pear tree log: I started this blog to keep my younger son, Jonny, in touch with life in Lincolnshire, while he spent a year working in China. That year turned into five! Now he is home and training to become a physics teacher. This is simply a patchwork quilt of some of the things I enjoy - life in rural Lincolnshire, our animals, friends, architecture, books, the gardens, and things of passing interest.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

...Made from the Crushed Body of A Cheery Little Fellow..

As I was walking through the vegetable garden I spotted this beautiful patch of moss.  Bright, zingy, completely at odds with everything else there.
It set me thinking about colours, and the colours to be found in nature and I recalled a very small item from a 1930's book, about how paint and dye colours were made.   I am assuming that they are made differently now - or maybe not.

  • Lamp black is condensed smoke, but ivory black is made from burnt tusks.
  • Sepia is obtained from the cuttle fish.
  • Tyrian purple, an old, rich colour used for dying the imperial togas of ancient Rome - is made from shell fish.
  • Vermillion is salt of mercury.
  • Rose Madder comes from the roots of a tropical plant.
  • Crimson lake from the crushed body of a cheery little fellow known as the cochineal insect.
  • Yellow ochre is made from earth.
  • Chrome yellow from the metal chromium.
  • Gamboge from Indian cattle fed on mangroves.
  • Ultramarine is obtained by crushing lapis lazuli.
Ivory black from burnt tusks, well that's one which must surely be made by alternative means.  

I was going to do some painting today - I have a couple of pieces of work on the go, which should have been completed ages ago.  

Maybe tomorrow  I'll pick up my tubes of paint with those familiar names, perhaps I'll splosh them around,  maybe not.  Either way, at least I'll know a tiny bit more about their origins.


  1. I imagine that vermillion might be dangerous..all that mercury... the handling of which is why Hatters ended up mad!!
    BEWARE the Vermillion!
    Jane x

  2. And purple is cruel--hundreds of years of lichen growth sripped away for a little purple.

    The good news is, no one has time to make it the old way, let alone stuff those little tubes.

  3. I am very aware anything which contains mercury, I did a spell as a dental nurse, way back in the days when the accepted thing was to mix amalgam fillings in a little phial and then tip it into a square of gauze, gather the ends of the gauze and wring the excess mercury out of the filling mix. The excess was then placed in an open-top box and kept on the worktop until it was reclaimed at the end of the week. We didn't wear gloves either!! Terrible. I am so glad I didn't do that for long.

  4. Hi Joanne, One of my paintings does require purple shading - I can use it with a clear conscience now!

  5. Oh Elaine....thosse horrid amalgam fillings, and you had to handle them?! YUCK!!
    Jane x


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