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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

  Conservation Corner Back

What is your favourite colour?
Aureolian, carmine, orpiment, hematite
or a phthalocyanine blue?

by Cheryle Harrison
Conservator, Pacific Conservators
Vancouver, BC

PIGMENTS have an ancient history and their sources and fabrication methods range from the simplistic to complicated alchemic concoctions. Many of these pigment colours are rarely known today, while others continue in use.

Some early pigments have been found on the walls of caves with images of animals, geometric designs, figures, and handprints. Narratives of hunts and daubed depictions were made using a bone or fingers. Burnt cinders were utilized for black. Colours in red and ochre tones were made from earth clays mixed with animal fat or blood. These simple images were succeeded by Egyptian hieroglyphics and Faiyum portraiture. Wax intermixed with pigment, and ground colours blended with water or spirits of wine are colours dating as early as 2300 B.C. A deeply purple colour, “Egyptian blue”, was produced by boiling mussel shells. Examples of Egyptian artwork remain visually brilliant and exist to this date.

Old manuscripts and early histories illustrate sources and recipes for pigments that read like myths. The unusual makes for romantic reading and recreates colours in words. Plants, minerals, and insects were ground, floated, burnt, or precipitated. Poetic names and conjuring processes are represented by these 17th century pigments: “Woad” or “Istatis Tintoria”, with its third name, “Florey” was an organic blue pigment made from the dried froth extricated from a boiling plant dye. A more alchemic sounding, “Purple Precipitate of Casicous” or “Gold Purple” was made by dissolving powdered gold and tin filings in a mixture of nitrate and hydrochloric acid.

How pigments are ground and prepared affect the durability and brilliance of colours. Smalt, a favoured 17th century pigment linked to an Egyptian paint, was glass silica ground for a soft blue colour. To overly grind the glass particles would offer up a lackluster paint, as the pigment would be ground to invisibility.

Many earlier pigments were later proven to be unstable. They would fade, degrade, or chemically change when mixed with other pigments or materials. For instance, Naples yellow when mixed with earth colours can turn black. Copper resinate pigments, so popular through the 15th to the 19th centuries are fugitive greens that recurrently turned dark brown due to its own decomposition. Conversely, the Paleolithic colours of ochre and black remain for use as materials in modern paints.

As the history of art has developed, so have changes occurred in the sources, manufacture, and use of pigments and paint. Pigment used for artwork evolves from encaustic, tempera, oil, watercolour, to later manufactured acrylics, alkyds, water-soluble oil paints, and industrial paints. Adulterants and additives are employed to thicken, thin, quicken or inhibit the innate characteristics of paints. Pigments when made into into paint can have a durability in one type of medium, and be deleterious when in a different medium. An interest in pigments can span many points, including, toxicity, slow and fast drying characteristics, and the physics of aging.

The boundaries of expression and availability of materials today are vast. Alchemy and the artists' personal knowledge of pigmented colours have yielded to technologically derived colours commercially available in tubes and plastic containers. Generally speaking, today's artist embraces the benefits of chemistry and convenience.

For more information visit the FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards) website at www.artfacts.org.

Last issue: Backing removals.
Next issue: Chinecollé.

 Fri, Feb 1, 2008