It's one thing to ask a coffee house barista "what's brewing?" But does it make sense to ask that question to an artist? According to Anna Werner it does!
Something is always brewing in Gerard Tonti's studio. Literally!
He paints with coffee and tea.
"You are aware, they do sell paints in a tube?" said Werner.
"It's just not as fun," laughed Gerard Tonti.
This graphic designer-by-day used to paint the old-fashioned way, until the day he became fascinated by his cup of green tea. "And I thought, 'I wonder if I and make this into a painting medium, what that would be like?'"
Browns and greens were easy enough. But keeping other colors stable? Not so much.
The hardest color to make stick, he said, "is probably the reds, yeah. In nature, too, anything red usually fades."
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"So are you still working on mastering the reds?"
"I recently have just got it. The whole process has been about ten years. So now I have a full-color spectrum. So I can get things like flesh tones, I can get purples, silvers, grays, blacks, whites, the whole works."
Getting all those colors requires Tonti to buy coffee and tea from around the world, shipped to his home outside Pittsburgh that he shares with his wife and two children.
Like the special Thailand Tea that is blue, made from dried blue flowers. "It tastes blue!" remarked Werner. "It's a really delicate flavor; it's not very strong."
The actual painting requires a bit of a juggling act in Tonti's basement studio, which doubles as a sort of chemistry lab -- brewing his colors. "I'll set the easels up," said Tonti, "work on a piece -- you can see I have several going at the same time -- but I'm actually brewing and making paint as I'm working."
And what else to drip his paints on but a layered surface of coffee filters.
"You have to have it all; it's part of the project," he laughed.
And that textured surface? It's actually coffee grounds.
So, does the painting actually smell like coffee? Werner confirmed, it does.
It's a good guess that with all that caffeine around, Tonti's art will keep percolating for years to come.
"Anybody ever say, why do you do that?" asked Werner.
"Sure, all the time!" he laughed.
"How do you answer that?"
"For me, it's all about the challenge," said Tonti. "You know, it's been about the process and the challenge. If somebody can look at a piece and it makes them feel warm like, you know, a warm cup of coffee in a coffee shop, I think the job's done."
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