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.