March 20, 2016
Being a colorist at heart, I’ve always been curious in seeing raw pigments and learning about where the colors come from, be it minerals or plants, or those that are created in a lab. My watercolors are infused with color. In my workshops I show my students ways to mix and layer colors to create richer, glowing colors, rather than using color right out of the tubes. I know there are plenty of painters who use specific palettes of color, limited to a small assortment of colors to create a certain tone to their paintings. I’m a color hog, the more the merrier. I never use any browns or black, and rarely grey. I mix them or layer them using all sorts of colors to get wonderful rich colors in my paintings.
And I am curious about where pigments come from. Typically they come from plants or minerals, and sometimes animals. Imagine grinding up a lovely piece of lapis lazuli to get that specific blue in your painting! Blues are purples were most expensive, so its no surprise why they are associated with royalty. With the Industrial Revolution, color and pigments could be developed in labs, and more especially after the Scientific Revolution in the 18th C.
I just found this article on My Modern Met about a lab at Harvard that has a collection of over 2,500 pigments from around the world, and you can go see them. Its the Forbes Pigment Collection at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, part of the Harvard Art Museum. They have the pigments there to use in art conservation work, to be able to match colors of old paintings that are being maintained and preserved.
photo from My Modern Met, colors from the Forbes Pigment Collection
Seeing this article made me wistful for an art supply store I went to when I was studying printmaking in Florence way too many years ago. Its called Zecchi Colori, on via della Studio (evocative name, no?). Head a couple of blocks toward the Arno from the Santa Maria del Fiori, the Cathedral that dominates Florence’s skyline, Zecchi is on the right side of the street. The first time I went in there I thought I’d died and gone to heaven because around the perimeter of the store on the top shelf of the supplies were huge glass jars of pigments, bright, intense, glorious. I never did get a photo of them, seems ridiculous since I was so taken with them that I just never took a photo. I did by a crock, though! But I think I need to get into that lab at Harvard…