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Birthday Jewels

March 1, 2016




I love books and films about art. I have many favourites: Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh was a staple of my childhood TV viewing as was The Agony and the Ecstasy (with Charlton Heston as Michaelangelo - secretly he was a bit of a fave). The Moon and Sixpence, Camille Claudel.  All  those artists painting or sculpting, formed my childhood aspirations to do something in “art”.  My favourite, though, is “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.  Though we don’t know a lot about Vermeer as a person , the camera work, lighting,  and Set Dressing give us a gloriously detailed vision  of  17th Century Delft and the way art was commissioned, made and perceived.  Best bit? Grete the maid (Scarlett Johannson) grinds the raw pigments in the studio to make the paints for her master Vermeer. Ooh, I can smell the oil now!


I had a birthday this last week and one of my presents, a complete surprise, was six wondrous pots of pure pigment. I never knew I wanted these but as soon as I unwrapped them I was lost.

So, the pigments (from an amazing shop called L. Cornellisen and Sons in London,) are in powder form and can be brought to life in various ways-I shall be adding linseed oil to make oil paints. However, most of them can be used for acrylic, oil, egg tempera  and watercolour. I believe they can be used as a powder too but I have a lot of reading up to do as to how that works.





I have always been fascinated by the way colours are produced and love the stories of colourmen grinding minerals and earths with oil to fill teeny bladders of paint for artists to take to their studios and use in the field. These bladders were pierced with a pin (somewhat akin to a drawing pin) and stoppered with the same but were messy and dried up quickly. In 1841 John Goffe Rand devised a method of using metal tubes to store and dispense the paint. How spoiled we are now! However, at that time the palette was very limited and it wasn’t until the accidental discovery in 1856, of the first aniline dye,  (a purple named Mauveine), by 18 year old William Perkin that paint entered the technicolor age. Without this serendipitous discovery our palettes would probably still be a very limited business of earth colours, very costly minerals (Ultramarine), crushed beetles  (cochineal for Carmine Red) and elephant pee (Indian Yellow, obtained by the cruel practice of feeding cows a diet of mango leaves).

Anyone interested in the use and history of colour in painting throughout the world, should read Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. It’s a fascinating read and one I return to often.

Now off to play with my colours!

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