Red leaves of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Deep red leaves of the black gum at the end of summer.

Black gum leaves begin turning deep red near the end of summer, sometimes long before any other leaves are starting to think of autumn.

This color is made from the late summer red leaves of black gum (also called black tupelo). It’s a tree native to the Ozarks and one of the few light-fast sources of plant pigments that I’ve found.

Red leaves of black gum, poured into pans and paint swatch painted.

Late Summer Shades

I can actually get three different shades of color from red black gum leaves, depending on when the leaves are gathered and/or how they are treated. The green lake pigment is a very nice shade of green, but it isn’t light fast.

From left to right: green lake pigment, water and ethanol extract, water only extract.
From left to right: green lake pigment, water and ethanol extract, water only extract.

The two brown shades are both light fast, based on my test strips that I hang outside in full sunlight. I leave them out for at least 4 weeks and they get full afternoon direct sunlight.

The green shade was made by precipitating pigments from the water and alcohol extract with alum and calcium carbonate. I love the color, but it doesn’t hold up to the light-fast test. So far it’s doing fine indoors, though.

The center shade was made using a water and alcohol extract, and the right shade was made using only water to extract the color from the leaves.

Red Leaves of Black Gum

The center shade will be included in my Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3, the next set of colors to be released which will include 9 colors from earth and plant pigments.

Wild Ozark Paleo Paints, Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3
Wild Ozark Paleo Paints, Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3

It’ll be to be released on November 23, 2018 at the Holiday Market to be held at the Walton-McBride Studio in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This set will be exclusive to that market until after Dec. 16 and after that I’ll list any sets left at my Etsy shop.

The hours and location for the Holiday Gift Market
Click the image to go to the website: https://communitycreativecenter.org/calling-all-artists-holiday-gift-market/

Making the Colors

gather the red leaves

Depending on when you gather the leaves, it may give you a slightly different shade of color.

Add to a pot of water

If you just use water, a lot of the red will remain in the leaves and not go into the water and will yield a color closer to the right hand image in the photo above.

 

I boiled the leaves gently. It may yield another shade to extract with alcohol and not boil it at all. I haven’t tried that yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.

The extract of red leaves of black gum trees.
The extract of red leaves of black gum trees.

Strain the water out. I use cheese cloth folded over several times.

I use cheesecloth to filter.
I use cheesecloth to filter.

Add solution of gum arabic. This makes a watery paint that will need to be panned several times as each layer dries. Store your paint in the refrigerator or it will mold and/or ferment. That, too, might yield a different color and is another experiment for the future. I’d leave the leaves in for that one.

Plant Pigments – Experimenting and Searching for Green

Generally I don’t use the plant pigments because they’re fugitive, meaning they fade over time. Sometimes they completely disappear.

However, I’ve found two sources that actually intensify with exposure to light (full sunshine) and so I am experimenting with extracting the pigments from them.

The Sources of my Plant Pigments

Sassafras makes a nice yellow and orange, whereas Black Gum makes tan and green.

The differences in the colors produced from one plant are due to a few different things.

First, the time of year matters. If I gather leaves early in the season, sassafras gives me yellow. If I gather the autumn leaves, I get the orange. These two colors are sheer in nature but can become quite bright with UV exposure.

If I make lake pigments by adding an alum solution and following with calcium carbonate to flocculate and collect the precipitating pigment, I get yellow from the autumn leaves of sassafras and a very nice green from the black gum.

Maybe other shades will result from using other solutions in this lake process. I’m only beginning the experimentation. Then I’ll also test the finished paints from this way of getting the colors to make sure that they, also, are light fast and UV safe to use in a painting I don’t want to fade.

Many organic and even metallic inorganic will also oxidize and turn brown. This has been a big problem with any plant pigments I’ve used too, except the sassafras. I’m still testing the green from the black gum to see if it’ll turn brown.

How to Test the Color Stability

I test by leaving half of my test strip outside so that it gets full sunlight exposure and open air for 4 weeks. At the end of the 4 weeks I compare the other half of the strip that has remained inside in the dark to the one that hung outside.

A little bit of change is tolerable, but too much indicates that the painting won’t look the same after a decade or two. Watercolors are fragile colors to begin with and I always frame mine, and recommend buyers to frame theirs, under conservation glass to protect it from UV light, even indoors.

Precipitated Plant Pigments

Here’s what the filter cakes from my lake experiment looks like. I’ll write up a full post about what I did and how it looked throughout the process later.

Plant pigments obtained from precipitating with alum and calcium carbonate.
The yellow lump is from the autumn leaves of sassafras and the green one is from the autumn red leaves of black gum.

Where to find my Paints

I sell my collections at Etsy and through my online shop at Wild Ozark, the main website. Eventually I’ll have raw pigments to sell, too, for those who want to make their own paints of any sort from Wild Ozark colors!