The alchemy of paint

I am “happy at work” obsessed and enthralled with my research for my historical novel Mona Lisa’s Secret…  a work of art-related fiction set in Renaissance Florence. I would so love it if you came across and “liked”  the page and added, as you saw fit, to my research endeavours. It’s a massive job, as I am sure you know, would be great to see those of you with an interest in such stories there to boost motivation.
I came across this post by Cornish artist Jo Kehyaian,  while looking into the link between Alchemy and the power of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting. It’s a wonderful  visual journey of the magical transformation of nature into glorious paint.

the alchemy of paint

cecil collin’s pigments and an artistic spillage

i remember long ago when i was studying for my gcse’s my art teacher saying to me, “when you do your fine art degree you’ll get shown how to make paints just like i did…..and you’ll love it!” the fine art degree came and went….. more quickly than i was expecting. i left after the first year through utter disillusionment. and we didn’t get shown how to make anything.

so you can imagine just how excited i was to stumble upon what i thought could be the course of my dreams a few months ago. i was doing some online research for my exhibition and i came across a course called ‘the alchemy of paint; the transformation of earth, rocks, roots and berries into pigments’. and what was equally exciting was that the tutor, dr david cranswick, had been a studio apprentice to cecil collins. i’ve always loved cecil collins, more for his writing and ideas about art than his painting, and along with many of my favourite artists i managed to weave some of his words of wisdom into my dissertation.
the course is run through the prince’s school of traditional arts in london and they have an ethos which i immediately identified with but feel is lacking in higher education art establishments today:
“Although theoretical programmes exist at postgraduate level at many western universities, there are few, if any colleges, apart from The Prince’s School, where the practical skills of the traditional arts are taught at this level. The School holds that the practice of the traditional arts is a contemplative process based upon universal spiritual truths. Art is seen as an integral part of everyday life and not a luxury; neither is it a subjective psychological experiment, nor a whimsical exercise in nostalgia.
The School’s programmes aim to encourage an awareness amongst students that form, pattern and colour as manifested in the various branches of the traditional arts, are not simply pleasing to the senses, or demonstrations of good design, but are created to embody beauty — the beauty of the permanent that shines through into the world of the transient.  The distinction made today between ‘Fine Art’ and ‘Craft’ is entirely modern.  In a traditional society painting, pottery, carpentry, agriculture and music were all expressions of art or making and the artist’s practical activity was integrated, not only into the wider community but also into a more profound order”.
upon reading this my deposit was promptly paid and all i had to do was to wait patiently for november.
my greatest surprise was to discover that the course was to be held in david’s own studio within a large block of artists studios built under and next to a huge flyover. gone were my romantic dreams of grinding pigments in an old victorian building. that said, the studio was round the back and had a little outdoor area with a table of bonsai trees. once inside there was restful world music playing, coffee brewing and incense burning, along with lots of wonderful books and david’s paintings. and it was exciting to be in the intimate setting of an artist’s personal studio rather than the neutral classroom environment i was expecting.
and from this point an absolutely fascinating week proceeded where we discovered the miraculous processes by which our raw materials were ground, washed, purified, heated, precipitated and transformed into beautiful pure pigments. we chatted and got to know one another through this fusion of chemistry, cookery, alchemy and magic.

grinding azurite, malachite and chrysocolla in a brass pestle and mortar
raw azurite
washing azurite – a lengthy process that took all week to complete
grinding, grinding and more grinding!
and finally a pure azurite pigment
grinding malachite in brass mortar
grinding persian berries in water and potash
adding alum solution to the strained dye and watching the bubbling reaction
the bubbles continue to grow
madder root
straining the madder root and collecting the dye
extracting the last drops of dye
adding potash solution to finely ground brazil wood
madder root, persian berries, brazil wood and cochineal precipitating with alum to form a pigment from the dye
cochineal hand
gum arabic ready to be ground
yellow ochre ground in gum arabic
minium (red lead) with egg tempera

Find out more about Jo and her beautiful creations here

One thought on “The alchemy of paint

  1. So pleased to read this enthusiastic response. I’m booked into the course at the Princes School for all the same reasons, in July. Impossible to complain whilst at art school, too much of my money invested to ruffle their feathers. Hoping the Princes School will redress the balance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s