Pigments: Natural vs Synthetic & Organic vs Inorganic

My foundation Color Theory class at Kendall College of Art and Design with Professor Sandi Lummen was one of the most demanding classes that I took that first year, and it yielded a lot of rewards.
Coupled with my Art History classes, I learned a great deal about pigments and their evolution. Naturally, we are not talking about natural evolution, but the way technology and science have helped us along as artists.

Since I began discussing my love of historical pigments and the process of working with them, I have noticed more conversation in circles of artists about making paint from pigments and also about the pigments we use. There is a lot of confusion out there, so I thought I’d cover some basics. To begin, I thought I’d highlight the three most valuable reasons to deepen your understanding of pigments.

  • Safety– Historically the bright natural paints have been deadly to handle incorrectly. Restoration painters must use them diligently to protect themselves from being poisoned. Modern synthetic pigments can give you safer alternatives to Lead White for example.
  • Longevity– I can make a brilliant blue from the flower petal of a common garden plant, it is beautiful, bright, and safe. However, it has a short life when exposed to UV light. Other pigments have the possibility of interacting with chemicals in the air, which can cause their color to change over the course of time.
  • Transparency– Transparency is very valuable no matter your medium but is especially important in watercolor. Natural Verdigris lacks the brilliance and transparency of Sap Green, but as a mineral, it does not fade. Whereas historical Sap Green will fade. If you are using the modern synthetic version, you get the best of both worlds.

Pigments can be first divided into Natural or Synthetic. Natural pigments can be found or made through items accessible in the natural world and processed for use without modern chemistry or technology. Synthetic pigments are often dependent upon modern technology and chemistry as part of their production. In the end, pigments fall into one of the main categories below. They are linked to an external website, Handprint.com by Bruce MacEvoy , MacEvoy,a solid source for understanding the categories better.

Pigment categories:

After deeming a pigment natural or synthetic a pigments can be labeled Organic or Inorganic, and one must remember that some are compounds of both. Let’s look at Ultramarine Blue, it is one of the trickier pigments to classify.

Lapis Lazuli Mineral
photo by Hannes Grobe

Historical Ultramarine Blue which means blue beyond the sea, was a natural and inorganic pigment derived from lapis lazuli. It was and is a very expensive pigment but it is remarkably beautiful.

Natural Ultramarine Pigment

Natural Ultramarine Pigment
photo by Palladin

Contemporary Ultramarine Blue is a Synthetic pigment which is usually a compound of both organic and inorganic materials. Notably Kaolin Clay, charcoal, sulfur, anhydrous sodium sulfate, and anhydrous sodium carbonate.

Synthetic Ultramarine Pigment
Photo by Palladin

Modern Quinacridone pigments, my favorite being Quinacridone Gold, are synthetic but composed of organic compounds.

My favorite natural yellow of all time is Orpiment which is the mineral arsenic sulfide. It is like many bright natural pigments, very very dangerous to work with. It is not my favorite because it is dangerous, but because it is so beautiful and is the bright lovely gold pigment used in the infamous Book of Kells.

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Self-Care Check-In

Balanced Stones

image sourced from Pixabay

Here I am, in the hospital again. People keep asking me what they can do to help, and I finally realized what it is! It would be deeply meaningful for me if you took a moment to do a self-care check-in.

  • Are you avoiding getting into the doctor to take care of that something?
  • Are you working yourself to the point of physical neglect?
  • Are you giving up your own restoration to care for others?
  • Are you sacrificing what is meaningful to you to appease others?
  • Are you foregoing spiritual life because you are too busy and need to get things done?
  • Are you spending more time in conversation through screens than face to face?
  • Are you eating in a way that honors both your joy and your health?

Wellness is a round-the-clock job for everyone. More so, gazillions more, if you have a chronic condition, or children, or are caring for others at home or professionally. I always have something going on medically, because of the nature of my conditions and the effort it takes to maintain good health for me.

Sometimes, people get upset and take it personally because I don’t always post updates. On one hand, I don’t want to be known as that person with the ridiculously high-maintenance disease, on the other hand, there are a lot of people out there at the edges of what is referred to as Compassion Fatigue, and I see it.

So many of my friends and family are healers and deep feelers, very deep-feeling feelers. Many of them are generously loving and prone to over-taxing themselves. Even when they really can’t do anything. Even if they know it, they express feelings of guilt and sadness. I’ve listened to people berate themselves for not taking better care for themselves, the irony of that makes me just want to hold them.

I would feel very honored if you took a few minutes reflecting on your answers, beyond ideas of right and wrong, and contemplate what self-care is for you and how to live a life in balance honoring that.

My special request would be for you to go spoil yourself on something that brings you a little joy today. The power of doing that would be immense and nothing to snuff at.

As for me, Lupus is my full-time job, it is very demanding and makes everything more complex. However, I am doing pretty well right now. I am receiving compassionate care, my family has been doting on me, and I will be home soon enough. I am truly thankful for all of you!

Here I am, in the hospital again. People keep asking me what they can do to help, and I finally realized what it…

Posted by Branna O'Dea on Saturday, April 13, 2019

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Best of Toledo 2019

If you have not checked out all of this year’s winners, I encourage you to take a peek soon at the annual publication Best of Toledo in the City Paper. The Art and Performance Center of West Toledo, where I am having a solo exhibit through the month of March, is a winner again this year! Miriam Wagoner is doing some amazing over there work to enrich the arts community in northwest Ohio!

So, I’m sending out a big congratulations to Miriam and a big thank you to Toledo City Paper for including my press release in their Best of Toledo 2019 issue. It was great to be listed in the Art Notes section!

If you can’t find a copy near you here is an online copy of the publication.  A link to the entire publication from the article is copied at the bottom.

Toledo City Paper online publication.

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