I grew up on a farm near a river.
Our cows grazed on our hillside pastures, producing beef calves every spring.
We spent the hot summers helping with the hay harvest and cooling off in the river.
The part of the river that runs through our land is precious, and we named it Williams’ Beach.
Since I was very young, I did rock paintings here.
I had a secret cache of my best painting stones hidden in a hole in the side of the riverbank, every summer.
In the riverbed are millions of stones. Many are granite, hard and speckled. There are fools-gold here and there, quartz and other strange mineral stones: some with multiple cubic indentations left from crystals that have dissolved or eroded away. Those always fascinated me as a kid. They looked like fossil molds, which I would sometimes find from ancient scallop-like shellfish. The idea of some ancient cube-shaped sea-creature never left my mind.
I am not a geology expert at all, but amongst all these very large, dense and hard stones are many smaller, lighter and softer stones, which I presume to be varieties of sedimentary rock: compressed compositions of ancient sediments. These are the stones that yield the colored paints.
So there went my little kid self, alone (except for my dog and following barn-cats), happy and free, collecting colored stones: white, cream, yellow, blue, green, purple, red, orange… I would draw, write, graffiti with them all over the harder, flat, large stones. Often, in deeper pools elsewhere along the river, my friends and I would draw and write on rock walls deep underwater, wearing goggles and holding our breath. It was a fun way to keep busy and stay cool for hours on end.
However, the most fun came with vigorous, repeated scrapings of a soft colored stone against a hard, rough “palette stone”. This had to be done at the riverside, because to make the paint, the stone needed to be dipped into the water frequently between rubbings. Slowly, I formed paste. This paste, the powdered sedimentary rock mixed with water, was my own, natural rock paint.
Sometimes I would just paint my legs and arms or face. Other times I made cute rock-cards for my mum and dad: a picture and some simple words smeared on a flat stone. My mother kept some of the rock-cards many years later. She may still have them somewhere, faded and hidden away.
The neat part about it all was watching the rich colors of the wet paints change as they dried to lighter colors. It was sad, yet satisfying to watch the intensity of the color change to paler hue. Often surprising was the brightness of it, as compared to the look of the original painting stone itself. When applied in thick coats some varieties of the paints would crack and crumble off the skin. Others seems to adhere more evenly. They all had an earthy scent, and if applied to the lips, like lipstick, I sometimes tasted them: slightly salty, bitter, tangy and sweet.
Different colored stones produced different properties of paint: different scents, tastes and textures.
There is so much science in such an innocent and simple pastime.
Over this past year I have written to almost 30 different companies, trying to find a specially black-coated or painted aluminum mesh screen that does not smell or off-gas at the high temperatures.
We have plans to build our next set of solar air heaters using this special temperature-resistant black screen as the solar-heated element within the solar collector box. The mesh aluminum screens work at least 10% better at producing and transferring heat to the passing air than other solar collector designs, such as down-spout, pop-can or flat panel designs. This increase in heat-transfer efficiency and efficacy occurs because of the greatly increased surface area for the air-to-be-heated to travel by, through and around the hot screen’s woven wires versus just passing by a single, smooth flat hot surface. We know this because we have tested the designs against each other, and the basic science predicts our results, also.
Standard insect screens do work well, but they will off-gas for a few weeks to months (depending on the type/brand) before they stop smelling. We know this from experience. I do not like this smell and find it unpleasant on the lungs.
I also refuse to sleep in a room that has recently been painted until the walls have completely cured. Even with the best of modern paints, claiming very low VOC emissions, this can sometimes take up to a month!
I have a sensitive nose and lungs. I really like my fresh air.
So I have been researching high-heat metal coatings and paints, contacting big paint companies, screen manufacturing companies, emailing and talking with technicians and presidents of these companies throughout North America and China.
I have stumbled over a few false leads, received many replies of “no such product is available” and tested samples that smelled even at room temperature, so of course they failed the heat-tests.
Recently, I made progress, however, and hope to have found the company that can provide the specialized coating just perfect for our needs. After further testings and research and soon we hope to be making a large order of this specialty black-coated aluminum screen that has no odor and is designed for high heat use.
Once we build a few large heaters with it and test them out on our own home, we plan to be able to provide this highly specialized solar-heater screen material to the public.
After about 8 months of research, I think I have come very close to finding this ideal black coating for our solar heater element, and at the same time, I find myself sitting by the riverside contemplating natural paints. So much science goes into paints and colored coatings.
I never mixed in a fixative with my rock paints, so they would wipe or wash away very easily. Now I am thinking it may be time for me to start learning about natural fixatives and how to truly make my own rock paint for artistic purposes.
Yet, the whole point of the rock painting of my youth was its impermanence and that it had to be done by the riverside. The process and simply being by the river, with the bugs, rushing water, wind in the trees, bird and pets was as important as the end result of any painting. The idea of bringing painting stones and palette rocks back to my house and mixing up my own paint with egg yolk and water from the tap in my kitchen seems so very unnatural. Perhaps I will have to bring my fixative ingredients to the riverside if I wish to strive for some permanence of imagery.
Going back to the river, to Williams’ Beach, after being away from it for too many years,
was quite a spiritual reunion.
I quickly found myself with striped arms and legs, markings on my belly, chest and face.
I had found my old self again.
We visited Williams’ Beach again, yesterday.
Very quickly, my step-daughter had striped legs and arms, markings on her chest and face. She looked like a tiger, or perhaps more appropriately, a young, striped Okapi. She danced from stone to stone in the setting sun, wild and free, singing and smiling.
She didn’t want to leave.
Perhaps, because down by the river, surrounded by those ancient stones and fresh water,
it always feels like home.