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Nontoxic oil paints -- healthier, more lightfast, and cheaper?  RSS feed

 
Everett Arthur
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I stumbled across this video a few days ago about an eco-artist who makes her own oil paints (and sells a powdered product to artists so they can make their own). The price is pretty reasonable (compared to other oils) and you don't get the cadmium, lead, and other nasty stuff in your paint. Even the old masters used lead and some other nasty compounds.

My questions are:
1) are there are any other artists out there that have found a quality nontoxic natural pigment for yellows, whties, and reds?
and
2) are there any natural artists out there that have professional quality examples of eco responsible oil paintings? Feel free to post pictures!


Here's the video for "Earth Paints"




 
Judith Browning
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Caleb, I love this area of thinking.......and I don't paint anymore, when I did it was with the commercial stuff.
I think for reds, madder is a great choice. When I began growing it I did some research on how to make a 'madder lake' from the pigment. I don't have the links anymore and don't remember much about it except that it is a historic pigment used in oils. There are so many 'yellow' natural dyes, I am sure there is one that is appropriate for oils.......I know that weld is the purest yellow I have used as a fabric dye and is easy to grow.
The only other tidbit that I know is that olive oil works for cleaning oil paint brushes, but that is not first hand information, it is from my cousin who is an artist.
My husband did some panels with earth pigments and milk/egg a long time ago. The colors have stayed true...I'll try to find out more if you are interested.

thanks for posting the video........it is wonderful!
...very inspirational to see someone showing how easy it is to remove more toxins from our lives.
 
Sharon Kallis
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HI Caleb! I get asked about paints quiet often, but it is not an area I work in so I don't have too much experience- other then yes, as Judith says- olive oil is great- my husband is a painter and has used olive oil for years now instead of turps or anything else for cleaning brushes. Most oil painters I know with issues around health or environmental concerns have changed mediums as a strategy, so finding earth pigments is a great options for those not wanting to change their practice too much!
And, there is something about reconnecting to the process- traditionally of course painters had apprentices- and this is what apprentices did, was spend ages just learning how to grind and mix colours before ever holding a brush- we have lost that now! The impressionist painting movement happened specifically because suddenly synthetic colours ( and natural pigments) available in tubes made quick, plein air painting even possible...
But what can you do if you want to go back to finding your own colour from the landscape? Judith's idea of madder is great, I have a friend who is a painter, Roser Oduber in Catlunya. http://roseroduber.blogspot.ca/p/d-ments.html She lives at an old lime quarry northwest of Barcelona, and she manages to use a white calc ( chalk) she finds on the land around her, and grinds and mixes it herself, I think she also finds her own earth tone pigments nearby, but then purchases her other brighter raw pigments for use.

Something to remember- - be open minded-if you switch materials, expect if you switch your process- the final product may change too in a big way- take it as an opportunity to rethink what you are making, as well as how you are making- I love how Peter L. Johnson http://peterljohnson.com/art-process has embraced this in the work he does with water and the river, the mud and the plants. So the intention of the work speaks to the content and materials he uses, or more specifically, the materials and environment he collaborates with.
For paper based work, I have played around with using roots of yellow flag iris, cutting them up and soaking them for a few days with an iron railroad bolt, then cooking them, and straining to make a dark grey dye- I have added a small amount of corn starch and had decent results for viscosity with a brush then on paper for use as an ink- great colour, and think it is pretty light fast- but not sure as far as archival goes if the iron would break down the paper- I know iron is hard on fibres, and can break those down, so you need to be careful about how iron is used with barks and fibres- paper would be the same... Generally I have an attitude that not much of what I make really needs to live forever, how much of what we make is such great art that it needs to out survive us!? That of course is a philosophical question and doesn't help the commercial artists who need to be able to tell their collectors that the work will not disappear before their eyes I realize.
If you do play with flag iris roots, know that they are poisonous- so don't use your cooking pots or spoons, and wear gloves- keep your soaking pot away from children and pets too. good luck in your pigment adventure!
 
Everett Arthur
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Those are some great ideas. Thank you Sharon for those artist links; it's good to see that there is some quality visual art being made that takes ecology and environment into account. I also looked up your weaving projects. What a great idea to divert invasive species' biomass from the landfill into useable objects and community-building.

I enjoyed your ideas about changing from one medium to another potentially affecting a change. I think that in environmental art the medium really is a huge part of the message.

That's good to know about iron. Are there other mordants I could use that would be less intense with fibers? I completely understand where you're coming from with ephemeral art. It is a bit pretentious to assume that one's work merits long life, isn't it?

Judith, thank you for those suggestions. I'll try to grow some madder and weld next year for pigments. Is madder Rubia tinctorum and weld Reseda luteola?

Did your husband use egg tempera? I've heard that it makes extremely durable works.

Have either of you used spores as pigments? In mushroom identification spore prints help to positively identify species, and most have interesting colors. I found this video of spores (plant-based) that looks really interesting:


 
Sharon Kallis
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it depends on what you are dying- cellulose is very different- more laborious- then wool, paper tinting would come under the area of cellulose. But that is interesting too- in that maybe staining is all you need to do- as opposed to a dye, something that sits on the surface, as long as it is colourfast...
tannin is a good mordant, and any bark that has tannin in high amounts will be fine on wool often with no other mordant, sometimes you will find in fibre dying, people use a tea bath, or a tannin dip as a pre-mordant, gallic tannin is what is most commonly used, as it is colour free, vs the brown we associate with tannin which of course affects the dye colour results.
tannin often helps colours be truest, deeper and more light fast. For protein based fibres ( wool and silks) with the chemical family of plants known as Anthraquinones, you can use an acid mordant: add 10% cirtric acid and 10% tannin to your dye plant amount.
This family includes: madder, rhubarb, the docks and amaranthe, lac and cochineal- this would give you a range of browns, pinks, reds!
be warned, this answer makes me look more science smart then I really am... I just did a dye workshop with Michel Garcia, a chemist who has been working on natural dyes for the last 25 years, so I had to go back to my notes to grab this tidbit for you!
the other thing to look at is plants that have a high alum content in the leaves or roots. Alum is the most common mordant used- and some plants are hyper accumulators of alum, and will have it either in the roots or leaves. I have been told Heuchera roots are good- but haven't tried it yet, and have been told that plants with deep tone leaves, or blue flowers are also often hyper accumulators of Alum, but have not tested this or done further research, so I might just be spreading rumors there...
or for ease, household pickling alum will do the trick! approx. 15 % to WOF ( weight of fibre ) is what you would use for dying cloth as a pre mordant before putting it in your dye bath. and also note, with something like cochineal ( bug blood) the alum cannot be done in the same one bath step for mordanting and dying as often can, because the alum bonds to the dye,and not the fibre, so you need to pre mordant the fibre, then the dye bonds to the fibre and alum together... I don't know if that is true of all plants that fall under the Anthraquinones family or not, so would be worth testing- might be worth doing a mordant brush work on your paper, then pour a bath of the dye over the paper and see if it only holds where the mordant touched! ahh, such fun awaits in all this experimental play...
 
Everett Arthur
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Location: Gaspésie/BSL, QC Zones 4b-5a
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Fantastic Sharon! Thank you so much for the information. I also heard from an interview with Rebecca Burgess (the Fibershed project in CA) that you can boil water in old copper pots to produce a copper-based mordant.

Great tip on Alum as well. That's the kind of thing that would really interest permaculture plant people, plants that accumulate something useful.

I'm excited to experiment this next summer. thank you for your great information, including the relayed tidbits!
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Judith, thank you for those suggestions. I'll try to grow some madder and weld next year for pigments. Is madder Rubia tinctorum and weld Reseda luteola?

Did your husband use egg tempera? I've heard that it makes extremely durable works.

Have either of you used spores as pigments? In mushroom identification spore prints help to positively identify species, and most have interesting colors.


Caleb, I have a thread on natural dyes here where you might find something helpful http://www.permies.com/t/15888/ancestral-skills/growing-harvesting-natural-dye-plants with some information about madder and weld.
.....weld (reseda tinctoria) mignonette family; woad (isatis tinctoria) mustard family; and madder (rubia tinctorum)...

Spore prints are colorful, aren't they...I think hard to get enough for dye....I always thought it would be fun to mount and frame them just on their own though.

My husband has explained the panel he made
"This was the first of a projected series of "Retablos del Mismo" (Altarpieces of the Self) in the style of New Mexico in the very early 1800's. The board is hand planed ponderosa pine, gessoed with gypsum (scrap drywall, powdered and sifted through a cotton sock) and hide glue, for the base coat of off-white. The pigments for the egg tempera image are red and yellow ochre, lamp black, and copper sulfate (made from old copper wire), each sifted through it's own cotton sock, and mixed fresh on a wooden palette.
The image is a parody of Santiago Matamoros(Saint James the Moor-Slayer) -I see him as Matamismo (the self slayer). My point being that in conquering everyone he inadvertently conquers himself, where he should have started. So the perspective, tangle of the horse's hind legs
is intentional, as is the modern interpretation of the white flag as surrender. The style is that of Miguel Aragon."

He made the red and yellow ochre from grinding rocks and the hide glue from a deer hide (might have been goat). I think I have all of the spelling correct, a little trouble reading his handwriting . I wanted to explain the image also and not just the pigments used. The panel is twenty years old and has been exposed to light and some sun for all of that time.
......and just the yolk of the egg was used.
IMG_1774.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1774.JPG]
egg tempera....image is explained above....
 
Everett Arthur
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Location: Gaspésie/BSL, QC Zones 4b-5a
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Thanks Judith! That's fantastic; great idea, great execution. Before I read the description I assumed it was a simple critique of european conquest and colonization. You're right, though. The colors look like they've stood up very well, for at least 20 years.

It probably would take a lot of spores to make pigment from fungal sources. I was taught to do spore prints on glass or other smooth surfaces, and I was surprised how easy it was to bring a good amount of spores together with a rasorblade. I'm not sure if anyone has experience on spore lightfastness as pigments, but I know fungal spores are pretty tough. Spore prints are beautiful aren't they? It would be a fun project to superimpose a few from different species with complementary spore colors, wouldn't it? I would hang that in my house. :)

 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I think this is the video from earthpaint.com  that is missing in the OP's first post...

 
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