Thursday, July 14, 2011
From Clothlets to Bleeding Art
"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.