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.