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  1. #1

    Default Strategies for starting a mix

    Hi everyone..

    I suddenly got a boost of confidence to ask this question, so here goes -

    I've been working on a base note for a few weeks, but it seems that once
    I got the main "theme" down with 3 ingredients, I get disappointed when
    trying to elaborate on it (don't have the right chemicals for it right now). So
    I guess my first question is how do you start a mix? I could think of a few
    strategies -

    1. Working on a base accord separately and then on a middle one, and
    then mixing them and adjusting..
    2. Working on a base and then modify with middle accords
    3. Work a whole simplified accord (base + middle + note), and then adjust
    4. Work a few separate complete accords and start mixing them

    What do you do when you get stuck (and you have something you feel is
    worthwhile keeping)?

    Second question - do you ask for people's assessment on stages of your
    work? I've let two friend sniff my base accord, and for the ones who had
    patchouli, they just smelled the camphor and said it's like Chinese medicine
    (it's not!). I guess they were "looking" at the top, instead of elsewhere, so
    that rendered the help quite useless..

    Any insights, tips or shares will be welcome

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Nizan, know that you are not alone, I'm having similar struggles.
    So far I have fragments of perfumes - One really nice and very complex modern and unique base that accidentally worked - but I don't know why it works, one formula that has a nice drydown but the top and middle were cloying and brash. I currently have easily 15-20 2dram bottles of failures. Yesterday I worked all day on making an Egyptian kyphi base for use with white florals. I used, among other things, myrrh, sandalwood & frankincense (standard kyphi). I combined my ingredients with some angelica root tincture as a fixative... blech, too much myrrh and too much angelica tincture, the frankincense disappeared, I CAN'T WASH IT OFF! Not only did it fail miserably but as I sit here typing I smell the syrupy, hormonal, animalic and sickly medicinal myrrh smell that haunted me in my sleep, I now despise myrrh, hahahaha! I'm exaggerating a little bit of course but you get the point. This is proving to be a very challenging, stinky, frustrating and expensive activity, lol.

    I'm now contemplating my next exercise. I think it might help to study some old and standard perfume recipes, make a few to see how they develop and age and read some more books... one can never have enough reading material methinks. Making different accords might be useful. Although I tried the PA leather accord, six weeks later it doesn't smell anything like any leather I've encountered and it's certainly not something I would use in a perfume, I'm not even sure how to make it better. I've read that it's supposed to be a bare bones accord but it doesn't even come close so I'm not sure how bare bones and "not even close" relate.

    I'm curious to hear how others have navigated these treacherous waters because I don't really see a way through as of yet besides trial and error. I'm thinking it might help to look through freely available formulas and make them. From a known successful formula new things can be added, subtracted, existing materials multiplied and modified. This would help by teaching what works vs what doesn't work. I'm beginning to think that this method of jumping in feet first with no reference point is the wrong way to go about it. It might be helpful to travel well worn pathways before forging new roads into unknown territory. Know what I mean?

    Does this sound familiar or is your struggle totally different?
    Last edited by JEBeasley; 21st December 2013 at 07:10 PM.
    Justin E. Beasley

  3. #3

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    ...
    Second question - do you ask for people's assessment on stages of your
    work? I've let two friend sniff my base accord, and for the ones who had
    patchouli, they just smelled the camphor and said it's like Chinese medicine
    (it's not!). I guess they were "looking" at the top, instead of elsewhere, so
    that rendered the help quite useless..

    Any insights, tips or shares will be welcome
    Did you explain to them what a base accord is? A friend of mine is running a record shop down the street so he is an easily accessible test bunny. I can communicate with him in music terms about fragrances and since he made music himself he easily understands what a base accord means.
    But not everybody is able to abstract and articulate what they smell.

    Also I noticed that quite some people tend to perceive naturals as medicinal/SPA scents. As soon as you add some drops of the common aroma chemicals the majority will find it more pleasant as it smells more familiar to them (strange enough).


    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    What do you do when you get stuck (and you have something you feel is
    worthwhile keeping)?
    This hardly happens to me for I am working parallel on several ideas. So when I get back to idea A I possibly have a new material I want to add, maybe the mix settled or time has simply changed my perception/attitude. I actually can't imagine being stuck as every evaluation of a trial gives me an unmistakable hint how to proceed.

    While doing so this Adorno quote came to mind. Maybe you find it inspiring.

    „Quality is decided by the depth at which the work incorporates the alternatives within itself, and so masters them.”

    Theodor Adorno
    Last edited by Graphite; 21st December 2013 at 08:17 PM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    I started painting by jumping in first, but being me, that was accompanied by
    extensive learning, so I kept improving. But looking back, some of my nicest
    paintings were done at the beginning. I don't really feel like studying formulas
    right now (studying supersymmetry is enough for me right now), I just want to
    play, get inspired, and express that inspiration. Right now I'm struggling with
    playing, as I'm aware of all the money spilling, and can't really express much.

    My struggle is probably similar but very different
    My table is just a chaotic mess, and everything is stored in small boxes that
    come with the shipping.. My parents won't let me use the spare rooms at their
    place for understandable reasons.

    So what are we gonna do?
    We need some mentoring

  5. #5

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    There should be more people around in 2014...

  6. #6

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    A lot of births are expected during the holidays

  7. #7

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Haha!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Well, one thing for certain is that the current method or form that you (me too) are using isn't working and something has to change. If beating your head against a brick wall doesn't break through the wall then you're just going to bash your brains in, time to figure out a new way to scale the wall or break through. I'm like you in the sense that I want to feel inspired but as with meditation or even painting when one looses focus it's always best to go back to the basics (meditation: posture, breathing, heart beat, etc - painting: fat over lean, limited palette, golden mean symmetry, glazes, perspective, negative space, color theory, etc) in order to regain focus and move forward. I started out as a painter and musician myself, I still play music daily as it is a source of inspiration for me so I understand your analogy. Are you stuck in the sense of not knowing what to focus on, not knowing what to study or not having ideas? In my case it's more about not knowing what to study in order to understand what blends well with what, at what percentages, which modifiers hide undesirable aspects and what effects AC's have vs just contributing to smell. I can come up with perfume ideas all day and for miles but knowing how to get there is another story.

    In the absence of a mentor we might do best to consider what we, individually, need to learn - specifically - and ask questions that help us lead to an answer through self discovery. Do you know what direction you want to move in? Have you identified where you current problems are? Having a dedicated space for creative and learning pursuits is imperative. Having been a lifelong artist (I'm in my 40's) one thing I've come to learn is that dedicated space without distractions is very important but I'm sure you know that. Maybe focus on getting a creative space well established and organized so that you can focus more. I've heard perfumery described as a "contemplative art" and so far I think it is an accurate description. I've found that with the few minor successes I've had they came as a result of intuition based on contemplation and very careful, conservative additions in minutiae that build. Remember to take breaks, I'm saying this for my own benefit as well because I forget to do this. One aspect of working with scents is that our sense of smell becomes distorted when we work too long and hard on something. I tend to make more mistakes when I'm overly obsessed with a particular outcome.

    What are you studying in the way of "supersymmetry"?
    Justin E. Beasley

  9. #9

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    One of my phd projects is on supersymmetry on manifolds with boundary.. Not
    sure how to build it correctly, and the older papers are a bit incomplete (Witten)
    or wrong (Bilal).
    Your advice sound like what I would wish for myself to have.. But due to the crazy
    rent prices here, I only have one room, packed with canvases, guitars, botanicals,
    books - you get the picture. But my creativity seems to thrive in situations like this.

    I think I'm feeling stuck for two reasons - I don't have the right materials for what I
    want to achieve (but I ordered tons of stuff from Hermitage and PA, and it's on the
    way), and because I don't have much patience.
    Also, the negative feedback I got on one version, between all the good ones on
    the other versions seemed to have a strong effect.

    But I think you gave me a good idea! I'll look at blenders for my ingredients to see
    what they do!

    Update - not a good idea. What I have mixed with it is already written as a blender.
    I think I'll just wear my mixture tomorrow and text it out as a base note.
    Last edited by Nizan; 21st December 2013 at 09:12 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    One of my phd projects is on supersymmetry on manifolds with boundary.. Not
    sure how to build it correctly, and the older papers are a bit incomplete (Witten)
    or wrong (Bilal).
    Your advice sound like what I would wish for myself to have.. But due to the crazy
    rent prices here, I only have one room, packed with canvases, guitars, botanicals,
    books - you get the picture. But my creativity seems to thrive in situations like this.

    I think I'm feeling stuck for two reasons - I don't have the right materials for what I
    want to achieve (but I ordered tons of stuff from Hermitage and PA, and it's on the
    way), and because I don't have much patience.
    Also, the negative feedback I got on one version, between all the good ones on
    the other versions seemed to have a strong effect.

    But I think you gave me a good idea! I'll look at blenders for my ingredients to see
    what they do!
    Ohhhhhh, you're doing that PHD thingy, my wife recently graduated with a professional doctorate degree so I know what that's like. I had a friend who was studying math and physics for his phd too, he dropped out of physics and became just a mathematician. That's hard work, sounds like creativity gives you a much needed break from the structure and rigor of your phd studies, understandably so. I see why the inspiration part is more the direction you seek rather than formal coursework or study. Sounds like you've found some direction to move in though, that's good. Oh and just so you know... one can never have enough materials and from what I've seen and experienced you will probably forever chase your desire for satisfaction with regards to "having enough" perfumery materials, I'm pretty sure it's a lifelong pursuit similar to guitars and music gear.
    Justin E. Beasley

  11. #11

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Nizan and Beasley, et al:

    Failure is only success waiting for you to find it.

    Don't be so hard on yourselves... And don't expect instant success either.

    To quote my namesake St. Paul:
    Philippians 2:12

    Do Everything Without Grumbling

    12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,


    Perfumery is the LONG path, not the short one. And it's not the cheap path either. You must expect to spend money, and still more money, and then throw it away, time and again. Yes sometimes and with more skill, you can hit something really great in not time, like my Red leather, which I got it in the sixth modification of the first formulation. But contrast that with my Ere, which came earlier, which came to finally resting as done, after about 140 trials. But then there was also almost two years of time between finishing Ere and starting Red Leather too. So Experience was greatly magnified for Red Leather.


    You still have to learn your materials better. You still have to acquire more materials to pick from.

    You still have a lot of bad blends to make before you find good symmetries, synergies, and contrasts. You still have to work out your salvation... You still gotta have more time in the saddle, pardner...

    PK



    Paul Kiler
    PK Perfumes
    http://www.PKPERFUMES.com
    Gold Medal for "Best Aroma"; Los Angeles Artisan Fragrance Salon

  12. #12

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Hearing that with a positive attitude certainly helps
    By the way, the picture you have for "Dirty Rose" is just awesome!
    Very evocative.. Gives me ideas..

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Quote Originally Posted by pkiler View Post
    Nizan and Beasley, et al:
    Failure is only success waiting for you to find it.
    Don't be so hard on yourselves... And don't expect instant success either.
    I think this is the crux of the issues at hand for myself and perhaps with Nizan too, if I'm understanding his comments. I know from experience with other arts (painting, carpentry & music) that the materials and products created, even in the beginning, are more immediately rewarding. Anyone can play a couple of chords on a guitar and have some catharsis, even on a basic level a few well played chords can sound like a song. The act of painting unto itself can serve immediate release through flow and expression, the experience itself is the catharsis as long as there is no expectation and nobody will complain if you put it on your wall. With carpentry even a relative beginner can slap together something and have some functional product even if it isn't beautiful looking, so there is a sense of satisfaction and completion with the end result. With perfumery, I can't speak for Nizan, but for me there is very little immediate catharsis or satisfaction and if I wear something that I deem as bad then I will feel somewhat assaulted by the smell and I can't help but consider that others may too. Don't get me wrong, I'm not swayed by the failures, if I were I would have become an accountant a long time ago, failure is part of creating and part of the learning process. I do perfumery because I enjoy the materials, reading about it, the challenges that are inherent, contemplation and the possibilities of creating something quite beautiful. However, in the beginning the stinkers can elicit a visceral reaction and the end result isn't even functional in most cases it ends up in the trash. I think the griping is less about the fact that the stinkers exist or the hardship of the journey and more about not knowing how to prevent them or where to look for help in making less of them. As in: Where do we find information about "good symmetries, synergies, and contrasts"? I'm reading like a mad dog but mostly about chemistry and material qualities. So, which book, specifically, should I look to for information on "good symmetries, synergies, and contrasts"? Is all of this learned solely through trial and error? These are the burning questions.

    As for doing everything without grumbling... I guess I'm not sure what that means but I know you mean it in a positive way Paul and I appreciate that, hahaha.

    However, maybe I'm misunderstanding the saying or the term grumbling, because I'm not sure we are doing that (lol) but just for the sake of constructive opposition I'll state, for the record - and I am not saying this to be confrontational - that I've never been one to buy the message of "extreme positivism at any cost" that is so painfully popular today (too bootstrappy and nose to the grindstone flavored, hehehe). BTW, there is a great RSA animate on why the religion of positivism needs to be burned at the stake and It's one of my current favorites. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5um8QWWRvo#t=27).

    I think in this instance discussing the issues that are an inherent part of being a newbie and venting about frustrations is natural and normal, especially in the absence of real human contact.

    Regardless, I appreciate and value your input Paul so if you view this as grumbling or complaining then I'll try to keep it in PM form and formulate a more clear question before it reaches the public forum.
    Last edited by JEBeasley; 21st December 2013 at 11:15 PM.
    Justin E. Beasley

  14. #14

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    "Grumbling" was simply part of the quote, and it wasn't the part of the quote that hit me to place it in my post... it was the Working out part that caused me to place it in the post. But I also didn't think that the grumbling part was misplaced, so I left it there.

    As to where to find the types of "good symmetries, synergies, and contrasts", this comes from many sources.

    1. The Gestalt gathered from time and experiences, failures and successes.
    2. Reading Arctander's books
    3. Reading Perfumer and Flavorist articles
    4. Reading Many Many other books

    5. Reading about Scent and Chemistry
    6. Reading and making a lot of formulas that you find around...
    7. Reading Formulas and GC-MS's for fragrances that you know very well and love and then get analyzed to understand them better.

    It wasn't for the lack of studying that I took seven years from the time I started learning, to the time I launched my line of Perfumes.
    It's not that I made a mistake and launched too early, but at the same time, there is so much to learn, that I will still be learning ten years from now, I suspect. Although it will continue to get easier.

    And being employed by someone else gave me a steady income and allowed me to spend $50K USD on this to buy and learn materials and the Craft, Art, and Science of Perfumery.


    PK
    Paul Kiler
    PK Perfumes
    http://www.PKPERFUMES.com
    Gold Medal for "Best Aroma"; Los Angeles Artisan Fragrance Salon

  15. #15

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    Hearing that with a positive attitude certainly helps
    By the way, the picture you have for "Dirty Rose" is just awesome!
    Very evocative.. Gives me ideas..
    Dirty Rose comparison.jpg

    Amazingly, shot in my local supermarket's flower stand, on the fly and quickly, then cajoled and finessed in Photoshop...

    PK
    Paul Kiler
    PK Perfumes
    http://www.PKPERFUMES.com
    Gold Medal for "Best Aroma"; Los Angeles Artisan Fragrance Salon

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Thank you Paul .
    Justin E. Beasley

  17. #17

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Carles' method, which can be found on PA, is as good an approach as any. Everyone should at least try it at some point, IMO. It is very methodical. If you hold a gun to my head and make me pick one method, I have to go with the master.

    My own approah was always just to buy oils and materials I most liked and experiment with those, a couple at a time. I don't recommend mixing complex formulas with three rich levels of notes for beginners, or even intermediate hobbyists. You can do that sometimes just for the experience, but I wouldn't make it my main approach, because it's too complicated, and you might not learn much from a mix that is just a bunch of noise. Learn a few materials very intimately, the add a few more to your palette.

    I think most experiments in perfuming could be looked at as failures, though I don't look at it that way any more. I look at experiments as exercises that are guaranteed to give me lots of information that I can translate into a much better formula. I'm not looking for something to smell good, as much as I am to get hit with new information. I have a long series of experiments with vetiver and patchouli currently, that are like that. I'll add another material or two here and there, or just stick with those two. Much of the time the smell is unpleasant, but I'm able to feel more confident with each trial. Some day soon I'll sit down with the idea that it has to smell good, and it will. If you come up with one great accord, it's all worth it.

    When composing, the main place a perfume has to smell good is in your mind.

    Experiments merely adjust the mental image.

    The idea that perfuming is about mixing a bunch of materials to make a symphony with a full top, mid, and base note, in my opinion is mistaken. I think you can do that once you know your materials well enough, however. But even then, most of the work involves very simple points of combination. You put a whole perfume together after a long, long series of many simple experiments, in my experience.

    Others may disagree.

    Another good approach is to work on a very specific theme or type of accord. So you might try to make a woody accord, or an amber accord, or a musk accord, or a traditional 19th century cologne water. Those four projects would help any fledgling perfumer. Or make a rose accord. Or a jasmine. Or a carnation. Something with a fairly well defined road map like those examples. These are doable. Then later you put pieces together.
    Last edited by DrSmellThis; 24th December 2013 at 01:45 AM.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    More good advice, thank you for your contribution Dr.
    Justin E. Beasley

  19. #19

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    I think I will have to re-read that, but I guess that's what I've been doing. Making versions of
    base accords with different dilutions of basic ingredients.. Then I guess I will start adding
    stuff on top. What was confusing for me is that my initial idea was based on a heart/top note,
    and then I was trying to find an idea for a base accord to go with that.

    What did you mean by
    I don't recommend mixing complex formulas with three rich levels of notes for beginners
    ?
    You mean mixing a few layers together (base, heart and top), or a few ingredients in a single layer?

  20. #20

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    I think I will have to re-read that, but I guess that's what I've been doing. Making versions of
    base accords with different dilutions of basic ingredients.. Then I guess I will start adding
    stuff on top. What was confusing for me is that my initial idea was based on a heart/top note,
    and then I was trying to find an idea for a base accord to go with that.

    What did you mean by

    ?
    You mean mixing a few layers together (base, heart and top), or a few ingredients in a single layer?
    I just mean that a lot of beginners start by mixing a jar full of a million things, and I think that is backwards. Thinking in terms of a mix of a hundred things, or enough to make three full levels of head, heart and base notes is like trying to start at the finish line. You are robbing yourself of the valuable learning experiences of getting to know a material or a couple or few materials intimately. That is where perfumes come from, those moments.

    I used to think that, "well, these oils mix well together", whereas in reality, almost any two substances can be mixed well together if you master the simple aspects, chose the right bridges to link the substances, have the correct proportions, etc.

    You shouldn't make a complex top note accord and then just think only about which base notes to add as fixatives for that. Because the base notes make their own accord, and that accord will be there long after the top notes are faded. There is nowhere to hide. So you have to meticulously marry the base notes to each other, and that involves a lot of experimenting with each combination.

    I currently am working on a formula with a hundred ingredients or so. But I have thought -- mostly deeply and obsessively, about virtually every pair of substances in that formula. So it has taken well over a year in my case (this wouldn't be true if you were combining accords you had already worked out) to consider every possible simple combination and balance them all. I've thought about just about every possible accord within the perfume, and there are countless accords within a perfume, if you do the math. That's why it takes a long time, and why professional perfumers like Chris often start with tried and true accords to save time (though Chris modifies his accords individually for each perfume as well). Chris would be able to talk about any pair of ingredients within the accords he uses, I should think.

    So it always comes back to simple combinations. The idea that perfuming is about mixing a complex base note, middle note and top note is a myth. That myth comes from perfume marketing and consumer based thinking instead of artistic thinking. You can only do that or get away with thinking like that based on work you have done already, and based on an intimate knowledge of each of your materials.

    You can't just think in terms of adding a little of this and that either. For example, I'd like to add a little cedramber to my perfume to get that woody note, but I can't because the petroleum smelling base note that comes with cedramber changes the whole base accord for the worse in this case. I know this from simple experiments, and am therefore leaving out one of my favorite aromachemicals that I would think would work if I was thinking in terms of mixing a jar full of stuff. I had to leave out vertofix for this reason as well, even though, theoretically, it would be perfect if I was thinking using the "jar full of stuff model".
    Last edited by DrSmellThis; 24th December 2013 at 09:50 PM.

  21. #21

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Edit: Having said that, I do feel I have to think of the top, mid, and base layers as sort of separate perfumes. I have no choice, because at certain times during the drydown, you are going to be smelling all the notes of a certain layer together. There's no escaping that. So I absolutely consider the base accord, heart accord and head accord as independent and standing alone. At times they do act in that manner.

    Having said that, I could also think of the wood accord, which has top, mid, and base notes, as having an independent existence as well. Same with other accords in the perfume. So when it comes down to it, I consider a maximal number of accords independently, as well as the perfume as a whole, which is the most difficult.

    It's not as if a perfume is simply a collection of independent accords. But one still has to consider each accord as a separate entity, at certain times, in order to understand the perfume.

    In your case you have an idea of a top and heart note. So it's good to select appropriate base notes that fit. But then you also must reconceive the perfume from the ground up, IMHO, beginning with constructing a base accord that expresses a version of your original idea. somehow. Otherwise you may as well make a cologne water and let it have a fleeting life.

    Again, I am not anything close to the last word on anything. This is just how I have found myself thinking about it.
    Last edited by DrSmellThis; 25th December 2013 at 04:52 AM.

  22. #22

    Default Re: Strategies for starting a mix

    Thanks for the awesome post
    I think you were reflecting what I was thinking, more or less. Ivew started with a three EO base accord and checked variations.. Given my materials, I think I've come to something optimal, and I also checked a few additions on single materials (cedramber killed the whole mix. Bummer!)
    I was just overwhelmed by the thought of having to start devising the middle note on that, the lack of volume of my base accord, the possible deviations from my idea, etc.. But it sounds I was going the right way. Just got a little impatience.

    I think I should also start exploring the more chemical smelling chems now, in parallel. They smell so nasty and I can't even imagine how to apply them to a mix.

    Merry Christmas

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