The Periodic Table of Copyright Violations

Before we got married, the XS and I spent a week in Denver where she'd lived for a number of years. As part of that visit we spent an evening with her cousin's family. The cousin's mother (i.e., the XS's aunt) is an accomplished amateur painter and had inspired the cousin, and the cousin's husband in particular, to take up the hobby.

The cousin also had kids, one of whom was in high school. As part of a high school chemistry project, cousin's son had to do a an art project focused on a particular element. All the students' projects were collected together and displayed as a periodic table. This inspired the cousin's husband to buy a bunch of small 4" x 5" canvases that they could use to paint their own version of the periodic table. When we visited, it was nearly done -- and it was so cool I decided I needed to have one of my own.

So when we got back from Denver, I started buying canvases and art supplies to make my own version of the table. The problem was, while the cousins used dinner parties to move their periodic table to completion, the XS wasn't much of a dinner party person. She preferred big parties. So there was never really a chance to solicit others to push things forward. By the time we went our separate ways, I was the only one who'd ever completed an element, and after five years, I'd only finished twenty of them. 

Most of them all of them are copies -- or permutations -- of images I found online. Between stealing the idea from the XS's cousin, and then stealing the images from the Internet, we're talking lots of duplication. Hence my name for the project. (How does that phrase go? "Talent borrows, genius steals." Or something like that.)

But not too long ago some friends came over and saw my little canvases (and lots of empty nails) hanging in my stairwell. The general consensus was that this looked like a lot of fun, so planning is in progress for night of Art & Science. Who knows? Maybe this will actually prompt me to take the actions necessary to actually finish. (Update: I don't know about prompting me to finish more squares, but it was definitely a lot of fun.)

But it occurred to me that posting pictures of the squares here might create some incentive to finish as well. So here you go...

The Periodic Table of Copyright Violations
(Current completion ratio: 30/112, as of 4/24/15)

The Whole Shebang
(more or less)

Here's a view of the entire project (as it stood at the end of the Art & Science party) from the top of the stairs. Notice the vast quantity of empty space, but pay no attention to the blue tape next to the door jamb. In addition to painting eighty-some canvases, I also need to paint the trim in my hall. 
Hydrogen (H, 1)

More than anything, Hydrogen shows that I should've taken pictures of the completed canvases before I hung them up, but now that they're up and I returned the extension ladder to Sib2, photos taken from a crazy angle will have to suffice. Anyway, hydrogen, mushroom cloud -- it made sense to me. And as my college roommates will attest, I've always had a thing for mushroom clouds. (Source)
Helium (He, 2)

Guest Artist: Leslie P.

Helium balloons are the obvious choice for Helium, but Leslie gave this a twist by referencing Pixar's Up

Carbon (C, 6)

Carbon footprints, of course. And done with charcoal no less. (Source)
Nitrogen (N, 7)

Guest Artist: Nicole J. 

The first square to provide actual science content rather than juvenile jokes, probably the result of the artist having an actual science background. Thus we get the nitrogen cycle, with the sun, a tree, a fish and a mushroom all riding on a bicycle.
Neon (Ne, 10)

Neon tubes seemed an obvious choice for neon, but there's a non-obvious part of this in that I tried to do it using paint designed to be used on glass. Didn't really work, so you wind up with a combination of glass paint and acrylics which actually looks weird in that the one is really shiny and the other isn't. Eventually I'll fix that with some clear high gloss fixative, but the square itself is done enough to count as complete.
Magnesium (Mg, 12)

Fireworks, since magnesium is a primary ingredient in their manufacture. And yes, it is a terrible, terrible photo. (Source)
Aluminum (Al, 13)

The obvious choice for this was an aluminum can, but I was bored with painting so I did this weird Frankenstein thing. I basically chopped up a bunch of aluminum cans, ironed the pieces flat (Dear XS, Sorry about the iron...), and then screwed them to a board I'd cut to match the size of a canvas. The scratched-in labeling doesn't show very well, so I'm thinking I may go back and paint that black.
Silicon (Si, 14)

PJ O'Rourke said once that when faced with choice between a joke and accuracy, you choose the joke. So I did. Silicon and silicone are not the same, but I couldn't resist the ties between "Si," Sports Illustrated and, at least in some cases, silicon(e). But I am aware, as someone said to me, "that e makes a big difference." (Source)
Chlorine (Cl, 17)

A swimming pool was the obvious choice for chlorine, and I was interested in playing with the forced perspective and reflective elements I saw in the original. Can’t say I really figured it out. (Source)
Calcium (Ca, 20)

Calcium = bones = Jack Skellington. I figured I was better off mimicking a cartoon skeleton than trying to paint an actual one. (Source: This was a conglomeration of too many images to list.)
Nickel (Ni, 28)

Guest Artist: Delila K.

Delila's an actual artist, but usually focuses on painting so the mixed media was something a little out of the ordinary. Personally, I really like the combo of the hot pink with the "nickel" hardware. 

And I think everyone at the Art & Science party appreciated her coaching abilities. 

Copper (Cu, 29)

A "copper" seemed the obvious choice for copper.
Gallium (Ga, 31)

According to one of the periodic tables I found online, the name gallium has some connection to chickens. So I made a (bad) attempt at an impressionist chicken using just a little paint spatula. And while I looked at some images for inspiration, the result was so far off from what I saw that it would be insulting to those actual artists to list them here connected to this. 
Krypton (Kr, 36)

You'd have to be exposed to a lot less pop culture than I not to think of Superman's home planet when you hear the word "krypton." So here it is, exploding. I happened to be wandering through Pottery Barn Kids when I saw a picture book with Superman's origin story. Sadly, I can't for the life of me remember the author's name, but if you saw the book you'd know I stole his illustration.
Yttrium (Y, 39)

Why? Good question. I cut a lot of good questions out of old magazines and pasted them on to this square. Why? Good ques...
Indium (In, 49)

Indium was named for the blue light it generates under spectrum analysis. In terms of art, I tend to associate blue with Van Gogh, and it happens that he once stayed in an apartment building in the Montmartre section of Paris that had (and has) a very blue door. I'm sure the address wasn't 49 and there definitely wasn't an "In" sign hanging on it, but artistic license has to come into play (as it does with the lines of that brown wall which aren't remotely parallel). Speaking of blue, I highly recommend Christopher Moore's Sacre Blue if hysterical modernist magical realism wrapped around the history of pigments and painting is at all your thing. 

Tin (Sn, 50)

Another obvious choice. (Source
Promethium (Pm, 61)

In 2010, the XS and I visited Greece where we saw a bunch of ancient mosaics. And since the story of Promethius is part of Greek myth, I decided to do a mini-mosaic for his element by chopping up some catalogs and gluing the little squares to the canvas. Kind of a mistake as a) when all was said and done, this took about fifty hours to complete, and b) the decoupage medium doesn't seem to provide UV protection so the whole thing is yellowing. Ah well.
Tungsten (W, 74)

Tungsten used to be known as wolfram, hence the W symbol. What better way to combine a wolf and a light bulb (tungsten was used for filaments) than a reference to Little Red Riding Hood (who's hiding on the other side of the canvas)? (Source)
Iridium (Ir, 77)

The name for iridium has connections to irises -- or if it doesn't, it should -- so I attempted a vaguely impressionist stab at a field of irises. And depending on how you define "vaguely," I don't think it turned out too poorly. 
Gold (Au, 79)

Guest Artists: Stephanie K. & David C.

This was a joint effort of the two individuals at the Art & Science party that were most convinced of their lack of artistic talents. After much discussion and collaboration, they landed on the Olympic gold medal. And each was able to add their own personal touch to the work: the glitter was all Stephanie, while David added "Munich '72" to the side (proving that I'm not the only one with a morbid sense of humor). 
Lead (Pb, 82)

Another case where I was bored with painting. What jumps to mind for me about lead is that it was used to make the letters for printing presses. A woman on Etsy sent me the letters and numbers I needed to create the square for lead  -- plus a few extras I could melt down as splash around -- and so this is the result. With this one, I'm always concerned it's going to fall off the wall. It's really heavy.
Bismuth (Bi, 83)

I couldn't find much about bismuth that was interesting, but at the time I was starting on this one Andrew Sullivan's blog was devoting a lot of energy to discussions of bisexuality. Given that context, I hope I can be forgiven a canvas that doesn't have much to do with chemistry. (Source)
Radium (Ra, 88)

Radium was used to make watch faces glow. So here ya go, a glowing watch face. I'm also pretty sure I did this one shortly after promethium, which meant I was looking for something I could finish quickly. This one set the speed record so far. 
Thorium (Th, 90)

And still another obvious choice. But I didn't trust myself to paint Thor adequately, so I just bought a few comic books, chopped them up, and pulled out the decoupage medium again.
Uranium (U, 92)

Many know that Fat Man and Little Boy were the names given to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- or was it Nagasaki and HIroshima? -- at the end of World War II, but did you know that Fat Man was fueled with plutonium while Little Boy used uranium? In any case, in my periodic table these two form a pair. (Source)
Plutonium (Pu, 94)

See my comments on uranium. (Source)
Americium (Am, 95)

I did this one before I went to Vietnam and learned that roosters have no clue whether it's morning, evening or the middle of the night. But at the time a rooster seemed an appropriate choice for an element with the symbol "Am." I designed this using Visio as I was curious to see what I could do using just basic geometric shapes -- and lots and lots of painter's tape of varying widths. 

Einsteinium (Es, 99)

This one turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. (Source)
Copernicium (Cn, 112)

Copernicus, of course, was the first to figure out (or at least publicize) that the earth orbited the sun and not vice versa. So I figured the canvas for the element named for him ought to reference that.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! They'll be more awesome when they're all done. I also wish I could figure out how to get them to display on this page with even spacing, but that seems to be beyond my skills -- or Blogger's capabilities.

  2. These are truly a treasure, John! As many times as I have seen your collection, I haven't taken much time to discuss the individual panels with you. I greatly appreciate "hearing" your thinking and creativity in design of each piece as well as the various artistic mediums and techniques. Keep up the good work!!! - SiL2 (Did I get that right?)

    1. Thanks! We'll see if my forthcoming "Art & Science" party doesn't spur some further progress. (I've decided I've got to subcontract if I'm ever going to get this done.)

  3. John, These are wonderful! Loving your blog. Cherie (from group, you know....the funny one!)

    1. Thanks! There are plenty left if you'd like to do one. :-)