Alchemy of Colour: Methods and Materials

The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts China Centre
2018.11.5 - 2018.11.23
David Cranswick

This course consists of three independent but interrelated units.

Unit One: The Making of Western Traditional Pigments

The earth is the natural apothecary of the arts, hidden within its depths are all the variety of pigments as seen in great works of art throughout the world. During this workshop students will explore the traditional processes by which these pure pigments are extracted from their natural sources in the form of earth, rocks, roots and berries, and how these are then purified and transformed, through grinding, washing and levigation into pure pigments.
The traditional methods used to transform these raw materials were, in earlier times, a natural part of the traditional training of the artist; the process of the preparation of these natural materials was understood as an integral part of the painting process. These craft practices take one on a journey into the very heart of the creative processes, preparing the artist both outwardly and inwardly.

Working with the semi precious rocks: Malachite, Azurite, Cinnabar and Chrysocolla, as well as certain plant colours (Madder roots, brazil wood and Persian berry), students will discover first hand the miraculous processes by which these raw materials are ground, washed, purified and, in some cases, heated and precipitated, and slowly transformed into luminous jewel like pigments. 

Unit Two: The Egg Tempera Technique of 13-15 Century Europe

The egg tempera technique taught in this course is the traditional method as used by some of the greatest masters of the Renaissance from the 13th to the late15th century. The technique involves painting on a traditional gesso panel, developing a tonal under-painting over which colours are applied in glazes made from natural mineral and plant pigments, to achieve luminosity and depth. The course will also cover the properties and production of pigments, painting and gilding techniques, and philosophies embedded in traditional craft practices.

Unit Three: The Rennaissance Oil Painting Techniques

This oil painting workshop will offer students a practical experience of the working methods of master painters of the renaissance. Students will be taken step by step through the various stages of classical oil painting techniques practiced in the 16th and 17th centuries. Students will learn about the historical pigments and their origin in the natural world, these include pigments made from earth, semi precious rocks as well as a range of colours from the plant kingdom. Students will learn how to make their own oil paints using traditional recipes. 

Renaissance oil painting involves constructing the painting in specific stages - after the preparation of the ground, a tonal composition (grisailles) is prepared in tones of light and shade. Over this under-painting glazes of colour are then applied in a series of layers. Through this method a dynamic relationship is created between the tones beneath and the glazes of colour above, this is the key to the chiaroscuro effect whereby light and dark emanates from within the paint layers, resulting in a profound luminosity in the colours as well as depth in the shadow tones.

Tutor biography

David Cranswick

David Cranswick trained at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. He received a doctorate for his research into traditional painting materials and techniques in 1999 through The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts. David has taught traditional painting materials and techniques since 1979. He is an MA tutor at the School and is also a PhD supervisor and examiner.

Dr Cranswick is currently writing a book on traditional painting techniques and their underlying craft practices as expressed through the Alchemical tradition.