I went to college for Art, then later for Biology. Deciding on a major wasn't easy. I spent the first few weeks changing my major every other day. I settled on a painting and drawing degree, though natural resource management might have been more practical. A couple of years after graduation and several odd jobs later, I wanted stable employment so I went to grad school so to be a science teacher. This was pretty rewarding for about 11 years.
The Covid Pandemic make teaching very difficult, especially teaching chemistry on a computer to students I never saw. I tried to make the best of the situations by getting creative with the periodic table and color schemes. The image to the left is one of the first novel periodic tables I came up with.
I removed the constraint of the traditional layout and looked at new ways to organize the periodicity we see in the chemical elements, which are arranged according to their behavior and characteristics. In this early attempt at chemical reorganization, my goal was to extract the large scale patterns and tendencies and make them more explicit, with only a few colors to allude to the old scheme. I ended up with something like a wave form. I liked this new symmetrical way of presenting chemical organization. After a few more iterations I turned to color coding the tables I was coming up with. The colors could be consistently applied across formats as I came up with new ones.
The Periodic table is divided into four "blocks" which have to do with how element's electrons are distributed. This determines how the elements react with others. Since there are four blocks, I needed four color schemes (enter art back ground) to apply to the designs. The four schemes I chose varied in their complexity and number of available colors, which suited the application of color to the blocks, which could be treated like matrices and which had different numbers of rows in them.
Color coding is helpful in communicating the more abstract transformations I put the elements through to come up with unconventional designs, like the circular table, and acted like a key for referring back to the original/traditional Table. One constant or topological invariant feature of the tables is that certain amounts of elements always take up predictable amounts and ratios of area, visually.
The color schemes I used and which can be seen across the designs, are: Warm/Cool, CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), Tertiary Colors (Red orange, Yellow orange, Blue green, Yellow green, Red violet and Blue Violet) and the colors of the rainbow or ROY G BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet). I wanted to create a way of thinking about chemical organization that made learning more interesting and connected chemistry education to color theory.
As I came up with different geometries on which to map the 118 Elements, I speculated a lot about topology, number theory, the physics of light, pigments and math in general. Many of my later designs were simple geometric explorations that represented numerical relationships from the periodic table in different ways. I thought this might have implications for predicting even heavier elements than the ones we know, or the standard model of physics. I don't know if any of this will win me a Fields Medal, but I certainly learned a lot and think about patterns even more than before.
Most of these tables are drawn and inked on 15x22 Cotton printmaking paper, like Arches hot press watercolor, 120 lb. Its heavy stuff and these pieces like to be picked up and handled. I made them to be durable and interactive, something a student could pick up and pass around during class. I figured this would make them more engaging, and I had them posted up around my classroom for the second half of 2022. I used PrismaColor Markers for the most part, or ink that could be applied with a brush. The first two images for example were brushed ink, and the following four were with markers. After a while I started working on black paper too. This was really satisfying, especially with the addition of silver, gold and white ink (see second gallery below).
Below are photos of one of the more speculative and abstract designs I came up with. It had more to do with geometry than chemistry. This one was really an experiment in geometric and aesthetic thinking. As I connected lines and drew circles and thought about spatial relationships, my imagination took off. I really enjoyed working with metallic ink on black paper and using traditional tools of geometry.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.