Monday, January 4, 2010


The idea of grinding my own pigments from native minerals has taken hold, though just a cursive glance at this field is somewhat dazzling and dizzying in spite of all the simplicity about it. A small part of the desire has to do with the ideal of local sustainability (how less dependent can I get on industrial manufacturing and shipping/importing, and can it be brought to the point of no dependence?). But the greater part of the desire has to do with being intimate with one's materials in a way that it causes you to appreciate more the characteristic of a particular pigment, making you more sensitive to its potential, and especially hunkering down with good old limits: a discipline where the science of your materials and their application is respected with regards to permanency and at the same time is fused with your vision, making your vision more real because it is humbled.

The notion has been growing since I read a small Canadian Geographic article about one artist-and-iconographer in Ontario. During my great root canal epic (a root canal in five sittings, since it was the one tooth that had a root canal ten years previous, making for what the dentist called the longest known dental operation, since they have to go in and take everything out that was put in to be permanent all those years before and then putting new stuff in…one of the sittings being four hours…fun, fun, fun!) I came upon the article while waiting in the operating chair, and something about it seemed providential. I determined right there to remember the name of the artist in the article who went about looking for ways to make his entire palette from minerals and deposits from his native Ontario, so that I could search his name on the internet and hopefully come upon a site.

Naturally, I completely forgot the name, and halfway forgot the article. Nonetheless, I came across his site without even looking for it, and seeing his name on the site I said: Oh yeah! That's the guy I read about! Of course I was searching on making one's own pigments.

The article in The Canadian Geographic didn't really do justice to the pursuits of this artist/iconographer; it made him look like a dabbling hobbyist. This guy is really into it, and yet, he's been going into it without knowing a whole lot about it. He seems to use as many resources (both literary and physical) that he can, going to old mines and queries, lakes and rivers; using kilns and furnaces; growing his own woad plants to make Maya blue.

You can go to his site/blog here. Be sure to search through older entries.


Jim Janknegt said...

I commend you on you endeavor. If you haven't checked out this book: The Alchemy of Paint I highly recommend it. Fascinating and spiritually enlightening. Some pigment making can be fatal: vermillion as he describes the process. So be careful.

Paul Stilwell said...

I just read the short summary at amazon and wow, that is one book I will be getting! Thanks for the recommendation and encouragment (and warning). Speaking of hazards, I have some old tube oil colours that were passed on to me from my Grandma when she passed away (they're quite old), and among them is a big tube of white. I'm afraid to touch it for the amount of lead that is probably in it.