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PIGMENTS, PAINT MIXING, AND KILLER COLOURS

Updated: Feb 18

I am a person who gets temporarily obsessed. Plants, colour theory, Mayan history, and sometimes even earthquakes and plate tectonics. I tend to get into something, learn a bunch, then move on with my life. While art is the one things I've really stuck with, there are little corners of the art world that have become minor obsessions for me, and colour is definitely one that is quickly turning into a major obsession.


In high school, I was really fascinated by the realization that pigments and colour have sources. It seems obvious when you think about it, but so many of us take colour for granted because in the last 100 or so years, we have had the most access to colour and we see more colours than any humans that came before us. I learned about the pigment library at Harvard University that is essentially a storehouse for every pigment ever use along with its history. The collection has even been updated recently to include synthetic and modern pigments. Right now that might not seem important, but as the world changes, there may be pigments that become harder to get or their sources might disappear altogether.


People used to dig up a mummy to harvest the brown resin material and turn it into pigment. Not surprisingly, this colour is called Mummy Brown! The stories behind some of these pigments are so interesting. In my colour journey over the last three years I've been learning a lot about pigments, the sources, and what to look for in the ones I choose for my work, which brought me to exploring the creation of my own paints.


Last week I was sick, and I got to the point where I was well enough to do something but not well enough to do anything super creative or anything that required talking. I pulled out my pigments and materials I bought in the summer for creating some watercolours and I got to mixing.


I spent some time previously researching the pigments, looking for single pigment source powders and came up with this palette of watercolour paints. I made a load of these sample-sized dot cards and then I got a little excited and started mixing metallic paints as well.


When I teach colour-mixing, I want my students to use high quality paints and at $13/tube, its hard to convince them its worthwhile to buy the whole set of 12-15 tubes when they're not even sure they like to paint! So this is my solution.


This time I made a ridiculous number of dot cards, but for a reason! There are 45 colours in total. My reasoning behind this is that as an artist who was looking for good, vibrant metallic watercolours, I ended up buying online from a creator in California, and the shipping was absolutely outrageous since it was just 4 pieces of cardstock with some paint on it. So in making my own I don't have to shop elsewhere, but it also allows me to sell locally to other artists looking for the same thing in a better price range.


My inspiration for making paint and obsessing over colour really comes from my fascination with history, so I want to share one of my favourite examples of colour in history.


Scheele's Green:


Scheele's Green was invented in 1775 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, and by the end of the 19th century it had basically replaced all other green pigments. It really is a beautiful colour, right? WRONG! It was filled with arsenic!


During his exile on St. Helena, Napoleon lived in a house where the walls were covered in green wallpaper. In the damp climate, the wallpaper molded and the arsenic leeched out into the air. Napoleon died of stomach cancer, and though there are other theories surrounding the arsenic preserving his body or something, they have linked arsenic to stomach cancer, so it definitely wasn't a healthy colour to put in your home.


There are so many stories of pigments and chemicals used in the past having some pretty terrible health effects that weren't known at the time, so this is really just another one of those. I think these kinds of stories are interesting because it makes us as artists really think about what we are using, not only for our own health but for the health of people who collect and live around our artwork. In a couple of weeks I am teaching a Solvent-Free Oil Painting course where we talk about safe practices in oil painting, which I am very excited for!


My paints will be on sale soon, but if you're dying (haha) to get your hands on some, send me an email and I will get them to you!




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