Pigments are essentially ‘raw’ colours that are insoluble in water and usually used in powder form.

They are often split into 2 main categories, natural and synthetic. Natural pigments can be found in the form of earth pigments, the likes of rock, clay or soil, mineral pigments, like malachite, azurite, or even shells. Synthetic pigments are made in a lab and produce vibrant and varied colours. A hybrid form of pigment called a lake pigment is formed using a water soluble natural dye, in our case a botanical dye and synthetically processed into a non-soluble pigment.

Earth pigments consist of primarily iron oxide, but often with a mix of other compounds. The colour depends on the exact compound of the rock, the levels of iron oxide, whether it is ferrous oxide or ferric oxide, and if it is mixed with minerals such as manganese which would make it more brown or rutile making it more red or any number of combinations.

 The base carrier of the rock not only adds to the complexity of colour but will effect the ease of processing. A clay based pigment will vary in colour from the same pigment in a silica based carrier, with the clay based being easier to process than the silica based, in my own experience.

Earth pigments are found abundantly and naturally forming in the earth, to find our own, we start by looking in areas of exposed land, rivers, mountains and beaches. The geology involved in identifying each rock / pigment can be a detailed and scientific process, but thankfully it it not necessary for hobbyists like myself.

To collect pigments, its important to dress appropriately for your location and time of year, particularly good footwear with ankle support. Bring with you a bag to collect your samples, and maybe some gloves, and a trowel.

To check if a rock contains any pigment, wet it slightly with with either your own saliva or with water nearby, and scrape it against a harder rock. If it leaves a colour behind, it contains pigment. Look out also for soils or clay as they can also be processed for pigments. 

Record not only the location of each find, but take photos also, I have several rocks that have been processed into pigment, but I didn’t label them properly so have no way of reproducing the paint I currently have, as I can’t remember what the rock looked like originally as they don’t always come out the way you would expect.

As always, get out into creation, and enjoy spending your time looking at the colours of the earth and remember the great and original artist loves you.

"This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" Psalm 118:23

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