All images courtesy the artist
Who would think that a tragedy like a spilled mug of coffee could ferment an abstract piece of art? Coffee-splashed artwork twists and turns across the page, ranging from weak to strong, light to dark roasts in blown-out marbleized tableaus. Washington State-based artist, Jon Norquist, stumbled upon a fresh new medium when he was handling a coffee machine.
“It began about five years ago when my sister-in-law bought my wife and I a cheap coffee pot. The carafe was amazingly bad—it spilled coffee every time you poured. I had the pot for a few months and one morning as I poured scalding hot coffee over the counter, floor, and my feet, I saw the coffee spill and thought it was actually kind of interesting. I immediately had the idea to outline the spill so that it stood out to really showcase the spill.”
Five years of experimenting with multiple layers and transitioning to a textile canvas, Norquist has evolved his inventive craft into a masterful artform—one that takes an extensive amount of time, commitment, and inspiration. The series is titled Coffee on Canvas.
Norquist shares with The Creators Project that he begins his process by priming a canvas in ultra-white acrylic paint, enhancing the dark colors of the coffee. Next, he begins forming the idea he wishes his piece to convey, and then sketches a template for the design, leaving room to showcase the main attraction of coffee, upon cardstock. The areas reserved for the coffee spills are blocked off with liquid frisket, a watercolor product that dries into latex. Afterward, the template is applied to the prepared canvas, and the pots of coffee can start brewing.
“The spilling is really a very creative process,” Norquist explains over e-mail. “Massing of coffee, leaving white space, direction of spill/spray, layering, and color (lightness to darkness) of the coffee are all considered. As I spill the coffee in layers I become more and more aware of the feel or flow I want to create with the coffee. Layering, I've learned is key."
"Once the piece is peeled, I begin outlining the coffee with ink. This is painful, literally. I'm sure I'll be the youngest human with carpal tunnel syndrome. I outline every speck of coffee I can see on the canvas, usually requiring me to look at the piece throughout the day so I get a few shades and angles of sunlight to reveal more of the smaller flecks. I ensure I outline the marbling and layered coffee as well. Over the years, I've honed a technique for this to ensure I capture even subtle tonal changes without striking them through with a hard black ink line.”
Throughout the years, Norquist has alighted upon several quirks of the process, such as how the acidity of coffee and pen ink interact. He says, “the acid in the coffee kills most pens making the pen investment enormous!” He shares, “It's amazing what you learn about the makeup and flow of coffee. New coffee is orange while older coffee (one to two days old) is more of a dark brown. I’ve also learned that heavier spills tend to coagulate at the edges.”
See more from Jon Norquist and his Coffee on Canvas series, here.