Experiment: The Mustard Chronicles

Mustard Etched Sheet Metal washed in Payne’s Grey Ink –
Words: Unknown

For week twenty-one of our weekly calligraphy challenge we were asked to experiment then show the group what we learned. My husband and I saw a man etch a knife blade with mustard, so I decided to experiment with that same process. Below I will share the experiments and my lessons learned.

It took me about four days to go from nothing to a place where I felt comfortable creating a final quote. I tried yellow mustard, spicy brown mustard, even grey poupon. I tested a large variety of tools trying to find a way to write with the mustard without having the tip leak, explode or drip. I also tried using gel printing techniques but the mustard broke down into too much watery liquid to do anything other than rust. I ended up using a cheap plastic container from the grocery store, the kind condiments are served in at hamburger diners. The quote above was my final piece. Below is a picture of that same sheet of metal with the mustard still on it…

Sheet Metal with Payne’s Grey Ink wash letters written in Yellow Mustard
Timeline of Plain Yellow Mustard Etching Sheet Metal

Here is the basics of what I learned. Leaving the mustard on for a longer period of time let it do it’s thing. The mustard is in essence ‘rusting’ the plate leaving the grayish haze around each letter. Watering down the mustard didn’t work as it only rusted the metal, no etching effects occurred. On the ink in the final piece the mustard served as a kind of ‘resist’ allowing the grayish haze to etch the metal while keeping the ink in tact. To create that effect I left yellow mustard on the plate for four hours. I was glad when these experiments were over as my studio ended up smelling like a hot dog stand.

I will admit that I had fun experimenting and discussing the results. My whole family waited with anticipation to see what would happen with each round of tests. There is something magical that happens as we face the unknown. The excitement, the learning, the opportunity to do something out of the box AND turn it into a new tool or technique. We are fascinated by discovering new things, new ideas, new ways of doing things.

Never under estimate the power of testing, failing and then finally reaching solid ground. Curiosity is a powerful element of learning. Wanting to know and being apart of that learning process can empower people for a lifetime of gaining knowledge and experience. Experimenting reminds us that failure is forward movement, and nothing is a failure if you learn from it. Experimenting also reminds us that if we risk we just might be amazed at what new things we can discover.

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