About Pigments


Kathy Schultz (Lady Agatha of Tintagel) and Bjo Trimble (Maestra Flavia Beatrice Carmigniani) have taught their popular “Exploring Period Pigments” class at historical re-enactments, schools, for guilds, and at conferences. Students learn how to grind pigments with various binders, how to pick up an egg yolk, how to mix medieval watercolors and tempera. We have lots of fun and everyone learns something new in our workshops (even the teacher!). Lady A has extensive practical knowledge from creating many gorgeous scrolls for special events; Bjo is best known for her unusual illuminated scrolls. Both artists are available individually or as a team for pigment workshops in your area, wherever you may be.


Mineral-laden earths are the world’s oldest known art materials, first used on cave walls around 400,000 years ago. Medieval and Renaissance artists used many of these colors, not always by the name we know. There was, and still is, a confusion of names from country to country.


Umber, burnt umber, sienna, burnt sienna, sinopia, caput mortuum, goethite, iron oxide, iron(III) oxide, ochre, Venetian red, and several other named colors are all various shades of iron oxide. The differences in color is due to how hydrated the earth may be, or if it was heated, or how light is diffracted through the particle size of the oxide. Earth colors are not consistent, even when in the same mine, so each order of the same color may be a slightly different shade. These strong, non-toxic, permanent pigments are compatible with most mediums.


Dye extracts are natural dyes that have been processed with alum then dried into concentrated powders. A little goes a long way. They can be used for immersion dyeing as well as for pigments, or for hand-painting fabric, along with natural oxides. Dyes are more fugitive than earth oxides but with care, they can last a long time. Full instructions included with each order.


: These two words as well as “mineral colors” and sometimes “oxides” can mean that two or more colors were combined to enhance the original color or to create a third color. This practice has historic precedence; Cennini noted that some natural colors need artificial help. “Earth oxide” is a modern merchandising term for mineral-colored earths/clays that may or may not be mixed or enhanced for more vibrant colors.


While a majority of the colors listed here fit well within the historic period of most re-enactments, some of them are quite modern, and are so noted. Metallics are modern bronze powders, for instance. Modern manufactured pigments are often called by historic names, even when the color no longer resembles like the original. Color experts triy to have manufactured color designated as a “hue”, but not all manufacturers bother with this distinction. Though information is not always forthcoming from suppliers, we always try to indicate when a color is mixed with other materials to enhance the hue or has been manufactured by modern methods instead of mined naturally.


To mix dry pigments into wet paints, binders are needed. They can be gums, waxes, eggs, commercial fabric-paint extender, or soy milk (a Japanese technique of unknown age). Full instructions included with every order.


Alum, copper, iron, and tannin are dye mordants that help fix color into fiber and can also create color changes. Alum is used with pigments to create clothlets or portable color. Copper will “drab” a pigment color, while iron and tannin will darken the pigment, so you have a wider range of shades with the same color.


We are always asked if our products are poisonous and the answer is a qualified “no.” We don’t sell toxic medieval colors such as realgar or orpiment (arsenic), cerruse (white lead), minium (red lead), etc. However, even talcum powder is dangerous if inhaled, so when working with powders, always wear a dust mask and eye protection, and wash your hands after handling pigments. If you have an adverse reaction to a particular product or ingredient, please stop using the product and seek medical attention. Return the product to Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts for a refund or an ex-change for another product.


Before opening any container, briskly tap the top of the lid to settle the powder back into the container.


None of the products offered in our store have been tested for cosmetic use, and we do not suggest that any of our products is suited for cosmetic use. Colorful ochers and other natural earths can be, and have been, used in soap manufacture. However, it is up to the customer to perform any testing of their final product.


It takes as much time to measure, fill and label a 5 gram container as it does to do the same things with a 2 ounce container, which should explain our pricing for the smaller containers.


Once packaged for shipping, complete with lidded plastic container, protected in a box or padded envelope, our individual 5 gram container weighs 2 oz, the individual 1 oz container is 3 oz, and the individual 2 oz container is 4 oz in shipping weight.


: Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts (GDW) provides online information as a service to our customers and to the public. GDW makes no warranties, expressed or implied, regarding the adequacy, accuracy, or suitability of information found on our website. We cannot control how this information may be used, so GDW takes no responsibility for any results from use of the information that GDW may provide. GDW will not be held liable for damages of any kind, including without limitation any incidental, indirect, or consequential damages arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of, information, or products purchased from us. GDW will accept the sole responsibility of replacing any product that turns out to be defective or unsuitable for the purpose for which we specifically stated. It is the responsibility of the consumer to use GDW products in a safe and responsible way, and to conduct their own compatibility testing.
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