Last weekend I participated in a natural pigments class given through Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin, taught by painter Gloria Adrian. The Phipps hosts an ongoing conversation on sustainability and the arts, called What We Need is Here, (after the Wendell Berry poem).
Gloria brought many samples of colored clays and dirt from the region, and some coal in the form of “coke.” She taught us how to make egg tempera, and then we played with the pigments for a few hours, painting samples on gessoed board. I brought some washi pasted with a couple of my patterns, and some soy milk. These samples don’t look like much yet because I need to build up more layers of pigment and let the paint cure before washing the paste out. Generally, the pigments we tried had more sediment than the ones I use (from my teacher, John Marshall-on this page he describes the sources of the pigments he sells). The local dirt and clay colors are beautiful and muted. I look forward to trying them on fabric! Gloria also shared another great resource for artist materials including natural pigments, Kremer Pigments. They are based in Germany but also have an outlet in NYC.
The brilliant rust and ultramarine are pigments out of a jar, very similar to what I use, but from Kremer. The ultramarine contains some proportion of lapiz lazuli. I think the egg tempera adds a yellow cast to the pigments.
The samples in the jars below are all from local dirt, clay, and rock.
When I heard it was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I skimmed my scanned family photos to see if I could find one from 1970. Lo and behold, I found this photo of the only family vacation we took after some of my siblings were “adults.” I was 13 going on 14. This was taken in the summer of 1970, shortly after my brother Skip got back from Vietnam (he’s the one in back sporting his Army hat). My dad took us (except #1 son, who was starting his career as a Prof.), to Bayfield, Wisconsin, gateway to the Apostle Islands, for a week. I remember the sailing, the fresh air, and playing (beating) my siblings at Blackjack. An earthy (and watery) crew we were.
This afternoon, 40 years later, I sat on my patio and stripped the windfall branches that fell from my neighbor’s birch tree. Birch is supposed to yield some lovely earthy pinks, according to Jenny Dean’s book, Wild Color. Over the coming weeks I’ll play with this and see what happens. Still too chilly today to revisit my (2nd) vat of freeze-dried indigo.
I’m beginning new stencil designs this week. To loosen up, I’m playing with paper, scissors and a glue stick, following some intriguing exercises in the book Notan: The Dark-Light principle of design. This goal of the exercise below is to create symmetrical and asymmetrical balance by cutting shapes out of a basic 6×6″ black square and expanding them outside the boundary of the square (with some guidelines). These exercises help develop what the authors call the “dichotomy of attention” to positive and negative space that is necessary to create Notan (think right-brain).
Not surprisingly, creating asymmetrical balance is more challenging. Here is one of several iterations I tried combining a rabbit form with a kale/leaf-like form (remembering the rabbits that frequented my garden this winter). It’s easier to start with abstract rather than representational forms and see what emerges.