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The Art of Chemistry

Kat Andonucci and Dr. Andy Robak, associate professor of chemistry (Photo by Erik Holmes '13)

Start with a science lab. Add one chemistry professor with self-described “wacky interests.” Introduce a visual and verbal art major with a passion for photography and painting. Mix together a variety of chemistry experiments and have the student capture them on camera or canvas. What do you get?

The Art of Chemistry, an exploration into the beauty and form caused by a variety of chemical reactions.

Robak's hand pours a luminol solution into a narrow glass tube over a 15-second exposure (Photo by Kat Andonucci '13)

Student photographer Kat Andonucci completed a year-long independent study under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Robak, associate professor of chemistry. With Robak casting the vision and directing her in each experiment, Andonucci crafted the compositions, often using a tripod, a remote shutter and a long exposure to create the images.

“We wanted to treat it as a course, the chemistry of things that are neat to look at, to have a clue what they were,” Robak said, pointing out how many science textbooks use photography to illustrate experiments. The two received a $500 grant from Keuka College’s Division of Academic Affairs to help cover costs of printing and framing the images.

Glycerol makes glass objects dipped into it appear to disappear. (Photo by Kat Andonucci '13)

When Robak went in search of a student who could help illustrate experiments that would show “the fun side of chemistry,” he contacted Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art. Newcomb referred him to Andonucci, sparking the creative collaboration.

“I’ve always been interested in chemistry as art or science as art. You can see from the pictures that a lot of stuff I work with is really cool,” said Robak, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. He rattled off a variety of compounds, from mercury, with its shiny metallic texture that is “really fun to play with,” to flourescein, which turns neon-green when in contact with water, to glycerol, which refracts light in a way that seems to make objects submersed in it disappear.

The hand of Erik Holmes '13, holding methane gas bubbles, a quick-second experiment shot by Andonucci '13.

Andonucci had to be sure to take several shots of each experiment, capturing images on camera as experiments were conducted several times in a row. She brought fellow visual and verbal art major Erik Holmes ’13 into the process, putting him to work as a hand model in some of the images.

Robak managed to convince Holmes to paint a graffiti mural on a concrete wall.  The mural illustrated the chemical structure of concrete itself, and gave Robak an idea for a second creative collaboration with Andonucci.  The two teamed up again on a project to create the letter code of select elements of the Periodic Table with paint created from each of the scientific elements themselves. Another Academic Excellence Initiatives grant funded this second project.

Andonucci paints the symbol for Lead.

According to Robak, all of the pigments Andonucci used to paint the periodic table symbols contain the elements.

Egyptian blue in solid form, before baking to convert it to powder form to then mix into a paint.

Using stand-alone 12×12 canvas squares painted with each element, Andonucci arranged them to hang so that some of the squares appear to be raised and some depressed, creating a more dynamic artwork. As such, the oversize work, she described as “an abstract kind of 3-D Periodic Table” could serve as a permanent reference source in a classroom or lab. In fact, the piece served as the backdrop for a National Pi Day event. Meanwhile, several of Andonucci’s images are now gracing the walls within the science center as permanent installations.

“I’ve got too many ideas and not enough artists,” Robak said. “I’m totally looking for more people to rope into these kinds of things.”

 

Painting with the (Periodic) Elements

Junior Kat Andonucci helped put Keuka on the scientific map last fall after her year-long independent study, a photographic portfolio of various chemical elements and experiments, became an art show in Lightner Gallery, was presented to regional chemists, and landed in a national scientific magazine.

Andonucci paints the symbol for lead.

Now, Andonucci has reteamed with Dr. Andrew Robak, associate professor of chemistry, to conduct a new artistic study of some 11 elements of the Periodic Table, creating the letter code for each scientific element with a paint created from the element itself.

Lead in powder form, which Andonucci used to make the paint for the symbol (Pb).

“The overall image is an abstract kind of 3-D Periodic Table and we want it to serve as a permanent reference source in a classroom or lab—it will be a huge art piece,” said the junior visual and verbal art major from Chestertown (near Lake George).

They symbol for carbon, painted with ... carbon.

Using stand-alone 12×12 canvas squares painted with each element, Andonucci will arrange them to hang so that some of the squares appear to be raised and some depressed, creating a more dynamic artwork.

Carbon in particle form.

While some elements, such as arsenic or mercury, would be dangerous to paint with, others, such as barium sulfate, iron oxide, and cadmium have been created already and painted, she said. For example, titanium has been mixed with linseed oil to create the scientific code letters (Ti) for that element  on the table.

According to Robak, all of the pigments Andonucci used to paint the periodic table symbols contain the elements, but are not made from the pure elements. For example, the cadmium pigment utilized a cadmium compound, while the titanium pigment was made from titanium oxide, which is used to make all modern white paints

Egyptian blue in solid form.

Granted, Andonucci has run into a few challenges, such as the three attempts to create the synthetic pigment Egyptian blue, which will be used to represent copper in the table. Historically, pigments were derived from naturally occurring minerals and/or plants. While Egyptian blue was one of the first synthetic pigments made in history, the age of the product and process made it hard to track down anything resembling a specific recipe over the Internet.

“It was on Wikipedia and it wasn’t exact measurements, just percentages, so it was hard to get it exactly right,” she explained. Directions suggested a mixture of sand, natron and copper oxide be baked in an 800 to 900-degree kiln over three to four days. “The first time we [tried,] the oven got above 900 degrees and fried it and it came out black and actually charred. It was a lot of trial and error. We’re up to our third try, but I may try again because it’s not as blue as I wanted it to be.”

Egyptian blue in powder form.

To support her creative work, Andonucci received a $500 Academic Excellence Initiatives grant from the Office of Academic Affairs. Last year, her Art of Chemistry project was also funded $560 from the same competitive grant process.

In September, the Art of Chemistry exhibit was formally presented to members of the Corning Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) by Robak, who commissioned Andonucci for the project. In addition to the American Chemical Society, Andonucci and Robak’s work drew the attention of Chemical & Engineering News in Washington, D.C., which published a story on the exhibit in its Oct. 1 issue and website.

 

Students, Community Residents Team Up to Make a Difference Through Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates

By Desiree Ford ’13

Volunteers got their green thumbs together for the Community Garden

On Sunday, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jim Blackburn welcomed the 184 volunteers for the Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates (CSCY)  community service day  by sharing the new Keuka College mission statement:“To create exemplary citizens and leaders to serve the nation and the world of the 21st century.”

Dean Blackburn welcomes volunteers to the kickoff ceremony (Stephanie Lockhart '15)

For the 16th year, CSCY volunteers showed just how exemplary members of the College and community truly are by stepping up to serve 24 non-profit agencies across Yates County. Each year, non-profits, including youth camps, community centers, churches, libraries, fire departments and more gain a helping hand from area residents and Keuka students  who come together to pitch in on spring cleaning projects.

CSCY is a collaboration between the College and Yates County Chamber of Commerce, with support from local merchants and business sponsors.

Community service is nothing  new for Class of 2016 members Preston Vick, Jake Altman, and Rich Weit, who signed up for CSCY with other members of the Keuka men’s soccer team. While CSCY is not something the players are required to do, team members still volunteer for the day, Altman said. The trio worked with others to rake leaves  at Camp Cory on the east side of Keuka Lake,

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Illustrating Elements of Life

As an artist for nearly 30 years, Debra Fisher shares stories – but she shares them in visual narratives, not necessarily written ones.

Among her many multimedia creations are trifold and quad-fold “books,” which can feature any number of colors, drawings, prints, and other artistic details inspired or culled from the pages of her life. Several of Fisher’s “books” and a massive installation work she calls The Waning October Moon are currently on display through Nov. 8 at Keuka College.

Fisher's work, Nocturnal Noise, a "book" she created

The title of the large work is also the title of the exhibit that is featured in the Lightner Gallery, housed in Lightner Library. An artist reception will be held Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 4:30- 6 p.m. Both the reception and exhibit are free and open to the public.

A few years ago, Fisher spent four months in the hospital, and it was not a pleasant experience.

Fisher's Predator Series "book"

“They poke and prod and pull you apart,” said the Spencerport resident who leveraged the experience and turned it into “The Predator Series,” a collection of prints of animals in attack mode. Each print features an inset of images from the classic cookbook “The Joy of Cooking,” which she considers humorous takes on Mother Nature and what people do for food sources.

“Man being preyed upon is the bottom line for that [work,] and myself – the object of investigation,” said Fisher, who has taught printmaking, multimedia and drawing for 13 years at SUNY Brockport. Other prints, drawings, and multimedia creations are also featured in the show.

One of 10 prints that are part of Fisher's installation

It took two days for Fisher to complete the installation of her signature work in the gallery, and visitors will see a wash of antiqued yellow painted directly on the gallery walls, on which she has displayed three-dimensional objects, including 10 individual prints – of a boy, a boat, birds, and more. Each print was created when Fisher etched the selected work onto copper plates, then inked them. Prints were then mounted on wooden frames with hand-marbled paper around the edges, lacquered in a thin coat of beeswax.

Fisher inking scarabs (aka: dung beetles) on a Lightner gallery wall

Fisher calls herself a fan of the alternative print-making process. In addition to copper plating, she teaches gum prints, inking, and stamping. Stamps are part of the signature installation, and across the walls of the installation, visitors will see hand-stamped leaves and scarabs, the term for a dung beetle that some in the Egyptian culture believed offered good luck, or a sign of safe passage to the afterlife.  Perhaps creating a feel as if entering a room, the installation also features a pair of women’s shoes from the 1940s rested atop a small ,three-dimensional staircase, mantel ledges mounted on the walls, and drapings of coffee-colored fabric swaths with prints of birds in flight.

“It’s déjà vu, the sense you’ve been somewhere before, lived this way, the ebb and flow of life situations and experiences you may have,” Fisher said, adding that even the imperfections of the gallery wall, with its nooks and crannies, fit the essence of her work.

Another print, part of the installation

Some of the images of the 10 prints contained within Fisher’s installation are replicas of idyllic landscape images from a print created between 1700 and 1800. Others have been culled from old books, perhaps those with engravings, or from nature. Another print, of a couple’s hands, was pulled from a famous work, “The Wedding,” by Jan Van Eyck, she said.

The Keuka exhibition is the second time Fisher has installed her signature work, and she enjoys discovering how it evolves each time it is recreated.

Fisher preparing one of her prints for display.

“The installation is ongoing … and I [already] have ideas for the next time.  I have some really large bee etchings that will be mounted on thick cardboard and hovering above the wall. I will also include an elaborately framed etching of a dung beetle,” she said, noting she may add a print of her mother to the work. “One response I had from a fellow printmaker and artist was: ‘This could go on forever – you could work on this your whole life.’”

Visitors to the show will have the opportunity to purchase handmade sketchbooks Fisher has created. The covers are crafted with prints from the exhibition and the sketchbooks feature an exposed spine with coptic bindings (ie: chain-stitched by hand). These handmade creations are available for $25.

The gallery is open during library hours, which can be found at: http://lightner.keuka.edu.

Sign-ups Ongoing for Sponsors, Work Sites and Volunteers for CSCY 2012

Camp Koininea was one site where volunteers worked last year.

While time is running short for local companies or individuals to sponsor the 15th Annual Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates day of community service, non-profit agencies anxious to serve as host sites or volunteers eager to lend a literal helping hand still have time to sign up.

During Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates, Yates County students, families or senior citizens interested in making the community a better place to live and work come together to perform painting, cleaning, building, and repairs to help local non-profit agencies and groups. This year’s event will be held Sunday, April 22, and plans are underway to make it a special one with added touches such as entertainment to mark the 15th anniversary.

A collaborative effort of volunteers from Keuka College and the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, Celebrate Service … Celebrate Yates would not be possible without support from local organizations, merchants, businesses, and citizens. Individuals or companies interested in sponsoring the 2012 event for $250 or a donation of goods or supplies have until March 1 to contact Mike Linehan, executive director of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, at (315) 536-3111, or mike@yatesny.com.
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