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Natural Paint Through the Ages: Buddhism

For over 2,500 years, Buddhists have spread their message of enlightenment to every corner of the globe. Today, with an estimated 488 million practicing Buddhists worldwide, followers of this ancient religion continue to make significant contributions to philosophy, literature, and art. 

 

This entry into Natural Paint Through the Ages will explore how Buddhists have used natural paint and dyes throughout the centuries to advance their cause, including the creation of temple cave paintings, monastic robes and the Buddhist symbol of the universe—the Tibetan sand mandala.

 

Bamiyan paintings

(© Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, image source)

 

Temple Cave Paintings

 

Some of the earliest Buddhist paintings adorn the temple caves of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Bamiyan is a city located along the ancient Silk Road. Buddhists and merchants used this route to travel across Asia and the Middle East beginning around second century BCE. A majority of the Bamiyan paintings feature images of Buddha and creatures of Buddhist mythology.  

 

A 2008 article in the science publication, Nature, highlights a study of the Bamiyan paintings. A cultural researcher named Yoko Taniguchi and her colleagues determined that Buddhists painted the cave walls around seventh century BCE, making the Bamiyan oil paintings some of the oldest in the world.

 

According to the article, chemical tests on the paintings revealed the pigments vermilion and lead white. Vermilion is a bright, red pigment created by crushing a mineral known as cinnabar. This finding highlights a sobering fact about some of the most common pigments of ancient times. Vermilion (containing mercury) and Lead White are created from natural minerals, but they are fairly toxic to humans. So these pigments could’ve threatened the health of the Buddhists who used them.  

 

While Indian and Chinese Buddhists are credited with many temple cave paintings throughout Asia, the origin of the Buddhists responsible for the Bamiyan paintings remains unknown.

 

monastic robe

 (Free use image from pixabay.com)

 

Monastic Robes

 

One of the most visible aspects of Buddhism is the monastic robe. For centuries, Buddhist monks have worn dyed robes to represent their modesty and spirituality. While there is no specific guideline for colors, monks have often been forced to choose dyes created from regional-specific plants (flowers, fruits, tubers). So, in part, the earliest robes happened to be orange, yellow, or red because of a monk’s geographic location.

 

According to textiles expert Janet Stafford,  the dyeing process involves submerging cloth into a bath of hot or cold water mixed with the source of dye. Depending on the region, saffron and St. John’s Wort are two sources of yellow dye, while onion skin and annatto seeds can provide oranges and reds.

Today, the Theravada monks of Southeast Asia have adopted orange as their robe color. Tibetan monks choose to wear maroon—a deep red.

 

sand mandala

(Free use image from pixabay.com)

 

Tibetan Sand Mandala

 

Regarded as a Buddhist symbol of the universe, the Tibetan sand mandala is a stunning, time-consuming piece of artwork. To create this art, Tibetan monks carefully place grains of  colored sand along a drawing of geometric shapes, with the colors representing each of the five Buddhas and their families. The five Buddhas and their corresponding colors are:

 

  • White (representing the Buddha family)
  • Blue (representing the Vajra family)
  • Yellow (representing the Ratna family)
  • Red (representing the Padma family)
  • Green (representing the Karma family)

 

According to Buddhist teachings, the five Buddahs symbolize different areas of the mind. During the process of creating a sand mandala, monks chant and pray to summon the power of the Buddahs.

 

While early Tibetan monks relied solely on the natural color of Himalayan sand, recent monks have used natural pigments to dye their mandala sand. The sources of color include:

 

  • Yellow ochre
  • Charcoal
  • Red sandstone
  • Flower pollen
  • Corn meal
  • Bark

 

After weeks of careful assembly, the monks sweep the mandala sand together. Then they place the sand into a body of water, symbolizing a return to nature.

 

To learn more about the role natural paint has played throughout history, check out previous entries in the Natural Paint Through the Ages series.

Natural Painting & Fresco Workshop in Italy

Natural Earth Paint founder and artist, Leah Fanning, will be teaching a Natural Painting & Fresco Workshop in a magical little village in Northern Italy in September!

Based in the foothills of the Dolomites, 30 minuntes from Venice, the workshop will be led by Leah and Alma Ortolan, Italian fresco artist in the ancient / natural techniques.

Lodging & studio will be in the historic and elegantly restored Palazzo Galleti and amazing home-cooked Italian meals will abound!

Find all the workshop details here….
http://www.artinnitaly.com/make-your-natural-paint.html

Only 9 OPENINGS for this workshop!

Sunday, September 16th-23rd
10:00 AM – 04:00 PM

LOCATION:
Palazzo Galletti B&B Boutique Hotel
Via Roma, 70 -31029 Vittorio Veneto, TV – Italy

For more info, you can contact Leah Fanning at:
www.fanningart.com
[email protected]
541-890-6533

Hope to see you there!

Children’s Earth Paint Kit Mentioned in Parents Magazine Online

In a recent Parents Magazine article online, Ziata Faerman writes about low-stress activities kids and parents can embrace. Faerman recommends our Children’s Earth Paint Kit as a way for kids to get creative without the stress of a messy clean up.

Parents Magazine Article

 

Check out the full article here: https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/gear/buying-guides/products-for-your-kids-that-will-let-you-live-your-life/

DIY! Natural Confetti Eggs for Easter!

Confetti eggs are a fun and eco-friendly Easter tradition that you can easily make with kids at home!
by Hannah Medina
 
SUPPLIES
Eggs
Large Needle
Leaves or Edible Paper
Hole Punch
Tissue Paper
Glue
 
Emptying the Egg
1. To empty the contents of the egg, you’ll need eggs, a sharp object (I’ll be using a seam ripper), and a bowl to catch the egg whites and yolk.
2. Start by poking into one end of the egg with the seam ripper until you have a hole about 1 cm in radius. Into the opposite end of the egg, poke a few small holes.
3. Then, holding the egg over your bowl, blow into the side of the egg with smaller holes until the contents of the egg come out of the other end (I found that this is easier if you use a toothpick to break the yolk first).
4. After all of the whites and yolk have been emptied, rinse the egg with water and set it aside to dry.
Decorating and Stuffing the Egg with Confetti
1. For directions on using our Natural Egg Dye Kit, see our blog post here
After the eggs have completely dried, it’s time to fill with confetti!
Although you can use store-bought confetti, a fun alternative is to try making your own biodegradable confetti at home. Biodegradable confetti is better for the environment and removes the need for cleanup after breaking the eggs!
2. Gather some leaves from outside and punch holes to create some vibrant green confetti! Depending on the plants around you, you can make different colored confetti using different leaves or dried flower petals.
3. Another option is to purchase edible or biodegradable paper and punch out holes. 
4. Use a cone of paper to transfer the confetti into your dyed eggs.
5. Lastly, using a small piece of tissue paper and glue, cover the larger hole and let dry.
6. Then TADA! A completed eco-friendly confetti egg! Have a happy Easter!

Natural Earth Paint Through the Ages : Natural Artists of the Middle Ages

A common misperception of natural materials and ingredients is that they’re not very archival, luminous or of a professional quality. For 7 years, Natural Earth Paint has been on a mission to dispel that myth and spread the surprising truth that non-toxic and natural ingredients are actually far more archival, radiant, stable and professional quality than their synthetic counterparts. The proof is in the cave paintings, the Renaissance Master’s paintings, Egyptian art and the “Illuminated Manuscripts” of the Middle Ages.

These stunning books from the 13th century are still around today and amazingly well preserved as they were made with all nature-based materials. These hand-made books were cherished as symbols of everlasting sacred knowledge. Paper had not yet been invented so parchment (animal skins) was used for the pages of the books and the covers were made from dried hides of animals that were soaked in lime. All materials used in the process were natural which explains why they have lasted the test of time.

The bookmakers of the middle ages were primarily monks, and monasteries held libraries full of these sacred texts. Pens, or “quills” were made from bird feathers or reeds, which were soaked in water, dried and hardened with heated sand. The ink for the quills came from Gallnuts (growths found on oak trees). The reason they are called “illuminated” manuscripts is because they would use hammered down metals such as gold or silver leaf as decoration. They would start by laying gesso or gum (tree sap) on the pages boarders and use their own saliva to apply the gold leaf to the edges of the page so that it would stick. The paint used in the manuscripts was egg tempera which was the most popular and predominantly used paint of the time.

Egg Tempera is a permanent, fast drying and long lasting paint that was made by hand-mixing dry powdered pigments into egg yolk and water (RECIPE HERE). This beautiful water-based paint is known for its luminosity and ability to create fine linear details as well as its jewel-like appearance. If egg yolk was not on hand, they resorted to using binders such as glue, honey, water, or milk. Some sources say that other occasional binders included urine and human earwax.

     

They used a wide selection of earthen materials to mix with the egg yolk. For red they would use natural red earth, crimson and even rust. For yellow they would use natural dyes such as turmeric and saffron or natural pigments like yellow ochre. The color green was made from the mineral Malachite which was ground into a powder, blue commonly came from Azurite and white came from chalk.

After the painting was finished, the last step was the binding. The folded sheets of parchments were sewn to the spine of the book with linen thread. To protect the manuscript, wooden boards were placed on the front and back as covers, then wrapped in the dried animal hides.

Like all natural, earth-based paintings, from the cavemen and onwards, these works of art have lasted because of their UV resistance, humidity resistance, lightfast-ness as well as being the longest-lasting and archival pigment (compared to synthetic) in existence today. These paints did not contain preservatives, fillers, petroleum-based additives or heavy metals and are still as luminous as the day they were painted. We at Natural Earth Paint celebrate the slowing down of mixing your own pure paint using natural sources and creating brilliant and long lasting art for generations to enjoy.

Natural Earth Paint Through the Ages: The Colormen

Before we had ready-made paints and art supplies stores, there were Colormen! They were the “traders” of the paint world starting in the late 17th century and sold artists prepared pigments, pre-mixed oil paints, watercolors, dyes, made brushes, prepped canvases, gums, resins, and more. Before Colormen – during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – the painter would buy course, raw pigments from apothecaries’ shops (or source them directly from quarries) and grind them into a powder themselves. Either the artist or – if they were wealthy- their apprentice would grind, sift and sieve and mix the pigment with walnut or linseed oil to make oil paint. With the arrival of Colormen, artists were finally liberated from the difficult task of sourcing, manufacturing, grinding and testing all of their pigments, dyes, surfaces and supplies.

 

When the colormen began selling pre-mixed oil paint, they would sell about 1 oz. of each color tied up in a small piece of cleaned pig bladder. It was about the size of a walnut – a small amount – because more than that would dry up. The artist would pierce the bladder with a pin and squeeze it out onto the palette. They would return to the colormen in 1-2 weeks for more paints. The metal paint tubes that we use today weren’t invented until 1834.

Paint in Pig Bladder

Prepared watercolor paints weren’t created until 100 years after prepared oil paints. After several decades of development – selling them in clam shells, then discovering how to creates “cakes” and then finally the discovery of adding honey to keep them semi-moist and ease to use, watercolors then became a very popular medium. 

These watercolors were sold in square block “cakes” and also in ready-made art boxes prepared by the Colormen. The deluxe boxes were made out of mahogany, and filled with brass hardware, leather linings, equipped with mixing pans, wash bowls, storage tins for chalks or charcoal, trays for their brushes, crayons, scrapers, ink, and paints. These became very popular and were sold all over the world throughout the growing British Empire. Eventually, the colormen set up permanent shops and these gradually evolved into the modern day art supplies stores that we know today.

Colormen were the first to sell “hues” or mixed colors. This revolution allowed them to increase the amount of paint colors that they sold my mixing pigments together to create new ones. The Colormen definitely provided some much desired convenience for artists but it sometimes came at a cost as well. Many professional painters of the time continued to prepare their own pigments, because of fear of the adulteration of the pigments. Expensive pigments like natural ultramarine (from the semi-precious lapis lazuli stone) and vermilion were often adulterated with cheap additives by dishonest Colormen. When mixing “hues” or new colors, they sometimes chose a different pigment or a combination of pigments than what they advertised because the original pigment was too expensive or not available. Another problem with hues is the degradation of “chroma” when pigments are mixed together, because pigments do not act in mixture like single pigments either in color or tone. And another potential problem with pigment mixtures is the interactivity of some pigments that can lead to degradation and not be archival over time.

This movement of convenience, while allowing the artist more freedom, has unfortunately led to our current art supplies practice of buying tubes of pre-mixed paint that have been heavily adulterated with cheap fillers, additives, toxic preservatives, heavy metals, solvents and petroleum-based pigments. We at Natural Earth Paint are re-discovering the beauty of hand-mixed oil paint with only two ingredients. Not only to create a 100% non-toxic paint but also to achieve the purity and luminosity that only comes from simply pigment and a natural binder mixed to perfection.

Paint being mixed and stored in pig bladders.

Join us for our FREE Community Event: Summertime Art & Music Celebration!

Save the Date for our first annual “Summertime Art & Music Celebration” – July 15th! FREE EVENT!
Natural Face Painting, Tutorials on Making your own natural art supplies, Live Music, Earth Painting Activities for Kids, Yummy Organic Food and Treats, Artisan Craft Booths and more.
For the artists of Southern Oregon: these will be the only classes on Natural & Non-toxic Painting (and paint making) this year, so don’t miss out! Plus, they’re free! Check out our new retail store and workshop too and get 20% off all products for that day only. Can’t wait!

 

Read our latest article! Painting with Mother Nature: Natural Earth Paint

Read our Latest Article in the Rogue Valley Messenger!

Click HERE to read the article.