by Ben Platt February 21, 2022
Pigment, not what you would get if you made a pig out of cement, but it is instead the light reflecting particles used as the colourant in paints. As long as the human race has existed we have in some form or another been using pigments for decorative purposes. The ways we obtain these colours are as numerous as they are ingenious. So we ask ourselves, why is it important to understand pigment as artists and how can we apply that knowledge to better inform our creative decisions?
Raw pigments in their milled, powdered form. Ready for mixing with a binder to make paint.
The main quality that distinguishes a pigment from a dye is that pigments are insoluble in the medium (gum arabic, acrylic polymer, linseed oil) they are combined with. That is to say they do not dissolve and bond with their solvent on a chemical level whereas a dye will. This is why paint is a suspension scientifically speaking. The pigment is dispersed in its medium and will separate from the medium if left to settle over time. Dyes do not separate from their solvent medium and are called a solution. You can see this phenomenon in acrylic inks when the pigment sinks to the bottom of the bottle if the ink has been left standing for a while.
Pigments have a high resistance to fading in light due to them being tiny particles of solids that are deposited onto the surface they are used on. Pigments come in a variety of opacities and the pigment density present in a colour will affect the overall “coverage” of a paint.
Some artists scoff at this practice but thanks to the efforts of colour scientists we have made acquiring colours more affordable and much safer. The history of art has been fraught with colours such as Paris green for example, which is a beautiful emerald green derived from the highly toxic element arsenic.
An antique tin of lead white paint intended for decorating. Lead paints are highly regulated in Europe.
In place of expensive or poisonous pigments we have derived alternative pigments such as french ultramarine, an artificial equivalent for the traditional ultramarine that is derived from lapis lazuli. This synthetic blue pigment was made by German chemist Christian Gmelin in 1828 by baking kaolinite, sodium carbonate and sulphur in a kiln.
Today pigmentation is still a hotly debated topic amongst artists and colour chemists over longevity, colour stability, affordability, sustainability and even ethics of the pigments available. Manufacturer of fine oil paints and other colours Michael Harding for example seek to provide pigment of the highest quality available, and are also keen to ensure their pigments are obtained ethically and responsibly.
A selection of ultramarine paints. Each will be slightly different.
Pots of Sennelier Dry Pigment, each is milled to a fine powder and sold by weight.If you are intrigued by the premise of mixing your own paints from raw materials then you will be pleased to know that Sennelier offers a full range of artist quality raw pigments.
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by Ellie Jakeman December 05, 2023
This last instalment for 2023 brings us an exciting and varied programme of exhibitions and events; theatre, photography, Fashion, an Open exhibition that is 170 years old and a Renaissance Master, Francesco Pesellino!
by Ben Platt November 29, 2023
by Ellie Jakeman November 29, 2023
Encourage a child who has the gift of creativity by giving the perfect present this Christmas.
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