When I see ancient drawings, such as the ones from the Maya or Egypt, I always want to know how they got those colors. When I look at exhibit catalogs, I check the index to see if they give information about the colors used. I am currently listening to an audio book written by Geraldine Brooks called The People of the Book. It’s about an ancient manuscript and conservationist main character’s efforts to find out the book’s history. Boy, did my ears perk up when I heard the highlighted words below:
To understand the work of the craftsmen who created the medieval texts she restores, Hanna has made her own gold leaf and created white pigment by covering lead bars with the dregs of old wine and animal dung. She’s familiar with “the intense red known as worm scarlet … extracted from tree-dwelling insects” and the blue, “intense as a midsummer sky, obtained from grinding precious lapis lazuli.” Looking closely at the parchment of the Haggadah, she can tell it comes from “the skin of a now-extinct breed of thick-haired Spanish mountain sheep.” These lush details, at once celebratory and elegiac, will appeal to the sort of reader who picks up a book just for the feel of it.
The passage above is from the New York Times Sunday Book Review here. I wonder if the insects mentioned are like cochineal or another scale insect, lac. All of this talk of insects reminds me of the origins of the word vermillion, which I just found out this week. Who knew? Guess I may finally have to read the book, Color, a Natural History of the Palette. Now that I have an iPad, I can get the Kindle edition, read on my Kindle and see the color pictures on my iPad. The best of both worlds!
A couple of years ago, I took a one-day workshop from John Marshall in which he taught us how to make our own pigments. You can find directions on his website here. Now, our blue did not come from lapis lazuli, but it was still fun. You can find a couple of ingredients for making blue on John’s website. Maybe making pigments is in the future. You can also check out Kit Eastman’s work and several others who are using dyes and/or pigments creatively: Donna Kallner and Kimberly Baxter-Packwood. Then there is the queen of natural dyeing, Michele Wipplinger, founder of Earthues.