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Symbiartic

Symbiartic

The art of science and the science of art.

Unchanging Art Supplies

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Technology in art supplies moves fast, and there are tons of amazing ways to enable new creative explorations appearing all the time. Wacom Inkling Pen. Lytro Light-Field Cameras. Terraskin paper made from stone.

Hyperferrule brain-to-glove painting device. © Glendon Mellow. Any steampunk inventor/neurosurgeons out there want to co-manufacture these with me, gimme a call.

Innovations, especially digital ones, leave a swath of devastatingly outdated art materials in their wake. The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies curated by Lou Brooks is there to document those left behind by trends and utility.

What about art supplies that are unchanging and (as close as you can get to) eternal in the human experience?

Last week, our SciAm blog peep Gozde Zorlu on Creatology reported on an amazing discovery. As chronicled in a study in Science, archaeologists led by Christopher Henshilwood of the universities of Bergen and Wiwatersrand found what appears to be a 100,ooo year old ochre workshop in a South African cave. (Make sure to read Gozde's post Stone Age Art Kit Found in South African Cave for photos and a link to a 60-second podcast!)

Along with umber and sienna, ochre pigments are among the earliest shades used for mark-making. They come from clays, and can range from yellowish-brown to reddish-brown and are also non-toxic. The abstract at Science also describes charcoal being found in the cave with the other supplies.

Both charcoal and ochre pigments (in watercolour, acrylic and oil paint; in pastel pencils, and Conte sticks) can be found on almost any foundation-year course list in leading art colleges today.

If you look closely enough, you'll find some stone age pigments mixing with modern chemistry.

Charcoal and ochre: are there other art supplies that have stood the test of time, and accompanied creative humans in our path from the stone age to the digital age?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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