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Pigment foraging for the wild blue lightfast color in the Ozarks.

Pigment Foraging | Late Summer Means it’s Time for the BLUE!

I’ve been watchfully waiting for this week to begin. All summer, I’ve waited. Watching. And I was beginning to get a little worried that they might not be here this year. But this week the dayflowers bloomed and the pigment foraging began.

Yesterday I left the house at nearly 0830 and it was already hot at the flower patch when I got there at nearly 0930, after a few stops along the way. The sun was already beating down on the petals and had begun causing them to wilt. So this morning I left earlier. The view at Kings River was spectacular this morning, so I want to share that with you before I go on to show you more about the pigment foraging expedition in town.

The views I see on my way toward the pavement.
Upper Kings River in Madison county, Arkansas

Back to the Pavement for this Pigment Foraging Trip

We live fairly far off the beaten pavement paths. Usually I get my pigments from out here closer to home, so it’s an odd thing to head to town for this purpose! How did this come about? Well, the other day while Rob and I were running errands in town I spotted a haze of blue from a distance. Of course I shouted for him to turn around, and the good man that he is, he did so happily. He parked nearby and I made a quick little hike over to them to see if they were what I thought they were….

Blue Gold

And they were! A gigantic patch of Asiatic Dayflowers (Commelina communis). There’s more about the history of using this flower as a pigment at that link, by the way. It’s definitely not something I invented, but is an ancient Japanese technique.

Anyway, after confirming that they were the right flowers, we drove up to the offices that occupied that land and I got out to talk about permissions to harvest the flowers. They were more than happy, especially with the trade of some prints, to give me that access. And so that’s where I’ve been for the past couple of mornings, trying to beat the heat and get the flowers before they close.

Each flower is open only for a day, then it never opens again. A different flower blooms the next day. And so on until it begins to turn to cooler mornings in fall and all of them are done opening. I only found out about their lasting blue-ness last year, so the only pigment foraging I did for them was the few I’d found right around the driveway.

A small bumblebee busy gathering pollen and nectar from the bright yellow anthers. That yellow is also a great pigment, but to gather enough of it would be incredibly hard.

Responsible Pigment Foraging

With the rocks that I forage, it’s not impacting the ecosystem much at Wild Ozark. This is because I gather the ones freely available in the creek or driveway. I’m not excavating and crushing large quantities. However, when I visit somewhere like the Buffalo National River, I don’t gather rocks there. Not only is it illegal, but the quantity adds up in this case. If every visitor took home a box of rocks, that might indeed begin to cause problems.

With plants, I am aware of the population of a stand before I begin to harvest. I thank the guardian spirits of that plant for giving some of its goodness to me to use in my art. And I only take a third of the available plants. In the case of pigment foraging for this blue, I only use the top blue petals and don’t kill the plant. But I still only take a third of them because the pollinators need them.

Minimal Impact

Aside from quantity, I am mindful of what parts I take. I try very hard to only take the petals and not the ovary. I try to avoid the anthers and stamens just because the yellow isn’t what I’m after. But I leave the ovary so that flower can continue to produce seeds, which it will if the bees have already visited before I pluck the petals. While I was watching the bee in the photo above, it did visit a flower that I’d already harvested and collected nectar/deposited pollen in spite of missing upper petals.

Asiatic dayflower is considered to be an invasive alien species, so I’m not sure if my concern for its survival is more about ethics or about my own desire to be able to harvest it again next year. However, the bees are having a hard enough time without decimating their food sources, and as far as I know, the pollen and nectar are good for them even if the species isn’t native. So for that reason alone, if nothing else, I try to keep my impact light.

The Process

I use this wok to hold the flower petals after I collect them. Once there’s enough petals, I smash them against the sides with a glass pestle and scoop them into a wet ball. That goes into a cut off piece of hosiery (knee highs or panty hose). I forgot to take any more pics between the empty wok and the twisted hose. Maybe tomorrow I can fill in the gap if I remember.

A stainless steel wok I use to gather the petals from the dayflower when I'm out foraging pigments.

Squeezing the Blue

A skewer makes it easy to twist with enough torque to press the petal juice. Unless you want a very blue hand, better wear gloves. I can’t wear the gloves to pick the petals, so they’re already going to be a little blue. But it’s nothing like the blue you’ll be without them at this stage.

The End Result of my Pigment Forage

I’m not done yet, but this square of paper will be the end result. Not a pan or three of paints. I can’t make a paint from it by adding binder to pigment because the pigment can only be stored like this:

The result of one day's worth of blue pigment foraging. That's a 4" x 4" square, and it's not saturated yet.

So I use it by cutting off a small piece of it, about the size of a tic-tac for small work, and put that piece in shallow small pan. I could use an empty paint pan, but I have some tiny sushi-sort of dishes that holds condiments, and I use those. Then I wet the paper, and use my paintbrush to soak up the blue that goes into the water. I just apply it to my paper where I want it.

Using the Blue in my Art

Here’s a few of the paintings I’ve used it in. I didn’t have much at all last year, so could only have a little blue in my work. But this year I plan to feature it more.


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Author/Artist Info
________________________________
Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.

Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.

Click here to join her mailing list.

Photo of Madison Woods, artist and Paleo Paint maker, and her social media contact information.
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