A Chemical Artist

    Kids, in this activity you can use some chemistry, your creativity, and a little muscle power to make a unique piece of artwork from a newspaper. You will need a newspaper with color pictures (like USA Today), scissors, vinegar, cotton swabs, a popsicle stick, white paper, and paper towels. 

    Please note:  All chemicals and experiments can entail an element of risk, and no experiments should be performed without proper adult supervision.

    Use your scissors to cut out a small (5cm x 5cm or smaller) color picture or comic from the newspaper.  Dip a cotton swab in vinegar and wipe it on the picture. Make sure you cover every part of the picture with vinegar. Place the picture between two paper towels and press hard for 5 or 10 seconds to dry off any excess vinegar. Place the picture face down on a piece of white paper. Place another piece of white paper on top and rub hard with the end edge of a popsicle stick. Make sure to rub over the entire picture. Lift the upper paper and then remove the piece of newspaper. You should have a transfer of the picture on the bottom white paper. What do you notice about the picture?  Do you think there is enough ink left on the picture to make another transfer?  Try it and see. Experiment with several different pictures on the same paper to make your own artistic creation.

    What's going on here?  The ink used on the newspaper is not easy to dissolve with water. This is good because the ink is less likely to smudge when the newspaper gets wet from rain or water spills. However, this ink will dissolve a bit better in a weak acid such as acetic acid, and vinegar is dilute acetic acid.

    Here’s something a little bit different. Repeat the above activity except this time transfer something with words on it. What do you notice about the words on your transfer?  Here's a way that you can make the words easier to read: Flip the paper over and use a cotton swab to rub a little baby oil on the back of the paper. What do you notice? Are the words easier to read now?

    Think about this... The image you get after making a transfer is similar to what an artist gets by making a print. In both cases, the final image is the reverse of what was used to make it.  To make a print, the artist uses special tools to scratch and carve the surface of a stone plate. Paint is rolled onto the stone and then paper is laid down on the paint. Absorbent material, such as felt, is placed on top of the paper and the entire stack of materials is put through a press. When the paper is lifted off the stone, it is a reversed image of what was carved into the stone. This means that for a print to come out the way the artist wants, the entire thing needs to be carved in reverse to begin with! 


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    December 2005


    Reference: (easier: Google “wondernet” to get “WONDERNET! Chemistry activities for kids, parents and teachers” and follow the links for Chemistry & Art.)