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Vaults and pillars III, watercolor by Vera Billing

Vera Billing’s pigmented painting

Vera Billing is a Swedish watercolour artist who draws her inspiration from the nature and more particularly the flora. Her special devotion for plant life goes back to her childhood when she was living in a mountain area, in the middle of Sweden. At that age she already became a little botanist and the wild plants became her best friends: Tussilago farfara above all was her best.

It is therefore not surprising that she is interested in the use of natural ingredients to paint her watercolours. The plant pigments she works with are prepared by her. They are mixed with gum arabic and honey.

Her technique which she compares with sculpturing consists in slowly adding small amounts of pigments in many thin layers and then softening edges and lifting to strengthen light.

Her paints made with these plant pigments seem a bit hoarse. They also need more binder that is gum arabic than unorganic pigments. According to the artist, the ARCHES® Watercolour 300 gsm paper, very absorbing, takes these pigments in very well and is perfect for her technique.

Examples of plant pigments

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll
Made from spinach and other green leaves.

Reseda luteola

Reseda luteola
A light greenish cool yellow, reminding of lemon yellow. It’s very strong even if it’s a light shade, so a little goes a long way. It shall also be very lightfast.

Cosmos sulphureus

Cosmos sulphureus
A dark warm yellow, reminding of quinacridone gold and golden ochre. It can also be diluted to transparent shimmering, a bit reddish shades. This plant is a very beautiful annual flower. It can have yellow, dark yellow and even orange flowers.

Madder

Madder
A warm red pigment extracted from the roots of Rubia tinctorum plants. In French called ‘garance’. The original alizarin colour was extracted from this plant, but is now made synthetically for more lightfastness. This is a very old pigment for dying wool and fabric red. As paint it gets much lighter when drying though.

Sorghum

Sorghum
Gives a pinkish brown colour. The plant, known as durra, belongs to the big grass family and is a very old crop, used for making flour in tropical and subtropical countries, it originates in Africa. A special variety with extra long and strong straws is made into brooms.

Quebracho

Quebracho
A warm, reddish chocolate brown made from the bark of a tree from South America. To mix it with indigo and/or chlorophyll allows going into rich darks.

Oak

Oak
The colour reminds of raw sienna, perhaps a bit darker. Makes good forest greens and shadow colours mixed with indigo.

Indigo

Indigo
From the indigo plant. Nowadays indigo paint is synthetic.

Cochineal purple

Cochineal purple
This is a light purple colour made by collecting, boiling, drying and powdering a special lice, feeding on cactus plants. Also known since long time and is still used as food colouring. It is not a plant pigment… but it’s organic.

Charcoal

Charcoal
Simply charcoal powder, this comes from oak and chestnut. Just as black as black can be… and one of the oldest paints ever used!

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