Practical Exercise 1 – Stains – Initial Exploration


  • Everyday foodstuffs including tea, coffee, orange juice, cranberry juice, jam, honey, cup-a-soup, chocolate and Tunnock’s teacakes.
  • Watercolour paper, primed canvas, white cotton t-shirt, acrylic ribbed top and polyester trousers.
  • Liquitex Matte Super Heavy Gel
  • Beakers with handles
  • Soup spoon


In this first set of exercises I wanted to explore the lack of control and vulnerability that comes with old age. Some of this arises from increasing frailty and ill health or from feeling dependent on others. My aim was to focus on the difficulty of feeding yourself, simple things like not being able to grip a cup or lift food to your mouth and depending on carers and family to help to feed you and clean your hands and clothes.

Having read about Ed Ruscha’s work using everyday materials as an alternative to artists’ materials I wanted to use these ideas to explore the idea of vulnerability.

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Watercolour Paper

I decided initially to try out a range of foodstuffs on small pieces of watercolour paper. My aim was to try to mimic the movements which would cause the food to spill or be smeared, and not, in any way, attempt to manipulate the result. To do this I used the type of double-handled plastic beaker used in care homes and attempted to ‘spill’ the drink in a more accidental way. Similarly, I used a soup spoon and mimicked the action of raising the spoon to my lips but missing the mouth.


I then tried using the same foodstuffs on small pieces of canvas. There were a number of differences in the results from the watercolour paper. I used primed canvas which meant that the liquids, in some cases, tended to sit on the surface rather than be absorbed though they did dry after a couple of days.

Cotton and Acrylic Fabrics

In keeping with the exploration of ageing I wanted to try staining fabrics that, from my own experience, are often worn by the elderly including cotton, acrylic knits and polyester. For the exercise, I used a ribbed acrylic top, polyester trousers and a cotton t-shirt.

Observations from testing foods

  • Tea and coffee stains strong on paper and canvas – coffee has crisp edges
  • Orange and cranberry juice – subtler colour when dry
  • Chicken soup – dries into paper leaving some texture and colour from herbs
  • Minestrone soup – dries with granulated texture on paper/canvas. On material dries to darker rust colour. Pasta hoops in soup absorb into material more than paper and canvas. Pasta and croutons sit on top but interesting texture.
  • Jam/honey – some texture with jam. Both may well dry eventually but longer process
  • Tunnock’s teacake. When dry on paper the chocolate pieces peeled off. Added acrylic gel for comparison and tried on canvas – chocolate pieces adhered to canvas. On canvas, the marshmallow filling created some interesting effects.
  • Chocolate – interesting layered effects.
  • Fabrics – top and trousers – colours perhaps too dark. Used a white t-shirt to compare.

Options for Development

Based on several days of exploring the stains and textures of the foodstuffs I decided on two approaches for further development:

Related Posts

Ed Ruscha – Research Notes –