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Coffee art: Cheap pot inspires Coffee on Canvas

One of Jon Norquist's paintings, made with spilled coffee. (Courtesy of Jon Norquist)
LISTEN: Coffee on Canvas: the cheap coffee pot that inspires art

A couple years ago something terrible happened. Jon Norquist’s coffee maker broke. So, logically, the Tacoma dad and civil engineer bought a new one. But from day one it did nothing but disappoint and frustrate.

“I started using the dumb coffee pot and every time I would pour, it just pours all over the place,” said Norquist. “I think to myself, these people are in the business of coffee pot making, how could they possibly make something that literally pours all over the place. It makes no sense to me. I’m too cheap to buy a new one, so we make it work.”

But then he started to notice that the splashes on the counter made cool looking designs.

“What I saw was a splatter that looked like an amoeba looking thing,” he said. “I thought,’You know, I bet if I put that on paper and outlined it, it would be pretty compelling.'”

“So I took this piece of paper right here and taped it to the counter top,” Norquist said. “This is the course of pouring daily coffee for about two months, three months, something like that, and then I took it off and I started outlining it. I thought it was just a really cool and interesting design.”

The paper is marked with interesting looking splotches and coffee cup rings that appear to be formed by sepia-toned paint. Different shades of brown and orange that Norquist outlined with a thin black pen. He switched from butcher paper to canvas. That’s how Coffee on Canvas was born. It’s coffee art.

Coffee art

Norquist had been searching for a creative project for years, first to offset his years spent at West Point and then to relieve his brain from his day to day engineering career. So he started making coffee art. But instead of waiting a few months for his daily coffee spills to finally make art, he started purposely spilling the coffee and using the coffee mug to make rings.

“What I do now is we save all the old coffee from our morning coffee, and then I use that to do a lot of the base. Then, as I’m getting to the finished stages, I start brewing new coffee. The old coffee is brown, the new coffee is sort of orange.”

He layers the old coffee and the freshly brewed on the canvas to create contrast and texture. And his pieces are truly beautiful. Some coffee art is abstract, but others depict the Seattle skyline and Space Needle, the famous Starbucks logo and, my personal favorite, trees.

It’s all very stereotypical northwest. I mean, obviously we are the coffee capitol of the country and Norquist only uses Starbucks coffee to make his art. And as far as he knows, no one else is doing it.

“I thought, you know, there are six billion people in this world, there has got to be a single person who has figured something like this out and put it out there,” Norquist said. “And I couldn’t find anyone else who was doing it. There are people who paint with [coffee] and they are artist artists. Those are people who are actually painting portraits with coffee. I don’t know of anyone else who uses coffee spills as an art form.”

Norquist speaks quickly and excitedly, which I assume is a side effect of his caffeinated art supplies.

“When I first started it was bad,” he said. “Eleven o’clock I’m drinking coffee and I never go to sleep. I’m the cheapest guy in the world, so I can’t brew a thing of coffee and just dump half of it out. That’s when my wife was like, ‘Let’s just save all of our coffee and just use that stuff.’ Since we’ve been doing that, probably for the past four months, it’s tailed off significantly which is good for me.”

You can check out Norquist’s coffee art here, or stop in to Corina Bakery in Tacoma, where the art is displayed and for sale.

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