The Gift of the Land - In Search of Natural Earth Pigments
Collecting natural Earth pigments is a gift. It hones your senses to the environment around you, connecting you to the landscape in ways you haven’t felt before. Finding these minerals is about being aware. To a degree there is a science to it, but having an innate sense of curiosity will springboard your search for pigments.
Foraging for Natural Earth Pigments
When foraging for the first time, it’s important to not get overwhelmed in knowing what to look for or identifying the materials you are collecting. Using your senses will help teach you about the characteristics of what you are collecting so that when you are ready to start identifying, you have a strong sense for the tactile quality of natural Earth pigments — it will provide a strong foundation to work from.
When you begin to forage for natural Earth pigments, keep your eyes open for places that expose the raw Earth. Often times these are areas near water or in the woods. Seek out spaces that lack Earth coverage, like grasses, mosses, etc.. Start in your own neighborhood and look for corners, ridges, and edges could contain small iron filled rocks.
Begin with collecting minerals (soils and rocks) that expose some bit of color. Whether that be reds, yellows, or browns the color can quickly transform into something much more in your studio.
Testing Natural Earth Pigments
Testing natural Earth pigments is a good way to begin understanding the materials you are foraging. Often times, it’s helpful to submerge a rock in water, or get it wet, and rub it against another rock. This will help you understand the hardness of material, hinting at the type of rock it may be, while also helping you understand if you can (easily) pulverize it in your studio.
Soft, clay-like rocks are a great place to start because they require small effort to pulverize and are the easiest to mull into paint, but that doesn’t mean you need to stray away from harder rocks full of color. Iron exists in an array of rock forms and sometimes even the hardest rocks make the most beautiful handmade paints.
A note on protecting the land.