The development of this pigment and dye garden project began more than a year ago while I was working in the chemistry lab at Oregon State University under Mas Subramanian. Subramanian’s research led to the discovery of several new colors, most famously his new blue discovered in 2009. The pigments developed in the lab are synthesized from materials that are mixed and then heated to extremely high temperatures. The durable heat-reflective pigments exist in a trigonal bipyramidol structure that is stable and predictable. After a year of working in the chemistry lab, I was fascinated with color—both the predictable colors we made and the unpredictable ones found in nature. Natural color grew into my focus because of its accessibility. Dyeing doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be gathered or specifically grown. Color doesn’t have to come from a store or a lab—it can also be found right outside.
Natural Color & Foraging
With a newfound interest in natural pigments and dyes, a collaboration began with artist and friend, Abigail Losli. Abi and I started Earth & Color: The Pigment Project. We developed books that users can download online for free, print, and take with them as they forage for pigments and dyes in nature. The idea of the project is to create a map of color collectors with the documented locations of found colors all organized on our Earth & Color website. This project is still active and available for anyone interested in downloading their own free pigment book pages, but the user must assemble their own book!
Mobile & Grown Color
Another inspiration for this project stems from several meaningful experiences gathered while living in Brooklyn, NY. While in the city I worked with artist Mary Mattingly on her project SWALE: A Floating Food Forest. For Mattingly’s project, a floating barge was converted into an edible and medicinal forest of perennial plants that tours through the Bronx, Governor’s Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and beyond. It is free and open to the public. The mobility of work gives the public access to food and opens up a dialogue about what it would mean if food were a free public service instead of an expensive commodity. Accessibility, mobility, and the many functions of plants are all parallel concepts and characteristics in my pigment and dye garden.