Thursday, December 23, 2010


Vermilion is a bright, intense red color that has been used by artists since ancient times. It is a color that was indispensable to the Old Masters, for its strength and flexibility.

The color that is known as Vermilion today is only superficially comparable to what was used in the past. The modern color is made from Cadmium. Real Vermilion is made from Mercuric sulfide.

The naturally occurring form of Mercuric Sulfide is the mineral Cinnabar. The majority of mercury found on Earth is in this form. It has been mined for thousands of years as a source of mercury, as an artist's pigment, and even for natural medicine!

Most cinnabar is not of high enough quality to be made into a bright pigment, so a synthetic form was necessary. Ancient Chinese alchemists developed a process to synthesize cinnabar in the laboratory, and that was the beginning of Vermilion. These methods eventually found their way to the west.

Real vermilion has developed a bad reputation as not being stable. Vermilion was often adulterated with inferior products by unscrupulous vendors. Depending on the process used to create it, synthetic vermilion will vary in its stability. Vermilion has been known to darken when exposed to direct sunlight for long periods. In general however, it has proven very stable over time.

Cinnabar is not affected by these issues, so I chose to use it as a basis for making Vermilion pigment. Chinese cinnabar is of very high quality. I purchased it in the form of small pieces and not a powder, to ensure it was genuine. Cinnabar crystals have an unmistakable greasy appearance similar to quartz.

Because Cinnabar is mostly mercury, it is important to take appropriate safety precautions while it is being handled.

An example of roughly ground cinnabar. This was washed over and over again to remove impurities. It was then dried, reground and then washed again. The jars contain the pigment in different series of being washed.

Once dry, I mixed the final color into oil paint:

Cadmium-based colors superseded those of mercury only in the early 20th century, so the majority of art created by man will contain real Vermilion. Real Vermilion is stronger and more intense than cadmium, and will tolerate more extreme color mixes without losing its chromatic purity. It also tends to be much warmer.

An example of Vermilion, from the painting Mars et Rhea Silvia, by Peter Paul Rubens.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Work

The Marina
Oil on Canvas 10" x 14"

A small painting I completed a few weeks ago. Its a wonderful opportunity to be able to make my own paints. At the same time I recognize that its going to take me a while to become accustomed to the character of hand mixed paint, which is so different from something that comes out of a tube.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A New Studio

A while ago, I was very generously offered a new studio space. The studio consists of its own dedicated separate building. Before I could start using the space, I wanted to have everything set up just right.

My preference is always to work from natural light if possible. Before the invention of electricity, buildings were built to maximize light from natural sources. They were oriented so they faced the poles. With more modern buildings this is not always the case; making the best of the lighting is tricky.

I was fortunate to have spent enough time at Charles Cecil studios in Florence, that I knew what changes to make to the studio.

The best natural light comes from a single, high-facing source, preferably to the north. Northern light is the most stable throughout the day. If you can't use northern light, you may have to deal with shadows and highlights that vary considerably from hour to hour.

Another goal should be to minimize the amount of light reflecting around the studio. A high facing window reduces light reflecting off of the ground or surrounding buildings. Cutting down on the number of light sources simplifies the image, making the artist's job easier.

The 19th Century studio of George Inness. Note the single, large window light source.

The studio before I moved in had more than ample light. The windows to the right are facing north. The other windows will need to be covered.

I don't own the studio, so I couldn't make any major changes to the structure. I needed to use non-destructive means to block the light. The windows didn't have shutters, so they were covered by paper and cloth. The cloth was either attached directly to the wall, or hung from curtain rods.

The complete studio. A few things may need tweaking down the road. Everything has been covered, except the north windows immediately in front of the work. The lower windows have been blocked off halfway as well.

The light piece seen extending out from the top of the skylight, is a piece of foamboard. This directs the light down towards the workspace, cutting down on reflections off the opposite side of the ceiling. Ideally, the whole studio would have been painted black or draped with curtains to cut down on reflected light, but this would not have been practical in this case.

I set up a quick informal still-life, to observe the quality of light with real objects.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More about Painting Supports

Rigid panels have been used as painting supports for millennia, and are an excellent alternative to canvas. There are oil paintings done on panel that are still in excellent condition after 500 years. The greatest flaw of canvas is that it is not rigid, and the condition of many older paintings have suffered because of this fact.

Panels can be made to have a wonderfully smooth surface that is excellent for painting in detail. For those that desire a more textured surface, canvas can be glued to the panel, for the benefits of both.

A lot of materials are suitable for use as painting supports. I have organized some of the more popular choices into groups.


Wood is one of the oldest painting supports, having proven itself in use over thousands of years. Many different species are suitable. Historically, Poplar was a common choice in Southern Europe, Oak in the north.

Wood has some drawbacks. It can rot, and be attacked by pests. Wood is not always dimensionally stable, and can warp. The susceptibility to all of these problems will vary by species.

With the right preparation, these issues can be minimized. Wood should be aged properly to ensure that it is dry and acclimated to its environment. This process used to take up to ten years. Nowadays, most woods are kiln dried, which does not always ensure a wood is completely dry. I try to work around this issue by using old or reclaimed wood.

Panels made from wood were usually braced in some manner to make them stronger and to resist warping. There were a variety of ways of doing so. Ongoing research by conservators suggests that these methods may do more harm than good. Braces can't stop a panel from eventually warping, and in the process put extra stress on the wood.

I have chosen not to brace my panels. The method I have adopted instead is to size and gesso the panel equally on both sides to ensure it is sealed. This is based on historical recommendations and backed by modern research. I use wood that is as close to quarter sawn as possible. This is wood that is cut down the center, so that the grain runs parallel along its length, making it more likely to be warp resistant.

Plywood is made by gluing many thin sheets of wood together, in alternating layers. This makes a solid sheet that should be stronger and more warp-resistant than the same wood in regular form.

Plywood suffers from drawbacks unique to its construction. Boards can warp, plies can de-laminate, and the glues used to hold plies together can leach out and cause damage to the paint. The quality and price of modern plywoods is all over the map. I've had a lot of issues trying to use plywood as a painting surface with traditional gesso. Soon after making them, my panels developed micro-fine cracks, caused by the wood grain swelling from moisture. This is fairly common, from what I understand. I would suggest doing your own tests and experimenting, before using plywood on anything you consider important.


Products that have been manufactured using ingredients derived from wood. Their benefit is that they are more dimensionally stable than wood, should resist warping, are widely available, and inexpensive.

Hardboard, aka Masonite, is a type of dense fiberboard. It is made from wood fibers that have been compressed under extreme pressure, until they are bound together. No glue is used in this process. Hardboard is strong, dense, and has no grain.

Hardboard panels have been in use long enough to get an idea of their longevity, with mixed results. Some vintage paintings are in good shape, while others have not fared well. "Tempered" hardboard, has been coated with oil to make it more weather resistant. There are cases where this has reportedly leached into the paint surface and ruined it, so tempered products should probably be avoided.

The majority of premade "archival" artists panels are made from some kind of hardboard. Without knowing specifics about how a panel is made, I would think twice about using them for anything but smaller, more informal works.

MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is made from ground wood fibers bound together by a glue or resin. It is weaker and less dense than hardboard. The resin used to bind the wood fibers poses a health risk as it is usually formaldehyde-based. Protection should be worn when working with MDF.

MDF is a relatively new material, so long-term permanence is still open to debate. How long the resins that hold the material together will last is a big concern. MDF is relatively soft, so it can be dented easily, especially around the edges. It can also swell if exposed to water. I would recommend sealing MDF on all sides before use.


Metal has been used as a panel support on a limited basis for centuries. Rembrandt used copper for some of his smaller works, and these are still in excellent condition. Provided that there is a sufficient bond between the paint and metal, it is in many ways the ideal surface. Metal is rigid, stable, and expands and contracts relatively little. The drawbacks include the added weight and expense of many metals such as copper, and the possibility for corrosion unless sealed from the atmosphere.

Friday, October 29, 2010


This post is devoted to a style of painting known as Tonalism, that has had a large influence on my approach to making landscapes. The name refers to the use of a simple unifying color, or tone throughout a painting to create a sense of mood. Common subjects include twilight, sunsets, moonrises, nocturnes, and misty atmospheres.

The tonalist style was uniquely American, beginning in the mid to late 19th century as an outgrowth of the French Barbizon school of traditional landscape painting. The period signifies the emergence of the United States on the world stage, a country that was still very young at the time and had not matured artistically. The style was short lived, lasting only a few decades, and was notably eclipsed in popularity by Impressionism.

What has always appealed to me about tonalism are its soft and meditative qualities. Pictures made in the style have a subtle sense of mystery that draws in the viewer.

Probably one of the most famous painters associated with the style was George Inness. His early work was fairly tight, but as time went on, he began to develop a looser more atmospheric style, focused on conveying mood.

George Inness, Summer Landscape

George Inness, Sunset on the Passaic

He is one of the most expressive painters of sky that I have seen, particularly his ability to render the powerful fury of an approaching storm.

George Inness, Étretat

The general softness of tonalism makes it well suited to oil painting. Only one artist in my experience, Edward Steichen, was able to capture the same qualities in other media. His career began as a oil painter, but he quickly moved on to photography. Steichen sought to merge the experience of both media together. By experimenting with technique and highly modifying his photos, he was able to create great tonal photographs.

Edward Steichen, The Pond—Moonlight

Another big name was James Abbot McNeill Whistler. Whistler was influenced in his mature years, by the minimalist art of Japanese prints. He created many innovative works, his most famous being a serious of Nocturnes.

James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold

There are many other fine examples of this style of art, even some are contemporary. I plan is to incorporate elements of the style in my own work as well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ultramarine, Part II

Natural Lapis lazuli is a beautiful stone , but in raw form a mediocre pigment. As I covered in the first installment lapis lazuli is not homogeneous. The brilliant blue color comes from lazurite, the other constituent elements being impurities. Only the very highest quality stones create a rich blue when crushed into a pigment. For centuries artists and craftsman had to make the best of the dull, ashy blue that was often a result.

A comparison of different grades of Lapis Lazuli.

Then sometime around the 13th century, alchemists developed methods to extract lazurite from its impurities. This involved adding the pigment into a melted pastiche of wax, resins, and linseed oil. The resulting blob of material was kneaded in a solution of water or weak lye. The pure pigment was released and could be collected. The work was time consuming and came at a huge expense.

Many recipes along these lines still exist. Among these, the most detailed was written by the artist Cennino Cennini in the early 15th Century. His book, Il libro dell'arte, or The Craftsman's Handbook is a charming guide to how art was made during the Renaissance. A whole chapter is devoted to pigments, including a very detailed recipe for lapis.

Cennini's describes a "plastic" to be made from beeswax, mastic, and pine resin. He calls for one pound of lapis powder to be used in the recipe. I had a lot less, so I adjusted each quantity accordingly.

Once I weighed out each ingredient, they were melted together in a saucepan.

I poured the plastic into a bowl, then added my lapis powder. I proceeded to knead the still liquid plastic until the lapis was evenly dispersed. Like kneading bread dough, one must cover ones hands with something so it does not stick. In this case Cennini says to use linseed oil, instead of flour. The plastic cooled quickly and began to form a soft, solid ball.

I let the plastic sit for 3 days, per Cennini's instructions. Each day I took it out and kneaded it again.

After this time had passed the plastic was placed in a bowl pull of warm dilute lye and kneaded again like bread. Because lye is caustic, I took precautions to protect myself. Cennini recommends using two round sticks while handling it in the lye. I used two chopsticks.

While kneading the plastic, the pure lazurite should gradually be released. Once it has settled on the bottom, the plastic can be removed, and the lye poured off from the fresh pigment. The first extraction is the purest and finest. Cennini recommends using fresh lye to repeat the process again in a new bowl. This will continue until all of the blue has been extracted from the plastic, and it becomes worthless.

I consider my attempt a partial success. While I was able to obtain some very fine pigment, the plastic began disintegrating in the lye almost immediately. I was not able to repeat the process many times, as Cennini recommends. A lot of small pieces of wax and resin ended up in the pigment, and will have to be removed somehow before it can be put to use.

I will need to do more research before I try this method again with my finest lapis.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last weekend, I started making some new charcoal. The first batch that I had produced earlier in the year made for an excellent drawing charcoal, but failed as a paint pigment. I'm working on refining the process, so that it can be used for both.

The trick is to bake the wood just right minus oxygen, so that it is mainly reduced to pure carbon. The wood should be allowed to breathe just a little, because it will outgas as it bakes. Allow too much air and it will be reduced to ash.

I gathered up willow branches, allowing them to dry several weeks in advance. They were stripped of all of their bark. Using the trimmers, I cut them into many small pieces.

I'm considering building some kind of retort to burn the wood in the future, but for the time being, I'm relying on the same methods I used for my first experiments.

The willow sticks were stuffed into a stoneware bowl lined with foil, wrapped again with foil, and the top of the bowl was covered. It was placed in the hot wood oven.

The charcoal fresh out of the oven. I would guess it is about 80 percent charcoal at this point.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A New Mortar & Pestle

Just a small update-I've purchased a new mortar and pestle, this time made from granite. Dark granite is stronger than most materials, and not much more expensive. I think it will be better suited to grinding hard minerals than the marble or porcelain I was using previously.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More about Yellow

A bright yellow is an important addition to any artists palette. Modern yellow pigments are synthetic, based on mineral or organic mixtures. These colors, such as Cadmium yellow are permanent, and incredibly bright. For a painter wishing to achieve natural effects they demand caution and restraint, otherwise they can become overpowering.

On the other hand, there are less intense and more subtle historical alternatives that are still available today. These are all mineral-based. Natural organic colors such as Weld, are not lightfast, so I would not consider them.


Orpiment is a bright rich yellow, based on the natural mineral arsenic sulfide. The presence of arsenic makes it very toxic. In fact the mineral was once used as a fly poison.

Orpiment was a common feature on palettes going back to ancient times. It was a popular color in Italy during the Renaissance, but was not the preferred choice in Northern Europe. By the 19th century, Orpiment had been wholly replaced by alternatives.

Orpiment's other major flaw is that it is incompatible with lead and copper based pigments. This means it cannot be used in mixtures containing lead white, for instance. I feel that this is far too limiting, so I will not be using this color.

Lead-Tin Yellow

Lead-tin yellow is a synthetic bright opaque yellow, made by combining lead and tin oxide. Most varieties tend to be on the pale side. The color was most popular during the 15th to 17th centuries. Because it contains lead, it is highly toxic. It is also relatively expensive.

An example of lead-tin yellow, from the painting Equestrian Portrait of the Duke de Olivares, by Diego Velázquez.

Naples Yellow

Naples Yellow is also made in the lab, by combining lead and antimony. The color varies depending on how it is made, but tends towards a deeper, more orange opaque yellow. It was gradually adopted as a replacement for Lead-tin yellow, probably around the 16th Century. It is highly toxic.

As lead has been gradually phased out of most products, genuine Naples Yellow has become hard to find. Most colors sold today going by the name are imitations. They are convenience mixtures that lack the beauty or permanence of the real thing. When purchasing the color one must ensure that it is genuine. Real Naples Yellow is expensive, so a low price should raise suspicions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ultramarine, Part I

There is one natural blue pigment that is considered without peer: Ultramarine. A common color on European palettes by the Middle Ages, it is the color of the blue skies of the Renaissance, of Leonardo. Its name comes from the Italian oltramarino, "beyond the sea," as it had to be brought across the Mediterranean to Europe from the other side of the known world. Real ultramarine is made from the semi-precious stone Lapis lazuli, which is only available from a few locations around the globe.

The very best Lapis lazuli comes from the remote mountains of Badakhstan province, in northeastern Afghanistan. The Sar e Sang mine has been in operation for more than 6,000 years. The rock was probably first exported to Ancient Egypt. Marco Polo visited this mine in 1271, during his trip across Asia.

Lapis lazuli is a complex silicate rock, containing mostly lazurite but also calcite, sodalite, and pyrite. The highest grades are more intensely blue, and have smaller inclusions.

The gold speckles are pyrite (Fools' gold).

Lapis is a difficult material to mine. It is labor-intensive to grind and purify. These factors, along with the formidable remoteness of the mine and the rock's lengthy transport, made Ultramarine incredibly expensive. Worth more than gold, the high cost put it out of reach for many artists. It was often reserved for special subjects, such as the robes of the Virgin and Child. The asking price of a painting was often based merely on the quantity of ultamarine used.

The issue of cost was taken seriously enough that the French government offered a reward to anyone who could synthesize it cheaply. In 1828, Jean Baptiste Guimet won the prize. The synthetic ultramarine he developed quickly superseded its natural counterpart and is still in use today.

Real ultramarine is distinguishable from the synthetic variety by a less intense saturation. It has a glowing, gemlike quality stemming from its crystal structure. The effect is striking.

The painting, Bacchus and Ariadne, by Titian, serves as an example of how beautiful Ultramarine can be in the right hands. This painting was part of a series of restorations done in the late sixties. Its unveiling was controversial. The public did not associate the new colorful look with Titian, the sky in particular. Some critics suggested that this was the result of careless work by the restorers. I will not enter into this debate, but I will say that, having seen the real color, this may be what the painting looked like when it was new.

Given the high cost of finished pigment, I have decided to make my own Ultramarine from scratch. In the next installment, I will show how this was done.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Visit to Stancills

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Stancills Mine in Perryville, Maryland. Stancills has been family run since its inception several generations ago. They produce a wide variety of products based on the sand, gravel, clay and other materials mined there.

The high quality of their clays has attracted potters from all over the east coast. The family is very supportive of artists and has cultivated a relationship with their many visitors over the years. When I saw pictures of the red clay others had gathered there, I knew I had to visit.

We were given a tour and allowed to collect freely from many different piles of clay surrounding the mine. I grabbed anything that caught my attention. Reds, a green earth, and a fistful of nice looking yellow.

When I got home, I set out to see what I could make with my new samples. The unrefined nature of the clays meant I needed to sort them first if I wanted to get the purest color. After being fully washed, sieved and dried, I could compare them.

On left is a cool, violet red. On the right, a warmer orange. Everything else was somewhere in between. I decided to work with the middle range first.

I was impressed by the strong staining power of this clay, it left a mark on anything it touched.

Mixed into paint this clay makes a nice, deep red. I think this will be a valuable color for painting flesh tones.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why Make Your Own Paint?

Artists throughout time have included paintmaking among the many skills of their craft. Sadly, modern artists are largely unfamiliar with the process. There are still good reasons to consider making paint for yourself. How far you want to go in the paintmaking process is up to you. You don't have to make everything from scratch. You will still see most of the benefits by mulling commercial pigments as well.

Making your own paint encourages an intimate knowledge of each material, a choice of what goes into them, and permits their qualities to be altered in any way you see fit. This is a skill that the Old Masters used to get the most out of their abilities.

Think of cooking as an analogy. Most of us have bought or consumed prepackaged food in some way or another. Food prepared this way is predictable and convenient. Would top chefs want to use canned ingredients from the supermarket? Or would they insist on searching out the best ingredients, making the dishes from scratch?

Modern paints are more like prepackaged food. Like the food, artists are forced to accept the recipe the manufacturer has chosen for them. The art market is very small in scale compared to wider industrial uses of paint such as automobiles and plastics. Modern artists use what they are given, not necessarily what is ideal.

There are other benefits. Homemade paint is more likely to have purer color. Manufacturers add fillers to cut the amount of pigment in a given volume of paint, increasing profits. Usually only high end or boutique paints come close to the pigment loads of paint made by the artist's hand. These paints tend to be much more expensive. In this way, making your own paint can represent significant financial savings.

How we experience color in a painting is a consequence of the way it interacts with light. Light is altered as it reflects through the layers of paint on canvas and returns to our eyes. Modern pigments are ground to a uniform, extremely fine consistency, and are chemically very pure. I find the intensity of these paints can be overbearing if the artist doesn't make an effort to tame them. Hand ground pigments will be far more varied in their shapes and sizes of particles. These will refract (bend) the light waves passing through them in a complex fashion. The end result is more naturalistic, and these colors can be used in their more pure form, without becoming garish.

The consistency and handling qualities of paint is known as rheology. Oil paint falls into two categories: long (loose, stringy) and short (thick, buttery). Hand made paints vary in character but tend to be long. Paint would have felt this way 500 years ago. Modern paint is usually very short. It is easy to adjust the rheology of paint while you are making it. Modern tubed paint can only be altered by adding mediums. There is no evidence older artists used that much medium, and it is easily overused.

The downside of all of this is that all of this will take a great degree of patience and work. Smashing up rocks and grinding pigments is always going to be time consuming. Some historic pigments are highly toxic. It will take a bit of time to become comfortable making paint, and will require additional skill. The final quality of the product will also rest on your shoulders. Bad raw materials will produce bad results. Even if it seems daunting, I would encourage all artists to give it a try.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

About Lead White

Lead white is one of the oldest artificial pigments in the artists's palette. It is also arguably the greatest pigment in the history of oil painting, used by humanity for thousands of years.

Lead was once the only decent white available to oil painters. The last century witnessed the introduction of alternatives, first zinc white, then titanium white. The result is that its use has declined significantly. Now that there are alternatives, why would we want to still use lead?

We are only beginning to understand the complex chemistry of paints, and conservation scientists have noted that paintings with lots of lead in them are usually in much better shape than their counterparts. In some cases, parts of a painting with lead are the ONLY areas still in good shape. The consensus is that lead is strengthening the structure of paintings. By contrast, the Smithsonian has recently completed a 30 year study linking the use of zinc white to major cracking, disintegration and delamination of modern paintings.

The great downside of lead is its toxicity. Even small exposures will accumulate in the body over time. Lead poisoning was noted even in ancient times, but little was ever done. Most of the risk wasn't to artists but to the individuals exposed to lead during its production. Little protection was available to workers and they were exposed to large amounts of lead as a result. Thousands would have died in this pursuit. One 1884 source I found suggests most of the lead factory workers were women. These and other concerns lead to its decline. Over the past fifty years developed countries have highly regulated its use. The day may come when its use is banned completely.

It came as a surprise to me during my research to learn that modern lead white is not the same as it once was. From Roman times up through part of the 20th century, the best lead was made with the Dutch "Stack" process. Below is an illustration of how this was done:

Note: Lead is highly toxic. I would NOT recommended trying this process on your own, it is not worth the risk.

Lead white is basic Lead Carbonate. Alchemists discovered a simple way to make this successfully using lead, vinegar and manure.

First Vinegar is added to the base of clay pots. Special pots would have been made for this purpose.

Curled sheets of lead are placed inside the pots, with a spacer in between them and the lead, so that only the rising vapors will contact the metal.

Fresh horse manure was collected from Dutch breed horses, for added authenticity. This was mixed with leaves and filled in around the pots. The pots would have been placed in a special sealed building, in many rows of stacks. The "Stack" is where the process gets its name . I used a large plastic container.

The vinegar vapors contain acetic acid, that chemically corrodes the lead, forming lead acetate. The decaying manure releases carbon dioxide and moisture, which reacts with the acetate making lead carbonate and lead hydroxide. It also generates heat that speeds the process along. It will take several months for the conversion to take place.

The box after two weeks. A significant amount of white has already been produced.

Over a month has passed, and the process is mostly complete. The lead can now be removed, coming off in large flakes. This is where the traditional name "Flake White" comes from. I ground and washed the lead, to remove impurities.

It appears the raw lead I used had copper impurities in it. These were washed out as much as possible.

The pigment was left under the sun several days to dry.

At this point, the lead white was ready to be sold as is or mixed for paint.

Lead produced in this manner has unique properties that are highly desirable for artists. Under the microscope it's particles are larger than modern lead whites. This makes it more opaque and gives it special handling qualities in oil. Lead acetate and other impurities accelerate its drying.

Stack lead white is nearly extinct. One of the only companies I know that still sells lead produced this way is Natural Pigments.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A New Sketch

A quick tree sketch.

This tree has always caught my attention passing by the side of the road. Mostly by its gnarly surface. I had a bit of vine charcoal left over from my discarded pigment experiments, that I hadn't ground up. Charcoal made from willow was once said to be the best, and I can see why. It has a wonderful forgiving nature and goes on smoothly.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Colors

I've been pretty busy testing my scratch-made palette. Here is an example of an experimental picture I did the other week.

In anticipation of painting full time again, my focus has shifted more towards refining the colors I've already made. This is a process with virtually no end. While it requires a lot of patience, its also fun. I feel a little like an archaeologist or treasure hunter. I've been doing a lot of map reading, research, talking to geologists, and driving around filling little baggies with material. Here are a couple recent finds.

I took a road trip to a geologic formation that I suspected might contain quality yellow clays. It was exciting to find this sample.

Mixed with oil, this yielded a deep, golden ochre. This brought back memories of a great color I used back in Italy, named Roman Ochre.

I feel the red ochre I've been using so far is not what I want it to be. Most of the red clays I've been able to find in my state are a little too orange for my tastes. Before I stopped using this color, I decided to try an experiment.

The ochres and other clays get their color from the Iron Oxides contained within them. Iron Oxides are normally a rusty red color. These clays become lighter in color when they bond chemically with water, becoming Hydrated Iron Oxide. Yellow Ochre is an example of this.

If a lighter clay is heated, the water will be released, and the clay will become red again. This occurs in nature, and is also done in paint production. Artists colors of this type are designated by the "burnt" label in the name. An example is Burnt Sienna.

My experiment consisted of trying to do the same at home. I put my red ochre in a crucible, covered it in foil, and placed it inside the family's wood oven.

I watched as the color became more and more red. After several hours, the change seemed to have stopped, so I removed it and let it cool off.

A side by side comparison. The image on the left is the pigment before it was heated. As you can see on the right, the pigment has become much much redder. It still has an orange undertone. I would consider my experiment a success.