What kind of polymer is this you ask? Well, as much as it looks like a super well polished bit of polymer mokume, it is not. It is a material called Fordite. If you haven’t heard of it before, you’re now probably thinking this is a semi-precious stone, right? Well, precious it is, strangely enough, and although it was created in a process not unlike nature’s layering and compressing, it isn’t stone either. Maybe its other names will give you a hint–it’s also known as Motor Agate, Detroit Agate, or “paint rock”and was mined, not from some exotic mountain region in a little known area of the Amazon but rather, in the depths of automobile manufacturing plants. That’s right, its layered car paint. Pretty wild, huh?
This ‘stone’ is now being traded, sold, carved and set like a semi-precious stone even though it’s a manmade product. The reason it is so special is because it is an unintentional product and some of the paint in those layers are really, really old. As described on www.thenewswheel.com: “It’s created by layer upon layer of slag-like material formed from spray-painting cars by hand. Each time a new car got colored, the oversprayed paint gradually built up on the tracks and skids holding the vehicle’s frame. Those paint layers harden as the cars entered “ovens” to cure the paint on the frame. After being baked hundreds of times, this agate would become an obstruction and had to be removed by hand.”
This meddlesome byproduct was thought to initially be something the plant worker’s pocketed as a curiosity but eventually it found its way into the hands of jewelers. Although there is documented use of this as a kind of stone as much as 30 years ago, it wasn’t until artist Cindy Dempsey of Urban Relic Design was interviewed by The New York Times that it really started to get noticed. And with demand going up but supply being finite (they don’t paint cars that way anymore), it is getting really expensive. There are even people talking about hunting down and mining the sites where the waste materials of the car plants were dumped. How crazy is that?
Okay, so it’s a cool story, but what does that mean for polymer? At the very least, it means that the mokume look is appreciated and in-fashion. We won’t be able to provide the sense of history or be identifiable by car types or time periods as these pieces are, but the way people are working with this and the kind of visual textures they are getting is just one source of inspiration for your own textural explorations. Plus, it’s just a cool story!
I choose this particular piece to share because the artist integrated the drips, rather than grinding them off or using a portion with less variation. The piece was created by a seller on Etsy whose shop is called “Walk On The Moon”. I am unsure if the artists who work in fordite commonly grind the stones from the chunk of compressed paint or if they get the pieces and just decide how best to present it. In any case, it’s pretty neat stuff for something so wholly unintentional.
Inspirational Challenge of the Day: Take a look at your half-finished pieces or scrap elements and look for the beauty in it that you didn’t see before. If you cut it, grind it down, drill it, add a layer, hang it in a different orientation, or do something completely unintended, can you see the wonderful thing it can become? Study or play with the piece until you find a form or treatment that makes it work.
Like this blog? Lend your support with a purchase of The Polymer Arts magazine and visit our partners: