Pigments

Earth colors and Minerals of New England as pigments

The earth and mineral pigments that I have begun to use in my paintings originate from around the world. Many of the minerals and earth colors can also be found in New England, and specifically in New Hampshire, very close to the Squam Lakes Region, including purpurite and heterosite, malachite, azurite, and vivianite.

Pictured below: Purpurite (small piece from Groton, New Hampshire), and Malachite (from Brooksville, Maine):

New Hampshire PurpuriteNew England Malachite

Pictured below:Soil pit profiles, colored with natural earth/soil (from a summer Field Ecology Notebook, summer 1993, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Arts (now PennDesign); i.e. A little soil was rubbed on the notebook paper , and its color/pigment was transferred to the paper. Similarly, earth can be prepared as pigment for painting with.

Pine and birch woods soilSoil with schistNew England spodosol

 

 

On Heterosite:

heterosite-purpurite heterosite
Heterosite is a mineral that turns a beautiful purple color in an acid. As I understand it (++), Heterosite is part of the Heterosite-Purpurite Series, in the Triphylite Group (see mindat.org). Triphylite and lithiophilite, are primary minerals, which alter or weather over time, to become secondary minerals, such as heterosite and purpurite. Triphylite, for example, can be a beautiful blue grey green color with flecks of pyrite running through it on the inside, but the weathered outside can have a slightly reddish-purple-brown color to it; I think a thin layer of heterosite++(see below for credits). On the way to becoming some other mineral, triphylite passes through stages, for example, becoming the "alteration products" ferrisicklerite or sicklerite (mindat.org), which I hope to find this summer for my rock collection!

Heterosite is usually described as an iron phosphate, and purpurite as a manganese phosphate. However, as Dennis Durgin of Mount Marie LLC, has explained, it is more likely that as heterosite also turns purple, that heterosite is an iron manganese phosphate, and purpurite, a manganese iron phosphate. This is similar to marking one side of a paper red, and one side blue, and then blending the two colors from left to right, or right to left, to make a spectrum in between. Dennis has written "It would seem that it makes little difference whether one has heterosite or pupurite... as long as the heterosite has enough Mn+3 to produce the lovely color. Purpurite would have less iron (and more Mn+3) so should take less acid treatment..." (Dennis Durgin, miner, Mount Marie LLC, e-mail to M. Price, J. Matolcsy, S. Sniffen, 11/05/10).

The question is, whether one starts with heterosite, or purpurite, is it possible to make a stable purple pigment. Perhaps Dennis Durgin will have the answer to this one day. Michael Price has also done some thinking on this. In the meantime, Dennis has been very generous with his donation of some heterosite for me to make pigment from, as well as some heterosite to keep as a sample. Others have also been generous with gifts of heterosite or purpurite, however, these I cannot grind into pigment, as I do not have multiples of these from their places of origin; each rock is part of a story of the geology of New England and New England pegmatites, and one should not, so to speak, tear out chapters of a book one is lucky enough to have to read.

Above is work begun mid December 2010, with some of the rock containing the mineral heterosite, from Mount Marie.

++(thanks to the miners and minerologists at Palermo mine, Mount Marie, and members of the Capital Mineral Club, and the Mindat.org website, and the "Amethyst Galleries" website)


Binders

Some Pictures from April 8th, 2011:

log with resin

dripping resin

moredrippingresin

closer in

clear resin

Oil Trials

Spring 2011: I am still interested in the Pacheco recipe. Recently I have read a translation of the Pacheco recipe, by Zahira Veliz, which has added some ideas and thoughts, specifically about the lavender, and about the straining of the lavender out of the oil.

Grains of lavender:

dry spike of lavender

I do not speak Spanish, and so rely on dictionaries, translations, and some basic romance language navigation skills I do have.
Veliz translated the word "grano" as seeds, rather than buds. This has prompted me to learn a little more about lavender seeds. I started with a dictionary.

In the "Common Usage Dictionary", a short "Living Language" Spanish-English dictionary, the word "grano" is translated as grain. A "grain" is translated as:

"A hard seed or kernel; especially, that of any of the cereal plants....Any very small, hard mass...The smallest possible quantity of anything...The color, usually red, produced by a fast dye; also, the source, as cochineal or kermes, of such a dye..."(The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1966).

A Spanish dictionary written in the early 1600's would be best. I wouldn't be too surprised if one could be found at a nearby university, but I haven't looked yet.

Here, is one view of what a lavender seed is.

calyces of lavender

These seeds pictured above, as I understand it, are actually lavender calyces possibly containing seeds, and are called seeds, or buds, likely depending on when they have been harvested.

Virginia McNaughton writes " The flower of a lavender consists of a corolla or petals, which in lavender are fused together, and a calyx or sepals which are also fused together. The part seen 'in bud' is the calyx." (p.35 Lavender, the Grower's Guide). Before flowering, therefore, the calyx is essentially the bud. When in flower, the calyx sits below the corolla. After the flower/corolla drops, the seeds in the calyx continue to (?or start?) to develop and mature.

Pictured below, 2 ounces of "lavender seeds" in packets.

2 ounces lavender seeds

100 seeds weigh about .1 gram (see picture of 100 seeds framed between some lavender spikes below).

100 seeds


1000 seeds therefore weigh 1 gram. One avoirdupois ounce is equal to 28.34952 grams, or 1 gram is equal to .03527 ounces. .03527 goes into 2 ounces of seeds 57 times. Therefore, 2 ounces of seed should contain about (57grams/2 ouncesx 1000 seeds/gram)=57,000 seeds/2 ounces. Do I have this correct?

Lavender oil is often made with lavender flowers, and so one might wonder if Pacheco used lavender flowers. In The Volatile Oils , published in 1900 in English with Edward Kremers as translator, it is written, "The French lavender oil is obtained in the higher mountainous regions of southern France...As the lavender blossoms cannot be transported, the distillation is carried on as near as possible to the place of collection, as a general rule in portable stills"( 600, Gildemeister and Hoffmann). The flowering and distilling begins in lower regions the authors explain in July, and ends in higher regions, toward the end of September, at an altitude of 1,500m(600). I imagine that in the 1600's, the calyces in flower were not transported either, rather, only the calyces were transported, either in bud stage, or after flowering.

Straining the lavender

According to the Veliz translation of Pacheco's Book III, Chapter V text, Pacheco mentions the use of hair strainers in several locations in this text. He does not mention the use of them for the lavender and oil, however, this is likely what he meant. Pacheco does not mention any additional filtering. Is this because he found extra filtering unnecessary to do, or unnecessary to mention?

Summer 2010, I strained out the lavender immediately, however, with a wire mesh colander for cooking, and not with a hair strainer. The colander would have likely let larger particles pass through than a hair strainer would have. I did not filter immediately after straining. The oil remained quite a dark color.

In a pre-trial, [which I did quickly end of April/beginning of May before my more planned out oil trials, following Pacheco's instructions, and using a small quantity of flax oil, without washing the oil first in a separatory funnel], I had also found the oil to be a little dark at the end of the experiment, after straining. The only answer that I had for this, at the time, as I needed a quick answer which would not be contrary to Pacheco's directions, was to repeat his directions, like a refrain in a piece of music is repeated.

Repeating the experiment resulted in a lemon yellow oil, much to my relief, although, I was now concerned that the oil had residual alcohol in it, and did not know how this would affect the oil. When the oil was abandoned and left in a cool location with dim light,and with some calcium carbonate left in it, this lemon yellow oil lightened to an almost colorless oil. Most all of this almost colorless oil was lost through accident, although what was made is pictured below. The little that was not lost dried into a film.

The question which artists have been asking for centuries, is whether or not there is an oil which will not yellow natural mineral blue pigments, and which also is a good binder for a paint. Michael Price, who has specialized in working with mineral pigments and done extensive work and research with the blue pigment azurite, has been looking into the question of a good binder for blues for many years, and has found some answers. Whether or not Pacheco had the answer to the problem can perhaps be seen in some of his paintings that have blue in them.

I wonder, however, did Pacheco or any of his contemporaries know the secret to keep their blues blue, or was it their color-seller who knew the secret? Michael Price's research on levigating azurite in casein (see his website), explains this thought. Pacheco's contemporary, Giovanni Battista Armenini, who wrote On the true precepts of the art of painting, (1533? to 1609), said that one should not crush blues from the color seller (191). Pacheco writes that the blue "has to be of the best color and thinnest cenizas, keeping away from seconds and the roughly ground varieties that blend with difficulty."(Veliz translation, p. 54). This sentence makes me believe that he is purchasing his blues ready ground from a color-seller; blues that might have been levigated and encased in a protein. On the other hand, Michael Price has proven that even more roughly ground blues should hold their color if levigated in casein, and so perhaps Pacheco's color seller did not have this particular answer (if more than one answer to the problem is even a possibility).

I have not seen any of Pacheco's work in person; one representation that can be found online does seem to have a fair amount of blue pigment in it. Seeing a Pacheco painting, if the history of its cleaning and restoration could also be obtained, would be the best point of departure. I am unlikely to undertake this adventure anytime soon.

This summer, 2011, I plan to look again at this pre-trial "repeat". I also intend to try seeds as well as buds, and to research into what is a hair sieve (washed hair???), and if it is possible to make or buy one to use. The question of "what is clean and clear" oil, which I started to work with last summer, will also continue to be a part of my experiments in oil.

Today it is the day before Easter. Yesterday ice out was declared in our local lakes. Today it is snowing, and the ground is once again white. Last year this time, the ice had already been out for about a month, and local farmers were planting. The pre-trial was finished by Sunday May 9th. On April 26th, the oil was out in sun, and shade. The trial's first day, although undocumented, should have been the 24th of April, 2010, which is one year ago, almost today (well, one day from now!). Looking outside at the freshly fallen and falling snow, this is hard to believe.

Entry from summer 2010:This summer (2010) I have been refining oil. I was inspired by Michael Price's work in refining mineral pigments, Louis Velasquez's work with oil, and Francisco Pacheco's directions, which were the directions I attempted to follow. Pacheco does not explain what happens before or after his directions start, and it is therefore before and after, where there is room for creativity. Here are some pictures.

washing oil

Pacheco

Pacheco

sorrel oil

The results have been interesting enough, that I will continue to work on this, but with less of a focus on research, and more of a focus on application, although, there is still much research to do!

Credit must be given to Michael Price, for his help, and for his encouragement to follow Pacheco's method as written.

 

 

Thoughts on Art

Notes on La Gioconda, the Mona Lisa

I have written the following to show how landscape and figure painting can be closely tied, and to illustrate how a painter might think, when designing a painting. I have not quoted anyone in this analysis, because as far as I remember, I have not learned this except from the painting itself, one night , May 25th, 2008. What I have seen and written, however, would fit the realm of common knowledge, as it is just looking at what is there in terms of its landscape. Of course, if three people look quickly into a room that they have not seen in a long while, all may see different things. In the case of this analysis, it should also be taken into consideration that the room is dimly lit, because the image I analysed was a reproduction of the portrait.

The painting of Mona Lisa is compelling because her face, hands, and wardrobe subtly mimic, repeat, and add to the landscape that she is in. The fabric on her left arm closest to the viewer in the foreground is rippled and folded, but somewhat gently, like the landscape closest to civilization in the middle ground, adjacent to her bust. The cloth on her right arm, furthest from the viewer is very creased to sharp edges, mimicing the rugged geological landscape in the distance. Over her arm, adjacent to an aqueduct, is a cloth which flows between her arms as the river flows between the two landscapes. The bridge or aqueduct off her left shoulder adjacent to the river of cloth, perhaps carries water from its source in the mountains, in nature, to towns. The aqueducts' adjacency and direction, into the cloth, makes the river of cloth seem able to spill into it, or it into the river. Just so her bodice is positioned in relation to the cloth; that is, its decoration flows tumbling like a little stream next to her skin, from or to the cloth or river. The bodice which it flows on covers the part of her body from which springs the liquid which gives sustenance to new life, just as the aqueducts feed the fountains which help nourish civilization in the town squares. The forms of the aqueduct are repeated in the decoration.

Included in the bodice's needlepoint decoration, are crosses (like springs in the stream). Only one cross (like a spring of eternal life), at the bodice's center is in plain view, and not partially obscured by the rivulet like gathers of the bodice. Almost equidistant to this cross, below are her crossed palms, and above her face, in which the four directions of the cross are highlighted. And so there are 3 obvious crosses, all part of her person. The cross laid out in her face has its north-south line running from chin to mouth to nose to the part in her hair, and its east-west line moving from shadow to eye to eye to shadow (from darkness to light and light to darkness, as though her eyes are the rising and the setting sun). And between one dawn and one dusk, the direction of the pupils of her eyes speak about which time in her life she and her family are closest to (the beginning). Similarly, next to her left eye (on the right to us), are large mountains; and to her right eye, her setting sun eye, are mountains which have greatly eroded. A prominent undercut craig towers over the river, promising to fall into the river, which probably undercut it, as it slowly wore down through rock layers to its level in the portrait.

And the river runs behind her head, reminding us which sides of the river the sun rises and sets on, like the river Styx, and therefore reminding us of life, and of death. The river of cloth on her shoulder points down to the water that is life for a child, the place of flowing water, the birth canal. At her left shoulder is a road, a serpentine road, serpent in form, which finds its way between a tight pass, apparently leading to this river. Her dress appears to be the color of a river in flood (if unfaded), and full of the sediments and pigments of eroding mountains, and so full of nutrients and nourishment in which to plant seed. And so, against an immense geological landscape in the background, a landscape that is wondrous, but even so, in its immensity of form and almost lack of life in the distance, makes Lisa, a young woman of child-bearing years (granted by God to give life), all the more wondrous. And Mona Lisa's smile is as mysterious and little understood as are the mysteries of life;but she understands a little, and is perhaps happy for this knowledge.

Thoughts on Frames

January 1, 2012: A Painting's Edge

A painting's edge is generally hidden from view by the traditional frame. This may work well for a painting. The viewer does not know if anything at the edge is missing, and nothing intended by the artist for view may be missing, as an artist can plan the location for the frame's sight edge. When an artist paints beyond the sight edge, their strokes are kept vibrant and energetic to where the frame begins. If something intended for view does get covered, even so, it may not be a crisis; for all the glories about us, one can never see them all at once. And as a final argument on the potential lack of importance of losing a paintings edge to the shadow of a rabbet, it is common knowledge that the (at least fictional) art thief cuts a canvas from the stretcher apparently sacrificing the edge's of a canvas, but not the painting's value.

Covering the edge, however, is a solution that I rejected. My first painting teachers taught their students to paint to the edge of the canvas, and I learned to like the edge (that line where the painting meets the world around it, and the canvas drops 90 degrees, like the waterfalls at the edge of a flat earth).

Last summer, however, I began to work on designs for hybrid type frames and hardware, out of respect for the functionality of the traditional frame. Out of respect for the potential beauty of the traditional frame, I also began to realize that another solution might lie in one that I had rejected years earlier; the solution found by folk painters such as Hicks, of a painted border or a false frame. I realized that a painted border can easily be penetrated by the image it contains, and does not have to be tedious to paint, as I first took for granted it might be.

A painting's edge is an opportunity.  Between the edge of a painting and the frame can exist a space between; between two and three dimensions, between the formal and informal. It is a meeting place, where paths might meet and join (reminiscent of Celtic designs), or collisions occur. It might be a place where a perspectival landscape turns to a plan - the aerial view, where patterns can be seen. This space between, or border, might be about the junctures of wilderness and landscape, the unbuilt and built , the known and the unknown, coming together. It can be continuous, or broken, even, or uneven, clear, or indistinct. In the dialogue between the frame, the painting, and the space between, there are an infinity of possibilities.

Of course, covering the edge of such a border would still be to cover a portion of a painting. But it is a part of a painting which already half belongs to the frame anyway.

I was inspired today to write this summary of thoughts on the frame's edge, due to images of paintings which Michael Price published today to his website. In these works, geometry is light and spirit, and light and spirit are geometry. There is a meeting, a merging, a oneness, of the human figure and the mathematical plans/designs with their roots in nature. In one of the paintings in his new geometry series, Michael Price has the fragment of a very large border (art based on Euclidean geometry) positioned at the edge of his painting. Geometry flows from this border segment to the covering of the figure, and from the figure's covering into the border. A beautiful suspense. A poetic address of the border's potential within its limits, and without.

August 10, 2011:

For a while now, I have questioned my initial enthusiasm about "minipanels" (very small panels set within frames, breaking up the line of a frame).

My insistence on floater frames is also questionable, as traditional frames have much merit.

The floater frame gives freedom, expanse, and the condition in which the painting was conceived. The traditional frame provides protection, with minimal hardware. I finally realized that hiding part of the edge will work with my paintings, and give me some of the benefits of a traditional frame. Therefore, I have been working on designs for hybrid frames.

March 28, 2010: A few months back I realized that I would like to have a frame that overlapped the edge of my paintings, if the edge were clear glass, stained (silver stained, plus other colors, on clear glass), and?/or reverse painted. The way glass focuses light and heat, however, made me question this thought. However, I considered, the frame could hold glass panels. Once I made this rough jumble of a sketch a few days back, the idea became clearer.

Glass Panel Frame Sketch

I then went back to a book on reverse painting, and finally could SEE a frame that I had looked at several times before in the book, and had liked for its unique coloring; this time I saw that it contained glass panels! It can take more than time to see. In this instance, I had to wait until I had made my own workable sketch, a seed for more frames, to recognize a similar frame.

Thoughts on Frames, January 24, 2007

LAKE,LEDGE,LODGING: ..."Lake, ledge, lodging" frame moldings were inspired by water and rock, and designed to frame my paintings. They are floater frame moldings, which expose the painting's edge, as they were when painted. The inside edge of the painting's edge, as they were when they were painted. The inside edge of the floater frame leans away from the painting's edge, allowing light into the intermediary crevice. Many of the frame moldings can carry miniature paintings painted on mini-panels. The mini panels lodge within the molding, separate yet part of both the frame and it's painting, as driftwood is to the water it floats in.

A frame molding held in the hand is sculptural. Cut and built into frames, frame moldings shape space around the paintings they are paired with, altering how the works are perceived. Painting and frame become interdependent despite a painting's independent nature (a painting can hang unframed if so conceived). Frames are made to serve artwork; a frame that serves as another passage in a painting, as a part of the whole work, is a sculpture working in close cooperation with a painting.

For the frame to be integral to the artwork, the voice of the frame, and that of the painting must harmonize (even if dissonance is the painting's subject matter). When there is dissonance between a frame and it's painting, the painting is weakened; even a narrow, simple frame can weaken a painting. harmony should be attainable whether the frame's section is simple or ornate, continuous or discontinuous, or seen or overlooked by the viewer.

Frames provide lodging for a painting, and transition between the pictorial environment and the environment of the room they are lodged in. In this special transition space (where light waves upon leaving the painting's surface first pass), there is opportunity for art. With these frames, I have begun to take advantage of this opportunity.

Spring Waves: Sudden breezes blowing across lake water atop melting ice sheets form brisk waves. In open water, icebergs big and small jingle together amongst the waves. Wood carried on the waves drifts to shore.

Summer Waves: Open warm water, rolling sparkling waves, reflect the sunlight and the life on the water, and on the shore. Boats cut through waves forming more waves in their wake.

Ledge: Ancient slabs and boulders striated by glaciers, and split and worn by water and roots, stand alone or balance amidst each other, supporting each other.

Fencrest Studio, Sarah K. Sniffen, copyright January 26, 2007.

Frame Designs

Waves and Ledge: Summer Waves Waves and Ledge: Ledge Waves and Ledge: Spring Waves
Waves and Ledge: Waves 2008 Lake and Ledge: Spring Waves 2008 Waves and Ledge: Spring Wave Variations
Waves and Ledge: Reflections Waves and Ledge: Summer Wave Variations