A Few Words in Honor of Rust

A few weeks ago I got some porn in my email. No no no not THAT kind of porn, but PERSONAL porn, the kind that whets my appetite and gets the juices of inspiration flowing. I got advertising from Natural Pigments. Yeah, I know…

You might not know but beginning with Martin of Gfenn I fell in love with pigments. I’ve always loved paints, colors, all that. I even had a dream once in which a bag of ultramarine blue hanging from an awning outside a shop in Venice Beach, CA, was “drugs.” Yes, a dream, but it happened in real life, years and years later. I was driving through Venice Beach with Denis Joseph Francis Callahan and saw — you guessed it — a plastic bag with ultramarine blue pigment hanging from an awning. In the dream I was riding with my dad; in real life I was riding with a guy who looked, talked and acted like my dad.

You figure it out.

ANY-hoooo here was an advertisement for natural pigments like those Martin of Gfenn would have painted with. I was very excited, went to their website, saw that my entire DREAM of painting as they did in medieval times was about to come true if ONLY I had the money… To buy the equipment, raw pigments and tools? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even begin to do it. You see, besides finances, I don’t have a real studio. I have a big room which is ordinarily great but not for a fresco shop…

I kept going back and back and of course, they tracked me and finally I saw a set I could (almost) afford. “Oh shit,” I thought. “I could do that. I could paint with that, those colors.” You see, I’ve seen some of these colors in real life clinging to karst cliffs on the hills north of Verona. I’ve touched them. I have had REAL Verona green on my actual hand.

So after sleeping on it for a few nights I went to their website and put the set of medieval/early Renaissance colors in my “basket.” Then I logged out. I had to sleep on it some more. It was a $60 investment. They sent me an email offering me 15% off if I ordered what was in my basket.

They arrived today. In case you ever wonder what most of the colors early artists (and contemporary landscape artists) paint with are made of I can tell you. They are made of Iron Oxide. They are essentially made of rust. Isn’t that beautiful? Iron is the fourth most abundant metal on earth and is so ubiquitous because of its ability to mix with other elements using air, water, fire — it’s just the nature of iron to color things. Potassium is also one of the elements in these colors — iron and potassium oxide.

Anyway, I have already got a painting in mind for these beautiful things. I can’t wait to open the tubes and see the colors in real life. I’m sure I’ve painted with them already in other paints, but these are made with nothing but the mineral and linseed oil, the old way. I also have a tube of real ultramarine blue paint made from lapis lazuli that I will add to these five tubes.

23 thoughts on “A Few Words in Honor of Rust

  1. I was always fascinated by oil paints – my mother had an artist’s box (leftover from her college art classes) and I tried my hand at them when I was in middle school. I discovered that working with oil paint is entirely different than water color or acrylic. I haven’t tried oils since. I can’t wait to see what you do with these special colors! I use a lot of red iron oxide in my ceramic glazes and stains…

    • I think with oil the complexity comes from the weird stuff you have to use to thin them and clean up. I think there’s a different depth of color in oils than acrylics, but I like them both. I haven’t tried ceramics since high school. Some friends in the “big city” of Alamosa have a class one night a week, but it’s a long drive for me.

  2. How exciting. Would live to see how these compare with modern paints. I’m imagining subtle colours rather than the bright brash ones I’ve been using in art class (where we were going to try and mix our own pigments but never got round to it).

    • I think you’re right. I am pretty sure these will be bright but not the way modern colors are. I can’t wait, but I’m waiting until Christmas to use them. πŸ™‚

  3. My husband used to work at a Colour factory dealing with Cadmium. He came home once with old coffee jars full of cadmium yellow, orange and red. Pure pigment. But I didn’t know how to grind it down, so I gave them to a friend. I imagine after thirty years she might have some of it left. I lost contact with her. By the way, unlike rust, cadmium is a heavy metal and can knock out your kidneys. But this was fused with selenium and sulphur, so it wasn’t poisonous like the raw metal is. X

    • You might enjoy The Craftsman’s Handbook by Cennino Cellini. It was written in the late 1300s and he lays out everything about being an artist (in those days? These days?) I love it. I love his passion for everything he does. He must have been a good teacher. It’s only about 100 pages.

  4. Wow, Martha, it’s my turn to be envious now – I’m completely devoid of artistic talent and I wish I could paint like you. Or even think about painting like you do. πŸ™‚ That ultramarine paint sounds amazing, and I love lapis lazuli – it’s one of my favourite stones. Looking forward to the results. πŸ™‚

    • Since I couldn’t wait til Christmas to open (my present to myself) I might compel myself to wait til Christmas to try them out. Ultramarine blue in the Middle Ages was pretty much reserved for the clothing of Mary and Jesus. If you see in some medieval chapel sometime a blue that seems to radiate light and is on one of those two people, it’s probably real ultramarine blue.

      It’s very obvious in the Baptistry of the Cathedral in Padova. All those “rock” colors endure through time very very well because they’re, you know, rocks. :p


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