Having found lists of obscure/obsolete color names and rounded out the alphabet with a few simply-charming-to-me colors, each day, I’ll introduce a color and a swatch I’ve painted and then write about whatever comes to mind as I muse about the day’s color. Fair warning, my mind is a non-linear traveler, so who knows where my contemplations will take us.
B is for…
bole – dark red-brown pigment, historically made from clay and often used to “warm” other colors.
As a color term, bole derives from the Latin bolus, which means “dirt” and refers to a soft fine clay whose reddish-brown varieties are used for pigments and also coatings as well as bases used when applying gold leaf.
There’s abundant evidence that humans, probably since their first appearance, have used natural materials such as crushed plants, rocks and minerals, and soil itself to leave symbolic markings, and visual messages, to dye other materials, and even their skin. I find it interesting to look at early cultural uses, but am especially fascinated by the use of natural pigments in what we now consider “the fine arts.” They were in continuous use as the base for oil paints until the 19th century, when synthetic and petroleum-based pigments were introduced and adopted. History is rich with stories and examples of brilliant colors made from crushed gemstones and other things, but there were plenty of challenges discovered as well, including the longevity of certain colors and more alarmingly, serious toxicity with some pigments. But as it seems with all things, eventually the tide returns, and we’re once again seeing a resurgence (although at a very reduced rate) in interest in natural pigments both in painting and in dyeing, mostly thanks to environmental concerns and interest in organic options.
At the beginning of the year, when it first became clear color was pinging my interest in a major way, and I began planning my reading agenda to take me through various challenges I participate in, I came across a book whose title totally won its place on my reading list. By William Logan, it’s entitled Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. While I haven’t begun it yet, it delights me, knowing it’s inching its way toward my immersion.
These musings on soil and clay remind me of something else. My 100-day project this year is creating a quick daily drawing, and I’m working within the theme of “Plant Strange Seeds and Let Strange Things Grow,” which is a quote from artist Yumi Sakugawa. So, soil and seeds are foremost in my brain at the moment, and it delights me to share these words from Rumi: “In this earth, in this soil, in this pure field, let us not plant any seed, other than the seeds of compassion and love.”
A bit more on topic with the reddish brown of bole, I recently remembered that on a few occasions when I was a child, my grandmother dyed eggs with onion skins and beets. They came out a lovely reddish brown. I’m thinking I’ll have to give it a try myself, and when I looked up a recipe, I discovered someone putting tiny flowers and leaves on the eggs before dyeing them. When removed after the dye bath, the flower has acted as a mask, and that portion of the egg isn’t dyed. I can’t wait to experiment. In the meantime, I’m allowing myself to be inspired by this licensed stock photo.
What about you? Are you interested in natural pigments? Like to have your hands in the soil and clay? If Rumi’s invitation to plant seeds of compassion and love doesn’t inspire you, what seeds would you prefer to plant? Have something bole colored you love? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.
Love natural colours and soil colours. We still have burnt umber and burnt sienna in painting sets. Soils ranging from iron rich red to peaty black – you’re talking my language…
How delightful to find another soil-color admirer. Although I know it exists, I’ve yet to see blue soil, but someday…
I’m not really a seed planting person. I’d rather get my hands dirty with ink than soil. I do like this color though.
It certainly can be fun to get your hands inky, and you have a delightful studio to do it in, Janet.
My mother was a dab hand at using natural pigments; lichens, seaweeds, fungi… you name it she’d have a go and usually very successfully. For her homespun wool yarn. My sister now likes to play this way. I love to watch… YAM xx
I’m actually wearing a sweater today that is very close to bole in color. Love it!
My A to Z Blogs
DB McNicol – Small Delights, Simple Pleasures, and Significant Memories
My Snap Memories – My Life in Black & White
Sounds lovely to me, Donna.
Love the reddish brown and the decoration. It’s also best to use natural ingredients although the smell of the vinegar and hard-boiled eggs will always remind me of dyeing eggs for Easter. (until my daughters got into blowing out and painting eggs) Especially in spring, I enjoy putting my hands in the dirt/soil such that I often don’t wear gardening gloves–which I should!
Red tones are always the ones that catch my magpie eye, and I tend toward the range between fruity and earthen when it comes to reds I can wear. So this color, bolus, is definitely in my wheelhouse.
Oddly, I remember the word ‘bolus’ from my high school biology class. (Or maybe I’m mis-remembering?) I recall the word as being used to describe the chewed food in one’s mouth that has been shaped by the tongue into a swallowable piece. You swallow a bolus. It’s part of the digestive system’s cycle.
Now I will have to go look it up!
I especially like those dyed eggs. Beet dye is quite strong, but the color is lovely.
Oh, good call about bolus! Which lead me to remember holus-bolus. It always amuses me what’s tucked away in the brain filing cabinets. And I’m grateful for the ease of search engines that can fill in the forgotten or misfiled bits.
My magpie eyes and heart are mostly attracted to the metallics, but honestly I have to admit I could only whittle down my list of favorite colors to about one million.
I think the Lithuanians dye their Easter eggs with onion juice, making them about this color, then etch them with a stylus. Amazing what people have thought of…
People really are clever, and I wonder what prompted the discovery in the first place. I think, though, John, that onion skins, not juice, are used for the eggs.
I love earthen colors, too. I don’t recall Easter eggs dyed with onion skins and beets. Wish I did…sounds interesting.
She only did it a few times. I can only imagine as kids we weren’t as appreciative as one might hope for such effort. Now, I think she’d be smiling knowing I’m contemplating doing it.
Ok, I am immediately sold on that book title too! 🙂
The Multicolored Diary
It is pretty fantastic, isn’t it?!
Those dyed eggs are gorgeous. How do the masking leaves stick to the shell during the dye bath?
Dyeing eggs is an Easter tradition for my husband, whose grandmother was Polish. I’ve been saving onion skins for him for weeks!