Showing posts with label Dye and Pigment making. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dye and Pigment making. Show all posts

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Be Still My Beating Heart! I've Gone "Madder"

Be Still My Beating Heart! I've Gone "Madder"

washed madder roots from Seabury Court, Ohio
No, that's not a heart! It's just a bunch of red roots. This follows a slow churning quest to make my own natural paints (starting ~2011, see other links below),  In 2012, Heidi and I planted some madder, which required 3+ years to grow. 

Out patches' roots have grown quite thick, and the thicker the more red you can make them.  Our alkaline soil helps the color too.  In any event, it's 2015 already, so it was time to harvest some roots.  Doing so kills a portion of an invasive patch, so that's good for maintenance anyway.

What's next? 

Most folks use madder roots to dye fabric....and my mom may convince me to dye some of her alpaca wool, and Heidi will push me to dye some scarf.... but I planned to make red pigments.  To make pigments, I'll use a similar approach to dying: i.e. use the mordant called alum (Potassium Sulfate) as a base ... i.e. I'll dye the powder usually used to bind the dye to fabric (to make a lacca, or lake-pigment, which differs from pigments that have dispersed particles with their own natural color); alternatively, I can mince the roots into a fine powder, then disperse that into a liquid carrier.  

Luckily madder roots is not toxic (some dyes are) and can be dried for later use. There are plenty of fine resource/recipes available, as per my 2011 posts (though I have since become a fan of Jenny Dean too).     

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sunflower Pollen as Paint Pigment

Sunflower Pollen - Pigment/Paint

Our house is still ramping up its dye-making capabilities.   The garden continues to grow enough that we can now harvest the Madder roots without depleting the patch (started in 2011 –link to post).  The basement will soon be a functional workshop, with plenty of lighting, a sink, electricity, and benches.   
 sun flowers for dyeing
Thanks to my wife’s gardening, we have plenty of sunflowers.  Some are of the Hopi variety, the seeds of which have been used by Native American Indians to prepare purplish/gray dyes.  Whereas I hope to make my own paints, she plans to dye fabric (DesignLab link) expect a post later on the seed-dye making.  Many flowers are brought into the house and drop pollen.

Given the nature of pollen to be colorful, tiny, and sticky, I started collecting it to use as pigment. First we had to replace the fabric tablecloth beneath the vase that was being “painted”; aluminum foil worked well since the pollen did not adhere to it, and it could be folded into a funnel  to deliver the pollen into a jar. 
sun flower pollen hopi

Sun Flower Pollen - Microstructure

To learn about how it may work as a pigment, let’s have a look at the pollen grains: (1) dry,  (2) in oil, and (3) in water.  Below, the pollen-in-air color image is a brightfield microscopy image; to show the detail, differential interference contrast microscopy (monochrome image) was performed. Most were a-spherical (“not spheres”) and ~10microns in width (that’s ~1/10 the length of a human hair). Clearly their spikes help them to stick to substrates.  The grains are a mixture from several sunflower plants.  Most were yellow, but some were purple.
Dry Sunflower Pollen

To make paint, pigments are dispersed into liquids.  These host liquids are usually water-like or oil-like.  Actually, microscopists often embed dry samples into liquids, to reduce scattering and improve imaging (this works if the samples do not react or transform in the liquid). These immersion tests reveal how these grains may be color-fast (or not). 
 sunflower pollen in oil
Turns out, the sunflowers lost their color in the oil; but their shell shapes did not change.  This means that the pollen is filled with a hydrophobic liquid (dye), and that the shells are porous.  Actually, the spherical grains seemed to leak less (I will have to investigate further if only certain sunflowers produce those). In water, the yellow dye was slowly replaced.  It was shot out of the shell as drops.  This confirms that the dye is hydrophobic, and that the shells are porous. 

This work will inform a paint recipe.  The observations are somewhat aggravating since they indicate it may be difficult to keep dye inside the grains whether a water-paint or oil-paint is made.  For now, I will keep collecting the pigment and will lean toward design an aqueous host phase. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bloody Sorrel and Flowering Woad

Growing and Harvesting
I have entered Phase 3 of my series on making natural paints (Prior posts: Dyers Garden and Motivation to Make Paint and Making Natural Dye Workshop): growing and harvesting my own materials.  The unnatural warm weather in Ohio has been beneficial for this.  These images were taken ~April 2nd!  We'll see if they survive a possible hot summer.

Bloody Sorrel: 
My daughter demonstrates the red inking of her hand by plucking a leaf and scrawling with the stem:

My second year's growth of woad is doing well.  I had no idea how nice they smelled (being olfactory challenged, I was glad to register the scents of these blooms).  Despite Woad's reputation for being evil and invasive, I was still surprised it grew okay in our hostile clay soil.  My aim for these are to make both pigments and dyes; for the dye process, I'll need to either gather some urine (medieval processing required this)... or collect and use madder to change the pH of the dye precursors (I'll be trying the madder route/root :) ).  

The madder patch is growing; note the black arrows that indicate new plants a foot away from the main plant that were the results from last year's rooting.  Given that the roots (not leaves) provide the nice red-pink color, harvesting requires decimating a portion of the patch.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Natural Dyes

Art and Alchemy
In the 1800’s, apothecaries sourced both artists and early physicians with common materials, from instrumentation (like alembics) to herbs that could be used for making dyes or healing wounds. In 2005 I had the pleasure of touring the Herb Garret and Dissection Theatre in London (link), which exemplifies the common origins between the scientific and artistic communities (pictures below; virtual tours (link) are available too).  Memories of the drying herbs hanging from the Garret’s rafters were evoked this week as my family and I participated in the Monticello Natural Dye Making (link) workshop (held at the Tufton Farm location, home to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants). There is no dissection theatre in Monticello, but certainly the process of cooking up natural dyes from herbs taps directly into the history of alchemy!
An earlier post (link) motivates my journey toward fabricating my own paints, which stems from interests both alchemical and artistic. My wife is a better gardener than I, and she is responsible for stocking our yard with several classic sources: weld, woad, false indigo, iris, madder, yarrow, tansy, and hopi sunflowers.  We attended the workshop to figure out how to proceed working these into dyes (and pigments).
Pat Brodowski (center, pink shirt) is Monticello’s vegetable gardener and leads the workshop.  The workshop allows attendees to see her  “dyers workshop” and test out ~18 popular natural dyes (including Walnut and Brazilwood woodchips, chamomile flowers,  woad leaves, madder roots, and cochineal bug parts).

General Dye Making Process
(1) Prepare substrate (fibers) with mordant.  There are different strategies for preparing and dyeing vegetable fiber (cotton) vs. animal fiber (wool).  Mordants are a class of materials that ensure dyes remain attached to the fiber (to impart color fastness).  Common mordants are alum (common for pickling now), tannin, or iron or copper rich solutions (which will also dye the fiber); sometimes using changing the acidity (with vinegar, ash water) will enable the colors to bind to fibers.  Image: for the workshop, six pretreated fibers were ready for dipping (wool and cotton; each with treated with alum, copper, and iron mordants). P7160032
(2) Harvest roots, flowers, stems, etc. P7160004
(3) Boil like making tea.   Cooking time and steeping process vary.  Use dried or fresh materials (recipe dependent).  P7160026

(4) Use pH modifiers to alter color or dissolve the dye.  For example, the indigotin molecule from woad/indigo requires basic pH to dissolve in water. Historically, fermented urine sufficed for this, but today most prefer RIT brand Color Remover (as Pat does in the image to prepare a woad vat), ammonia, or even diluted Drano.

Cabbage & Beet dyes (link) are classic natural pH indicators, that demonstrate how acidity can affect color (very acidic = red, neutral = blue, basic =yellow)

(5) Dip fiber, let dry…

For historical recipes we are referred to the literature, like the book Wild Colors by Jenny Dean (who also has a great blog!).  The goal of the workshop was only to a offer a flavor of what is possible (each participant can dip ~6 pre-mordanted fibers into ~18 mini-vats of steeping dye); the combinations are daunting when you consider using you own substrates and dyestuffs prepared with varying mordants, pHs, cooking processes, etc..

Next Step: Make Paints From Dyes
Dyes are typically transparent and structure-less.  They can be used as watercolors (thin paints). To make particle-based paints, one merely has to dye chopped-up fibers or chalk particles (a.k.a. whitings) and disperse into a carrier liquid (water or oil). Grinding the particles into fine bits (~1/100 the diameter of human hair) produces ink--no stabilizer needs to be added to prevent settling (i.e. lampblack ink is comprised of nanometer sized soot/carbon particles). 

The category of Paint covers opaque mixtures of pigments.  The opacity is indicative of the “large” size of the color particles (large enough to scatter light, >0.5 the diameter of human hair).  These will settle over time (min to hours) and will have to be mixed prior use...that is...unless additional “binders” are not added to prevent settling.  Binders change the rheology of the liquid (in laymen’s terms, binders thicken the paint).  Lots of binders and pigments are available, from egg whites (glair), whole eggs (tempera), to biopolymers (Xanthan and Arabic gums).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Making and Mixing Paints - Medieval vs Digital Technology

 Tablet Technology is Revolutionizing Painting!

Finally, artisits can "draw" directly on digital screens: on the go, with unlimited color selection....and the ability to work on layers, literally mix colors within a layer, and "undo/redo" multiple edits...and instantly dry/rewet's crazy!  Some iPad Drawing Applications with mixing abilities include Art Rage and Layers. Technology for traditional computers include premium Digital Tablets from Wacom (the Cintiq), All-in-One Tablet PC's like Dell's Inspiron,  and Adobe's Photoshop CS5.5 Mixer Brush and Bristle Tips that allow for rotational control of asymmetric "fan" brushes in addition to the awesome, pressure sensitivity.

How did Medieval Artists live without these? 

Early painters could not go to Walmart or Amazon to purchase "traditional" paints or sketch pads. The industrial production of paints did not emerge until the late 18th century (ref: Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments by Francois Delamare and Bernard Guineau).  So in addition to learning how to produce art, early artists also had to learn where to find the base materials (minerals for pigments, extracts for dyes, skin for canvases, etc.) and how to cook them into paint.  They had to procure their own minerals to grind, plants to extract dyes from, etc.;  they often mingled with their compatriot shoppers of Apothecaries, the physicians and herbalists.  It was only a century ago that industrial demands for color took over the responsibility for making paints away from the painter: 
"Many of the functions of medieval art have been usurped in modern times by the machine.  The two most extensive fields of medieval art production--books and textiles--have been taken over almost entirely nowadays by the forces of mechanical production.  We need not raise the question here of whether there is any loss for us in that..."; Daniel V Thompson (The materials and techniques of medieval painting Dover 1956)
Victoria Finlay literally traveled the world to reveal the origins of pigment production, and she reminds us that there were challenges to storing paints too.  Her book "Colors" directly ties the natural sourcing of pigments and the cultures that are intimately tied to them; "Colors" amplifies the historic cultural, and spiritual, connections between pigments and the artists who harvested them:
"For centuries, artists had stored their paints in pigs' bladders.  It was a pain staking process: they, or their apprentices, would carefully cut the thin skin into squares.   Then they would spoon a nugget of wet paint into each square, and tie up the little parcels at the top with string.  When they wanted to paint, they would pierce the skin with a tack, squeeze the color onto their palette and then mend the puncture.  It was messy, especially when the bladders burst, but it was also wasteful, as the paint would dry out quickly.  Then in 1841 a fashionable American portrait painter call John Goffe Rand devised the first collapsible tube..."(p19 of Victoria Finlay's Color - A Natural History of the Palette 2004 Random House)
The process of preparing one's own materials was, and still can be, a meaningful part of the creative process. 
It was once an expectation that artists were also scientists, sourcing their own materials and working them from the earth, such that their material gathering affected their style. One of the first "technology" books that evolved from compilations of secretive recipes and pseudo-legitimate alchemy was the Mappae clavicula;: A little key to the world of medieval techniques.  It is a compilation of compilations which maintains a sense of poetry and naive embellishment; translated and reprinted by the American Philosophical Society in 1974 in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society; original illuminations available as a virtual book on the Corning Museum website.
"We forget that throughout the history of medieval art there were no prepared packaged paints, inks, or parchments leaves.  The locating of particular pigments required a familiarity with nature which was so intimate as to be incomprehensible to us today.  It required a knowledge of not only the unchanging elements of nature, but of those that vary with climate, with geography, with the time of year.  The eggs of a specific insect, at a specific time in its life, would yield a particular pigment. At other times, the eggs would be useless. " (p22 of 1974 Mappae Clavicula: A little key to the world of medieval technique)
Magic Paint 
Cyril Stanley Smith and John G. Hawthorne put into perspective how the technology of paint making was obscured with early chemistry (alchemy).  Artisans were largely ignorant of their science; and/or they were not rewarded for determining/revealing the truth:
"When there were no purified chemicals in labeled bottles and no general theory to guide him, the artisan would not lightly change his practice.  Moreover, the more spectacular recipes are the least likely to be omitted by a compiler: feeding a virgin goat with ivy and using his mixed blood and urine to carve crystal will impress the layman more than the suggestion simply to dip in turpentine." (p18 of 1974 Mappae Clavicula: A little key to the world of medieval technique)

Note, Smith and Hawthorne, translators of the Mappae Clavicula, also translated Theophilis'12th century On Divers Arts , a treatise on arts written by practicing artist. Pigments, glass blowing, stained glass, gold and silver work.  They highlight that many of the ingredients of these medieval recipes are identified by their geographic origin (location) since natural "chemicals" were not purified then and compositional heterogeneity across regions affected color.

This is reinforced in the 15th century work The Craftsman's Handbook "Il Libro dell'Arte" by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini (translated by D.V.Thompson). Cennini describes how his father introduced him to the sources of various pigments and plants by walking the countryside.  His spiritual experiences with being an artisan radiates throughout his detailed handbook:
"To approach the glory of the profession step by step, let us come to the working up of the colors, informing you which are the choicest colors, and the coarsest, and the most fastidious; which one needs to be worked up or ground but little, which requires another; and just as they differ in their colors, so do they also in the characters of their temperas and their working up."
Action Steps

1) Digital Painting: While playing with our new Dell Inspiron tablet/all-in-one and iPad (Adobe's mixer brush and Layer's App) ... dream about purchasing an Wacom Cintiq tablet.

2) Medieval Technology: Planting dyer's garden now with help from my wife; the goal is to harvest these materials this year/next and then begin experimenting. I will be attending this year's Monticello Natural Dye Workshop to get bootstrapped. Note to self: use glass jars to store the paints, as reinventing "pig bladder tube technology" lowers the return-on-investment.