7 Cornish Pigments: first findings

THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY

Cornish Landscape (raw and ground Cornish pigments) © p ward 2018

The 7 colours shown here have been gathered close to historic mining sites in west Cornwall. Some are waste products from tin and copper mining and may contain toxic minerals such as arsenic and cadmium, ironically both used historically in paint and pigment production. Despite being found alongside public rights of way until sufficient mineral analysis has been made of the samples I am unable to share them with the public.

However, I am comfortable enough to start using them myself (with care). Inspired by the milling process used to extract tin I have started to mix the raw materials with water before filtering with a fine sieve. This minimizes the grinding process and hence the possible inhalation of dust. So far I have only used PVA glue as a binder but enjoyed the difference in colour, provenance and nature of the pigments compared to the North Devon pigments I am more familiar with. As such the imagery has started to take on its own character relevant to the materials, the geographical space and my personal experience of Penwith and west Cornwall. I am currently working with Geevor Tin Mine Museum to develop educational workshops using the pigments. The mine itself and attendant museum is utterly fascinating allowing me to better understand the differences between pigments from natural landforms and those extracted from deep underground. In due time I will be able to better share my findings but for the time being here are some of my first paintings made using the wonderful, beautiful but maybe a little toxic Cornish pigments.

As yet the paintings are relatively small (up to 60x60cm) but I look forward to taking some of these ideas to a larger scale and context. If you are interested in any of the work shown here or would like to support or contribute to any further research please get in touch.

7 Cornish pigments – paint samples on paper @ p ward 2018

Cornish Quilt (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

6x6x6 (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

red, grey, green (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

grey, green, white, mauve I-III (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

fox walking (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

dagdu (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in landscape I-V (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

botallack black – arches, obliterate, behind a rainbow (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

vertical palette (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

untitled – explorations in colour and form I-IV (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

falling (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship I-III (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship – butterfly (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

storyteller IV (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

bird box (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

4 vertical colours (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

sketch I and II (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

house on wheels – sketch (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

With thanks to the people and places of west Cornwall. In particular, the staff of Geevor Tin Mine, Fiona, Natasha and of course Francesca and family for your inspiration and support.

© P Ward 2018

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new home new earth

discovering colour in west cornwall

Pendeen, Trewellard, Boscaswell and Geevor Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

moving home is always an exciting (if not somewhat stressful) time for discovery, for exploration, for new knowledge and for refreshment of life paths. I have recently moved with my family from North Devon to West Cornwall, as far south and west as one can go in the British Isles (apart from the Isles of Scilly, of course). The move was made to connect with the flourishing and historic arts scene in the area – Newlyn and St Ives on the Penwith peninsula being significant places in British art history over the last few centuries. The area is also remarkable for the globally significant tin and copper mining industries that flourished during the nineteenth century providing a wealth of metal ores and new technologies that contributed to mining knowledge around the world. The industry has now all but died out, due to cheaper sources elsewhere, but has left its mark ecologically and architecturally to this rugged, wet and windy section of Atlantic coast.

Sennen Cove, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Rainbow over Geevor Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Phone Box collection, Trewellard, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Lamppost, Pendeen, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Leswidden block works, St Just, Cornwall © p ward 2018

‘Montol’ Midwinter celebrations, Penzance, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Turning on the Mousehole Lights, Cornwall © p ward 2018

having spent the last ten years intensively researching the geology, history and uses of earth pigments found in North Devon, and establishing an international reputation through it, it is quite nerve wracking to up sticks and start again. Added to this sense of newness, is that of the unfamiliar. North Devon is my mother’s family home and a region I have known all my life. While the wild and austere beauty of West Penwith is visually and culturally inspiring it will be a while before I feel it as my home, despite feeling very comfortable here, nestled in a cosy old granite cottage close to the north coast. However, the process of taking root has begun and exploration to reveal the individual peculiarities of my new home, and especially those qualities that appeal to my own nature, have gripped my thoughts and actions.

Lanyon’s Quoit, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Merry Maidens stone circle, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Lanyon’s Quoit in the mist, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

within six weeks we have found four excellent and bold earth colours locally, associated with historic mining activities. We have revealed a dolmen in our living room as well as starting to visit the plethora of ancient megalithic sites in the area. The sea, the mist, the rocks and wind are ever present on this extreme peninsula, the most exposed place I have ever lived. Having studied for my MA in Falmouth and consequently visited the county on numerous occasions, I am vaguely familiar with the area and some of the sites of interest, but was unaware of the incredible natural and cultural richness it provides. The county of Cornwall is one of the few Celtic strongholds on the British Isles, with its own language and a pride in its unique history, both ancient and modern. This is evident in so many ways – its folklore, place names, wildlife, art and its connection to the sea and land. I am very excited to see how this feeds my own creative output.

Levant mine entrance, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Red ‘clay’ at Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Bottallack Mines, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Purple and red ‘clays’ at Levant Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Leswidden China Clay Pits, nr St Just, and Spoil heaps at Tywarnhayle Mine, Porthtowan, Cornwall © p ward 2018

the pigments we have gathered so far include red and purple ‘clays’, residues from the slag heaps at Levant Tin Mine, apparently deposited alongside, and hence coloured by oxides within, the seams of black tin (casserite) found in cracks in the 340 million year old granite mass that forms the majority of landmass here. The huge forces, pressures and temperatures experienced as the molten granite forced its way through weaknesses in the overlying Devonian sediment created a wealth of opportunities for metallic minerals ores to form alongside metamorphic rocks. According to one source the area has some of the most varied and mineral rich geologies in the world! We have collected a yellow ochre-like residue from mine waste heaps further northeast at Tywarnhayle Mine, Porthtowan. The yellow deposit also contains fragments of ‘green’ rock that will be interesting to separate and hopefully use. The oldest China Clay pits, formed in lakes as eroded granite deposits, can also be found near St Just in Penwith with a wealth of local history and national significance. We have been given access to this beautiful smooth white clay by the present landowner, whose father spent some time working in the drying kilns on site during his youth. We are experimenting with different approaches to processing the raw pigments, relying on water extraction, sieving and drying, similar to historic methods of extracting ore, rather than the more physical drying and grinding that we employed with the very different pigments in North Devon. This is partly due to the different nature of the raw pigments but also as a safeguard against inhaling potentially dangerous bi-products of the mining residues, such as arsenic! We are presently seeking geologists to aid in our research.

shapes, marks, patterns and forms, Cornwall © p ward 2018

textures and marks, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

As you can see, it’s all really exciting stuff. However, as yet, we are still to find a suitable workspace, tubs of pigment being stored and worked on convenient window ledges and in the cramped garden shed. But time will work its magic and the right space will reveal itself. We have already been made aware of a possible arts space development in old buildings at the entrance to the mining museum at Geevor mine in our village, as well as studio spaces associated with the established art schools of St Ives and Newlyn. Work still continues elsewhere too with talks and workshops coming up in North Devon and further afield in East Sussex, so all is good with the world. And all this while juggling childcare priorities and other homemaking eventualities. So, thank you to family and friends for your support during our transition and also to the warm welcome and help we have received from the local community. I am certainly looking forward to seeing how everything unfolds…

Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Levant Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Geevor and Levant mines, Penwith Heritage Coast, Cornwall © p ward 2018

© P Ward 2018