After visiting an exhibition of paintings using natural pigments (tintas naturales) at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca. Work by Maddalena Forcella and learning the main dyes used are: Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus, Cochinilla in Spanish) for red, Cempasúchil (Tagetes ereta) for yellow and for blue, processed indigo, fera suffruticosa or ‘añil’ in Spanish.

Back in 2014 I met artist Margarita de la Peña, whilst on a lithography intensive at La Ceiba Gráfica in Coatepec, Veracruz. She has been researching and using ancestral techniques since 1993 including collaborations with the National History Museum in Mexico creating a replica of the Troano Codex.

When I met her in 2014 she was continuing her research into indigenous methods for processing of natural earth pigments from Chiapas and Oaxaca regions in Mexico, collected by Martin, one of the founders of La Ceiba. I am sincerely hoping there might be some of these left as I intend to build on her research by adapting this knowledge of pigments for screen printing.

I want to understand the predominant pigments being used in pre-hispanic Mesoamerica civilisations, where they came from geographically and how they were processed (where specific tools developed for these pigments and dyes? What are the myths and legends surrounding them, how was this knowledge passed down the generations?). So, I’m hoping to be able to draw on her knowledge and learn from her, let’s hope our schedules align for this trip!

In the meantime, while we shape up our schedules I want to learn about natural plant/animal dyes used in the UK and I have met just the expert in Babs Behan of Botanical inks, to introduce me to this. I met Babs at the launch of UWE’s Create Make Materials library in January 2017 where speakers and artists from across the university (CFPR) shared their knowledge and experience about how they/artists use colour, there was also an opportunity to learn hands-on with external experts leading workshops on creating colour for artists’ materials. Babs Behan on natural dyes and Nick George (Bristol Fine Art) on pastel making with pigments.

I follow conversations with both Nick & Babs, Nick works with a small-scale pigment manufacturer, Pip Seymour who have their own acrylic range. PS use a highly transparent Perspex binder (a co-polymer) so their paints are pigment + biocide + binder.

From my simple understanding acrylics are polymers made up of chains of monomers and seem to be fairly inert if diluted, hence why they are considered ‘non-toxic’. Though since these are essentially hydrocarbon it could be likened to washing plastic down the drain for which the consequences of so much plastic (bags, bottles, flip flops!) in our oceans is being noted through its presence down the food chain (i.e. being munched by fish).

Pigments themselves are mostly non-toxic are they are naturally occurring minerals, such as titanium dioxide for white. Though there are questions about their extraction and in larger quantities, their disposal – for example, Cadmium previously used in cell batteries is very toxic and the EU’s ban on would have meant no cadmium red or yellow in artist colours either. Read more about the story of saving cadmium red with Cranfield Paints.

So, part of my research will look at using earth pigments readily available to me (i.e. MUD!) and also, plants dyes and natural binders.


Nurturing a seed sown back in Autumn 2014 with La Ceiba Gráfica telling me that one of the reasons they didn’t practise screen printing was that it was too environmentally unfriendly, (along with the printing method not ‘antique’ enough and more significantly they would have to rely on international imports – is there anyone manufacturing screen printing medium in Mexico? (another thing to research) … my challenge was set:
• To investigate what I know as “non-toxic” screen printing so I can become more informed about the materials and processes I choose to use as an artist.
• Experimenting with natural pigments and vegetable dyes for printing ink – grinding earth and beetles, boiling flowers and leaves; and using different natural binders to mix with; learning about their traditions and histories of their use by indigenous Mexican peoples. I hope to demonstrate screen printing as a viable option for consideration of La Ceiba Gráfica’s studio offer.
• To set up a DIY screen print studio using water-based acrylic inks (what I am already familiar with), including DIY exposure unit to gain more understanding of the photo-emulsion. (which could be developed into a mobile workshop to take to the street…) returning to La Ceiba is important to me to continue the conversation and also learn more about their values and sustainable outlook as a contemporary printmaking studio.

Having begun my screen printing training since Health & Safety at Work regulations were brought in, I haven’t ever used oil-based (solvent) ink systems so don’t have the experience of the amount of solvents used in the clean-up process (and vapours given off from the inks themselves) and so experienced the impact of this system on my health and a printmaker or environmentally.

As a process-based artist, a physical engagement with the materials and mediums I choose to use is an important consideration for me to balance the impact on the environment with the impact of my work (questions worth). Though, I hope the work I do produce communicates my ideas through my passion and skill. The necessity of making … of being in my creative ‘flow’.

My creative arts practice responds to place. By taking myself out of my everyday environment, I open myself up to collecting new inspiration. By processing primary research and materials, I illuminate the overlooked corners of our world, bringing an awareness to the traces of human activities, and commenting on their impact on our physical environment.

My current work uses weathered and torn advertisement billboard poster to reflect not only on these physical traces of a consumerist society but also on the commercial printing process and the industry itself.

And so my adventure of experimenting with new materials begins in new and wondrous climes…