In the last chapter you made drawings of landscapes. In this chapter you will make a painting of a landscape, and in the process explore paint and colour and perhaps new painting techniques. You will be mixing colours, discovering colour relationships, and using brushes to create different tones and textures.
Colour has always been loaded with meaning and importance for people. Colour is all around us – there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of colours. There are even colours we can’t see with the naked eye, such as ultraviolet and infrared. Certain animals and insects can see these colours. Early humans constantly sought ways to make different coloured pigments and paints. They experimented with shells, insects, flowers, roots and bark.
The San people used to crush ochre (a type of stone) to make their reds, oranges and yellows. They also used kaolin, a kind of clay, for white; and burnt wood or charcoal, or burnt bone, to make black. These pigments were then mixed with a binder – like egg, blood, plant sap, or sometimes animal fat – to make them stick to the rock.
The Aboriginal peoples of Australia used similar kinds of materials to make paintings and decorate their bodies. The pigments themselves were believed to have spiritual properties, and people sometimes undertook very long journeys to obtain them.
In some cases unexpected things were used to create pigments. A certain yellow, for example, was made from the urine of cows. The ancient Incas made a brilliant red colour – cochineal – from drying and crushing parasites that live on the prickly pear cactus in South America. When the Spanish colonised that part of the world, they made huge profits from selling this pigment to other countries.
Sources of colour were often jealously guarded and certain pigments were worth their weight in gold. In medieval China, for example, only royalty could own and use a secret green-coloured porcelain. It was called mi se, meaning “mysterious colour”. In Europe in Renaissance times, ultramarine (a type of blue) was created by grinding lapis lazuli, an extremely precious stone that had to be imported. This colour was rare and therefore greatly valued – and usually reserved for painting the robes of the Virgin Mary.
Today we can have our clothes, houses and other things around us in almost any colour we like, with colours made chemically in laboratories. But many of the colours we take for granted today still rely on the discoveries made many hundreds of years ago.