There are some creeks near my old home-town in Mississippi that I like to visit and walk when I am in the area. One creek in particular has various shades of ochres that I wanted to share with a friend of mine who uses natural pigments for her watercolor paintings and natural pigment workshops.
On our first trip to the creek together, we found five different ochre pigments: yellow, red, peach, light gray, and dark gray. Since then, she has been using them in her art and I have even experimented myself (albeit not a trained artist like my dear friend).
The draw to these pigments, especially red ochre, is unmistakable in our human ancestry. There is something powerful and ancient about this particular pigment. It is viewed as a variant of regular ochres in that it has a large amount of hematite, rendering that deep, burnt red color.
Wherever there have been ancient peoples, you can always find ochre…and, I think, especially red ochre. Not only was red ochre used for art and expression, it was a way to protect the skin from the effects of UV rays (while looking artful).
This article talks about red ochre being used as early as 300,000 years ago (and I’m sure it’s use goes further back than that). According to this article, “other documented or implied uses are as medicines, as a preservative agent for animal hide preparation, and as a loading agent for adhesives (called mastics).”
In regards to the previous comment about medicine, it is actually a medicine used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is called dai zhe shi:
“According to the principles of traditional Chinese, red ochre has bitter and cold properties, and is associated with the Liver and Heart meridians. Its main functions are to pacify the liver, to move qi downward, and to arrest bleeding. It is used to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from headaches and dizziness to hiccups, vomiting and upset stomach. The minera’s high iron content can also help with the generation of red blood cells and hemoglobin.”
Whenever I find red ochre, I know I am somewhere that has been interacted with for thousands of years. Being around red ochre just makes everything feel ancient.
Here are some of the watercolors I have created using red ochre, peach colored ochre, and watercolors with a binding medium of pure gum arabic and natural blackberry honey. The images were inspired by ancient carvings and traditional patterns. I plan to use these as cards and thank you cards.