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Iron Oxide Pigments, Colors and Uses in Oil Painting

Addtime: 2016/12/05   Read:3924  Font size: Large Small

George O’Hanlon’s Best Painting Practice Class held in Portland this past weekend was a treasure trove of valuable information. Much of the information presented was material I have studied over the years since my art quest began, and happily, there were many nuggets presented too. The topics of materials, techniques, mediums, oil painting substrates, pigments, solvents, linens, longevity, and brushes are all endlessly fascinating for me, and I never lose my desire to learn more. I especially enjoyed the section on pigments, both historical and modern, and it was reassuring to learn that the pigments I have been using in my Lessons Projects are some of the most light-fast and highly saturated colors.

Mostly these encompass the list of natural oxides. They are found in quarries all over the world and have been used throughout history. Some samples of these beguiling and beautiful hues are:

Ercolano red is a natural earth containing clay tinted by iron oxide and is found in deposits near Ercolano, Italy. Ercolano was named Herculaneum until 79 AD and Resina until 1969. As you can see, this is one of the warmest natural oxide pigments and is delightful to use. It has a slightly gritty consistency, which enhances the sparkle on the surface of the canvas.

Lemon Ocher is a natural yellow iron oxide that is transparent, never fades in daylight, and the color is highly concentrated. It is mined in quarries in northern Italy. This splendid pigment has been known since antiquity and is widely used by artists. It is one of my most useful colors.

French Natural Yellow Iron Oxide could be compared to a raw sienna shade. This pigment is also exceptionally versatile. I use it in the shadow mixtures of flowers and the stamens too. This one is found in the quarries in the heart of Luberon Massif in ocher country and has also been used throughout history.

Pozzouli Red Earth is also a natural earth pigment containing clay tinted by iron oxide found in deposits near Pozzouli, Italy. The iron oxide and mineral content can vary the color of the red ocher from deep red to brownish red. This pigment is found around the world and has also been used since prehistory.

You can quickly see the compatibility of these pigments, which are made naturally harmonious by the earth’s processes. They are subtle in color and not garish at all like some of the modern synthetic pigments. All iron oxides can be intermixed with each other safely, have moderate to fast drying periods, and are lightfast. They are considered non-toxic but as usual, normal safety precautions are recommended.

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