Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crystallization Experiments 1: Books and Paper Ephemera


Crystallized German-English Dictionary

Interest in crystallization was piqued by a maker studio tour in San Francisco, during which I saw artist Alexis Arnold's crystallized books made using 20 Mule Team Borax. They were enchanting and I wanted to know how it was done, but she was charging $400 for a how-to workshop. Upon googling after arriving home I found that the 20 Mule Team Borax website offers the dead-simple instructions for growing crystals absolutely free, and a box of Borax from the local supermarket costs less than $6.

The formula:
- Use a glass or porcelain container large enough to immerse whatever object you want to crystallize.
- Boil water, and make a super saturated solution in your container using 1 cup boiled water per 3 tablespoons Borax.
- Immerse object (and in the case of the book, arrange pages using chopsticks) and wait for crystals to grow.
- When you think it's crystallized enough, remove from solution and dry on drying rack. The book shown took less than 24 hours.

Crystallized book on drying rack

The end result is a fixed object - crystallized and surprisingly heavy.

Crystallized book

Close-up

After crystallizing a book I began to wonder what other objects I could crystallize. Succumbing to my fondness for creating little shoes out of an infinite range of materials (see All My Little Shoes), I tried crystallizing a hand-stitched paper shoe.

Crystallized paper shoe

Side view

Then it occurred to me to experiment with collage. Turns out you can create a collage using a glue stick, immerse it in a super saturated Borax solution minutes later, and the crystals seal in the collage. The assemblage/collage below includes a booklet on the alchemy of quinte essence I got in India about forty years ago, a visa snapshot of me from the same era, and tucked into the booklet a scrap of Bharatanatyam dance notation I was studying at the time.  Now they're all a frozen memory.

Crystallized assemblage

Close-up of visa photo

The explorations did not end there. Stay tuned for more experiments in which I start crystallizing everything in sight.

20 comments:

  1. This is amazing - what surreal effects on everyday objects. I will look forward to seeing what you do.

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  2. Have been trying this. How did you get a large enough glass container and did you suspend it or just lay it flat. Also, did you cover the mixture?

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    1. Use a large ceramic bowl - visit a local thrift store and you can pick one up cheaply. Hmmm...come to think I'd it, a small used fish tank would really work well. Note with the box above that instead of lying flat it looks like the it is slightly closed. That is because it is following the curve of a large ceramic bowl I used.
      For books, just lay it in the bowl. Use chopsticks or another implement to artfully arrange the pages once it is immersed. For a small fairy dress I crystallized I did suspend it in a mason jar. Just use your ingenuity and creativity and experiment.
      And NO, do not cover it. The process of crystallization depends on evaporation.
      Hope this helped.

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    2. Rats..spell correction on my iPad changed some of the words above. That's "book," not "box."

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  3. How long did this take once submerged and then how long did it take to dry? I know you said under 24hours but estimated time would help if you remember. Thank you!

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  4. How long was it submerged? Also how long did it take to dry? I know you said total time was less than 24hours but if you remember those time that would be helpful. Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm...this was from two years ago so your guess is as good as mine. Also, the shape and density of the object you are crystallizing as well as the climate of the place you're working would affect this. Experiment, like I did. Keep an eye on it as it crystallizes, pull it when you think it is crystallized enough, and then it will take however long it takes to dry. How long do you think a soaking wet book would take to dry?

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  5. Will this work on bone? If so, do I coat it with polyurethane after its dried?

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    Replies
    1. I have no idea, I am experimenting myself and encourage you to do the same. If you look at my crystallization posts you will see it worked very well on seashells, so I imagine it would work with bone also. I never coat mine with anything, but that is another interesting experiment and may help prevent oxidization (slow whitening of the crystals) down the road.

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  6. Do the crystals stay on, or fall out when touched after dry?

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    Replies
    1. Nope, they don't just spontaneously fall off. The final object will remain as is. Of course it is delicate - if you drop it or knock it against something crystals would fall off.

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  7. I was wondering if I had crystalized the book covers of a sketchbook, if i would be able to open the book still? I want to do it before so I don't mess up my class project!

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    Replies
    1. My knee jerk reaction would be no - crystal won't flex and bend like a leather or paper cover. On the other hand, if the front and back cover pieces were separate, individual pieces, and you were going to rebound the whole thing with larger than normal spiral binding, it just might work.

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  8. hey! i'd like to do this to a photo. do you think the photographic paper is too smooth/ slippery so the crystalls might just fall off?

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    Replies
    1. No, in fact I have done it with photos. Just click on crystallization in the sidebar, or enter the words photo crystallization in the search bar at the top of the page. Have fun!

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  9. how exactly do you use chopsticks to arrange the pages? dont the chopsticks get stuck to the book? does the book get stuck to the container?

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  10. The chopsticks are just an implement. I used them to turn a page under, shove pages together a bit more, separate pages slightly - whatever is needed. And you use them the way you always use chopsticks: just hold them in your hand and use them to grasp or manipulate things. I don't leave them in the bowl. If I did, they'd grow crystals themselves. So no, they don't get stuck to the book. And because the bowl is glass the book doesn't stick to the bowl.

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  11. Is there any reason why I could be getting small thin crystals on the surface instead of big chunky ones? I am doing everything right it seems and have been waiting like 15 hours by now. Also, does the book need to float in the solution aka does the bowl need to be filled to the absolute top?

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  12. Update: I was reading more about this and noticed one person made it seem like the crystals don't fully develop until out of the water and drying. Is this correct?

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    Replies
    1. All I can advise is experimentation - I'm not a crystal expert. But no, the book doesn't need to float and probably couldn't, given physics and all. And no, in my experience crystals form while the object is in the crystal solution, not when out of the water. Are you moving the book or agitating the water? That could slow/prevent crystal growth. Is your book or object made of natural materials? Crystals don't grow well on plastic or synthetics. Other than that, just keep trying. Good luck!

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