Lessons In Perfumery 9

lessons in perfumery 9

One of the things that I’m learning from developing other skills like drawing and painting, is how important it is to free myself from the need to be perfect to create something, anything, when what really matters is the truth that even a creation that sucks is better than not having created anything at all.  Those other arts help me do that.

It’s imperative to find a way to freedom from perfection because this need to put perfection before presence kills more dreams than any dictator ever has.

Sad really.

Of course I get it, many good perfumery materials are expensive and the typical amateur perfumer has a limited budget and feels a great need to not waste a single drop of juice and create something perfect the first go.


Even if success does happen right away, not an impossibility, what is more important is if we are able to reproduce that success. If we are not we’re screwed. Not only but perfection is in direct opposition to the terms beginner, or perfumer in training, student, apprentice, or amateur. We have effectively built ourselves a great prison of procrastination leaving it impossible to be what we are, absolute beginners. There will never be another time for us to be free to make mistakes as when we are beginners, and yet we hastily want to cash in those chips for perfection. We must be free. We must leave room for serious and frequent mess ups it’s the only way out and forward.

This is why being present is so important. For each one of us it will look like something different. For me it means, sitting down every day – typically in the winter this means starting a fire in a room that is 14° – of every week to do scent evaluations which gets me closer to the insights, the happy coincidences, the intuiting possible accords which in turn gets me closer to a scent that I like, that works, that’s in line with an original vision or plan.

There’s no way around it, plan to be present every day for your scent encounters and it will be like taking your vitamin C and eating lots of fruit during the winter time, it won’t immunise you from a cold or the flu, but it’s good insurance that you’ll get stuff done and move forward in your learning.

Have a wonderful week,


Lessons In Perfumery 8


The focus for this month’s Lessons In Perfumery 8 is — plan for inventory BEFORE you start accumulating hundreds of materials.  I learned this lesson the hard way.

If you plan to take this hobby at all seriously and develop it into something close to a profession then it’s important to take inventory now. Doing this saves you time and money and creates a process that can also help your creative process because it’s one less thing you have to think about. The organisation becomes automatic and this gives you more time and energy to create.

Some perfumers start out accumulating materials based on a specific formula they have in mind or that they want to follow so they know the aroma chemicals or naturals they need and that formula forms the basis of their purchase. I chose the other way. I dove in with a beginner’s set of naturals and synthetics that I wanted to learn and become familiar with as my core. But one thing that is common to all perfumers is that our arsenal of raw materials can quickly mushroom to gigantic proportions leaving us with limited space in an unplanned work area and no process for finding what we want instantly among hundreds of materials. Not a very good way to start our education.  Finding what we want in our own lab should be the least of our worries in the creative process.

I started the process of taking inventory, as you remember, in the beginning of January and only just finished now, so that took me about 3 weeks with everything else I had on my plate. It started out as a simple necessity to just get organised but quickly grew into inventory because I thought, okay, I need x amount of caps for my vials, which led to the question, how many, which led to the answer: I don’t know. Well, if I’m serious about what I’m doing at all, that’s not an acceptable answer. And so the commitment became a quest to know everything I had on hand and ultimately this helps me distinguish between a need and a want.

There are many mini questions that I pondered while doing inventory that were important that I wish I had asked myself from the beginning:

  • How do you want to group them in your lab? By family, by genus type, by top, middle or base note?
  • What dilution do you want them to be? There are some perfumers that do not dilute to 10% but have all their dilutions at 20% or 30%. Decide on this ahead of time.
  • Group all original materials together either in trays if you have the space or with an elastic band if you don’t.
  • Label all bottles with dilution percent, supplier, date of dilution. This last, date of dilution, is really important because then you can have a good idea of how long your dilutions have been maturing. Let’s say you start out with 2 or 3 Patchoulis and in a few years you end up with 7 or 8 and can begin to pick up on subtle nuances in olfactory profiles you’ll wonder why one Patchouli smells markedly different than another and realise that the one you had diluted two years earlier is rounder, smoother, with many layers because, hey, it’s more mature and has character.  But how will you know that if you don’t know when you diluted it???

At any rate, those are just some of the things that popped into my head as I was doing inventory. Here’s how I actually went about it:

  2. Click on the row just beneath the one with the column headings and in the Excel menu marked Window select, FREEZE PANES so that when you scroll through all your material the main column headings will always be visible.
  3. Once entered into Excel the undiluted, original bottle got a red tag on the bottom.
  4. Everything got inventoried, including lab equipment, perfume bottles, and base oils and alcohol.
  5. Then I grouped all similar undiluted oils together, eg: all Lavender and Lavandin oils I wrapped together with an elastic band.
  6. Then I grouped all the diluted materials, my working oils, into similar groups. Therefore, Labdanum, Cistus are all together in a little group, one step above are my Myrrhs: tinctures, absolute and oils. Just above that are my Sandalwoods: tinctures, absolutes and oils and then next to that Frankincense: oils, tinctures, concretes and absolutes. And so on.  I began grouping things together on the shelves as they made sense to me in my head naturally.  All citrus oils together in one big group. Next to them the Lavenders and next to those the Bergamots, and next to those the Petitgrains, simply because that’s how I group them together in my head.
  7. During inventory I moved all empty bottles into boxes and then into storage downstairs so now the shelving is: 1st shelf-tinctures, 2nd and 3rd shelf-naturals, 4th shelf-synthetics, 5th shelf-all undiluted materials.

Ahhhh! There is nothing on my desk other than a few loose notes that I plan to get into Evernote in the next few days, my pipettes, smelling strips and one mixing bar with two vials in it that I got an inspiration to try in the spur of the moment.  And all because things are organised in my perfumer’s organ, in my immediate workspace and in my head! But that’s just me, I need that kind of order to be able to create. It’ll probably be a mess again in six months but who cares! For now I can find sh*#! And that makes me very happy :).

Have a groovy day!



perfume making lesson 5


Perfume making: lesson 5 – document how you formulate your perfumes – and always use the same approach to establish a standard of production.

From the beginning it’s important to carefully observe how you move through the process of formulating (the steps of going from a test to a production) and methodically taking note of your system either by hand with pencil and a printed spreadsheet or automate the entire phase in Excel.

I don’t know about you but sometimes, it’s the smallest thing that can throw me off my game. As I’m learning perfumery I realise it’s the math – yes, I’ve said it before, I know.  But I needed a way to avoid stalling needlessly during the creation phase.  The answer for me was to develop a way to formulate, to take a formula from trial to production, and get it down cold – should I use the drops to volume or drops to mass method, what dilution should I use, should I wett my alcohol before or after? These questions and more needed to be answered in the process of production.  Each perfumer will approach these questions in a different way which will then become their personal method.

Grey areas, uncertainty about the motions, when I’m learning something are just a pain in the ass for me, and so I try to eliminate as many of them as I possibly can by establishing a personal process early on. Of course I’m fully aware and prepared for alterations as I deepen my learning and become more sure about my actions.

One can either choose to use the hand-written approach and convert the drops to either volume or mass by hand using a calculator or there is the option of using an excel spreadsheet with the calculations built in which automates the process. For the moment, even though I know I could use the spreadsheet, I like to know that I have a firm understanding of the mechanics behind the automation and so doing it by hand is a welcome exercise that gives me confidence in my newbie abilities.

Trouble is, or rather the confusion arises, when I catch on that there are different mathematical routes one can take to arrive at the same perfumed end result! I had to choose how to set about working through it, a way that would be my way: was I going to choose a volumes (liquid or ml) approach or the drops or the mass(weight or grams) approach? Whichever route I chose I would need to convert the drops to a larger scale.

Until I get a real handle on the technical aspects of formulating, my approach or interaction with the process and the materials will always be tentative. This will take time. The math, the calculations used need to be exact and work every time, not because I’m a perfectionist (well, I am, sort of) but so I can forget about it.  This simple act frees me from doubt and worry so I can redirect my energies toward creating which is where the fun is!

This perfume making lesson is about knowing your formulation process cold so you can forget about it and get on with creating and having fun!