Painting with Coffee – An Interview with Pornchai LerthammasirI
As an accomplished watercolor artist, Pornchai wanted to do something new – more challenging. Coffee was his choice.
He experimented to find the right control and flows of coffee and water, create the crisp lines and prevent the dryness and mole of coffee after paint. According to Pornchai, it took him many years to master the right texture of coffee and water.
“If too much coffee I used, the texture will be too elastic to paint with and cause unwanted glittering flakes on the paper. Furthermore, it did not dry easily and the coffee could peel off from the paper or become molded. After extensive experimentation, I can prove that my paintings will stay in the same condition even after more than 10 years now”, said the artist.
Q1: Thank you for taking time from your painting to meet with us today. How did you get the idea of using coffee to paint? - And how long have you been doing this?
A.: I always have painted in watercolor and have painted professionally for over 15 years. About 6 years ago I started experimenting with using coffee in my paintings. Originally, I heard that in the old days the Chinese used tea to help create a brown background in their paintings. I then tried to use both tea and coffee in my paintings. My main purpose was to create an old-look in the paintings by using the brown color of tea and coffee. Later on, I tried to paint the whole painting with tea, but did not get pictures that I felt satisfied with. Tea can not be used to give you clear lines or create the depth-of-field in the painting. I experimented with coffee and, after many tries, could create paintings that I felt satisfied with.
Q2: Have you tried to paint with any other unusual medium?
A.: Yes, I tried Sodium Permanganate. Although this is not common in the West, it is used all over Asia. Sodium Permanganate is the purple liquid that is used to soak vegetables to destroy bacteria and parasites in the tropics. When I first painted using a mix of sodium permanganate and water, the color came out purple. It then turned to different shades of brown. I was satisfied with the brown colors it gave, but after completing the paintings for 2-3 months I found out that the lines and brush stokes I made with Sodium Permanganate disappeared from the paper! This was very embarrassing as two customers returned paintings that had been very attractive initially but almost completely disappeared three months later. I was shocked at this and refunded them the money and apologized profusely.
Q3: How hard is it to use coffee to paint compared to normal watercolor paint?
A.: First of all, the texture of the coffee is a challenge. It has more elastic properties than normal paint. It is stickier when you apply it with the brush. You have to use the right amount of water to dilute the coffee right on the paper for the lighter brown or whiter areas. It was also harder to control the lines, color tones and the flow of liquid on the paper.
Further more, coffee also when it dried displayed glittering flakes in itself and left unwanted traces of this in the paintings. I had to use special techniques to control these flakes on the paper. Another big problems was that after the coffee paintings are completed the painting can mold easily. Furthermore, the color on the paintings can peel off from the paper. Through years of experimenting, I found ways to overcome these problems but it was not easy.
Q4: If coffee is so hard to paint with, why do you continue to do so?
A.: I kept on trying because it seemed like a great challenge for me. Coffee gave a unique effect through the stain it left on the paper and the unique flow of water mixed with coffee is unpredictable. All of this is a challenge, which I had to strive to solve.
Q5: Do you always paint in coffee alone or sometimes mix colors or other medium with it?
A.: I prefer to use monotone coloration’s of brown in my paintings, but I also mix watercolor with coffee in some paintings to create colors other than brown. It is harder to paint in monotone and still make the painting interesting and that challenge is what I like.
Q6: What themes are you using coffee to paint?
A.: Mostly old-time scenes or history like themes. I also paint landscape like the ocean, forest or building scenes.
Q7: What is the potential of this kind of painting in the market? And what have been the public’s reactions to this way of paintings?
A.: I had my first show of coffee painting in 1998 at the Gaisorn Plaza in Bangkok, Thailand. Over 600 guests attended the exhibition and most of the paintings were sold. The people enjoyed the new idea in art and the unique quality that it produced. I think the viewers found that it was interesting to use something close to them that they see or use daily, like coffee, to apply in the art form.
Q8: What is your future plan and what are your new challenges?
A.: I plan to use different themes to my coffee paintings, for example: pictures of the old-time settings from the Oregon Trail in the Northwest of the US. I feel that it will be very charming with the coffee effects. My new challenge and hope is that one of the coffee companies like Starbucks or others will sponsor me and let me try different types of their coffee on my paintings. I’m always amazed at how many types of coffee the companies offer and wonder whether those various coffees would give different effects on my paintings.
Q9: How long does it take for you to complete a medium size painting using coffee?
A.: I have a special ability to paint very quickly which I have had since I was young. Usually for a 30x30-size painting using coffee takes me only 15 minutes to paint. This has helped me when I do demonstrations for guests of my exhibition as they could see the results in a very short time.
Q10: Are you thinking about trying other new mediums? And what are they?
A.: I have no plans now as I still enjoy painting with coffee. There is at present still a market for these paintings and the public still has a positive reaction toward this type of painting. I therefore plan to continue to explore the medium as I feel I have not fully charted all of the potential.
Thank you for talking with us Professor Pornchai. We think your technique of painting with coffee would be very intriguing to Americans and Europeans and hope you have the chance to demonstrate to them your unique artistic gifts.
>> MORE ABOUT ARTIST: PORNCHAI