How one artist turned your morning cup of Joe into a work of art


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Coffee brings with it many advantages: It’s delicious, full of caffeine and keeps us from yelling at our coworkers in the morning. Let us add one more to that list: It can create some beautiful, unexpected art.

Meet Robert Ottesen, the Vero Beach, Fla., artist who figured out how to create prints from your favorite morning beverage.

His first: The Seattle Space Needle.

The how and why of it can best be explained by Ottesen and the man he enlisted to help him create this special ink. Bob Peterson, a consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the ink business, tried numerous times before he was able to successfully mix coffee with a blend of printing oils.

“It was extremely difficult to identify an ink varnish that would allow the coffee grounds to blend with the varnish,” Peterson said. “Additionally, the time and mechanical force required to blend the coffee with the varnish was 10 times more than that of a regular ink.”

And the why?

“I love the mystic effect you achieve when you print with coffee, and the technical challenges made the project interesting to me,” Ottesen said.

It takes more than 12 weeks to create one of his prints because the experimental ink can take up to a week to dry for each layer, says Ottesen, who has also created and lectured on a number of other new techniques, including “kinetic pointillism.”  The Seattle Space Needle has 10 layers of tone, and Ottesen had to line up each layer precisely with the one before it or the print would have been blurry. 

“Long story short, it was very hard work,” he told HellaWella. “But totally worth it when you see the final image.”

Ottesen plans to create more images in the future, probably of more monuments. But he will likely only produce about 25 prints or so, 20 of which will be released to the public, due to the level of difficulty in producing them.

“One thing that is very important to me is quality,” Ottesen said. “My ancestors were craftspeople (tailors) in Copenhagen, and they made fine military uniforms for the Danish monarchy. Out of respect for them and our family tradition of striving for the highest quality in everything we do, it is very important to me that my work be of the highest quality possible.”

If you want to see Ottesen’s print in person, The Museum of Printing in North Andover, Mass., will be getting one of four prototypes. Ottesen and Peterson will each keep a print, and the fourth will be given to another yet-to-be-announced museum.