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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 17

Ruth Siddall19 July 2020

A Colour A Day.  Week 17: 13-19 July

Jo Volley writes…

Over the last week I have had the privilege to work with 7 colours produced and sent to me by Ruth Siddall.  To receive these little packets of pigments through the post and work them into paint has been a pure delight.    

Ruth says of them. “These colours are all based on lake pigments made from American plants and an insect, the cochineal beetle. Three are wood dyes (logwood, brazilwood and osage orange), Aztec marigold was made from dried flowers, the avocado lake was made from a dye extracted from the stones of the fruit. Annatto (or achiote, achiotl) is a spice made from seeds. The latter was used as a ink in historical Mexican painting, and also as food colouring and a cosmetic.”    

All are bound in gum arabic on W&N watercolour paper and read from left to right.

Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera
Annatto, Bixa orellana
Cochineal, Dactylopius coccus
Logwood, Haematoxylum campechianum
Brazilwood, Caesalpina echinata
Aztec Marigold, Tagetes erecta
Avocado, Persea americana

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

A Colour A Day: Week 15

Ruth Siddall5 July 2020

A Colour A Day: Week, 15. 29th June – 5th July

Jo Volley writes…….

In spring 2017, Nisar Hossain, Dean of the Fine Art Faculty, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Artist and specialist on Contemporary Painting and Folk Painting of Bangladesh, led a contemporary installation  workshop at the Slade based on traditional Folk Art of Bangladesh.  He also gave  a public lecture at the Whitechapel Gallery The heritage of ritualistic folk painting and the traditional painter communities of Bangladesh as part of the Inspire exchange project between the Slade School of Fine Art and the University of Dhaka Faculty of Fine Art, Bangladesh funded by the British Council.

Links to various workshops throughout the Inspire project

Here are 7 of the colours Nisar generously donated to the Material Research Project pigment library, written in Bangla, as he gave me. Each are bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper and read from left to right.

  1. Hāra pathar
  2. Haritāl
  3. Sindura
  4. Bhusha kali
  5. Hingula
  6. Elamati
  7. Nīl

 

A Colour A Day: Week 13

Ruth Siddall21 June 2020

A Colour A Day Week 13; 15th – 21st June
Jo Volley writes….
This week’s feature of 7 greys also  includes the poem Penumbra  by artist and poet, Sharon Morris,  from her collection False Spring, Enitharmon Press, 2007.  Sharon is a Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art.
 

Penumbra

Your shadow has fallen on me
like the fig tree
in its profusion

and I am left
chasing your image
as the sun drops

into occlusion, you
running with that cusp of light
against disappearance,

my tears
wanting to make your face haptic
from its shroud.

 

Colours read from left to right and are painted out onto W&N watercolour paper:

 
  1. Galena
  2. Bone grey (JV/12)
  3. Graphite
  4. Neutral grey
  5. Payne’s grey
  6. Ash grey (JV/20)
  7. Melser Grau
 

A Colour A Day: Week 10

Ruth Siddall31 May 2020

A Colour A Day Week 10; 25th-31st May
Jo Volley writes …
This week’s colours are produced by Ruth Siddall and dedicated to the Land Art pioneer Agnes Denes on her  89th birthday on Sunday 31st May. 
 
These colours represent my first experiments in lake pigments; dyes made insoluble by the addition of a mordant, in this case alum with the further addition of either potassium or sodium carbonate in solution. The initial dye baths were made from raw materials from my kitchen (waste onion skins and dried hibiscus and marigold flowers used in tisanes), plant material collected from local areas of parkland (nettles, dandelion and bark from birch logs) and finally some madder roots which were sent to me as a present by Stephanie Nebbia, courtesy of the Winsor & Newton laboratories. All were made in my kitchen, with adapted equipment and materials during the initial few weeks of lockdown in March and April 2020.’ Ruth Siddall   
 
 
1. Birch Bark (alkaline)
2. Dandelion Lake
3. Nettle Green(copper modifier)
4. Rose Madder
5. Hibiscus Lake
6. Marigold Lake
7. Onion Skin Lake

A Colour A Day: Week 8

Ruth Siddall17 May 2020

Jo Volley writes….

A COLOUR A DAY – Week 8; 11th – 17th  May

This week’s colours are from the sea and to accompany them you can hear Janet Baker singing ‘Where Corals Lie’. The music is from  Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures, words by Richard Garnett.

The deeps have music soft and low
When winds awake the airy spry,
It lures me, lures me on to go
And see the land where corals lie.
The land, the land, where corals lie.

  1. Cuttlefish
  2. Oyster shell
  3. Tyrian Purple
  4. Squid
  5. Coral
  6. Pearl
  7. Octopus

 

A Colour A Day: Week 7

Ruth Siddall10 May 2020

A COLOUR A DAY – Week ;  4th – 10th  May

Jo Volley writes……

This week’s colours are a homage to our key workers and are from Winsor & Newton’s Professional watercolour range.

The rainbow mirrors human aims and actions. Think,  and more clearly wilt though grasp it, seeing Life is but light in many-hued reflection; Goethe Reflection,Thinking, Mirrors

  1. Cadmium Red
  2. Cadmium Orange
  3. Cadmium Yellow
  4. Cobalt Turquoise
  5. Winsor Blue
  6. Indigo
  7. Dioxazine Violet

 

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 5

Ruth Siddall26 April 2020

Jo Volley writes….

A COLOUR A DAY – Week 5 –-20th  -26th  April  are 7 historic blues bound in gum arabic.

‘We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.’ Goethe

  1. Genuine Ultramarine blue
  2. Ultramarine Ash
  3. Ploss Blue
  4. Egyptian Blue
  5. Han Blue
  6. Azurite
  7. Smalt