In the last few weeks I have been in a position to collect and select pigments from geographically specific areas. I have been sent carbon black from a wood fired chimney in Corby Glenn. I have collected Ochre from the hillsides near Loch Tay and I have been given industrial carbon from Middlesborough. At the back of all my work is the way in which pigments playout in human history, how they hold the sotires of our interactions. The material trace left by human interaction in the form of colour.
I am currently working on a series of paintings for the Corby Glenn Project, and the pigments that seem to me to be most associated with that place are the carbon blacks made with wood. The building I will be exhibiting in was built by a 17th century wood importer. The family at the centre of the village arrived to build a Catholic church, and were carpenters, and still are, though also farmers. there is still a wooden mill in Corby Glen though now at the outskirts rather than the centre of the village. Wood is at the heart of Corby Glenn. And with the help of Graham, who requested and sent me soot from the local chimney sweep I have the basis for creating carbon black
Care has to be taken and I use EU regulation fine particle masks and cover the pestle and mortar with plastic sheet to make sure the dust doesn’t spread. Once it is made into paint it is safe . I did smell like a bonfire though!
The other pigemnt source I raided was the earth in Scotland. I visted my geologist partner in crime and we sourced ochres from the lanscape near to her lovely holliday house. She spotted the sources and we collected together. The process for preparing the pigment is more complicated and requires the removal of plant matter and silicates, so includes sieving, washing precipitating and filtering. I got some advice from my lovely friend Bina Shah who has a practice based on using natural pigments and is an old hand at cleaning them up... she explained to me about how to get the sand out. there’s a little animation on my instagram you can watch if you like by pressing the button below
And then there is a more biographical pigment... the Needham branch of my family were Sheffield cutlers and as a result involved in the steel industry. My parents came to see me on the way to visit my Uncle from the other side, and were chatting about his collection of carbon rods which he had bought when the steel works in Middlesborough closed down, so I asked if I could have a few. And they brought some back with them, so I have a very different grade of hard carbon from that, coated in copper, so will be able to make both another carbon black and verdigris.
I don’t usually process my own pigments in this way, I usually buy them from Cornellisen’s , or I buy fair traded indigo. However there is something very satisfying in this process for work which has a geographical specificity. Knowing that the materials which are traceable to the source actually come from a source which is local.