Wednesday, September 2, 2020



I will like to share my experience of teaching in Argentina about Design and Colour. I taught a course on Design, Colour Theory and Alchemy to locals with no design or colour formation whatsoever. It was a fulfilling, heart-centered experience of sharing my knowledge and wisdom with others. 

I hope you read my previous post Colour of the Month #14 - Pink Rhodochrosite, where I talk about my experience in the Rhodochrosite mines in Catamarca, Argentina. And how we collected specimens to later experiment with. 

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. A sneak peak of my process of designing the course 


Design was the first section of the course. The aim was to facilitate the participants with theory, practical tools and tips in order to create new opportunities for them through design and colour. Each participant had a course booklet with applicable exercises. They designed various compositions applying the learnt theory. 

Photos: Studio Laura Daza. Examples of the 3D compositions developed by the participants

We delved into topics such as: What is design? Which are the basic design elements (dot, line, plane, volume, form, size, colour, texture, etc.) in order to create compositionsWe did various exercises on how to extract shapes and forms from nature, the human body and body movements. Only black and white were used in this section, no colour. 

Basic design elements and geometric shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle, etc), which are the sum of dots or lines in space, were used to design 2D and 3D compositions.

Photos: Studio Laura Daza. Examples of the 3D compositions developed by the participants

The second section was about Colour. Topics such as What is colour? Colour Theory: primary, secondary, tertiary, complementary colours. What is the difference between hue, tint and shade. Colour History: the evolution of the chromatic system from prehistory to modern times. Students learnt about the prehistoric colour palette composed of 3 basic colours. Then the Ancient Egyptian colour palette made up of 6 to 8 colours and the symbolism behind each colour.  

Participants were artisans, ceramists, students and people working on making traditional crafts as a living. Different exercises and small projects about colour were developed. After designing their own compositions, colour had to be applied using only complementary colours (red - green), (yellow - blue), (purple - orange)There are two ways of classifying colours, one from the artist's standpoint, in which colours are considered pigments and the other from the scientific, in which are treated as elements of white light. 

'Light is the source of all colours and where there is no light there is no colour.'

We discussed about Prismatic colours.

What are Prismatic colours? White light, which is sunlight is composed of various colours, as is easily shown by placing a prism in the path of a small beam of sunlight. The prism separates the different colours that compose white light, and produces what is known as 'prismatic or solar spectrum'. They are the same as the rainbow. Objects have no colour in themselves, they have the power of reflecting waves of light. 

The colour of objects are due to the power they posses of absorbing certain portions of the coloured rays that make up a beam of white light and reflecting others. If an object is red because it reflects the red rays only and absorb the others. 

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. A sneak peak of my process of designing the course

From the artistic viewpoint, there are 3 primary colours. RED, BLUE, YELLOW and all other colours are produced by the mixture of these 3. There are also 3 secondary colours, ORANGE, GREEN, PURPLE.

Red + Blue = PURPLE

Red + Yellow = ORANGE

Blue + Yellow = GREEN

The mixture of the secondaries gives 3 other colours called tertiaries. These are CITRINE, OLIVE and RUSSET. 

Orange + Green = CITRINE

Purple + Green  = OLIVE

Purple + Orange = RUSSET 

Colour definitions:

Hue = is another definition for colour

Tint = colour + white

Shade = colour + black

Tone = colour + grey

The final section was Alchemy. Learning about, What is alchemy? The origins of alchemy and the connection to the Egyptians. Egyptians around 8000 BC discovered how to process many more natural mineral, animal and plant matter into colourants. Pigment manufacture in Antiquity was a by product of more daily necessities: glazing, dyeing, soap and glass making, chemistry, etc.

Also, the science of colour and how colour works was studied. What are minerals? The difference between Pigments and Dyes and the types of pigments. Participants learnt about different processes and techniques of extracting colour from raw materials such as pulverisation, levigation, corrosion, calcination, sieving, etc. Raw matter such as earths, minerals, shells, plants and copper were used.

We extracted all the prismatic colours, except purple. Also, they learnt about different recipes on how to extract and purify pigments. 

RED (red ochre and earth), WHITE (clam shells, egg shells, clay, bones) yes we experimented with calcinated bones. BLACK (lampblack, volcanic rock), GREEN (malachite, terra verte, onyx stone, verdigris), YELLOW (yellow ochre, saffron), BLUE (azurite, lapislazuli) and PINK (rhodochrosite) were used to extract colours. 


What is a mineral?

Is a solid, natural occurring chemical compound that must be inorganic and have an internal structure

Almost all pigments have an established crystalline structure that will influence their size, shape and colour. There are pigments with the same chemical composition but with different hue due to the difference of crystal formation. 

The reason is that the light reflected from the many angles of the mineral's crystalline formation is scattered, and it is scattered light that produces opacity.


We experimented with the Rhodochrosite stones previously collected at the Santa Rita mine. This type of stone is not very hard as it is a carbonate therefore it is easy to break it down. 

When breaking down the Rhodochrosite stone and then grinding it into a fine powder, the powder appears white, as if the colour had banished.

Opacity comes from the pigment's particles ability to scatter light. As a particle becomes smaller it scatters light more effectively until a certain optimal size is reached. A 1 cm crystal of Rhodochrosite is completely transparent and it is only as the crystals gets smaller that scattering becomes dominant and we sense the pigment as white. 


We used different tools to break the stone such as a hammer, mortar and a pestle. Firstly, the hammer was used to break the big pieces into smaller pieces, which makes it easier to work with. Secondly, a mortar and pestle to grind the stone until pulverising it.


Also, the more you grind the Rhodochrosite particles the lighter the colour it becomes. Therefore, it is not recommended to grind it too much therefore you will loose the colour. It becomes white.


 Then a process of separation, purification, levigation needs to be done in order to obtain pure particles of the mineral and separate the impurities.



We tested 2 methods for obtaining finer particles.

1.   Sieving: is a process in which a professional sieve is used with a mesh size of 75 micron, helps separate coarse particles from finer ones.

2. Levigation: is a process by which pigment is washed in water in order to further refine the pigment.

So we tried the first method using a sieve. What occurred was that the finer particles, which are a mix of ground up Rhodochrosite crystals, calcite mineral and impurities, were filtered passing through the mesh and separating from the coarse particles (Rhodochrosite crystals) which are pink that were left on the mesh. The finer particles are whiter in colour because of the calcite mineral. 

This phenomenon of the pigment becoming white or loosing its colour, is due to the crystal structure of the Rhodochrosite. When the stone is grounded up the crystal structure is broken down, the light will not be reflected therefore no colour is obtain as colour is light.


We obtained a course pigment, not very fine. Sieving the ground Rhodochrosite what it does it separates the pink crystals from calcite mineral. 


I tested another method called levigation adding egg yolk to the solution of water and pigment in order to purify the pigment. You can obtain a very clean coarse pigment without impurities. But if you grind it more it will become lighter in colour.  See the image below.


I am thinking about potential applications of this pigment, which is course not fine, therefore it cannot be used for painting.


Read more about PINK RHODOCHROSITE pigment

We experimented with other raw materials such as: red and yellow ochreterra verterhodochrosite stone, lampblack, whiteshell from an ostrich egg and also from clamsonyx stoneclaysazurite, malachite, and saffron


'Red is the archetype colour, the colour humans mastered, fabricated, reproduced and broke down into different shades, first in painting, later in dyeing. This has given it primary over all other colours through the millennia' - Michael Pastoureau

Egyptians often used hematite, the mineral form of iron oxide, and also used both cinnabar imported from Spain and realgar. 

Read more about RED OCHRE pigment


Historically, terra verte, green earth or argilla verde was the pigment for flesh undertones. It was used as the first layer, which neutralised the effect of pink and reds of flesh colours used by artists during Medieval and Renaissance times. 

Read more about GREEN EARTH - TERRA VERTE pigment


Azurite has been used as blue pigment for centuries; extensively used in Egypt, East Europe and China. It is a soft, deep blue copper mineral produced by breaking down copper ore deposits.

Read more about AZURITE BLUE  pigment


During the Middle Ages, whites made from eggshells and calcinated bird bones were quite common used for painting. Medieval painters mostly used minerals and recycled organic materials for making pigments, sourced locally or imported. The main colours were blues, reds, greens, blacks, yellows and whites from lead and eggshells.

Read more about WHITESHELL pigment

Photo: Studio Laura Daza. Colour Alchimia pigment palette

Photos and words: Studio Laura Daza