The Alchemy of Artists' Materials - So much more fun than opening a tin of paint
What are natural pigments?
Pigments as opposed to dyes are non-soluble powders which are crushed so finely as to make them useable as paints when mixed with different media such as egg yolks, lime, mortars and oils.They can also be used to create unique colours by addition to various white paints and clear varnishes. Natural earth pigments, as the name suggests, come from naturally occurring clays and are specific to certain areas, where they have been used for decoration and adornment for many thousands of years. Often roasted to obtain a greater depth of colour they are known under the names of ocher, sienna, and umber and because of their very natural and harmonious palette they can be used to great effect in the decoration of eco interiors and recycling projects. Ochre, which takes its red, golden and brown colour from iron oxide, is thought to be one of the first ever paints used by man. Sienna, a limonite clay, contains ferric oxide, which gives its rich browns and reds. Sienna takes its name from the beautiful hill town of Siena from where it was first extracted. Umber, orginally extracted in Umbria, contains iron and manganese oxides, which when roasted becomes burnt umber, the famous deep brown pigment. Other natural pigments I often use are the Ultramarines of the gorgeous purple, violet and blue shades. This mineral pigment, originally made from crushing lapis lazuli, at one time was more highly priced than gold, which is why it was used so sparingly by Renaissance painters. Nowadays this pigment is made by heating mainly kaolin clay, sulfur and charcoal. This brings me to an observation about pigments because you will find their price changes from colour to colour. This is particularly the case for the third group of natural pigments the exotic spinels, which are romantically comprised of crushed gem stones!
How to use and apply pigments
For water-based medium, I first mix my pigment with a little water
and then add the medium.
For finer work and deeper colour, I would add the pigment directly into a minimum volume of medium.
When using with a water-based varnish, I would always add a clear coat or coats over the top, in particular where there is heavy usage such as on floor boards. Some companies suggest that the ultramarine pigments are not suitable for exterior use. Our house faces full south and we get salt breezes from the sea and the window frames pictured below were painted some three or four years ago. For me also, I enjoy the fact that pigments may change with time and acquire a patina and sun-bleached look. With impregnation oils, such as the hemp I used on doors, shutters and the hen houses, I first mix the pigments with a small amount of the oil. The shutters and wooden window frames I tinted some years ago on the North side of the house have not lost any of their colour. When using pigments on boxes, such as Andy's Candle Box Project I used pigment with an Eco water paint and then having decorated the box with découpage, applied a clear varnish.
Freehold Accommodation and no mortgage payments
Latest project the pallet wood bird box:
Detail of design from the robin box we made: http://thegreenlever.blogspot.fr/2013/02/bird-box-for-blue-tits-chickadees-pied.html
Healthy colour for a myriad of uses
Finding an alternative builders' merchant or organic shop which sells jars of these wonderful pigments is like being let loose in a candy store because how you use them is only limited by your own imagination. The Ultramarine blue and lavender I mixed together with an acrylic white and used on all the recycled windows we fitted at the front of the house. One interesting effect of using natural non-toxic materials is that you find that yourself in possession of the modern day Gingerbread House. Until it was fully dried both the putty and the paint were regularly consumed by snails and from the teeth marks, small rodents.
Finding a colour which would sit harmoniously with terracotta roof tiles and pink and grey granite is not easy but maybe by their very nature of coming from the same clays, the mixture of these two aquamarines seemed to work. Anyway they did for us, see what you think.
The garden is a great place for natural pigments. We mostly use pallet wood in our various projects and it is not the most attractive of timbers. Pigments can be employed with great effect and of course you don't need to worry about them harming the environment, your livestock or wildlife. I've used pigments on the hen houses and greenhouses with organic hemp oil as the medium and I've used them in acrylic paints on the pergola, pyramids, plant supports and planters.
The Bee Cosy for overwintering and hopefully taking for a long let. Finished with a water-based varnish and ochre pigment. The article on how to make this is here
So many colours to choose from makes its easy to mix and match in the rose garden and then in the Winter the supports provide a welcome touch of colour.
If you enjoyed this article then please feel free to share it, comment and/or ask questions.
All the best and thanks for dropping by.
© Andy Colley 2014