Saturday, December 19, 2009

Making Earth Paints/ PAINTS FROM RAW NATURAL MATERIALS: MINERALS, CLAY, ASH, CHARCOAL, ETC./ With notes on the uses of volcanic pumice from Mt. Shasta

     earth, clay and charcoal in casein on panel
     by Eric Whollem
     Collection of the artist
         Copyright by the artist.

Paint Made From Raw Natural
Materials: Earth, Clay, & Ash

In 1973 I began to make my own paints from scratch, using
earth pigments that I gathered in nature. I was living in the

foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, so the
Cenozoic sandstones and sedimentary rocks and clays of the
Sacramento Valley provided a great range of pigments. The
Mesozoic strata of the granite highlands offered another range
of pigments for my palette: blues, greens, as well as plenteous
iron oxides which provided ranges of red, violets, and oranges
and beautiful hues never found in a tube of paint.

I found that green serpentine. which I had to grind laoriously
in a mortar did not provide the best green, which came from
the decomposed granite of Forbestown Road. I found a
huge embankment of blue gray pigment near the Enterprise
Bridge on the Road to Feather Falls. Interestingly enough
this pigment, when subject to raku firing, produced a very
unusual texture, which amazed a couple of potters.

I travelled outside of my home county of Butte up to
Siskiyou County to gather pigments from the Mount Shasta
area (where I had lived as a boy). This mountain is considered
sacred by both traditional Indians and metaphysical  people of
our day.

Shasta provided soft lavenders, rich red violet, and gentle
blends of dull orange pumice. Volcanic materials cannot
be used in ceramic firings, as the heat causes them to
decompose. But the pigments make fine paint for other
artistic purposes.

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