The Story of Microscopic Crystals

The beauty of microscopic crystals was discovered unintentionally: I had brought a sample of Lake Merritt zooplankton to my laboratory for microscopic photography, and left it there "for another look". Three weeks later I found a dry layer of salt crystals at the bottom of the dish. Curious, I put the dish under the microscope before washing it, and saw...

... a magnificent Salt City!

salt city one house
Salt City as seen in the microscope field, x25 A house in Salt city, x50)

Experiments followed naturally, with ocean water and other sources of natural waters (Dead Sea, Mono Lake, hot springs, etc.), as well as with man-made solutions (e.g., standard pH buffers and conductivity calibration standards). I dissolved other salts from the kitchen and the world (table salt, light salt [mixture of sodium and potassium chlorides], ancient ocean salt from the Himalaya, etc.), and even Epsom salts from the bathroom - and watched them re-crystallize. Sugar crystals told other exciting stories!

square frazzled all over the place
Square Frazzled All-over-the-place

Playing with illumination was a lot of trial and error and a lot of fun. I explored the effects of light intensity, light temperature and dominant wavelength, polarization, and chromatic filtration. I discovered that lighting from 2 or 3 directions enhances the 3D perception of any crystal.

Illuminated salt crystals - my first collection (opens in a new window)

TB RGB   Table salt crystal illuminated from 3 directions by Red, Green, and Blue light sources
Addition of pigments to brine or sugar solution opened another path to endless possibilities. My kitchen provided lots of opportunities: beet juice, red wine, food coloring... and this is just a start. My xylitol sugar with blue food coloring initiated the magnificent series of The Wondrous Landscapes of Planet Xy, which convinced me it was time to print my images.
Several wondrous landscapes called for visitors, so I used the GIMP software to "photoshop" them in...


I had my first "show" with friends in January 2014.
I presented a few framed prints and 10 prototypes of greeting cards, and was surprized that several friends wanted to buy them. Good to know that people want these images of Nature's beauty on their walls!

Taking orders required naming (to enable identification of individual images), so I developed a naming system: First, sort by source (e.g., Ocean, Mono Lake, etc. ), salt type (e.g., Table salt), or sugar type (e.g., sucrose [from white or brown sugar], xylitol, etc.). Then use sequential numbers within each group, going up as I add images to that group in my "Working Gallery" .

  BU = Bubbles
DS = Dead Sea
EP = Epsom Salt
GM = GIMP Modified
HM = Himalaya Salt
HS = Hot Springs
LS = Light Salt (NaCl+KCl)
ML = Mono Lake
OC = Ocean
SU = Sugar
TB = Table Salt
XY = Xylitol sugar
The first batch of ID'ed images established my Working Gallery in March 2014, in conjunction with my first "official" show: a booth at the Oakland Art Murmur First Friday event.
Crystal Collection March 2014

In September I had my first solo show at the Jingletown Art Studios in Oakland, and added a number of images to my Working Gallery for the occasion.
Jingletown Additions September 2014

Later in the autumn I put together a show of ocean salt crystals at Oakland City Hall. I also got a booth at the Oakland Art Murmur First Friday event in November, and added more images to the gallery
Crystals added November 2014

People liked the pictures: they bought many prints and lots of cards. I started expeimenting with other formats, and came up with laminated dining mats.
Laminated Placemats

I am also experimenting with printing some of the crystals on transparencies and viewing them in a light box or on the windows. Some crystals come alive and call you to walk in.

Playing with salt, sugar, pigments, and light in my laboratory is a very rewarding pastime, often with overwhelming beauty. I spend a lot of time concoting new combinations and watching what crystallizes. There is no way of telling what will show up next!

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