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4th Place

Salim Al Kaabi

The Creative Soul
Safe Frankincense Varnish for Artists


Salim grew up in a community that deemed painting as a profession traditionally unbecoming. The young artist initially decided to study chemical engineering. Two years of learning about machinery made him realize the artist within couldn’t be silenced. It took him a deep breath and a leap of faith to apply to the renowned Glasgow School of Arts, one of Europe’s leading university-level art institutions.

Salim has had his struggles to overcome, but is far removed from being a ‘struggling artist.’ Prior to joining Stars of Science, he pitched to, and won in a Falling Walls Lab competition, an international forum for outstanding innovators and creative thinkers. Following the positive response on his performance in Oman, he was then invited to present his ideas in Germany. Armed with renewed confidence, Salim intends to bring light and color to innovation. “The Arab world needs more arts advocates. I am honored to be in a position where I can promote and drive the creative industry in the region.”

About the Project

The most common way to protect oil paintings against dust, heat and humidity is by using varnish. Varnish has been around for centuries; even the Ancient Egyptians used it. Without it, Mona Lisa’s smile wouldn’t be as polished as it still is. Today’s varnish however, is made up of toxic chemicals, and artists like Salim are no strangers to its harmful side-effects. Blinding headaches, drowsiness and trouble breathing are the price you pay to protect and embellish oil paintings.

Being in constant contact with the liquid, Salim fell ill, “I was hospitalized due to breathing difficulties. After I recovered, I knew I had to eliminate the negative side of the one thing I love doing most, working on my art.” With a clear purpose on the horizon, Salim got to work. He wanted an environmentally friendly, organic, efficiently produced varnish. Twenty failed experiments later, he got his Eureka-moment.

The solution? – “Our local treasure,” as he puts it, Oman’s world-famous frankincense; a scented gum resin used as incense, to neutralize the effects of varnish. Salim’s product defuses the toxic fumes produced by varnish, making it bearable.


To manually produce the frankincense-infused varnish for sealing paintings, it would take several days and multiple transfers from one location to the other. Imagine running from one chaotic kitchen to the other. With his knowledge of process engineering, Salim developed a machine that produces a safe, organic varnish. Imbued with Omani frankincense in an efficient automated station, it saves time, effort, and assures quality control. He hopes this will help to protect paintings and painters alike.