Friday, May 22, 2020

Drops into a bottle: mixing and weighing can put you to sleep

    Today (5/21/20) I weighted out the formula for my new perfume. I had finalized the formula in a small, plastic mixing pot. The contents of that mixing pot were 87 drops of aroma materials from seven dropper bottles. Simple. I was pleased with the results so I was ready for the next step which I am describing here.

    I needed to make a larger batch for two reasons. First, to be sure I would still be in love with this fragrance as it headed toward a production batch. Second, I had to weigh my ingredients and an 87 drop batch was too small to give me any accuracy. By weighing my ingredients I could calculate the percentages of the formula, by weight, that each ingredient represented. Then, when making my larger batch, I could add each material to the mixture by the required weight rather than having to "drip drop drip" materials from dropper bottles. Follow me as I explain the process.

    To start, I multiplied by ten the number of drops of each of my raw materials. This brought the formula up to 870 drops. From experience I know that this volume would be contained in a bottle of 1-fluid ounce capacity, a very standard size bottle for a finished perfume.

    I cleared away my desktop and set up my electronic balance, being sure to level it. The model I use has a built-in bubble level and, when each of the four adjustable legs are in correct position, the bubble is centered in the level.

    To start the weighing out process, I zero the balance so it reads "0.000," and then I weigh the bottle I'm using to contain the formula. This is called the "tare" weight. I record it in my notebook, Now I begin weighing out the aroma materials. Before weighing each material I zero the balance so that the weight shown will be just for that material. When I've added the required number of drops of each material, I wait for the readout to freeze and indicate that it is showing the correct weight (in grams, to three decimal points but accurate only to two). I then record this weight in my notebook. Then I'm on to the next ingredient: zero the balance, drop, drop, drop from a dropper bottle, read the weight and record it in my notebook. I go through this for all seven ingredients of this particular formula.

But here's where it gets dicey

    Squeezing out drops from what is, in essence, an eyedropper, can be tedious. It's not bad for the small quantities, for the original batch when for two ingredients the drops numbered just five each and where the most plentiful ingredient, just 25 drops. But multiply that by ten as I did. Now your lowest quantity is 50 drops and the largest, 250. Seems simple enough -- until you have to do it. My eyes start to glaze over by drop number 107. My attention starts to wander by drop 205. I begin to wonder if I've lost count. Did the drops I just squeezed out bring me to 40... or was it 60? Am I falling asleep?

    For items with 100 or more drops I do them in groups of 50, making a check mark on scrap paper each time I've done another 50. But I have to remember to make that mark for each batch, otherwise I'll be way off. It's good to take a break between ingredients but I don't dare. I'm afraid if I don't keep going, I might knock over the bottle, or the scale might go dead, or I'll be interrupted and lose my concentration -- so I just keep going.

Confirmation needed

    I hate to do this but I always do it. Since I could have made a counting error, I'll wait a day or two and do it over again, with another bottle. Then I'll compare the results. If they're close, all is fine. If they're seriously off on one ingredient, I'll do a third bottle. The process can seem painfully boring but it's part of what needs to be done.

Work with care

    When you are squeezing out drops from your eyedroppers, try to get the same size drop each time. The rubber bulb should be in good condition to give you good control. But sometimes your fingers get tired and, without meaning to do it, you squeeze out two drops where you only wanted one. Worse still, you squeeze out a drop and a half. Then what?

    A high degree of concentration is required. This is a downfall for me. My mind tends to wander and I have to force myself to focus, to get "clean" drops and to count them properly.

    Be sure, when you start counting out drops, that you have enough material for the project. It can be very frustrating (and expensive!) to get half way through the last item -- and then run out of that material. Then you can't finish what you started. If you can't get more of what you need quickly (and usually you can't!) you may have wasted all of that you've used. Now you may need more of all the materials you're using, not just one.


    Developing a fragrance with dropper bottles lacks the precision you would find at a major fragrance house. Careful as you might try to be, your drops won't be 100 percent uniform. Your weights will be close but will not have the precision  achieved with an electronic balance costing $20,000 rather than $200.

    But ask yourself, is your nose sensitive enough to know the difference? My nose isn't bad but it's not that good. And, face it, your finished fragrance is what it is. If people like it, isn't that enough? While the "dropper bottle technique" may be crude by industry standards, it gives people like you and myself a very good, practical way to create our own fragrances -- commercial fragrances -- if that is our goal. Customers won't judge us by how our results were achieved but simply by the results -- the fragrance -- we did achieve.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sometimes I think I'm creating a new ping-pong ball

NOTE: This is a continuation of a story detailing the progress of a perfume I'm developing. Previous "chapters" can be found here and here and here.

    I'm being guided by a picture but a single picture can tell many stories and I only want one. As I look at the nuances of the picture that has become my inspiration, I'm struggling to aim the scent in the right direction. Is it a men's fragrance or is it for women? The fragrance itself is sexless but my on-hand stock of bottles is not. I generally lean toward spray bottles for feminine scents and splash bottles for the masculine. Plus, I sometimes make the masculine scents more edgy so only a handful of guys will appreciate them although my wife seems to find all of them quite nice... so what's the message there?

    Two days ago I declared my formula finished. I was ready to work up a larger batch, weight out the formula converting drops into grams and percents. But I was rushing and, in spire of my enthusiasm and desire to get on with the project, I forced myself to take the final intermediate steps which, for me, involve mixing a few drops of the fragrance with alcohol in a tiny spray vial, letting the alcohol and oil blend at least over night, and then spraying some on a smelling strip and on my wrist, to see how the fragrance comes across in the real world. I hit a speed bump.

    I had partly anticipated it. Although I had declared my scent "finished," deep down I was worrying about a lingering note that might not be considered pleasant. I had calculated it was the result of "too much of a good thing" and I wondered if the problem might be solved if I cut back on one of the ingredients. So, right away, I made another trial with the supposed offender cut back.

    My speed bump -- the fragrance being not quite right -- told me to try the new trial to see if the correction had worked. On a test blotter it smelled like an improvement so I made up another spray vial sampler, this time with the "post-final" formula. My first impression was favorable but patience is required. As much as I would like to rush forward I have to wait for the aroma materials to blend, both with each other and with the alcohol. Like it or not, I have to give it at least a few days.

    As I look back on the trials I have made in developing this fragrance, I sometimes feel I am trying to create a ping-pong ball, the raw materials seem to be bouncing back and forth. There haven't been many changes in raw material since the first "blind" shot at it. A few materials have been injected and rejected. Only one new scent has been added since the beginning of the project but there have been lots of changes in quantity of several aroma materials. This can get tedious and I've had to train myself to make just one change at a time. This is the only way to tell how a particular change has changed the scent.

    By time time you read this I will have tested the "post-final" scent and, hopefully, in a few days I'll be able to weigh out the formula and get ready to make a production batch. Hopefully the ping-ponging will have a happy ending, at least in terms of getting the (male or female or both) fragrance "out there."

Friday, May 8, 2020

Start your perfume with a picture

    What is the best way to get started on a new perfume? You don't need a committee and a 50-page brief. Try finding a picture that can inspire a story and a perfume that goes with the story. I found this strategy particularly useful last week when I was working on my new perfume.

    I had a name and I had the beginning of a formula. I planned to use a picture in my ad for the perfume so I started looking at pictures. I found three that seemed to suggest the story I planned to tell. Each would have suggested a slightly different telling of the story. Finally one picture was selected.

    When I selected that picture I just hoped it would "work" with the scent, the working name for the fragrance, and the story I would tell. Then something magical happened. The picture -- the visual image -- took over as my inspiration. Looking at it, it told its own story, the story I had in mind but with a significant twist.

    First, my working name now looked slightly off. It wasn't wrong but it wasn't hitting the bullseye. My first thought was to find a synonym for the name I had but one with a slightly different shade of meaning. This would involve a trip to Roget's Thesaurus and a synonym search online. Neither source gave me what I was looking for. Then I discovered a very similar word, one that was new to me but whose meaning was exactly what I was looking for. I'm sticking with it for now, even with the recognition that I will have to do some explaining in my ad. That will become part of the story. As for the story, the picture and the new name express my original idea but with new depth and a way forward that should make them far more powerful.

    Then for the scent. I had been working in several directions, pushing the smell this way and that way, but now, looking at the picture and thinking of my "enhanced" story, the direction the scent would take became clear. The direction suggested would synchronize with both picture and story.

    Thanks to these insights I can now go forward with this project with confidence, win or lose. The scent, the story, and the picture work together and, for a new perfume, that is ideal. Now how could starting with a picture help you?

A picture could bring your project into focus

    I've been involved with photography for a number of years so I have a pretty large file of images. But you don't need your own pictures to find inspiration and a clear story. Use magazines, old and new, use newspapers, use catalogs, search for the perfect "shot" for your fragrance, even if you can't use the image which is inspiring you because you don't have the rights to it. Suck all the meaning, the theme, the suggested scent out of the image you've chosen. Then, if all goes well, if the fragrance comes together and the scent comes together, you might see if you can't find an artist or photographer who can produce for you your version of the chosen picture. (A good artist or photographer will guide you though copyright law as it applies to the image you're trying to create.) Then, if you can pull this off, you'll have a scent, a story, and a picture that go together, the ideal situation for a new perfume.

Test for free

    How effective is this technique for putting together a very convincing promotion for a new fragrance? Try it yourself. It won't cost you a cent. This is just a drill, a student exercise. Find a picture that inspires you. With pen and paper take notes. Make a story from the image. Write up a description of the scent that would go with your story. If you come out with some strong ideas, perhaps you'll want to recreate the image (in your own way) and develop a scent to go with it.