Wednesday, October 3, 2018

N A T U R A M O R T A / A still life at Abadir

'Colour is important in our daily lives, yet it is often taken for granted or little understood. 
Few are taught about colour, but many seem to possess an innate sense of it and are aware 
when colours are used in a harmonious way'  - The Anatomy of Colour Book by Patrick Baty

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Colour history >
Colour can stimulate our senses and give a sense of serenity or can overwhelm us as it is found everywhere around us, but few people know about the origins and how colour actually works.

Paleolithic man modified natural materials to make pigments at least 20,000 years ago. He had to learn from early days how to extract colour from different materials (animal, mineral and plant world) and also how to fix colour onto different surfaces using mordants, binders and solvents. 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life by Ana Maria Arranz for Colour Alchimia

The origins of colour making technology trace back to Ancient Egypt, where visionary alchemists concocted recipes for making pigments. Colour (ancient Egyptian name is iwen) was an essential element in Ancient Egypt adding deeper meaning to their everyday lives. The Egyptians introduced some new materials and crushed mineral colours such as natural red Cinnabar (vermillion); blue azurite and green malachite and the first synthetic pigment called Egyptian Blue.

Painting has been part of all cultures in history of mankind and also an important tool of religious, cultic and aesthetic impressions. From prehistoric cave paintings over the highly developed ancient cultures up to our modern arts, it always reflected an artistic expression. Ancient colour pigments store an enormous amount of information of both historic and scientific value. 

Ancient Colour can also be experienced and admired in Illuminated Manuscripts, where colour has been preserved from light and atmospheric conditions because books were kept closed. It can be said, inorganic pigments such as mineral based pigments are more resistant to light. Instead, organic pigments (made from plants and insects) are more delicate and lightfast, usually most of these colours fade away.

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still life by Gabriella Martines for Colour Alchimia

Botanical pigments like saffron and turmeric had been used in Persian and Turkish art for centuries. In Europe instead, saffron was used to illuminate manuscripts for its shiny and delicate finish. Medieval artists' recipe books consist mainly of instructions for the manufacture of materials, pigments, inks and painting media. Recipes particularly focused on the preparation of paints and inks starting from raw materials, including the selection and testing of materials, refining, grinding, sieving and mixing of pure materials and the manufacture of synthetic materials such as ink, verdigris and white lead. 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

The workshop > 
During the Colour Alchimia workshop held at Abadir Accademia di Design e Arti Visive in Sicily, Italy, the Egyptian colour palette was honoured by experimenting and extracting colours used by the ancient Egyptians. Having at hand a plethora of pigment sources of the best quality of pigments such as different coloured earths, red and yellow ochre, terra verte (green earth), yellow saffron, lampblack, azurite blue, malachite green and whiteshell from an ostrich egg and so on.

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Egyptians were considered an avant-garde civilisation for their time. Been masters in the art of fire; they introduced new colours; invented alchemy and glass. They honoured each colour as precious and did not mix colours to obtain new ones. Egyptian painters relied on 6 colours on their palette: red, green, blue, yellow, white and black.

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Participants learnt about the properties of different materials and also the processes of extracting pigments. They realised that the process of grinding by hand is very slow and time taking. The amount of grinding done to the natural material affects the final colour, for instance with azurite when finely grounded it becomes pale.  

Also how to make colour by recycling materials and reusing eggshells for making white. They loved making lampblack using a candle and a ceramic plate and they realised the concept of do-it-yourself that can be made at home.

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life Laura Pizzo for Colour Alchimia 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life Luciano Abbate for Colour Alchimia

Pigments are tiny solid particles that are suspended in a binder, a colourless or neutral material. This combination allows it to be used as paint, industrial coating or for any application to colour a surface.

Egg tempera paint uses of egg yolks as a binder and watercolour paint uses gum arabic as  a binder. These binders were first introduced by the Egyptians 5000 years ago,  and then were reintroduced during Medieval times. During the workshop, participants tested these binders to make paint. 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

The colour palette >
Azurite blue was extracted, which is a copper based stone that was widely used during Medieval and Renaissance times to replace expensive Ultramarine.

Azurite has been used as a pigment in various forms since Egyptian times. Is a natural mineral found in many parts of the world, it was originally sourced in Armenia, and then it moved to Germany. If ground finely, it becomes very pale. It is found in paintings by Giotto until the introduction of Prussian Blue in the 18th century which made azurite obsolete. 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Participants experimented with a range of different coloured earths. Ochres are obtained by a combination of clays and sands, a mixture of silica, alumina and hydrated iron oxide giving them its colour.

Lampblack, traditionally soot was collected after burning kerosene lamps. The burning process due to an incomplete combustion process, which caused the pigment to be dark black and greasy. It derived mostly from Norway and Sweden. This black pigment was one of the most commonly used blacks because it was cheap and plentiful.

Terre verte or Green earth is an earth pigment that was generally sourced from Verona, Hungary, Saxony and many parts of France. Mainly used during Medieval and Renaissance times as a base colour when painting flesh and skin tones. 

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò

Malachite is also a natural occurring copper carbonate. Is considered to be the first green ever used by humans. Introduced and extracted by Egyptians, widely used for decorating burial tombs and for cosmetics such as eyeshadow.

At the end of the workshop, a Natura Morta / Still life was designed which represents colour through a material palette.  

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life by Laura Lo Faro for Colour Alchimia

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life by Simona Spadoni for Colour Alchimia

Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Still Life by Alessandra Floridia for Colour Alchimia 

Cover Photo: Roberta Nanfitò / Work by @studio.laura.daza

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- Baty, Patrick, 'The Anatomy of Colour', 2017, UK, Thames and Hudson.