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Slade Methods Room





The Archive provides information and documentation of research of past Honorary Research Associates for the Materials Research Project.

Simon Barkworth 2016-17

Malina Busch, 2014-15

Alaena Turner, 2012

Onya McCausland, 2011-12

Simon Barkworth 2016 – 17

Hot Colour

The intention for this project is to investigate, record and develop an understanding of the effects of temperature on pigments and their colour. It also undertakes to make comparison and support the well-established research of the Materials Research Project, into pigments, supports and painting mediums.  Hot Colour follows the potential for a different application of pigments, looking at the similarity used by the painter and the ceramicist, but to very different colour effects.

The research sets out to get a basic knowledge of the application of colour within ceramics and to further the understanding of how colour transforms through heat. Beginning with a focus on what constitutes a glaze; the oxides and raw materials that carry and aid the transformation of a glaze, followed by the inclusion of the pigments and oxides that invigorate colour.

It was very important to narrow the variables to contain the research and to keep abreast of the subject. Within the ceramics community it is well know and common for people to spend a life times work on just a handful of variables, that is the scope of the enormity and possibility within the subject area. For the purpose of this research it was important to keep within the umbrella of the Materials Research Project and what is commonly available within this institution. With this in mind all firings were made in oxidation (electric kiln) and to the temperature of 1260ºc (chosen because of desire to use some found sand and other found materials) and using a standard grey stoneware clay and slip.

This investigation was guided first by the desire to know what a glaze is and second by the different tools a ceramist will use to understand the many variables that determine a glazes final outcome. Understanding some of the basic chemistry has helped to navigate my way through the different relationships and interactions with the different elements in a glaze but I have tried to avoid this here and write the more practical examples that helped me.

Unfortunately, as you’ll read most of my time as an Honorary Research Associate was taken by these first steps of understanding the glaze body and I only just began to introduce the concepts intended in the Hot Colour research.  However, this journey has set up a continual practice into trying new pigments and oxides at different temperatures that show the different colour effects of pigments within ceramics, which I hope can be expanded on by anyone who reads this.

Quick word on clay

Clay is the product of geologic weathering of the earths surface, by the abrasive effects of rainfall, rocks, glaziers and rivers over millions of years, resulting in smaller and smaller particles that get laid down in deltas and estuaries and by geologic movement lifted to dry land. These particles, the majority feldspar are tiny platelets that slide over each other giving clay its familiar plasticity. It is only when firing that these platelets fuse by locking together in a process called quartz inversion. Up until this point clay can continually be reprocessed back into a workable medium. The table below shows the relevant temperatures that changes are defined by.

Table shows a basic timeline of what is happening to the clay during a firing


Table shows a basic timeline of what is happening to the clay during a firing

Silica and Alumina make up 75% of clay. These are the main minerals used for in forming a glaze also. Clay is often used as a glaze medium, for example feldspar and ball clay appear in many glaze recipes. I will go onto describe their properties but once these materials have been analysed and we know what minerals in consist of we can predict what effect they will have on the glaze. Clay will also vitrify like a glaze, this often happens at the very surface of the clay where it meets the glaze, forming a homogeneous blend. This is also another variable to consider and one that I have not delved into; is this connection between glaze and clay body, often referred to as ‘fitting the glaze to the body’. Both clay and glaze shrink at different rates which can cause cracking to the glaze or without adhering or bonding at all, so falling of. This is also why we bisque fire first so the shrinking is controlled and the wet glaze is able to penetrate the surface of the body to aid this fusion or bond.  However, earthenware unlike stoneware, which is classified because it can withstand higher temperatures can slump and even begin to vitrify throughout at higher temperatures.

What is a glaze?

A basic glaze is essentially the fusion of three parts: silica, a ‘glass former’, an example of this could be sand however this does not normally melt until 3100ºF; too much for a standard fire or kiln. So another element is needed within the glaze to reduce the sand melt temperature; a ‘flux’ is used which has a lower temperature melt, the most common would be soda ash (sodium carbonate) which melts at 1650ºF, others include calcium and potassium carbonate. The third element added to a glaze is known as a ‘refractory’, an example of this is alumina. As heat, gravity and the addition of a flux cause the glaze to run, the ‘refractory’ reduces this ability of the glaze to flow, and potentially stopping the glaze from running of the piece and giving an even finish throughout the glaze.

Below is an example of how an addition of a flux to clay can reduce the melt temperature and we see the beginnings of glaze forming.

Clay with addition of flux

Onggi is the most common clay found in Korea, the examples here show the basic materials to glaze Onggi pots in South Korea, straw ash and a clay/earth that is formed over many years from fallen leaves. The Onggi pot is mainly used to ferment kimchi and soya bean paste, microscopic holes in the ceramic and glaze allow the perfect environment for bacteria to develop that break down and preserve its contents.

pure feldspar and basalt fired at 1260ºc

Image: pure feldspar and basalt fired at 1260ºc. Here you can see how the feldspar and basalt show signs of melting but on their own they do not form a glaze


Triaxial blend

Commonly three materials are used for these three base elements of glass, flux and refractory, these are ash, feldspar and clay. Ash is used for having a high content of calcium that acts as the flux. Feldspar (often Nepheline Syenite) is used as the glass former and refractory. Clay has both alumina and silicon contents, acting both as glass former and refractory also. Many materials can be substituted for these once you know what they consist of. This can be easily found on bought materials however understanding the physical reaction is difficult unless we do tests.

A ‘triaxial blend’ describes and shows visually the best way to approach the challenge of understanding what each element does and also offers a frame work to replace one element for another material and see the results. It also does a good job a describing the balance and ratios that are involved in creating a glaze that is suitable. For simplicity it was suggested to me to use silica, alumina and feldspar. Feldspar has many elements within it; sodium in this case as the flux.

Triaxial blend using silica, alumina and feldspar

Triaxial blend using silica, alumina and feldspar


Triaxial blend

Comparing these last two images A is feldspar, B Alumina and C Silica. However the corners of my triaxial blend represent 100% and reducing as you move away from the corner. You will see somewhere in the middle around the ratios; feldspar 50/60%, alumina 5/10% and silica 20/40% we see what looks something like a familiar glaze. Further triaxial blends are needed to narrow down the ratios to finer percentages to reveal more accurately the glaze desired. However, a cracked or very mat or even a glaze that doesn’t adhere maybe be something worth working with, triaxial blends reveal the relationships at different ratios that you would never see in a bought glaze.

Further down the line once you have identified the glaze mixture you want, colours can be added and a triaxial blend used to see the ratio of colour, usually between 0-5%. Other materials can be added like the image below and others reduced in response, a triaxial blend would help illustrate this visually.

Triaxial blend using a basic glaze and basalt

Triaxial blend using a basic glaze and basalt

Triaxial blend using a basic glaze and basalt

Flux Test

Previous tests were carried out inside a sample pot to contain the glaze, however we can not see how the glaze behaves on a vertical surface. One way of course would be to jump straight onto a pot or other object with vertical walls but I thought it would be interesting to see how in industry they visually represent and test the flux of a glaze, where everything needs to be fine-tuned. I discovered this flux tester (see below). Usually two similar glazes tested side by side to see how far the glazes travel (markings on the form indicate distance, however the markings on my flux tester are arbitrary). Here I took two glazes dried on a plaster slab and formed into a ball each weighing the same and tested side by side with and without flux. As you can see the flux makes a huge difference as well as how two very similar looking glazes can have different properties. A flux tester can also be used to help compare two glazes next to each other at a certain temperature range.

Flux tester and its slip mould

Flux tester and its slip mould

Flux tester and its slip mould

Sample glazes

I found these glazes recipes very useful and provide a good starting point to introduce colour. Each are fired at a temperature of 1260ºc / cone 9.

Simple glaze:

Cornish Stone –           85%                 – silica

Whiting –                      15%                 – flux

Basic glaze:

Potash Feldspar –        60%                 – siIica

Dolomite –                    20%                 – flux (crystalise)

Quartz –                       15%                 – silica

China clay –                 5%                   – body/stiffener


Alternative basic glaze:

Potash Feldspar –        45%

Quartz –                       20%

Whiting –                      20%

China Clay –                 10%

Adding colour

There are two types of firing, oxidation or reduction. Oxidation is in the presence of oxygen, usually in an electric kiln and reduction the absence of oxygen occurring in gas and wood burning kilns. It is important to note that oxides will produce different colours depending on an oxidation or reduction firing. I am working with oxidation firings as the slade has an electric kiln. The other point to mention is oxides will change in the presence of other oxides for example below, chrome on its own produces a strong green but when added to tin produces a maure/maroon.

Image: following from bottom left to top right, green – mauve – white – sky blue – dark blue – mid blue. Chrome – chrome+tin – tin – tin+cobalt – cobalt –.



A few of the many oxides and colours:

(add % of colour to the 100% of glaze)

Cobalt              1 – 1.5%                                 Blue

Tin                   3 – 5%                                     White

Rutile               3 – 5%                                     Cream

Chrome            1 – 3%                                     Green


Cobalt 1%         +         Rutile 3%                     Dark blue

Tin 3-5%           +         Cobalt 0.5%                 Sky blue

Chrome 1-3%    +        Tin 1-3%                      Mauve/purple

Chrome 1-4%    +        Cobalt 0.5-1%              Mid blue

Chrome + Tin + Cobalt   (max 8%)                   Purple


Cobalt acts as flux at higher %

Light oxides/stains higher %

Dark oxides/stains lower %

Test plate

Image: A test plate with small indentations for different oxides, acts as a quick guide and reference. Labels written directly onto bisque ware with a glaze pencil.

Image: A test plate with small indentations for different oxides, acts as a quick guide and reference. Labels written directly onto bisque ware with a glaze pensil.

Image: Test samples of basalt sand taken from a beach and added to different glazes.

Research workshops:

Part one; Clay, engobes and slips.

The workshop set out to explain what clay is and how it is used as colour. Showing examples of different clays, their intrinsic colour and how they transform through heat. The workshop also explored how to make engobes and slips using clay and oxides and their applications comparing them with shop bought examples.

Engobes contrast with slips in that they are usually formulated with less clay and more flux. A slip shrinks with the ware as it dries whereas an engobe is typically applied to an already completely dry (or partially dry) clay. The higher percentage of flux in an engobe bonds it to the surface during firing whereas a slip bonds mechanically to the surface during drying by the interlocking of clay particles at the interface.

Part two; Glazes, oxides and methods.

What is a glaze? Understanding the terminology and techniques. Comparing different shop bought glazes with the ones explored during the Hot Colour research.  Showing how to make a basic glaze and how to work with variables to get a desired finish. The workshop set out examples of ways to test glazes, giving practical applications and material for further research.




website: www.simonbarkworth.com


Malina Busch, 2014 – 2015

As Honorary Research Associate with the Material Research Project, I have developed and contributed to a regular series of research workshops. My research has focused on: the relationship between colour and surface, and an investigation of the visual and physical possibilities of colour. Each of the research workshops presented has aimed to formulate a better understanding of historic approaches to colour, and to use this knowledge as a means of furthering conversations about the role of colour within contemporary painting practices.

Alongside the Material Research Project, I have also contributed to The Pigment Timeline Project as a Research Assistant.

Malina Busch_Curl Up

Curl Up, by Malina Busch

Research Summary

My research has arisen from a curiosity about colour and how it relates to the forms, ideas, and physical materials contained within painting. During my time as HRA, I have been interested in raising questions about the material and conceptual possibilities of colour as it traverses different mediums and visual forms. In particular, my research explores the ways in which colour intersects painting, sculpture, printmaking, and fibre arts. I am fascinated by the fluid nature of colour relationships, and how they shift according to material choices—each colour behaving in its own unique way as it encounters material states ranging from oil mediums to dye baths, and from felts and cottons to synthetic stretch fabrics. Using my research, I am seeking to gain a better understanding of how nuances of material touch might act as a point of exchange between artist and viewer, altering the perception of an artwork.

Website: www.malinabusch.com and CV.

Malina Busch_Green Pinch)

Green Pinch, by Malina Busch

Malina Busch_Small Blue Wisp

Small Blue Wisp, by Malina Busch

Research Workshops:

Colour Methodologies: Josef Albers and the Slade Print Collection, Spring 2014
This workshop introduced and explored the ideas and concepts in Josef Albers’ 1963 book “Interaction of Color”. Using the Albers’ prints housed in the Slade Archive, this workshop examined Albers’ approach to colour theory and the ways in which this might be practically applied to contemporary painting. Different approaches to colour relativity, colour behaviour, colour boundaries, and colour mixtures were explored, with examples being illustrated by ideas borrowed from music, theatre, and physics. Students also engaged with these ideas using sets of Color-Aid papers which were used by Albers as a teaching tool, and through the Albers’ app (created by Yale University in partnership with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation).

MalinaBusch, Albers Demo

Josef Albers Research Workshop

An Exploration of Violet Pigments, Spring 2014
Using the Pigment Timeline Project as inspiration, this workshop explored the role of violet pigments in visual culture. The workshop focused on the history and visual properties of different types of violet pigments and the possibilities that they might offer for painting today. Students learned about and discussed the relative merits and qualities of violet pigments ranging from Tyrian purple in ancient cultures to Perkin’s mauve during the Victorian age, and 20th century synthetics such as, Dioxazine and Quinacridone violets.


Violet Research Workshop

Making Coloured Ink, Spring 2014
This was a hands-on demonstration that introduced students to how water-based and non-water-based coloured inks can be created. The workshop explored inks created with Gum Arabic, Shellac-Borax, and Acrylic Resin. Continuing on from earlier discussions about violet pigments, these experiments were made using Mars Violet pigment.

Unstretched: Working with Flexible Surfaces, Spring 2014
This workshop examined flexible surfaces and the possibilities that they offer for contemporary painting. A wide-range of materials were considered from different types of papers and canvases to found materials, theatrical fabrics, and commercial fabrics. Questions were raised about the possibilities of these supports, the relationship between paints and surfaces, and the advantages and disadvantages posed by working unstretched. The workshop provided an opportunity for students to share ideas, debate different studio approaches, and problem-solve as a group.

Contemporary and historic approaches to the artist’s palette, Autumn 2014
This workshop examined the ways in which different types of palettes can be used to define visual structures within painting. It addressed how the structure of a palette might be used as a tool for investigating different material and conceptual problems within painting. Students were asked to consider why they use particular palettes and combinations of colours, and how these choices impact upon the wider growth and development of their artistic practice.

Artist's Palette Workshop

Artist’s Palette Workshop

Colour Methodologies: Hans Hofmann, Spring 2015
This workshop examined Hans Hofmann’s artwork and his approach to colour development within painting. In particular, Hofmann’s writings on the spatial and compositional possibilities of colour; and colour’s dual role in painting as both a formal and a psychological element were focused on. Hofmann’s ideas were considered within their historic context, and the workshop proposed parallels for these concepts within contemporary painting practices.


Dye Workshop with Indigo and MordantsBlue Swatches from Dye WorkshopRed Swatches from Dye Workshop

Adhering Colour: Contemporary Approaches to Dye, Spring 2015
This workshop examined the history of dye processes in relation to artists’ pigments as a method for adhering and applying colour to surfaces. Research for this workshop focused on the history of indigo pigments, and experiments replicating historic indigo dye vats were made as a way of examining and understanding the process. Research was also made into historic approaches to mordants*, and hands-on experiments using up to ten different types of mordants were tested.
(*A mordant can contribute to a colour’s ability to bite into a fabric; or a mordant can be added during different stages of the dyeing process as a way of altering the final colour.)


Phosphorescent, Fluorescent, and Interference Pigments (a collaborative workshop with Jo Volley, Malina Busch, and Antoni Malinowski), Spring 2015
This workshop investigated pigments which are at the fringe of most artists’ practices. While phosphoresce, fluoresce, and interference are all visual phenomena which exist within nature, they have only recently begun to be developed and used as artists’ pigments. For this workshop, I contributed my research into fluorescent pigments; examining how fluorescence affects colour perception, colour mixtures, the manufacturing of commercial paints, and conservation issues. This research was debated and discussed in relation to Jo Volley’s investigations into phosphorescent pigments and Antoni Malinoski’s work with interference pigments.

Phosphorescent, Fluorescent, Interference Pigments Workshop

Fluorescent Swatches

A Comparison of Hofmann & Albers, Spring 2015
This workshop considered the similarities and differences that exist in Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers’ approach to colour theory and practice. The workshop put forward research about the ways in which both artists approached colour behaviour, colour observation, colour relationships, and colour harmonies; and opened up discussion and debate around current issues of colour and studio practice.

Albers Prints Workshop

Albers Prints


Alaena Turner, 2012- 2013


Found Painting, 2012. Alaena Turner


Found painting, 2014. Alaena Turner

Everyday Material

“It looks like a flat star-shaped spool of thread, and indeed it does seem to have thread wound upon it, to be sure these are only odd, broken off bits of thread, knotted and tangled together, of the most varied sorts and colours…One is tempted to believe that the creature once had some sort of intelligible shape and is now a broken down remnant. Yet this does not seem to be the case…nowhere is there an unfinished or unbroken surface to suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing looks senseless enough, but in its own way perfectly finished.”

(‘Cares of a family man’, from Franz Kafka, ‘The Complete Stories’, translated by Willa and Edwin  Muir, NY, Schocken Books, 1995.)

My research has centred around questions of how we understand the everyday; in particular, what is everyday material?

My relation to the everyday defines my position as an artist, aligning my practice to the pursuit of the specimen collector, sorting through the commonplace visual and physical material that surrounds us with the aim of fostering a sensitivity to the tactile qualities that define the particular character of each type of thing or surface.

My observation of everyday materials has come to define the aesthetic of my painting practice and has generated discussions around how we describe and respond to the everyday, for example, the processes of association involved in naming colour or the compellingness of certain surfaces, matt vs gloss. In particular, I seek to frame the state of indeterminacy or invisibility that seems to characterise everyday materials, such as industrial line-marking paint or domestic furnishings.

A key component of this enquiry has been the relationship between our response to everyday stimulus and our ability to articulate sensory experience in language. I am especially interested in the structure of metaphor and the potential of finding equivalent states between materials. Through my painting practice and my research I aim to treat language as material, and pursue innovative ways to make language tangible.

Alaena Turner, 2013

5. Detail, 'Expanded Painting,' 2013, Alaena Turner.

Detail, ‘Expanded Painting,’ 2013. Alaena Turner

Container (line-painting yellow), 2010.

Container (line-painting yellow), 2010. Alaena Turner

Seminar Series as Honorary Research Associate, 2013

Cheese as Material. 
In this seminar I used an everyday substance to lead a material enquiry. I visited Kappacasein Dairy in Bermondsey to document the cheese-making process and then presented a talk on what cheese is. The seminar concluded with a practical tasting session, looking at different types of milk and how this can be manipulated to produce a range of cheeses. The aim of the cheese tasting was to encourage sensitivity towards cheese as material, and to highlight the difficulty of putting our sensory experience into words.

‘But an artist is a strange animal’, or aesthetic contemplation of a tie, socks and a suit.’

This seminar developed the question of how an everyday object, in this case an item of clothing, may be used to articulate a sensory observation. Beginning with Brian Hatton’s description of his tie (http://www.saturatedspace.org/2012/07/brian-hatton-on-colour-in-architecture.html) as “Committed to its’ colouring in such a way that it does not allow for any interaction between colour and its containing perimeter,” we explored the questions, ‘Can colour elude an edge?’ and ‘How do you get colour most in a frame?’, using examples from abstract painting from Mondrian to present day.

Art and Work

In this seminar we considered the relationship between art and the everyday and the role of everyday making processes in contemporary art practice. This involved an exploration of the situation of the art object in everyday situations, looking at Kettles Yard gallery, and considering  the ‘Documenting homes’ research project of the Geffrye Museum. As part of this seminar Richard Wentworth’s film ‘Scrape/scratch/dig’, 2004-7 was screened, as well as a selection of film work by contemporary painters that displayed industrial making processes. The aim of this seminar was to explore the question, what is the artist’s relation to work?

Detail 'Concrete', 2013, Alaena Turner.

Detail ‘Concrete’, 2013, Alaena Turner

Research Projects as Honorary Research Associate, 2013

The Plausibility Project
During my year as Honorary Research Associate I began an interview research project, ‘The Plausibility Project’. A number of Slade School of Fine Art graduate students and external artists were approached for interview about whether the condition of plausibility could be used in relation to the art object, in particular whether everyday materials lent an artwork a greater sense of plausibility. This interview series is ongoing and has led to several collaborative projects.

Wallpaper Project
To coincide with the launch of the 2013 Slade Print Fair, I designed and printed a wallpaper based on a repeated drawing of a parquet floor pattern. This project was supported by research into the use of colour and pattern in domestic situations and urban signage.

Dinner with Picasso
I developed a cross-disciplinary research project ‘Dinner with Picasso’, involving staff and students from Slade School of Fine Art and the French department of UCL. This project is funded by the Institute of Making and consists of a series of workshops, led by food professionals, writers and scientists, exploring food as material and exploring the form of the recipe. This project is supported by research into Oulipo literature and aims to build a survey of the way language is used when describing sensory experience.

Dinner with Picasso, First workshop, 'The Unspoken Language of Food', led by food writer Sybil Kapoor

Dinner with Picasso, First workshop, ‘The Unspoken Language of Food’, led by food writer Sybil Kapoor

Website: www.alaenaturner.co.uk and CV.


Onya McCausland, 2011 – 2012

As Honorary Research Associate on the Materials Research Project I contributed to three main projects, the Pigment Library with Jo Volley, the Sample Library and the Surfaces Photography Project with Gary Woodley. I also developed and contributed to a series of research workshops, technical talks and seminars about materials and materiality. During this period of time I developed my research interests in a very focused way and with access to the wider UCL research community, which was instrumental in developing my current Mphil/PhD, a Collaborative Doctoral Award with paint manufacturers Winsor & Newton.

Turning Landscape into Colour
My work focuses on the materiality of colour and its origins in the landscape. The research, which is led by my practice as a painter considers the significance and place of earth colours as contemporary cultural materials. I make journeys in my car locating, mapping and extracting ochres (earth colour)  from across the British landscape. I process these materials in my studio, turning raw earth into usable colour that is then re-presented to consider changing relationships between people and places and establish new connections between landscape and painting. These ‘new’ colours, made from old, overlooked and waste material found in sites across the British landscape acknowledge the complexities of their context and genesis and name the place of their origin.


Alans Hand sm


Pemberton 5 sml

ochre 1

This text, ‘Black and White Earth: Finding the Source of Colour’ was written and published for ‘Dark Matter’ with a limited edition screen-print by Jo Volley and me for Lisa Milroy’s exhibition ‘Ivory Lamp Mars Vine Bone’ at Gallery North, Northumbria University (see Collaborations)

Black and White Earth: Finding the Source of Colour
“The names of pigments can provide knowledge about the chemistry and physics of materials as well as revealing the geology and geography of their origins. The red and yellow earths found around the iron rich soils of Sienna and Umbria and the glauconite of Verona’s green earth are loaded with history, reminiscent of great paintings made by great painters. Pigments like these, found in the landscape, uncover a history of human development and a very particular journey through the history of art.  Now synthetic versions have largely replaced many of these original earths, their names only fabricate a connection with place where there is none.

Manganese oxide – black earth, carbon black, haematite and limonite – red and yellow ochre and chalk. The caves of southern France transform the surrounding land into images, connecting forever the place, with the material, with the image – evidence of the human desire to scratch into a surface and leave a mark.

The formation of pigments in the landscape reveals a map of pockets of creative activity and industry. Where there is pigment in the soil there have been humans to exploit its qualities in one way or another. Pigment sites and quarries have been drawn from like wells. The directness of the relationship between the earth and human creativity is evident in architecture – the British landscape is pitted with holes and tunnels. The landscape is transformed inside-out to throw up houses, cathedrals and roads in a continuous cycle of displacement over time.

The trajectory of the history of the UK is built on the displacement and transformation of white chalk and black earth – anthracite, carbon, calcium and other rock minerals under the ground. If England and Wales were cut in half from the middle of the south coast heading north and leaning slightly to the right as you slice, the right portion would be mainly chalk and the left portion would contain coal. One side of the country has a lot of white stuff and the other side a lot of black stuff.

Most of Southern England rests on a massive marine drift of calcium carbonate, a compost heap of microscopic sea creatures. The south coast marks the edge of the land defining the identity of the landscape from afar, a physical and visual dominance historically protecting the country at the narrowest part of the channel. This marine dust is embedded into the cultural identity of the coastline of the UK. Most of the buildings are made with it, the building industry still uses it, it’s even in our food.

Few colours in the British Isles are named by place. English red from the Forest of Dean, Oxford ochre a bright yellow, and Cappagh brown from County Cork in Ireland are some rare examples. There are very few named sources of black earth pigments, and only one in this country. Bideford black is a seam on the North Devon coast, far from the road over three fields, down the cliff onto a strange northward facing beach. The area is geologically connected to the vast coal measures of South Wales, so it is full of mines. The pigment, found in a place ironically named Greencliff, appears to be squeezing out between the limestone coastal cliffs. Bideford black is like a perfect soft black pastel, slightly crumbly, but tarry enough to hold together, dense and pure. I cut it straight from the cliff with a knife, no need to refine or wash or process; it is the perfect black.

There is something indescribable about finding pigment in the landscape, it’s like finding treasure. Why is it found just here? Are there other sources? Who has painted with it? Where can it be seen in paintings? Research uncovers an academic text, conservators from the National Gallery are referring to black chalk, also known as sea coal and red blacke, it has been used by the miniature painter Nicholas Hilliard the sixteenth century who lived and worked in Devon.

Very little information exists about original sources of materials, especially colour, even the famous ones. Oxted quarry on the North Downs is the site of Robert Smithson’s 1969 landwork Chalk-Mirror Displacement – the moony amphitheatre-like space is slowly and sadly filling up with refuse and rubble.

Derwent pencil factory in Keswick, Cumbria, built at the site of the finest graphite mine in Europe now imports its graphite from China. Materials are moved around the world on a massive scale, and it can take real effort to find the original source. Some metal manufacturers are bar-coding raw materials to address this, so that imperfections and impurities can be traced to a source and companies held to account.

To find an earth pigment that has been used in painting for centuries or even millennia is like tracing a journey back through the history of art. And to the transformation that turns raw materials from the landscape into colour.

Onya McCausland,  2012

Bideford 7

Black Earth with Shadow. Pigment on Panel and Wall: 165cm 148cm: 2011. Onya McCausland

White Side 2008. Onya McCausland


A selection of Honorary Research Associate Research Projects, 2011-12

Pigment Library
Onya McCausland worked with Jo Volley to establish the Pigment Library, collecting pigment samples from the W&N archive and pigment collections across UCL, including contributions from geoarcheaoligist Ruth Siddall, Art Historian Libby Sheldon, and various contributions from Slade students.


Pigment Library

Sample Library

I built up a selection of material samples, adding to the paint sample panels and other material resources for the Methods Room that included a range of surfaces now permenantly displayed on the far wall. Along side this is a growing list of materials suppliers information.


Methods Room, Graduate Painting Studios, Slade School of Fine Art: Sample Library

Surfaces Photography Project   Gary Woodley and Onya McCausland 

This project examined the material structures of surfaces and physical complexity of the painted surface using extremely close-up photographic imaging. Students volunteered different paintings and drawings to be photographed using an HD DSL camera with a specially adapted (Gary-style) macro lens. The resulting photographic images documented materials in extreme close-up and high-definition detail, amplifying the physical properties of paint in relation to the mechanics of painting. Tiny physical structures buried within painting, the various textured surfaces of paper, the depths and structures of wood grain, the density of the fabric weave of canvas, the particular graininess of different coloured pigments were suddenly made visible. Gary and I realised that with this close-up visual knowledge of matter, materials and their behaviours, new discoveries can be can be made about the materiality of painting.

Fabriano 5 with Pigment rubbed in

Fabriano with pigment rubbed into the surface (click to see it enlarged)

Seminar Workshop Series as Honorary Research Associate, 2011-12

I led a series of research seminar workshops and hands-on sessions exploring materiality, including:

Surfaces and Supports
Explored how the feel of a surface and its physical structure informs, influences and forges the outcome of the image or form. This seminar was about a discovery of visual form through the interplay between surface and mark. see: Surfaces Photography Project

Colour as material
 “Black is an abstraction; there is no black, only black things. But they are black in different ways, for there is the question of brilliance, whether they are matte or shiny, polished, rough, fine, etc., which is very important.” Jean Dubuffet ‘The Common Man at Work’, 1973

Material ImmaterialThis seminar considered how knowledge of material informs the exploration, expression and experience of sensory values such as weight, volume and light. 

Lilah Fowler and Onya McCausland presented a talk on digital cutting and printing processes.

Technical Talks
I led and/or participated in a series of technical talks that provided an in-depth introduction to various materials, preparations and methods such as pigment, binders and mediums, paper surfaces, stretching watercolour paper, researching surfaces and demonstration various preparations.


Website: www.onyamccausland.co.uk and CV.