From Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color

Give thanks for paint tubes and other innovations

In the very first post on this blog, I wrote about how lucky I am to be a 21st century painter because I could walk into an art store and buy a tube of Lapis watercolor paint. No need to dig it up. No need to grind it myself. No need to fret about consistency from batch to batch. No worries about preserving it.

I am always ready to give thanks for paint tubes and other innovations when someone points them out to me.

John G. Rand: Innovator

In May 2013, Smithsonian Magazine had a short but very informative article about the introduction of tubes for paint by “a little-known” American portrait painter, John G. Rand. Should you be hungry for more information about this innovator, look no further than a helpful article from the North Carolina Museum of Art: A revolution in paint.

Philip Ball’s “Bright Earth”

Philip Ball’s brilliant Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color sparked the “I don’t need to grind it” insight. It is still a favorite book, and it sits on my night table. Full of delights and exciting (to me) material such as “Color Technology in Antiquity” and the shocking introduction of “Synthetic Pigments and the Dawn of Color Chemistry,” Bright Earth also answers pesky questions such as “Who was Hooker of Hooker’s Green?”

When making art, we stand (or sit) on the shoulders of innovators. Thanks to all of them.

Read this: Never Underestimate the Power of a Paint Tube (Smithsonian)

I am lucky to be a 21st century painter

Molecular Biology 115
Molecular Biology 115: a nanoscape from 2007

I stand second to none in my delight with color and my need to have and to use as many colors as  possible.  I am lucky to be a 21st century painter. I can get any color that I can see and many more that don’t exist in nature simply by going to my favorite paintmakers, Daniel Smith, Winsor Newton, Sennelier and Holbien.

You bet.

Philip Ball's Bright Earth
Philip Ball’s Bright Earth

I am (slowly) reading Philip Ball’s Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, a fascinating history of the discovery and creation of the pigments and dyes that are a painter’s tools.  Long ago, artists relied on what they could dig up, what could be imported from far away, and what might have been created by optimists or adulterated by greedy or ignorant  manufacturers.  The continuum of alchemy to chemistry is a long one, and artists were the beneficiaries or the victims of the materials that they could acquire.  With respect to William Longfellow, when it was good, it was very very good, and when it was bad it was horrid.

While I have no doubt that I could go out and acquire some lapis, grind it and then bind it with the appropriate 100% consistent binding material, Daniel Smith does it for me, and demo’d it in a video.

I am grateful to be a 21st century artist.