Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Learning Your Materials
by JM Crane
The number one, be-all, end-all bit of advice to be given a new perfumer is to learn your materials. That means take the time to familiarize yourself with the essential oils, absolutes, concretes, tinctures and dilutions you plan to use in your perfumes. I know -- this could take years. But before you lose heart, you should know there is a simple way to start.
As soon as your materials arrive, evaluate. Whip out your notebook, or if you prefer, rev up the computer, and start taking notes. Keeping meticulous notes is key to this process. First, write down from which supplier you purchased the material, the date of purchase, and all identifying information on the bottle, such as extraction method, country of origin, et al. Check the invoice that came with your order to be sure you have all the data.
Open the container of essence you're evaluating and wave it gently under your nose (do not put your nose into the container), write down your impressions. Is it fruity? Medicinal? Sweet? Harsh? Hot? Spicy? Watery? Whatever comes to mind, even memories should be included in this process. You could describe it as the way your grandmother's bathroom smelled or as the stench of gym socks. Focus on the scent and pick it apart in your mind. Sniff a bit on a scent strip, again waving, not diving into the essence. More impressions? Write them down! Do you like it? Hate it? Want to dump it in the trash or pour the entire bottle over your head? Now it's time to work on dilutions.
If your menstrum (medium) is oil, you'll want to try a small oil dilution. The same if your menstrum is alcohol. Drop a single drop of your scenting material along with three drops of your medium into a small bottle or bowl. Make sure the elements in the bowl are well mixed using a scent strip or a glass rod as a stirrer, then sniff. Write down your impressions, everything that comes to mind. Drop a few more drops of your menstrum into the bowl, mix well and sniff again. Make more notes. Be sure you keep track of your dilution ratio as well.
After you've made your dilution, you will want to revisit it every so often to smell its progression. Slip a scent strip into the bottle and sniff. Write down your impressions and the date you tested the essence. You may find at this point that you have either under diluted your materials or over diluted them. Make adjustments and take more notes.
Repeat this process with all the materials you obtain. It's much easier to begin when your new materials arrive or your tincture is done brewing than to wait until your perfumer's palette is complete and jumping into that daunting task. This simple process can help you form cohesive impressions of your materials.