Wednesday, Mercury's Day

Mercury is associated with quick silver that is so toxic that slaves were employed to grind up the cinnabar imported from the mines in Almaden, Spain. As kids, we found some in the garage and played with it unknown to our parents. It was fascinating stuff that can kill you if heated or ingested. Knowing about its toxcity now, we decided to take sufficient precautions to make vermillion red pigment derived from the rock by covering the mortar with a tea towel as the pestle was emphatically and energetically employed  to fragment the chunk of cinnabar into a finely ground powder. But was that sufficient - nooooo. The powder then had to be mixed with some distilled water into a paste and then poured into a glass jar with distilled water covering it. Then about ten more times after the sediment settled and the water was relatively clear, it was poured off with more distilled water again poured over the cinnabar residue. And again, and again . . .That took all day as did the preparation of malachite which I started today along with a continuation of the azurite for blue that I started yesterday. Cinnabar is a very very dense material, far heavier than its size would suggest.

 Azurite halfway through grinding
Lapis lazuli after multiple grindings and washings. Still not ready to have gum arabic added.

The lapis lazuli fragments that took all day yesterday to produce into a powder was today mixed and washed in the same fashion as the azurite and the malachite, there is a special term for it but I can't remember it now. So today, we washed and washed and washed again the cinnabar, azurite, malachite and lapis lazuli.What did not require washing but was super tedious was our production of soot black. Imagine this, take some candles or tea lights, get the flames going, take a spoon hold it over the flame until the bottom of it blakens and scrape off the residue into jar lid. What was scraped off was not at all abundant - it was miniscule so all five of us did that process over and over and over again. And again, this why pigment making involved slavery. Very time consuming and monotonous. The only perk was when we had collected a small amount we put it on the glass, added gum arabic and a tiny bit of water and got a wonderfully intense lamp black. We don't any bones currently to burn for ivory or bone black but similar process except that the bones are wrapped in foil and put in the oven to roast until black then ground etc.

Titanium white thank goodness did not require the grinding of titanium - it was already purchased in powder form. It is so liquid hungry that when gum arabic was added to it, it became a very sticky white mess that needed more liquid to make it manageable. However, we produced six pans or so of titanium white watercolor.  As for the soot black production, we many just give up and use some commercial lamp black powder to make more black tomorrow.

Tomorrow is organic pigment production day making lakes out of cochineal (red bugs from Mexico), Persian berries for another kind of red, etc.

We did do some geometric work as well but only created a few images. I am getting slightly better at using the compass for making sacred geometry producing circles and triangles, squares and hexagons one into the other (I would give myself a C- right now).  I will never become a geometric goddess but they are patient with me. Not easy being a student but I excel at pigment making along with a little help from my friends.


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