Friday, 20 July 2012

Art Meets Science

An opportunity arose today for me and a colleague to combine our efforts in a joint venture to cross the boundaries between Art and Science. We were looking at how to use chromatography to separate coloured inks and how to use this technique to make some original artwork. 

Chromatography is a technique used to identify and separate chemical components in a mixture. It separates by utilising the differing interactions the chemicals have with a stationary phase and a mobile phase. Most people at some stage in their school career would have separated inks using blotting paper and water, this is paper chromatography. In paper chromatography the paper itself is the stationary phase and the water (solvent) is the mobile phase.

The inks are placed on the paper and water moves up the paper by capillary action. As the water hits th ink depending on the nature of the chemical it will move along with the water. A chemical that interacts with the mobile phase more than the stationary phase will move more, whereas a chemical that interacts only with the stationary phase will not move at all.

In our test run we identified the different colours that made up the types of inks we were using and how they separated. In the picture above you can see that ink X is in act composed of three different coloured chemicals; blue, yellow and red, also a black colour that remained fixed to the stationary phase in the original position.

The application of this was then to paint a picture using these inks, and then use the chromatography to "scientifically smudge" the colours to produce a washed effect.

The pictures below show the three stages, first the original piece, second as the chromatography was taking place and thirdly at completion.

We concluded that we liked the second picture most and that maybe in that in chromatography art less water is in fact more. Do you agree?


  1. Looks like Ed should stick to science!

    1. Always nice to get some encouragement Bones.

  2. I love the last picture.