Good morning and welcome to my world of colours, pigments, mediums, old masters, and experiments like an antique alchemist. Palettes, colour charts, old books and nature are my favorite arguments. Having a classic background, I love experimenting with colours, especially using old masters colours and some made by modern industry. These preliminary studies are very important for my future digital artworks (I like to recreate canvas textures and brush strokes on computer too). On Gallery Paintings you can find a selection of digital paintings, and on Gallery Sketches some digital illustrations and sketches. And now let’s talk about some colours…
Natural inorganic mineral pigments are all earth based, such Ochres, Iron Oxides (Fe2O3) and Carbon (C). Used since antiquity, they can be found in Paleolithic caves of Altamira, Lascaux, Chauvet (from 14.000 to 35.000 years ago). These are very stable colours. Rembrandt, one of my favorite masters from Dutch Golden Age, used a lot of earth colours. His works aged very well thanks the fact he chose stable pigments for his Chiaroscuro paintings. Another one, Blue Lapislazzuli, in the past was obtained from the semi-precious stone, one of the most expensive colour of all time, more than gold. As a jewelry designer is amazing painting with this colour. Cinnabar instead, the toxic mineral containing mercury, was used for Red Vermillion, that in Chinese Alchemy is the raw material of the Philosopher’s Stone. This pigment due its toxicity and considering that tends to darker was, with time, substituted with Cadmiums and synthetic ones.
Natural organic pigments are instead carbon based, obtained from plants and animals-insects. These colours are really beautiful but also fugitive. Their lightfastness (the fading resistance when exposed to light) is very low. From plants was extracted Rubia tinctorum Red, Indigo Blue, Gamboge Yellow. From animals was produced Cochineal Red, Sepia Brown, Murex Purple. Most of these colours were very expensive and difficult to find, hard to produce, and traveling to distant places was needed. This limited the artist palette at the time. I’ll tell you the weird and fascinating stories behind them soon.
For synthetic pigments we must wait until 1704 with the accidental discovery of Prussian Blue by Diesbach in Berlin, and 1775 for the copper arsenite called Scheele’s Green made from Swedish chemist C.W.Scheele. Synthetic mineral Ultramarine now is a cheaper replacement for the old costly Lapislazzuli, Cadmium is a substitute for toxic Cinnabar, Iron Oxides are made at the moment with higher concentration of pigment and consequently more brilliant than natural ones. Other ones are Chrome, Cobalt, and mostly metal compounds pigments. Then there are the Synthetic organic ones, mostly petroleum based. Quinacridones, for example, are highly transparent and lightfast (my favorite, the red-purple range, is gorgeous), Phthalocyanines have a powerful tint strength.
But a lot of these colours were not so safe, there are many anecdotes about it. Many artists have died of poisoning, for the substances contained in colours they used, with heavy metals, Arsenic, Lead. Lead White was used since antiquity, it was the only White available till 1800, when were introduced Zinc and Titanium White. This disease, that affected a lot of artists, was called Saturnism. A lot of painters suffered of it, especially from 1400-1500. Caravaggio, Goya, Van Gogh, Tranquillo Cremona, often moistened brushes in their mouth or were used to paint with fingers absorbing poison through skin. This illness damages brain and nervous system too. Obviously this is a non-exhaustive list, just some examples, I’ll go deeper in next posts.
*Safety note: Colours are rated from “A” safe to “D” poisonous. Always refer to the package first painting with them. Use gloves if needed, mask when handling pigment powders, a vacuum or wet rags to clean, don’t eat-smoke when painting, keep a ventilate room, pay attention if you have children or pets, avoid discharge into the environment. Common sense and just a few rules keep us and environment safe.
To be continued…