Research – Meaningful Materials, Iron and Ice


I have been considering the symbolism of colour and medium in drawing. In an earlier work, I used clay as a drawing medium with its connotations of place and geology. I have also used carbon sticks and charcoal,  carbon being a basic element of life but also being a relic of fire. I would like to consider fire as a drawing medium and am considering how I can safely and effectively do that.

Iron is also a basic element of life. Its ability to readily oxide allows it to transport oxygen around a body. It is also one of the elements created in stars. When astronomers detect iron in the spectrum of a star, they know that its years are limited and that it will soon (relatively) die in a supernova explosion. In the past I have printed with rust but I wanted to try drawing with it. I collected filings from my husband’s grinding machine (he builds steam engines) and applied these to  a small paper sample which had been dampened with lemon juice.


The lemon juice dried before it had any effect, so my next sample used distilled vinegar.


Design ideas and first samples and notes in sketchbook

As a design, I tried drawing the suggestion of a figure, which relates to the themes I am exploring in my parallel project. This is rather like the Turin Shroud of Anthony Gormley’s oil body prints. The design isn’t very clear; the paper has been flooded with fluid too much.


Trying to control the spread of iron mould, I used less fluid and left the image to develop longer. Here I have returned to the Zen Enso design which relates to completeness but also imperfection. I have added two other marks, one inside and one outside the form, seeing this as an extension of the dichotomy of presence and absence within or beyond the void.


Enso, rust, A3

Although I used less fluid, I still used enough to cause run off. The rust has almost formed a crust on the paper but it is completely integrated with it. After developing, the paper was soaked to remove the vinegar and and particles of iron which did not shake off. The rust was undisturbed by soaking. In this next experiment, I used even less fluid and left the filings overnight. This has produced an even stronger stain.


Abstract form, rust, A3

I think these two images work well together as a diptych. I used strong Japanese paper which I knew would take repeated soaking because of its long fibres, but even so, a couple of tears occurred during handling and the paper has been hard to press flat.  In fact, trying to press it flat has caused extra wrinkling.

I have considered developing the rust drawings with additions in graphite, ink or paint, but I think that this would appear very contrived.


Feeling that I was ready to use a better support, I returned to my original design using good quality watercolour paper.


The rust has imprinted completely differently on this support. Less texture has been retained in the dense areas, but a wider variety of marks and range of tone has been achieved. Then figure is clearly represented but is only solid in places. It has defined edges in places but in others melts into the background. The fluid bleed gives the figure life, even perhaps burning or exploding with energy.



Although I have done rust printing in the past, and I know that it is a popular technique with textile artists such as Alice Fox, I have found very little reference of the internet to anyone drawing with iron. An exception is Esther Solondz who produced very large works using this method. I can see that sprinkling iron is an imprecise drawing medium and so well suited to working large.

These rust drawings combine a meaningful material with texture, colour and soft, complex edges. It is possible to produce bold and simple designs, but complex designs would require working at a much larger scale. The quality of the support is important to withstand the wet process and archival quality is questionable. I suspect, over sufficient time, the rust areas would develop holes in the support which would be really exciting but, ultimately, destructive.


It snowed this week and I was excited to see if I could use the snow as a drawing medium by combining it with ink or paint. I hoped that I might get marks on the paper like those you see on the edge of glaciers caused by algae and dust or on the edge of geysers caused by minerals.

The snow have frozen over night and was icy and thawing by 9am, but collected a basin of granules. scattered them in arcs over my support and dripped Indian ink into them. I also scattered some ground up charcoal because it would be non-soluble and float on the water, hopefully to the edges.




I realised that the ice was producing a lot of water. I used a brush to join and spread out the puddles a bit, but instantly wishes I hadn’t, that I had just left the water to do its thing.

I was very disappointed with this as it progressed. The ice produced so much water but slowly enough to buckle the paper in to basins which retained the water. Some interesting edges were achieved, mostly due to the charcoal.




I tried the experiment again, this time with much less ice, with which I mixed a little ink and charcoal.


This has melted into more interesting shapes but the ink is far too strong and solid. The paper has wrinkled locally again.


The edges are rather hard and uninteresting, so I have lightly sprayed the paper with water.



Spraying has made this more interesting but I don’t think it qualifies as drawing with ice and is not at all the effect I was after. Research has revealed that it is possible. This work by Andrew Goldsworthy, using a snowball, is more the sort of thing I was looking for. I suspect the use of a snowball means that it can be removed from the support when it has released the desired amount of water. I had intended to continue this experiment on a much better quality of support, once I had learnt about the parameters, but now the snow has gone for the time being.

These have been extremely interesting experiments with the rust being particularly successful, producing visually exciting results with a repeatable technique.




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