Earth pigments and new discoveries

Now, that we’ve talked about how easy it is to eliminate toxic solvents and toxic pigments from your oil painting process (see earlier posts), it’s time to move deeper into making our own earth based paints. When I first started this project, I stated that I wanted to make paints with plants, mosses, seaweeds and native earths. But I’ve since learned that plants, mosses and seaweeds are more used for making dyes (water-soluble pigments) as opposed to oil paint (non-soluble pigments). The best and most permanent of all pigments for oil paint are different types of earths (preferably clay based).
Since prehistoric times, 15,000 years ago, people have been using the earth to make red, yellow, brown, white and some green paint. For black, most cultures used soot or charcoal and white came from chalk, lime or kaolin. Blue, purple and green were trickier to come by and different cultures used different methods for attaining it. The prehistoric people achieved it with manganese ore while the ancient Egyptians were the first to artificially produce those colors using copper frits. The Chinese Buddhist monks used azurite and malachite for blues and greens and the Etruscans crushed Lapis Lazuli.
My current goal is to collect my own red, yellow and brown from the mountains of Southern Oregon (which is rich with these colors of earth). Green earth is harder to come by and is thought to come from oceanic deposits but I will definitely keep an eye out for it along with white and black earths. For blue and purple, I will purchase these pigments from online stores which sell natural earth pigments that have been “minimally enhanced with mineral based pigments” to create nice blues, greens and plums.

More to come on making paints (collecting, grinding, cleaning, binders, etc.) and purchasing pigments (sources, prices, etc.). Stay tuned…

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