Thursday, July 14, 2011

From Clothlets to Bleeding Art

The sketch above was made by Anne Rippy, a woman on our sketch crawl to the Screen Door last Sunday.  She did the drawing as well as the painting right there.  I asked her if she would send me her sketch and her explanation of the mediums she used because her method of getting color onto this sketch was not only extremely handy, but also a very interesting revival of an ancient process by which colors could be stored and easily transported.  First, here's Anne's explanation:
When Anne showed us her sheets of super-pigmented tissue paper (the Spectra Bleeding Art tissue), I remembered reading a while back about a Medieval process called the making of clothlets.  I hunted around until I found my copy of Daniel Thompson's The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting,  and sure enough, on page 143 there's a discussion of clothlets, which I am quoting here at  length:

"The method of making the colour out of the seeds of the Crozophora [sunflower] is described in many medieval texts.  It was prepared. . . in the form of "clothlets," bits of [linen] cloth saturated with the juice of the seed of capsules.  The capsules were gathered in the summer, and the juice extracted from them by squeezing gently, so that the kernels, the seeds proper, were not broken, but the juice of the capsule was expressed.  When a good supply of this juice was ready, cloths were dipped into it, dried, and redipped and redried over and over, until they had soaked up a substantial amount of the colour."

Thompson goes on to explain that in some cases the cloths were first soaked in lime water in order to neutralize the natural acidity of a juice and render the color of the juice more blue.  In other cases the already-soaked cloths were then exposed to the vapors of ammonia to further increase the alkalinity and make the color more violet.

He goes on to explain that after drying, the clothlets were stored between the leaves of a book.  "Clothlets were a most convenient form of colours for illuminators.  It was only necessary to put a bit of clothlet into a dish, and wet it with a little glair [egg white] or gum water [gum Arabic, another binder] , and the colour would dissolve out of the cloth into the medium, forming a transparent stain.  A good many colours were prepared in this way for late medieval book painting, as transparent colours came to be more and more prized by the painters of miniatures.  Almost any coloured vegetable juice could be prepared in this way with at least some temporary success;  and everything possible was tried;  but the turnsole [sunflower] colours were the most satisfactory and important."  (page 143- 144)

I'm playing around with making some clothlets using the bright orange sap of a celendine poppy plant from my front garden.  Have any of you ever made paints from vegetable or mineral sources?  I'd love to hear your stories in the comments section here. 


  1. This is so interesting Gwen - can't wait to see what you learn when you make some clothlets.

  2. I never have, but I am curious! Very interesting...

  3. I need to wait until my celendine poppy grows back-- I cut it down after it flowered and it's still pretty scrappy. But as soon as I can gather some of that sap, I'll try it out.

  4. Hi Gwen, Love your blog.
    Just wanted to say, Hey we are neighbors. I live in Hendersonville, NC pretty cool.
    Have a wonderful Friday!

  5. I made some paint/dye from onion peels and had my entire family saving the outside layers of onions. I used it for water color, though it originally was used to dye wool. I would take my watercolor paper and soak little scraps in the concoction, then dry them. later I would wet them again and smear on my painting. Needless to say I was making abstracts or impressionist was fun, I was in a slower life then.

  6. Wow Lori! I think that's exactly the same process as making clothlets. Watercolor paper would be a great medium for absorbing the pigment, too. I'm also thinking about using blotter paper. WHat other dyes/pigments have you used to make these things (the paper clothlets?)

    And SHerry-- maybe someday we can get together and go pigment and dye hunting! Do you ever come to Asheville?

    Gwen (using one of my other google profiles)