Paintings in The ART Approach

The ART Approach is a technique in dentistry that uses simple tools and materials to repair teeth quickly, and I spent three years of my PhD researching new materials for it. ART stands for Atraumatic Restorative Technique, and the coincidence in the name was too good to pass up, so I decided to apply the ART approach to art – smaller paintings and simpler materials, but hopefully just as beautiful and interesting.

Once a week, every week, for most of a year I added a new painting, with subjects ranging from fairly traditional landscapes and abstracts to some things straight out of the research lab. The result is an interesting collection of paintings full of experiments and surprises; not many painters can use an electron microscope to look for inspiration so there’s sure to be something you haven’t seen before!

painting of tree in autumn windMost people will say that the wind is blowing to the right in this picture without even thinking about it, because leaves don’t get blown onto trees. That’s because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which is something that almost nobody can explain to another person, but almost everybody understands intuitively thanks to things like this we see every day.

The 2nd Law

painting evening beach sky

Probably the most impressive looking sky I’ve ever seen, and that’s all I have to say about this one.

Beach Fire

acrylic painting of mountain and trees

Apatite is the mineral found in our teeth and bones, but it also comes in hundreds of other forms and is found in many types of rock. It gets its name from the Greek for “deceive”, because it is sometimes so difficult to tell what type of apatite you are looking at, or even if it is apatite at all. For example, what you are looking at right now is part of an x-ray diffraction pattern for fluorapatite, but it looks more like some mountains and trees.


abstract acrylic painting based on x rays

During my research I have spent more time on x-ray diffraction than anything else. This is a Guinier powder diffraction camera, which is small enough to fit in your cupboard and uses x-rays to analyse the structure of crystals with an accuracy of 0.00000000000001 m. I think its quite cool.


acrylic landscape/abstract painting of fields and diffraction

This week I couldn’t decide whether to do a landscape or continue the diffraction theme, so I did both! Any time a wave meets an object about the same length as it, it gets diffracted and changes direction, and more objects means more diffraction. So in theory**, if you have a big farm and set your fields up carefully, you can do some serious messing with your neighbours radio reception. That particular example might not seem very helpful, but the same idea is used in all kinds of measurement systems, such as the electron diffraction in crystals from last week.

**Science tip: never trust a sentence that starts with “In theory”.

Far Field Diffraction

abstract acrylic painting electron diffraction

Take some electrons, accelerate them at 200,000 Volts, bend them into a tiny beam with electromagnets, fire them through some crystals, bend them again with some more electromagnets…and we see diffraction.

A slightly easier way is to look at the back of a CD, where the tiny lines on the CD diffract light and separate the different colours. Replace ‘light’ with ‘electrons’, and ‘tiny lines’ with ‘rows of atoms’ and we get an electron diffraction pattern that tells us a lot about nano-sized and even smaller structures, and gives a kind of fingerprint for each material. It’s worth the extra hassle, and some of the patterns can be quite beautiful too!

Electron Diffraction

acrylic painting of red triple helix on blue background

Perhaps not as famous as the double helix of DNA, the triple helix is just as useful and 50% more helical. It is the structure of the collagen molecules that make up a big part of our bones, teeth, muscles, skin, and various other bits. The triple helix shape helps to make it strong and tough, a bit like the twisted fibres of a rope.

More importantly, the triple helix is the path followed by the feathers on an arrow, so when my archery coach says “visualise the arrow hitting the middle of the target” I see something like this.

Triple Helix

acrylic painting of colourful rain cloud

A form of wet precipitation more familiar to most people than “Wet Precipitation 1”, though it’s usually pronounced “rain”. That greenish blue under a big rain cloud is probably the best colour anywhere, which is why I’m one of the few people happy to see a forecast for thunderstorms. Also, this makes it three paintings in a row from right outside the front door…there’s always something new to see if you look up.

Wet Precipitation 2

acrylic painting of colourful clouds

Clouds are under-rated. Sunny weather is all very nice, but I could paint a blue sky with a roller. Clouds on the other hand give us rainbows, and even without the rainbow they can be just as colourful.

Late Afternoon