There is a sort of mystery surrounding the production of colours. Where do they come from? How do we get the paints that we use? Are they the same as they have always been?
One of the first course we did at psta was with David Cranswick, he taught us the alchemy involved in making colours from the earth from orgainc and mineral resources.
Getting colours from earth is actually very simple. With a bit care and effort you can make colours rather easily. Colours occur naturally in the ground in the form of earths or clays and in mineral deposits like malachite or lapis lazuli. These minerals can be quite dense and require you to crush them to a fine powder before they will be useful as a paint. Because these colours are crushed by hand, the resulting powder is likely to be uneven, even if it is as finely ground as possible. This means that when the pigment is used as a paint the texture of the painting is likely to be uneven and have some areas of strong and some areas of weaker colours. Something that is often said at the school is that when you do paint with these colours, the uneven tones is also created by the pigment molecules being of differing sizes and reflecting different amounts of light.
In terms of what colour is, there are several books which I highly recommend you read if you wish to understand not only how to create colour but also what colour fundamentally means. These books are Victoria Finlay’s ‘Colour’- a beautifully written travel guide on her journeys to discover colours from around the world, Cennino Cennini’s ‘The Craftsman’s Handbook (Il Libro dell’ Arte’ – by far the most practical guide on colour making methods as well as preparing gesso panels, gilding and a variety of other techniques, Spike Bucklow’s ‘The Alchemy of Paint’- a medieval exploration of colour. I shall add more to the list as i come by them. But these few books serve well as a starting point for exploring colour, practically and philosphically.