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Friday, April 12, 2024

How I Became an Ozark Pigment Forager



Seven small stones, arranged in a line on a larger flat stone, have each produced a small, wet puddle of colored pigment, in shades of brown, red, and orange.



On a dewy summer time morning in June 2018, a random pursuit of curiosity sparked a life-changing discovery for me.

Since I moved to our rocky homestead close to Kingston, Arkansas, in 2005, I’ve observed and admired the colourful insides of rocks. They typically cracked open from autos passing over them on our driveway.

What catches my eyes are the wealthy grains of earthy colours spilling out. The rock colours span an earthy rainbow from black and brown to yellow, orange, and pinkish, purple, and the deep, darkish hematite reds that draw me like a magnet. For a decade, all I did was admire them. I by no means acted on the impulse to additional discover the chances.

On that sultry morning, there was a smashed rock spilling a crimson crimson stain on the driveway within the path of my morning stroll. This time, as a substitute of giving it a passing look whereas I centered on getting the mile completed, I circled to return to the home for a sheet of drawing paper. A couple of minutes later, crouched on the driveway with the easy provides for my experiment, I took a pinch of the sandy rock mud and rubbed it onto the paper.

From then on, I turned an Ozark Pigment Forager, an obsessed gatherer of earth shade.

Till then, I had been a sketcher, a drawer, and a sculptor of little creatures and fantasy mushrooms utilizing discovered botanical gadgets like moss, lichens, acorns, garlic stems, and twigs. My artwork had all the time been a partnership with the land, however that relationship started shifting.


A human-like figure made of white and yellow flowers for a crown, white fuzz for hair, an acorn for a head, and twigs fora body and flared skirt. It stands on a brown maple leaf and waves a wooden wand.
“Sorceress” product of twigs, acorns, and different discovered botanicals.


Art work by Madison Woods



An arrangement of dried flowers, moss or lichen, and what appears to be a brown-capped mushroom on a piece of brown bark. Below it, printed text with the title: Wild Ozark Fairy Swing.

Considered one of my “Fairy Swing Mushrooms” that includes botanical components, with a cap comprised of air-dry clay.


Art work by Madison Woods


For the following section of my hand-in-hand journey with Ozark nature and artwork, I wanted to learn how to make use of this unimaginable useful resource that nature had gifted me in such abundance.

After some analysis, I settled on making watercolor paint. It will be much less messy than oils and the paints extra moveable. All however one ingredient may very well be sourced domestically: pigment from our personal land, water from our gravity-fed spring, honey from a neighborhood beekeeper. The gum Arabic could be imported from acacia timber that develop in India, Pakistan, or Nigeria.

First, I wanted to study to make the paints. Then, discover ways to paint.

Throughout my trial and error in smashing rocks for pigments, I realized some issues. Not all rocks will work nicely to make paint pigments. And never all hills and hollers within the Ozarks have the identical geology. Proper right here at our land in Madison County, Arkansas, close to the Newton County line, the make-up is generally sandstone.

Even the identical river doesn’t provide the identical pure sources all through its course. Our land is close to the headwaters of Kings River. The little tributary that runs by means of our property is stuffed with principally sandstone and black shale. Farther downstream, it’s principally flint and different laborious rocks that don’t produce a lot shade.


Calm water of a river, with green trees on the banks and brown and orange rocks underfoot.
Kings River


Picture by Madison Woods



Close-up on green, red, black, white, and brown rocks underwater.


Shades of  blue and gray rocks among a sandy bank.

There’s a spot on the Kings River close by that I name Yellow Hill. This little rise of a gravel bar is wealthy with yellow limonite. Downstream, I accumulate a sure crimson at Crimson Gravel Bar. I’m unsure what sort of rock it’s, however my guess is that it’s product of the stuff that usually resides between the grit of bigger rocks. It’s a labor of affection to assemble this one: it’s a small, flat stone concerning the measurement of my thumbnail. It’s pure crimson with no grit in any respect.  Many of the rocks I take advantage of are sandstone, and it’s their nature to be gritty. What I think is a few kind of bituminous coal gives a pleasant brown if I grind it and use the entire pigment. But when I wash and separate it to get the grit out, it turns a beautiful black. The closest factor to inexperienced on my palette comes from what appears like a grey rock, except it occurs to be mendacity subsequent to an precise grey rock—that’s when the inexperienced solid is obvious.

We stay down six miles of grime (and rock) highway, throughout a number of low-water bridges. After I’m driving, in fact, I’m watching the highway, however my focus might shift from birds to deer to what-is-that-blooming-flower, and I’m all the time scanning the creek beds and roadsides for sources of pigment. For this reason I drive very slowly. Not solely does it spare the suspension on my automotive, but it surely offers me thirty minutes of cruising for colours.

Right here within the Ozarks, we don’t have colourful gems or minerals, however we do have sandstones, shale, and clay in an earthy rainbow of colours apart from these on the blue scale. The colours listed here are attributable to numerous combos of iron oxides and generally manganese oxides.

Nevertheless, as soon as a rock is crushed and the powder is dry, there are hazards to think about. The mud from sandstone and clay comprises tremendous grains of silica. If inhaled, it causes silicosis, a critical ailment that impacts the lungs. The mineral malachite is inexperienced because of the copper oxide content material; copper oxide mud is harmful to the endocrine and nervous system. The ore arsenopyrite will get its shade from arsenic and sulfur; inhaling the mud from that one may very well be lethal. However there needs to be no hazard from mud in gathering strange rocks in nature, or in testing them whereas moist to see what sorts of colours they may produce as a paint.


Five small stones, in a range of colors from red to orange, have each produced a streak of colors on a wet rock along a river bank.
Rubbing moist rocks offers me an thought of what sort of shade paint they’ll make.


Picture by Madison Woods


So far as I do know, the one historical past of utilizing the rocks within the Ozarks for paints was by Native Individuals. As soon as settlers moved to the area, the artists amongst them would have most probably used pigments imported from Europe. These colours would have been thought of extra subtle or elite—or maybe the earthy palette of pigments right here didn’t attraction to their senses. At any fee, I’ve had a tough time discovering any proof of early Ozark artists utilizing native pigments. Even right this moment, whereas there’s a renaissance blooming of artists discovering their native shade sources across the globe, I don’t see the identical development within the Ozarks.

For me, the act of in search of, discovering, and amassing the rocks is grounding in a literal and religious sense. Taking them by means of the method from a rock mendacity on the bottom to a paint in my palette forges an intimate connection between the earth and me as a maker.

The very first thing I do as soon as I’ve collected a rock is to interrupt it into smaller items. I grind it both by hand with mortar and pestle, if it’s small, or I break it into small items and feed them into my motorized rock crusher. Both approach, the aim is to make a powder, which is the pigment. A mud masks or respirator is a should at this stage and all through the method till the pigment powder is moist once more (whereas it’s both being washed or added to binder).

The grittiness of a pigment determines the feel of the paint. Typically I depart the pigment entire, grit and all, if I desire a tough, textured paint. For a clean paint, the mud and grit have to be separated. The simplest approach to try this is with water, however a sieve may also work. A sieve is quicker, however water washing is safer as a result of it limits the publicity to airborne mud.


A jar with brown substance, small bottle with yellow liquid and label for Refined Linseed Oil, a silver palette knife, and white paint tube with a hand-written label of Yellow Lites.
Linseed oil, spatula, empty tube, pigment, and glass plate for mulling


Picture by Madison Woods



On a circular glass plate, a smooth, brown, oily substance is ground with a clear glass pestle.
Utilizing a muller and glass plate to combine the oil into the pigment


Picture by Madison Woods



On a circular glass plate, a smooth, brown, oily substance is ground with a clear glass pestle.
Shade swatches for my “Soul of the Ozarks” paint units out there on the market


Picture by Madison Woods


As soon as there’s a tremendous pigment powder, it’s time to mull it: suspending the pigment particles in a binder. The binder that determines what sort of paint I’m making. I take advantage of linseed or walnut oil to make oil paints. I take advantage of a muller—a handheld glass software that acts as a flat-bottomed pestle—on a glass or marble slab to mix the powder and binder till clean, with the consistency of cake icing. Then I scrape it onto a spatula and drop it right into a paint tube. After crimping the sting, the paint is able to use.

I get a particular pleasure from portray nature scenes with the very components of nature that create the scene. Typically I’ll paint a panorama that’s pretty representational. However generally I’ll paint a scene I’ve made up, and these typically embrace components of caprice or fantasy. Considered one of my favourite sequence of work resulted from an intention to color plein air. I went right down to the creek, arrange my area, and started portray what was in entrance of me.

Someplace alongside the way in which, the scene become a mix of what I noticed with my eyes and what I noticed in my (generally unusual) thoughts. On the finish of that session, I had a Rock Flutist. For the following two classes, I added characters to the ensemble: Monsieur Crawfish danced a jig on a close-by rock, and Sally the Salamander lounged within the shadows sipping from an acorn cup.

It will be simpler to purchase my paints from an artwork provide retailer. However the act of constructing my artwork, actually from the bottom up, forges a connection between me and what I really feel is the Soul of the Ozarks: rocks, clay, bone, vegetation. The work I make are pictures of magnificence arising from the Ozarks themselves. Your entire strategy of foraging, smashing, washing, mixing, making the paint, and eventually creating a picture on a clean sheet of paper is a kind of alchemy. It seems like working magic.


Three paintings side by side, each in a muted, earthy color palette. On the left, an anthropomorphized rock plays flute for a passing butterfly. Middle: A red crawfish stands upright on its back legs and does a big on a rock, surrounded by water. Right: a black and orange salamander casually leans against a tree trunk, sipping from an acorn-top cup with a straw.
The whimsical trio of “Down on the Creek,” which was supposed to be a plein air course of reflecting what I noticed.


Art work by Madison Woods


Madison Woods is an artist who lives far off the overwhelmed path in Kingston, Arkansas. She makes her paints from the encompassing land. Discover her on social media as @wildozark.



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