Another Unexpected Innovation
This next story took me away from my painting in oils nearly a year. It was an idea that intrigued me and I had to explore.
Keep in mind that an artist is puzzle creator, a puzzle solver. The chosen medium can be paint for a picture, clay for a sculpture, steel for a new engine design, or code for a new piece of software. It happened that my wife wanted me to design her a coffee table. my first thought to create a matrix painting on glass instead of simple table glass. I pondered that challenge for awhile. I decided that if I was going to put my art into a table, it had to be under glass for protection. I progressed to considering the possibilities of creating a matrix painting with dots on multi level layers of glass. One would look down into it and see a pointillist design of multi level dimensions—similar to one of those three dimensional chess challenges.
Oil paint does not adhere to glass well. This means that I needed a new pigment! Naturally I turned to the answer man, John Randall. John told me, “What we need is one of these new space age polymers!” It didn’t take long before we found a newly patented UV Polymer specifically designed to harden like glass. It was currently being used to make fake jewelry stones, among other things. We had a substance that would harden like glass in ten minutes. The problem then was not having a set of reliable pigments to give it color. We went to BASF who make archival inks for fine art printing. They provided me with the samples for testing in the polymer. After a few adjustments with the formula, they provided a perfect way to create a full set of opaque and transparent colors. Now we’d developed a new kind of pigment for a new art product.
What one learns quickly about modern polymers, many of them are dangerous and this one was no exception. If you get it on your skin, it is like the worst case of poison ivy imaginable. If it accidentally comes in contacta with skin, red bumps break out, accompanied with extreme itching. The only relief is hot water. I learned the hard way. It should never be worked with it by hand. In addition it is unhealthy to breathe. This was now no problem for us, we had robotics! I didn’t have to come in contact with it if careful, and, being a closed system, I didn’t have to breathe it. That is one innovation making an entirely different innovation possible! Now how cool is that?
For my first project with the polymer, I decided to make a simple flower design. I wanted to create individual flowers on one of the four layers of glass for a dimensional effect. The center of each flower and the lower level flowers are viewed through added layers of glass that created an additional illusion of atmosphere increasing the depth illusion. The idea of working on a transparent canvas opened up some interesting possibilities in a new dimensional art form.
Shortly after completing the table, Dr. Carol Harrell from the Jeffersonian Institute introduced a group of engineers from the NASA Space Center in Houston to the studio. In spite of all the paintings around the studio, the group of engineers zeroed in on the coffee table. After some discussions they made a challenge, to create a layered glass image of the state of Texas. A week later they sent me the clearest detailed satellite photo of Texas ever taken, along with a set of topography maps for elevations study.
Before committing five hundred dollars of glass to a first attempt, I created a few color and dimensional studies. My next problem to solve was setting up for a round glass canvas instead of a square. It was somewhat tricky setting up an X-Y grid for dot location in a round format but a few quick abstract pattern tests solved the problem.
The finished image of Texas executed in Three Dimensional Pointillism in eight layers of tempered glass. The dots are placed on different layers of glass according to the topography or altitude above sea level for a particular part of the map. I left the design to others whether to build it into a conference table or mounted on a wall as a painting.
When an inventor develops a new medium or process, the next job is to find out every way it could be used by art or industry. The evolutionary path I was taking led us to the interior design industry. This wasn’t serious art, in my view, but I was having so much fun exploring ideas that it was worth a detour for awhile. Another interesting project brought to me by a Dallas builder was to create a work of art for a designer bathroom. It provided some interesting possibilities. I have had many clients who hang art in their bathrooms. However, eventually the moisture can destroy a work of art. This polymer medium was like glass and impervious to moisture. It would produce a safe art form for such environments. This would be perfect for hospitals, dental offices, and any site or location requiring cleaning and disinfecting without affecting the art itself.
In this project I had a V-shaped wall behind a tub. It necessitated my use of two six foot sheets of heavy ¾ inch thick glass as my canvas. In the design I created, the circles create a dimensional effect. In addition, I incorporated the Japanese symbols for home, love, family which spiral into the funnel. I could have done a landscape!
With this unique ultraviolet polymer, it was time to think of a painting on glass in completely transparent pigments for window design, possibly an alternative to traditional stained glass with some new possibilities. I discovered that it would going to take years to develop this medium into a viable representational art medium. However, what did become evident immediately were the many possibilities in custom designer glass for windows or furniture.
Working with the polymer was an enjoyable detour for awhile. Developing these products is an art of its own. Just like repeating your successful paintings for income, once the product is created, the art diminishes and the repetitive craft takes over. Once that started to occur, I put away the polymers and returned to my oil painting.
The art in this path of exploration was coming to an end. It was time to turn the product design over to industry and let them figure out how it could be used. Inventors are a dime a dozen for a product like my designer glass. It takes the most important man in industry to make it useful and a marketable success. I call him “The Package Man” for it takes someone who can package the product and provide marketing, promotion and distribution to make it a commercial success. One must know his limitations and that was not my game!