|cecil collin's pigments and an artistic spillage|
so you can imagine just how excited i was to stumble upon what i thought could be the course of my dreams a few months ago. i was doing some online research for my exhibition and i came across a course called 'the alchemy of paint; the transformation of earth, rocks, roots and berries into pigments'. and what was equally exciting was that the tutor, dr david cranswick, had been a studio apprentice to cecil collins. i've always loved cecil collins, more for his writing and ideas about art than his painting, and along with many of my favourite artists i managed to weave some of his words of wisdom into my dissertation.
the course is run through the prince's school of traditional arts in london and they have an ethos which i immediately identified with but feel is lacking in higher education art establishments today:
"Although theoretical programmes exist at postgraduate level at many western universities, there are few, if any colleges, apart from The Prince’s School, where the practical skills of the traditional arts are taught at this level. The School holds that the practice of the traditional arts is a contemplative process based upon universal spiritual truths. Art is seen as an integral part of everyday life and not a luxury; neither is it a subjective psychological experiment, nor a whimsical exercise in nostalgia.
The School’s programmes aim to encourage an awareness amongst students that form, pattern and colour as manifested in the various branches of the traditional arts, are not simply pleasing to the senses, or demonstrations of good design, but are created to embody beauty — the beauty of the permanent that shines through into the world of the transient. The distinction made today between ‘Fine Art’ and ‘Craft’ is entirely modern. In a traditional society painting, pottery, carpentry, agriculture and music were all expressions of art or making and the artist’s practical activity was integrated, not only into the wider community but also into a more profound order".
upon reading this my deposit was promptly paid and all i had to do was to wait patiently for november.
my greatest surprise was to discover that the course was to be held in david's own studio within a large block of artists studios built under and next to a huge flyover. gone were my romantic dreams of grinding pigments in an old victorian building. that said, the studio was round the back and had a little outdoor area with a table of bonsai trees. once inside there was restful world music playing, coffee brewing and incense burning, along with lots of wonderful books and david's paintings. and it was exciting to be in the intimate setting of an artist's personal studio rather than the neutral classroom environment i was expecting.
and from this point an absolutely fascinating week proceeded where we discovered the miraculous processes by which our raw materials were ground, washed, purified, heated, precipitated and transformed into beautiful pure pigments. we chatted and got to know one another through this fusion of chemistry, cookery, alchemy and magic.
|grinding azurite, malachite and chrysocolla in a brass pestle and mortar|
|washing azurite - a lengthy process that took all week to complete|
|grinding, grinding and more grinding!|
|and finally a pure azurite pigment|
|grinding malachite in brass mortar|
|grinding persian berries in water and potash|
|adding alum solution to the strained dye and watching the bubbling reaction|
|the bubbles continue to grow|
|straining the madder root and collecting the dye|
|extracting the last drops of dye|
|adding potash solution to finely ground brazil wood|
|madder root, persian berries, brazil wood and cochineal precipitating with alum to form a pigment from the dye|
|gum arabic ready to be ground|
|yellow ochre ground in gum arabic|
|minium (red lead) with egg tempera|
|oak gall ink which darkens on exposure to light|