Local colour map of the Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Pigment in glair binder on paper with pencil and ink; 24″/61cm x 38.5″/98cm; 2013.
|Local Colour Map: Kitchener | April 22, 2013|
Kitchener is a city of two hundred thousand people in the Canadian province of Ontario. In 1981, the first recycling program began here and my own initial reuse of this city’s rocks have produced some subtle shades of colour.
This is my first example of a displaced local colour (a new concept I’m playing with …). ...
Today the children and I began by pruning the grape vines and ended up making charcoal.
With the spring here it was time to prune back the old growth on my vines so that younger, grape bearing vines could replace them. As I was carefully choosing and pruning, my son came up asked asked what I was doing. I told him, and added that such old vines would make very fine charcoal sticks … well, with that little nugget divulged, he immediately wanted to get to work creating his own drawing charcoal.
Making drawing charcoal isn’t difficult. Once the vines are cut to the right length, they need to be heated in an anaerobic environment (if oxygen was present, they would turn to ash rather than carbon). Both of my older children got involved and helped prepare: the vines were trimmed, extra bark was removed, and they were carefully packed into a couple of old metal pipes.
While all this was happening I got a fire going in our little pit our behind the house. This had a double purpose: not only would it fire our charcoal canisters but the extra vines that we couldn’t use could burn and help in the heating! With everything carefully sealed up, we dropped the canisters into the hot fire.
After a few hours the fire had died down and we fished them out of the pit. At this point they were still very hot (somewhere above 550°C, which is the upper limit of my infrared thermometer). It took them a good hour to cool down below 100°C and then it was time to open them up and see what we had created.
With the canister open, we found the thin, black sticks of charcoal we were hoping for. They had lost much of there mass (mainly due to moisture loss) but what remained was carbon-black and ready to draw with.
I’m very happy to report that I have had some immediate (although unexpected) success with the pyrite nodules collected from Kettle Point: I have created Mars Black!
Mars pigments are a group of synthetically produced iron oxide colours which can range from yellow-red-violet-black. They represent a purer form of the same material that gives colour to the ochre pigments because they don’t have any clays associated with them. Because of this purity, they are also typically brighter and more opaque.
This is very exciting for me, but wholly unexpected. After I had finished calcifying a sample of the pyrite I opened the crucible and saw that the whole mass had turned black. I thought it was ruined! I’m not sure what processed me to put a magnet to the mass; pyrite is not magnetic at all but perhaps inspiration whispered in my ear … Once the magnet got close enough the whole mass of black powder jumped around it and formed a mane around it’s head. Then I suddenly realized that I had created the mineral magnetite, or in pigment lingo, Mars Black.
So why are they called, ‘Mars’ colours? The whole group of these pigments comes out of the eighteenth century and today we take the title Mars from the latin, martius, which orginally described this pigment. To the alchemist, Mars symbolised iron; what could be more appropriate to describe this group of pigments?
Firing eleven-thousand year old ivory is a bit of a nerve wracking experience. During this process I began to rehearse in my mind what I would say to Peter Russel if something went wrong; and if I would ask for more to make a second attempt … Early on in my attempts to make ivory black I had received some wonderful walrus tusk ivory and excitedly fired it only to find that that my container had cracked and the resulting rush of oxygen had turned the tusk into ash. Since bone-ash has no value as a pigment, this was very disheartening.
Beyond that worry, I also had to solve a problem: How could I safely calcify a small sample? Remembering a pottery class I took a few years ago, I recalled that sand had a very high flux point, so the idea came to me that I could use it as a fill. I tested my idea on a piano key I had around the studio, and the results were good. So, with trepidation, I loaded up my container with the mastodon tusk, packed it with sand, and dropped it into my stove.
After a few hours had passed I fished around in the hot coals and pulled out the canister – which looked fine on the outside – and put it aside to cool. While it was in the fire I wasn’t overly preoccupied with container, but now that I could see it I was very anxious to open it. I knew that it would be another three hours or so before it would be cool enough to handle, and that any attempt to quicken this could injure the ivory, so I waited.
The canister’s pings and clinks slowly stopped sounding; little by little I could place my hand closer to the outside; finally I began to count the length of time I could touch the outside of the metal. When I finally reached ten, I knew that I could open it. Removing the lid, I carefully poured out the sand, watching for my ivory nugget.
And, although dusty, the mastodon tusk remained whole and fired to a good black.