Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Unusual Origins of Color

One of the perks of attending a color theory class is that you get a little bit of color history thrown in with your regular assignments.  Last week in class, we watched the video "The Colourmen" about the beginings of color pigment production by Windsor & Newton.  BTW - they were geniuses!

What an eye-opening video!  When I pick up my bottle of Indian Yellow I never think about how that color was ORIGINALLY manufactured - before the industrial revolution.  Well, now I know; and, so will you.  Just keep reading.
Indian Yellow

Indian Yellow is a beautiful, transparent colour with excellent lightfastness. It used to be produced by feeding cows exclusively on mango leaves and using the resultant urine to manufacture the colour. Using the cows in this way was unacceptable in India and by the early 20th century the practice had ceased. Indian Yellow has since then been made with a variety of pigments but it took until the 1990's to find pigments which provided the lightfastness of the original.

Mummy Brown

Mummy brown was originally made in the 16th and 17th centuries from white pitch, myrrh, and the ground-up remains of Egyptian Mummies, both human and feline. One London colourman claimed that he could satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years from one Egyptian mummy. It fell from popularity in the early 19th century when its composition became generally known to artists.  It was also considered extremely variable in its composition and quality, and since it contained amonia and particles of fat, was likely to affect other colours with which it was used.
Mummy brown was produced up into the 20th century until the supply of available mummies was exhausted.

Cochineal Beetle

The darkest red, carmine red, was for centuries made from crushed cochineal beetles found in South Africa.  Cochineal carmine was used by the Aztecs and was first imported to Europe in the 1530s from Spanish conquests in America. Carmine had extremely poor lightfastness and has not been widely used since alizarin crimson became available in the late 19th century.
Well, that is kind of gross and fasinating all at the same time, isn't it.  If you have a chance to watch "The Colourmen" I highly recommend it.  I know I won't ever be able to look at Indian Yellow again without thinking of its origins.