Friday, 25 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 20

Pigment from Altamira
Ochre, hematite, iron oxide, and zinc were the pigments used in the Altamira Cave. Ochre can cover a lot of modern colours depending on the presence of other minerals. The example of ochre illustrated here might be burnt, or it could contain iron oxide. I gathered some ochre, myself form an ancient site. Don't freak out, I picked my sample from around some twentieth century scrap iron, undoubtedly left from a mining operation. It had been thoroughly contaminated by the iron oxide and looked a lot like the ochre on the right. The original deposits at the site were all yellow ochre. Taking it home, I used a muller on frosted glass and ground it in linseed oil to make an oil paint. I had no plans to do any painting with it apart from a small test panel to see the results. It was so so. The colour was not that bad, but it did have an unpleasant violet sheen at the surface when dry. There would hardly be much demand for such a colour. The Altamira artists  were using rather modern pigments, pretty well all of the "earth colours" are possible from these. Granted, they also used charcoal, which is far from a pigment. You read about them using bones to blow pigment, leaving the hand impressions. Right, air-brush work over a stencil. Unlike other caves where our ancestors painted on the walls, There are no traces of soot deep in these caves where no light penetrated. The reports say that no one knows how this was done. If I were to attempt such a thing, I would bring a small tallow lamp made from a bivalve seashell and cover it with a stick frame over which I would place a hide "umbrella". But where would these ancient hunters get tallow, a seashell, sticks and hides? The other cave people  apparently did not care if the smoke rose from their lamps to stain the cave wall. Smoke rises, by the way. What is actually remarkable is that the artists cared enough not get the walls sooty. An added bonus is that a lamp with such a shade could be used to make relief in the rocks more visible, and they utilized these swellings to emphasize the shapes,like a heavy chested bison, for example. Not only that, but they also utilized natural fissures in the rock as outlines. They seem to have far surpassed trompe-l'œil. Just how modern were these artists? By another happy accident, my friend Susanne just returned from Denmark and emailed me the following pictures. The first was just the right size for the blog.

click to enlarge
She had a number of photos of this Trompe-l'œil exhibit of street art in Jutland, various subjects. We were talking on the phone while she was emailing some to me. I told her I was most impressed with the ape's head, which really "popped out". Later she emailed me a really huge (over 4,000 pixel across) photo of the same piece of art. Yet another happy accident, because the area I cropped was also just the right size for this blog, but I will start with one shown very small first. It's not too bad at that size
but look what happens with the larger version below. Not as advanced as at Altamira where the cracks were used as part of the composition. Susanne, by the way, has her own interior design company. She says that she "just feels" what is right, and her clients trust that. They show her the space and let her decide what to do with it. Before she started her company, she was one of the top interior designers at Ikea, travelling to many parts of the U.S. to design new Ikea stores' displays. She says that most graduates she encounters are just too "book learned" and have no such knack at all. She says you pretty well have to be born with the ability to be able to "feel" what is right, and I agree. If you have an interior design project in mind, you can email her at:

"Pedersen Interiors" <susanne.v.p (at)> (you know the anti-spam drill!)

and get one one of the best designers out there. She likes to travel, so she would probably go anywhere that interior design is relevant. Once she asked me to tag along, but I could not leave my dog, Besides, Susanne like hotels and beaches, and I'm more of a hammock in the woods sort of person. Well this took up more space than I thought and the one on the Rising Star Cave is going to be very long indeed. So check out the image below, and a have a weekend filled with happy coincidences.

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