Collecting the colours: beetles, malachite, Mesopotamian Lapis Lazuli stone and other pigments for the precious oil colours

As a jewellery designer I had colour shock for the first time when we produced the ring with big black morion cube. Morion is the darkest part of smoky quartz, almost not transparent anymore, just like the onyx gem. That evening I came home without a ring, as my stylist friend desperately fell in love with it. We were comparing the shade of the gem to a turned off iPhone screen. The last one was not that black anymore next to the darkness of the morion. You still can survive the shining of a small diamond, but not the 16 mm big black glittery matter of the morion. And the screen cannot display that deep blackness simply because it wasn’t made of that gem, limited by its ability to mirror the light with a certain wavelength.


Velar ring with morion


It is as hard to represent the beauty of the oil paintings through the books or the screens. Because you cannot see the same shades of the oil colours and the different angles of the brush flow too. It gets even worse with not professionally calibrated screens which can be cyan or magenta heavy. And is this why we love macs with their intense delicious colours on the screen? But yet we are not talking about those oil colours which have semi-precious gems in their composition, such as in old paintings.

I have never been amused by the usual acrylic colours, always preferred the more natural look of the oils. Later I have discovered true magic: expensive oil colours with often organic compositions “right from the forests” and other tricks to make colours intensively bright and variative arty different. Some pigments can be even toxic. And of course you discover this work of the colours with the time. So as Claude Monet was rediscovering the same Nympheas sujet all over again drawing his marvellous pond with the different light during early mornings, the day time and the evenings. With the time you also may see more and more magic of the oil and its different shades depends of the brand, and every tube becomes a sacred treasure.


Claude Monet, Water Lilies, L'Orangerie, Paris. Photo:


Usually I use the Boesner colours, and they say – the more you use one brand of the oil colours – the more you feel how to use them with the time, its unique softness and work on the canvas with a brush, making your skills more and more perfect. If you  change the brand – you have to start your journey from the beginning. Each different oil colour works and mixes with the other differently. Yawn a little bit, waist some time on the phone while mixing the colours –  and your mixture will turn into a grey mess. Though with the precious Old Holland oil colours you have more time for experiments, literally royal and with the big fields of the compositions researches for the one who reviews the fragrances. Instead of jasmines and whale’s ambergris here comes the beetles, malachites and other pigments, as a good facilities for the artist’s brush moves and colour intensity. And this is a special paradise for the art restorers. If you want to recreate the missed piece of the dark blue dress which belongs to the princess who used to live ages ago, you might need the ancient colours too: Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stone which was popular in Mesopotamia, Egypt and China – ultramarine blue pigment estimates as gold, Egyptian Smalt – the oldest dark blue pigment, green pigment made of malachite and the other treasures.



And there are more organic ingredients that are as inspiring: red Carmine pigment developed traditionally from the cochineal – female beetles, reminded the romantic Russian Poem lines by Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak:


No, not I was the cause of your grief.
Or the cause of your leaving your country.
It was sunlight that burned in those drops of the ink,
As in racemes of dusty black currant.

If the blood of my thoughts and my letters was steeped
In the scarlet of crushed cochineal,
Then the purple of insects was not my reveal.
No, not I was the cause of your grief.

Your lashes it was, that were glued by brightness,
That was savage of disk which was honing its horns
And butting and crushing the palisade rails.
That was West in your hair, the carbuncle it was,
Fluttered in, droning in and in moment was gone
Left the marigolds raspberry red scattered and mown.
Your terrible beauty – not I – was the cause.


* I apologise for I dared to change the translation of this fragment into phonetically closer one for my eye, yet keeping the exact words translation. Excluding maybe the word racemes, as the cluster might be the closer for the berries. I took this fragment from the book “Boris Pasternak. My Sister Life and Zhivago Poems” translated by the professor James E. Falen.

It would be fair to add that one of grand kids of Boris Pasternak, Sasha Pasternak, is also a painter.

Boris Pasternak. On the left: Opuntia mikrodasis ores by Sasha Pasternak, oil, canvas 50×115cm, 2015, picture by: On the right: Boris Pasternak at the Baltic Sea, 1910; portrait by his father, Leonid Pasternak.


So to say, cochineal has different origins too: Ararat, Mexico, Poland. Polish, East European cochineal was raised by the source of the strawberry roots, and been used for colouring the traditional Ukrainian carpets for example. Legendary cochineal was popular ages ago and deserved a few books only about it.

The other romantic pigments are Gummigutta from the gum resin of the Garcinia Tree or sacred Indian yellow from the urine of cows that eat mango leaves (what a yellow the mango fruit stroked by the sun can provide, even if it is cows urine!). These are the treasures for artists from 50 countries where Old Holland can offer the delivery. So as i couldn’t stand too and my last tube was fantastic Cadmium Rood Purper in which I can see all in one: red wood, Le Labo Rose 31 scent (which I could bought instead for such high price) and which I can’t decide where to use for the start. Probably I’ll go for the flashes of purple on a huge white winter water lilies drifting in the pond inside of my Berlin Atelier…