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Scratch and Sniff – The Institute for Art and Olfaction

At the first Mechanics of Scent workshop at The Institute for Art and Olfaction, a group of 11 experimentally-minded people got together to try to find the very best hacks for Scratch-N-Sniff.

Learn more about how Scratch-and-Sniff works here. As you can see, it’s a complicated process.

The challenge for the workshop was to find at-home solutions that worked. We decided that to create an effective Scratch-N-Sniff, we had to tackle three questions:
– The scented slurry: What combination of aromatic materials and base would make the most effective scented slurry?
– The carrier surface: Which is the most effective carrier surface?
– What would make the most effective top coat varnish (if, indeed, we needed one) that would both contain the scent and release it when scratched?

What follows is the result of our efforts.

OUR MATERIALS

ClassSCENT COMPONENTS
Kool Aid (sugar free)
Cinnamon Powder
Jello (sugar free)
Cocoa Powder (sugar free)
Coumarin (crystals)
Frankincense (liquid, in neat form e.g. not in solution)
Galaxolide (50% IPM)
Apple Fragrance Oil (100%)
Almond Fragrance Oil (100%)

CARRIERS / BASES
Elmer’s Glue
ModPodge
Gouache Paint
Albumen Substrate
Corn-Starch Base (2 parts corn starch to 5 parts water, heated on a hot plate to approximately 200 degrees F)

SURFACES
Embossing Paper (coated, with texture)
Balsa Wood Shapes

 

Trials21. KOOL-AID / JELLO PAINT

Fragrance: Sugar-free Kool-Aid, grape flavor ; Sugar-free Jello, various flavors
Water
Corn starch

Mix contents of a Kool-aid packet or Jello packet
Add corn starch and water to achieve desired thickness
Apply to paper using a paintbrush
Let dry

NOTES: Seems like this might be fun for kids, and when the group overdosed the kool-aid it vaguely smelled. When we scratched at it, it still vaguely smelled. The Jello crystals did not dissolve in cold water. Overall, was not an effective DIY hack for Scratch-N-Sniff.
SCRATCH AND SNIFF SUCCESS RATING: FAIL

 

2. AROMATIC GOUACHE

Gouache Paint
Fragrance: Apple Fragrance Oil
Water

Mix gouache with aromatic oils
Add water and mix with brush
Apply to paper using a paintbrush
Let dry

NOTES: Made for a good scented paint, and we found that the apple fragrance oil – being very strong – did emanate from the paint once it dried. Scratching it didn’t seem to have any effect on the scent’s throw, however, meaning that technically this did not function as Scratch-N-Sniff is meant to.
SCRATCH AND SNIFF SUCCESS RATING: MODERATE FAIL

Trials, on paper3. ACRYLIC MEDIUM

Acrylic medium: Modeling Paste (Golden Paints)
Fragrances: Kool-Aid, Apple Fragrance Oil, Almond Fragrance Oil
Water

Mix medium and water with aromatic oils to achieve desired strength and consistency
Apply to paper using a paintbrush
Let dry

NOTES: The acrylic medium we used was too heavy, and obliterated the scent of the Kool-Aid. Subsequent attempts using fragrance oil were moderately more successful, but when they dried down, the smell was encapsulated too completely within the acrylic medium. However, this could potentially work with a lighter medium.
SCRATCH AND SNIFF SUCCESS RATING: FAIL

 

4. WHITE GLUE

Elmer’s Glue or Mod Podge
Fragrances: Kool-Aid, Jello, Apple perfume oil
Water

Mix white glue, water and aromatic materials to achieve desired strength and consistency
Apply to paper using a paintbrush
Let dry

NOTES: The smell of Elmer’s was strong, so the challenge here was to find the aroma that would best cover the smell of the base. Top-note based scents such as our Apple Accord worked better than base scents (we tried Galaxolide and Coumarin). However, using too much fragrance oil had the unfortunate effect of delaying the drying of the glue. When we applied heat (using an embossing heat gun), the glue bubbled up! When it dried, the scent was vague, and scratching or rubbing it had little effect. Using Mod Podge, the effect was a little bit better- but not by much.
SUGGESTION: Experiment with a more odor-neutral glue, such as an archival glue.
SCRATCH AND SNIFF SUCCESS RATING: SOFT FAIL

 

SMELLYPIZZASTAMP5. EMBOSSING POWDER

Clear embossing powder
Fragrance: Cocoa (sugar-free), Coumarin, Apple Fragrance Oil, Almond Fragrance Oil, Frankincense.
Versamark marker
Heat gun (used for embossing)

In a small container (with lid), combine
2 part embossing power (1 tsp)
1 part aromatic material (1/2 tsp)

If using powdery aromatic materials (e.g. cocoa, Kool-Aid):
Use Versamark marker to mark where you want aromatic materials to stick
Pour aromatic materials + embossing powder combination over Versamark marked paper
Shake excess
Heat up with heating gun
Let sit for a while

Frankincense + Embossing Powder on paperIf using liquid aromatic materials:
Use rubber stamp or paint brush to apply the aromatic material + embossing powder combination to paper
Heat with heating gun
Let sit for a while

NOTES: This was one of the more successful methods. The embossing powder, when heater, bonds with the aromatic material and creates a permanent coating on the paper. What worked particularly well were the powder-based aromas (cocoa, coumarin crystals). Once the material had dried on the paper, the scent was moderately strong when we scratched it, for most materials. However there was a notable success when it came to the Frankincense – we used liquid frankincense which is quite thick. This led us to conclude that resinous materials (frankincense, myrrh, oud, etc) may be more effective with this method.

NOTE ON SAFETY: When working with heat guns and aromatic materials, please consult the MSDS for each material to determine the flash point. For coumarin, we saw that the flash point was upwards of 300 degrees Fahrenheit, so felt confident using a heat gun.

SCRATCH AND SNIFF SUCCESS RATING: MODERATE SUCCESS

 

NeutralBaseGERG’S NEUTRAL BASE + FRAGRANCE OIL SLURRY

5 tbps Water
2 tbsp corn starch
Heat with hot plate to approximately 200 degrees.
Once heated, the mixture should bond to create a thick base.
At this stage, mix in aromatic materials, and paint the slurry onto paper or balsa wood.

We were unable to do further tests using this slurry for Scratch-N-Sniff, but it seemed very promising, particularly if treated – when dry – with a light varnish that could be scratched off.

 

 

ALBUMENDANIELLE’S VARNISH: ALBUMEN SUBSTRATE

Using the methods from tintype photography, Danielle brought in her albumen substrate, with the idea that she could layer the albumen with the fragrance oil, and then apply a simple varnish that, when scratched off, would release the scent.

The formula for the albumen substrate she had was:
1 egg white
1000mL water
A couple drops of ammonia

The results were mixed: The paper smelled before scratching as well as after scratching. However, the group concluded that it was promising. We considered that an alternative would be to replace the albumen top-coat with a thin unscented gelatin coat (which might do a better job containing the scent before scratching).

 

 

THANKS TO ALL WHO ATTENDED!

Scratch and Sniff
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