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A Colour A Day: Week 30

Ruth Siddall18 October 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 30. 12th-18th October.

Jo Volley writes…

In October 2015, whilst on research leave, I travelled around Provence visiting pigment quarries, mines and factories to look at pigment manufacturing methods and processes. In this marvellous red landscape, I have never felt such a strong emotional relationship between the landscape and painting.  The trip was also something of a pilgrimage to visit the bibliotheque in Aix en Provence to view a remarkable manuscript made by the C17 Dutch artist A. Boogert who in 1692 completed an educational manual of how to mix every colour available to him. Each pigment is bound in gum Arabic and applied to paper with instruction as to their properties, proportions and potential. It is an extraordinary document of the pigments available at that time and of an artist’s dedication to learning. It was a humbling experience to hold in one’s hands this rare and beautiful manuscript, and to feel a connection with Boogert’s endeavours. The timeless and common manufacture of binding colour and making paint. The sheer pleasure of it… and its desire to communicate. It has also been the inspiration for this project.

Each red earth is bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper.

Collected: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Purchased: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Purchased: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Collected: Les Mines des Bruoux, Gargas.
Collected: Mathieu Ocre Usine, Roussillon.
Purchased: Les Mines des Bruoux, Gargas.
Purchased: Mathieu Ocre Usine, Roussillon.

 

A Colour A Day: Week 28

Ruth Siddall4 October 2020

A Colour A Day; 28th  September – 4th October

Jo Volley writes…

This week’s colours are seven Russian earth pigments gifted by Ruth Siddall who says of them. ‘These seven pigments are supplied by Moscow-based company Colibri Premium Pigments. Many of the earth and mineral pigments they supply are sourced in Russia. This is a selection of their ochres, which include iron ochres (red and yellow ochre) and aluminium-rich earths known as bauxite (deposits much overlooked as ochres). Siderite is iron carbonate. Also included here are two very ‘Russian’ pigments made from minerals mainly known only from deposits in Russia. Shungite is a black, carbon-rich earth pigment. It is found in very ancient, 2 billion year old rocks in Russian Karelia, in the region of Lake Onega. It is named after the town of Shunga. It formed as biogenic deposits, probably from algae preserved in anoxic conditions and then subsequently metamorphosed. Volkonskoite is a green-coloured, chrome-bearing smectite clay mineral. It is sourced from the Okhansk region of the Urals. Tuff is a volcanic ash deposit, in this case coloured purple by iron oxides.

Ruth suggests listening to Sibelius’s Karelian Suite whilst viewing the colours.

All pigments are bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper and read from left to right:

Tuff Purple
Siderite
Mumia Bauxite
Shungite
Sankirnaya Ochre
Volkonskoite

A Colour A Day: Week 23

Ruth Siddall29 August 2020

A Colour A Day Week 23. 24th August – 30th August.

Jo Volley writes…

This week we celebrate Goethe’s 271st birthday, 28th August, with earth pigments from Cyprus collected and processed by Ruth Siddall who says of them …

Cyprus is an island long associated with the production of pigments. These are by-products of the copper mining that has been active since the Bronze Age when Cyprus was the main supplier of copper ingots in the eastern Mediterranean region. But it was not copper-based pigments that were in abundance, it was the iron and manganese-rich ochres and umbers which were typical of Cyprus as well as the celadonite-rich green earth deposits. The Cypriot umber is a true umber in the geological sense having formed at a mid-ocean ridge plate tectonic boundary. In fact this is the environment of deposition of all of Cyprus’s ores and pigments. They originally formed in deep ocean waters, superheated by volcanic activity and then this slab of oceanic rock, ores and all, was emplaced onto the Eurasian continent during the construction of the Alpine mountain chain. The ochres formed by the weathering of the ores both before and after this emplacement onto dry land. Such a geological environment is uncommon, and Cyprus is by far the biggest example of these processes on Earth. A unique island for pigment formation.’

All pigments are bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper and read;

Left hand column from top to bottom:
Yellow Ochre, Sia Mine, Cyprus
Jarosite Yellow Ochre, Sia Mine, Cyprus
Burnt Umber, Margi, Cyprus

Middle column:
Red Ochre, Sia Mine, Cyprus

Right hand column from top to bottom:
Raw Umber, Margi, Cyprus
Terra Verte, Cyprus
Brown Ochre, Sia Mine, Cyprus

A Colour A Day: Week 22

Ruth Siddall23 August 2020

A Colour A Day Week 22. 17th-23rd August

Jo Volley writes…In JL Carr’s novel A Month in the Country the protagonist Tom Birkin returning from the First World War is redeployed as a wall painting conservator. He spends the summer uncovering a large medieval wall painting in a country church and along with it rediscovers a sense of faith in the future. As the painting’s image is revealed and through the unknown artist’s use and choice of colours, Tom begins to appreciate and understand the man.

‘I was working up the 3 brothers (see Luke 16), blissfully heedless of the judgement to come…The second magnate’s cloak was a splendid garment – red outside and green lining. A very good red, the best in fact, no expense spared, sinoper haematite that is, not to be confused with what some fatheads call sinoper which, as often as not, is red earth, the stuff they used to bring in by the shipload from Pontus Euxinus (and don’t ask me where that was). That’s the red which darkens almost as soon as you turn your back on it: it survives and that’s all that can be said for it. In fact, on damp walls, it’s all that does survive. Well, back to this chap’s cloak. It was resin-based and that doesn’t ooze out, by the gallon; they found a scallop-shell with caked deposit amongst the rubble in the Gifford Chantry at Boyton.’

‘Mr Birkin…Mr Birkin…is it an oil painting or a water colour or what is it for goodness sake?’ ’It’s all sorts of things, Mrs Keach. Item – blew bysse at 4s 4d. the pound, item – one sack of verdigris at 12d. a pound, item – red ochre, 3 pounds a penny, item – 3 pecks of wheat flour…. I suppose you could lump it all as tempera. And let’s not forget the wall itself – down in the sinful south, plastered with chalk bound with parish offerings of skimmed milk; up here, slaked limestone putty damped just enough to stiffen. That’s about what it is. …Spaynishe white,  Baghdad indigo, Cornish malachite…

But for me, the exciting thing was more than this. Here I was, face to face with a nameless painter reaching from the dark to show me what he could do, saying to me as clear as my words, ‘If any part of me survives from time’s corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.’

Each pigment is bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper and reads from left to right:

Malachite
Verdigris
Chalk
Haematite
Red ochre
Chalk
Indigo
Blue bice

A Colour A Day: Week 21

Ruth Siddall16 August 2020

A Colour A Day Week 21. 10th-16th August

Jo Volley writes….

Extracts from Matisse on Art Jack D Flam 1973. On the occasion of an exhibition at the Gallery Maeght, December 1949 the title of which was Black is a Colour. Henri Matisse’s remarks were recorded by M. Maeght.

Before, when I didn’t know what to put down, I put down black. Black is a force: I depend on black to simplify the construction. Now I have given up all blacks*The use of black as a colour in the same way as the other colours – yellow, blue or red – is not a new thing. The Orientals made use of black as a colour, notably the Japanese in their prints. Closer to us, I recall a painting by Manet in which the velvet jacket of a young man with a straw hat is painted in a blunt and lucid black. In the portrait of Zacharie Astruc by Manet, a new velvet jacket is also expressed by a blunt luminous black. Doesn’t my painting of the Marocains use a grand black which is as luminous as the other colours in the painting? Like all evolution, that of black in painting has been made in jumps. But since the Impressionists it seems to have made continuous progress, taking a more and more important part in colour orchestration, comparable to that of the double-bass as a solo instrument. 

*Matisse does not mean he has given up the use of black, but that he no longer used it merely for linear construction as in his earlier works. Actually, at this time Matisse was making a use of black as a colour instead of an element of linear construction.

From left to right

  1. Jet – W&N Designers gouache
  2. Perylene – W&N Designers gouache
  3. Lamp – W&N Designers gouache
  4. Blue Black – W&N Calligraphy ink
  5. Mars – W&N Designers gouache
  6. Ivory – W&N Designers gouache
  7. Noir Intense – Lefranc Bourgeois Linel gouache

A Colour A Day: Week 20

Ruth Siddall9 August 2020

A Colour A Day – Week 20. 3rd – 9th August

Jo Volley writes…
This week’s colours are more earths, gifted by Steven Patterson, Chief Executive Officer, Derivan, Australian artist materials manufacturer, from their Matisse Structure Origins Range. To accompany them please listen to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde;

The earth breathes, in full rest and sleep.
All longing now becomes a dream.

Each colour is painted out in 3 layers on W&N watercolour paper and read from left to right:

1. Armenian Gugark Cherry
2. Morrocan Yellow Oxide
3. Armenian Lori Red Light
4. Armenian Tavush Trans Green
5. Armenian Lori Violet Light
6. Armenian Kotayk Ochre
7. Armenian Bole

A Colour A Day: Week 16

Ruth Siddall12 July 2020

A Colour A Day Week 16: 6th -12th July

Jo Volley writes…

This week’s A Colour A Day is inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting (seven panel), 1952.

Of the series, his friend the composer, John Cage wrote:

To Whom / No subject / No image / No taste / No object / No beauty / No message / No talent /
No technique (no why) / No idea / No intention / No art / No object / No feeling / No black / No
white (no and) / After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in
these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not
destroyed by the action of shadows. / Hallelujah! the blind can see again; the water’s fine.

Read from left to right are 7 white pigments bound in gum arabic on W&N watercolour paper.

  1. Lead
  2. Zirkonium silicate
  3. Egg Shell
  4. Zinc
  5. White Earth
  6. Fluorescent white
  7. Titanium

Pigment Stories: Eternal Green in Predynastic Egypt

Ruth Siddall5 May 2020

I’m delighted to welcome Matt Szafran as a guest blogger this week. Matt is an independent researcher in Egyptology, currently studying the manufacture and use of Predynastic Egyptian stone palettes, using a combination of written material study, experimental archaeology, and advanced imaging techniques such as Reflectance Transmission Imaging (RTI). He has published magazine articles and has peer reviewed articles currently in publication. Matt is also presenting an introduction to Predynastic Egyptian palettes for the Egypt Exploration Society‘s current lecture series on 16th May 2020 and he will also be presenting his research on use-wear on Predynastic palettes at this year’s British Egyptology Congress in September.

Malachite, a copper carbonate hydroxide [Cu2(CO3)(OH)2] is a naturally occurring mineral formed in the weathered zone of copper deposits. Its a bright green colour, striking in outcrop. It is a mineral that would have stood out in a landscape (with the right geology) and would have been immediately attractive as a mineral with pigment potential.

A mineral specimen of malachite, illustrating its striking colour and typically encrusting habit (photo, Ruth Siddall).

Malachite does indeed have the properties to make a good mineral pigment; it is relatively soft and can be easily ground and it retains its colour when ground (as long as it is not ground too fine). Malachite has been used as a pigment in painting from the Egyptian Dynastic era onwards, and it occurs in all cultures worldwide. However, its use as a cosmetic material is often overlooked and this glimpse of the use of malachite on Egyptian Predynastic palettes is of great interest in terms of providing a more nuanced picture of the use of malachite as a pigment in prehistory.

A photomicrograph of malachite prepared as a pigment and viewed using cross-polarised light (Photo © The Pigment Compendium, 2004).

Over to Matt …

Pigment Processing using Stone Palettes in Predynastic Egypt

To most saying ‘Ancient Egypt’ will conjure images of kings and pharaohs, glittering gold, mummies (especially that of  a certain boy king), temples, and monumental statuary. All of these are from the Dynastic era (c. 3150-30 BCE), with the earlier Predynastic era (c. 6000-3150 BCE) receiving very little attention – in spite of having its own fascinating material culture.

The Predynastic tribes mostly used stone tools, with some copper and copper alloy working, and therefore the most common material remains are pottery, woven baskets, worked stone, beads and stone tools. One of the groups of stone objects, and the third most common object found in burials, is the stone palette. Palettes have been found from different sub-periods within the Predynastic era, however they were all made from the fine-grained greywacke sandstones and siltstones found in the Wadi Hammamat in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The shape of palettes varied stylistically across each of the different periods of the Predynastic era, with palettes having been found ranging from simple geometrical-shaped forms to animal-shaped silhouettes to later palettes which typically have large, intricately carved surfaces.

Since their rediscovery in the late 19th Century, Predynastic palettes have been associated with the processing of pigments, with the likes of pioneering arcaheologist and Egyptologist Flinders Petrie stating that they were used for processing the copper ore malachite for use in cosmetics. This assertion is in part due to palettes being rediscovered in graves with traces of green staining still remaining on their surface.

Rhomboid-shaped palette in the Bolton Library and Museums collection (accessioned as 1909.76.10).

 

Fish-shaped palette in the Petrie Museum collection (accessioned as UC4374).

Whilst many scholars repeat 19th Century statements that malachite was ‘ground’ on palettes, experimentation has shown that malachite would in fact be crushed – initially against a large anvil stone and then the resultant crystal shards should be crushed further to a fine powder on the surface of a palette. The malachite needs to be wrapped in fabric or leather; this helps to contain the very flyable shards produced during crushing – something analogous to wrapping biscuits in clingfilm before crushing them to make a cheesecake base. To create the finest possible powder the anvil needs to be as smooth and polished as possible, something for which the surface of a palette is ideally suited.

Crushing malachite against a large sandstone anvil stone, with a handheld limestone hammer stone, to produce small shards and powder.

Once the malachite powder has been obtained, it can be mixed with a base to form a cosmetic or paint. Scholars suggest that this base could have been a drying oil such as linseed or poppy, a lipid (animal fat), or even simply water.

There is no evidence for malachite being used as a paint in the Predynastic period; pottery and other objects of this time only show evidence of ochre or gypsum-based paints. It therefore seems to be logical that malachite was instead only used as a cosmetic and applied to the body. Different scholars have differing ideas on what exactly the use of this malachite application could be. Some have suggested a strictly utilitarian use, with malachite application around the eyes acting as a defence against the sun, for medicinal benefit, or even to ward off flies. Others suggest much more ritualistic uses, with the application of pigments having a tegumentary use and essentially acting as a form of mask. Palettes were not a common item and were likely only owned by the elite members of society, something which would support a more ritualistic use over a purely utilitarian one.

Whilst palettes are typically discussed for processing of malachite, there have been palettes rediscovered with traces of different pigment on their surfaces. It also appears that the difference in pigments is related to their find location, with palettes found in settlement contexts having red ochre staining whereas palettes found in funerary contexts display green malachite staining.

It is impossible to say what the everyday settlement use may have been, however archaeological evidence of the funerary uses does appear to validate Petrie’s initial assertion that palettes were used with a form of eye cosmetic. Human remains found at the site of Aidema still retain malachite residue around their eyes, additionally a painted clay head was found at the site of el-Mahasna (in tomb H.97) which has green malachite around the eyes. This does imply that a part of the funerary ritual could involve the application of malachite pigment, from a stone palette, to the eyes of the deceased. Later Dynastic practices also apply green pigment to the eyes, as a symbol of rebirth, however one should be careful comparing the Dynastic and Predynastic as they are separated by hundreds to thousands of years and it would be logical to expect beliefs and ritual changed over this time.

Whilst there have been several suggestions and interpretations of what palettes may be used for, it is clear that they played a role in the creation and use of pigments. The difference between pigments traces on palettes found in settlement and funerary contexts suggests that palettes held multiple roles in both daily life and also as part of funerary rituals, and that there is likely no single answer to their use. Sadly, we can only speculate on their uses, and we will never know the exact answer of what these objects meant to the people who owned them.

Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter

To cite this blog:

Szafran, M., 2020, Pigment Processing using Stone Palettes in Predynastic Egypt, The Pigment Timeline Project, UCL Blogs 05/05/2020; https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/pigment-timeline/2020/05/05/eternal-green-ma…pigment-in-egypt/

A Colour A Day: Week 4

Ruth Siddall19 April 2020

A COLOUR A DAY – Week 4 – 13th -19th April

Jo Volley writes …

For Week 4, here are 7 green earth pigments from various locations from around the world.

‘I kept putting the same colour on – the same colour, the same colour – but every time I put it on it was different. Each time it was this whole new light/colour experience. It was not a revelation, but a whole wonderful new experience… To me, it involves harnessing some of the powers of the earth. Harnessing and communicating.’  Brice Marden on terre vert

  1. Bavaria
  2. Verona
  3. Cyprus
  4. Austria
  5. France
  6. Russia
  7. Poland

Jo Volley, 19 April 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 2

Ruth Siddall5 April 2020

A Colour A Day is a year-long project by Jo Volley, which began on the first World Pigment Day, 22 March 2020,  to celebrate one colour each day by recording a swatch. This is the post of colours created for Week 2; 30th March – 5th April.

This week’s contributions are group of colours made from natural sources that Jo has collected and prepared as pigments.

  1. Iron Gall Ink
  2. Hampstead Heath Ochre no.6
  3. Pomegranate Ink
  4. Hampstead Heath Ochre no.3
  5. Cork Black
  6. Prespes Red Ochre
  7. Bone Black