If you stroll along the rocky beaches of the north shore of Long Island, New York, you can sometimes find what locals call “Indian paint pots.”
Also called "hematites," they’re chunks of iron ore conveniently encased in a saucer of rock. Sometimes the wave action has broken them open. If you wet the rusty iron oxide and scrub it with a toothbrush or a bristle paintbrush, you’ve got a very permanent dull orange pigment. Mix in a bit of gum arabic or acrylic medium or linseed oil, and you’ve got paint.
As far back as art’s cave-painting days, iron oxide has been a common and reliable pigment universally available to artists. That’s why brownish reds and oranges appear in all prehistoric art traditions. The best iron oxides were dug out of natural open pits in Siena, Italy, which gave its name (adding an extra “n”) to burnt sienna and raw sienna.
More on pigments (like what can you make from cysts on a whelk?) from Color and Light, page 90. Don’t forget that this coming Sunday is the deadline for the Book Trailer Video contest. Make your own quick video about the book and your art, get it seen by thousands, and if you get voted one of the finalists, you’ll win a signed and remarqued book.
Indian paint pots at auction