To create the artwork for Mapping Our Watershed, I am making materials from plants and soil, mostly collected, harvested, or foraged in the Philadelphia region where I live. I am going to feature these materials in a series of blog posts: first up, pigments. All paint is made from two components: pigment (the colorant) and binder (the material that holds the pigment and adheres it to a surface).
I started this journey with soil pigments. The process of making pigments from soil primarily involves removing any plant matter–by sieving and/or decanting it in water–and then sifting and grinding it until it’s a very fine powder. I have collected soil from various places–including in the local watershed–and have also been gifted soil from New Hampshire, Vermont, and even Northeast Philly–which produced a gorgeous red color. So far, I have made watercolor (which uses gum arabic as the binder), egg tempera (which uses–you guessed it–egg yolks), casein (which uses curdled milk mixed with lime), and etching ink (using burnt plate oil). The paint I’m using for this project is mixed with a plant-based acrylic binder.
Recently, I have begun making lake pigments, which is a process of making a plant-based colorant water insoluble. I am incredibly grateful to my friend Natalie Stopka for sharing her deep knowledge with me. So far, I have made the beautiful green pigment pictured above from false indigo, a native plant growing in my garden, and logwood, which is not native to the US but produces a gorgeous purple that I really wanted to use. If you want to learn more about laking I highly recommend taking a class with Natalie!
If you’re interested in experimenting with pigments but not sure you’re ready to make them yourself, there are some great places to purchase them. I recommend Kremer Pigments, which has a store in New York but also an extensive online inventory. To learn about artists who make pigments, check out the Wild Pigment Project–some sell their pigments as well.
In June, I will be facilitating two workshops focused on soil–one where we examine soil on site in the watershed and one where we’ll make paintings from soil. Follow this blog to learn more!