10.14.2011

Ancient Paintbox

For the last few months I've been tucking into bed with Travels Through a Paintbox. Colour*, a fantastically dense and immensely insightful read into the origin of pigment and colors, is written in an exciting travel adventure voice by Victoria Finlay.

I want to have coffee with her on a train en route to find the Colores Naturales de Chile plantation in the Elqui Valley. I am dying to help find a new graphite mine in the mountains of northern China (hint, want to know why #2 pencils are traditionally painted yellow?), and I am stunned when she discovers that the Cochineal Beetle harvested on cacti when squished is what makes the most beautiful scarlet red we know of in so many of our products (it becomes colour additive E120 and is used in Cherry Coke!).

Image from here.

She talks right away about the disconnect between the product and the creator. Painters each once sourced, ground and created their own pigment. As with proper evolution to speed up production, a new field of Colormen was born in the mid-seventeeth century, allowing the painters to paint, and leaving the rounding up, making of pigment, canvas prepping, and brush making to this new branch of artisan. I particularly found fascinating the role of trust between Colormen and Artist - ie if a chemical was mixed incorrectly a portrait in several years could turn black in thanks to oxidization! 

Find and purchase Colour here!

All this sparked from a report on today's Morning Edition (utterly missing KUT since moving from Austin, my morning radio has been replaced by streaming NPR) about "An Early Human Paint Shop" found in a Southern African cave. And to top it off, the ancient paintbox was mixed in abalone shells!** We are talking about 100,000 years ago! Talk about lasting legacy through art. Colour's first chapter is entirely devoted to the color Ochre, which this article also reveals. The integration of nature and art is immeasurable. Makes me want to go out and stick my hands in the dirt. Read or listen to the report here.

Image found here.

*I was gifted Colour from a thoughtful friend in the Southern Hemisphere, hence my copy's title spelled Colour and the Amazon copy spelled Color. Strange! But I kind of love the extra U...

**Andy goes Ab diving in Fort Bragg when he can and we have several beeeautiful (and massive) shells holding our keys, coins and other goodies all over the house.

Happy reading and travels through colour!
J
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