, oil on canvas

Vector Field is inspired by my initial encounter with Frank’s concise and elegant approach to elasticity and deformations in liquid crystals.  His free energy terms using simple div grad and curl are mapped onto schematics of splay twist and bend in the painting.  Somwhere there are pages of my old notes trying to sort orientation from data on liquid crystals.  I’m afraid they look a good bit like the wild arrow party in Vector Field.

My good friend Peggy Cebe has built an ellipsometer to map out the optical properties of thin films.  Her data can be used to infer orientation in liquid crystals (it maps the fast optical axis rather than directly mapping the axis of the rod-like molecule).  When the data is crunched, the maps are arrays of little color coded pointing arrows.

Elastic Dialogue, Nano Night Music, and Subtle Machinery all touch on hierarchical order and the development of nanostructure.

Elastic Dialogue                                                                  Nano Night Music                  
Oil on Canvas, 20 x 24                                                       Oil on canvas, 24 x 36            


Subtle Machinery
 Oil on panel, 18 x 24

Percolation on a lattice, Lattice Animals, and Associations are attempts at conceptualizing the onset of solidity and gelation and some common lattice approaches to cooperative percolated phenomena.

Percolation on a Lattice
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches

Lattice Animals (Sold)                                                                                  Associations
oil on linen, 12 x 12 inches                                                                   oil on line, 12 x 16 inches


  1. ephemeralgecko

    some gorgeous images, I especially like the last one 😀