Own Your Encore

My Encore Excursions

Color Week Eleven

Carmine is the color obtained from the cochineal insect and continues to be used today in producing organic color. Carmine is a cool red (purple biased).

A little history…

Thousands of years ago, Mesoamericans discovered that pinching an insect found on prickly pear cacti yielded a blood-red stain on fingers and fabric. The tiny creature—a parasitic scale insect known as cochineal—was transformed into a precious commodity. Breeders in Mexico’s southern highlands began cultivating cochineal, selecting for both quality and color over many generations.
The results were spectacular. The carminic acid in female cochineals could be used to create a dazzling spectrum of reds, from soft rose to gleaming scarlet to deepest burgundy. Though it took as many as 70,000 dried insects to make a pound of dye, they surpassed all other alternatives in potency and versatility.

Cochineal found a spot in the artist’s paint box. If you were a 15th c European artist on a tight budget, you could procure your cochineal from shreds of dyed cloth, but fresh-ground insects yielded much better results. Artists usually combined their cochineal with a binder, creating a pigment known as a lake. It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which painters used cochineal to make their reds. But recent advances in chemical analysis have confirmed its presence in numerous masterpieces.

Khan Academy

No masterpiece but a little carmine contributes to this pencil sketch.

Author: MSRitzman

Arts & Culture Advocate

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