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


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.


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

  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?

    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.

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

  3. 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!

    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?

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

    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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