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Earth Colors

During the lockdown in 2021 I spent a lot of time in my studio and the desire to paint arose. Studying the packaging of different paints at the art supply store, such as gouache and acrylic, made me realize that I didn't understand any of their ingredients. 

Conceivably because of my natural dyeing sessions with plants and vegetables on textile/yarn, I felt a tremendous resistance to the chemical components. Naturally, I drifted towards the for me more familiar pigments of Verfmolen de Kat, and settled for different shades of ocher and other earth colours. Mixing the pigments with a binder to gouache myself, I sketched freely on paper.  


This research project

was funded by


Surprised by the brightness and solidity of the paint, I fell in love with earth pigments (1). I  wondered if and how I could apply them to textiles.  Also, I wanted to learn more about earth pigments, which are used in the very first man made cave paintings.

The oldest cave painting (2) was found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2017 (!) and was made more than 45,500 years ago! Many famous cave art sites have been found in the Australian region  Arnhem Land, the oldest of which are about 17,100 - 17,500 years old (3). More than 300 cave art sites are known in Western Europe, such as Chauvet and Lascaux (4) in France and Altamira in Spain. The cave art was made more than 300,000 years ago by Neanderthals who used their hands and fingers as brushes. The paint consisted of earth pigments and various  binders such as egg yoke, blood, blood serum, urine, animal fat and milk. 

I find it fascinating that these sites are still being found and that we continue to learn about human history through these illustrations. The cave paintings show the very first signs of human civilization and are the basis from which language and art originated.


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With the support of Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie, I indulged myself into earth pigments via literature about the history and meaning of color, and experimentation with color bindings. The goal of my experiments was to find a way to apply earth color on textiles. After much trial and error, I found out that I could pre-soak cotton fabric with selfmade soy milk, which also functioned as a natural binder for the paint. 

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I took a private course with pigment specialist Piet Kempenaar, owner of the only producing pigment mill in the Netherlands: Verfmolen de Kat in Zaandam. We made a sample card of every color that the Verfmolen has in house: from Turkish brown ocher to Italian green earth and the Dutch red (roof) tile color. To discover the difference in color fastness, we applied each hue to paper and my pre-soaked fabric using my soy milk based paint binder. This was for Piet the first time he saw the pigments applied on a fabric and he was surprised by the result, which proved to be quite colorfast after a wash.

colors, samples, pigments, zaandam de kat artist paper textiles brushes painting drawing .

This research led to art project Dialogues of the Figures (click to learn more about this project) in which I painted on canvases of 1.5 m² in collaboration with other artists. In April - May 2022, the canvases were exhibited in Buurthuis de Meeuw, Amsterdam Noord, where also workshop with local residents and painting with earth pigments also took place.

Thanks to Piet Kempenaar (Verfmolen de Kat)Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie and Noordmakers for enabling me to do this work. I expect to pick up and extend this topic and technique further in the future. 

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