About Chinese Pigments

Handcrafted Chinese Pigments

The pigments used for traditional Chinese paintings are usually handcrafted and can last for a considerable amount of time. Their colours tend to be soft and muted, and will remain intact thousands of years after the paintings were made – for example, the paintings in Mawangdui (an archaeological site in Changsha, China) still look the same as they did two thousand years ago. Qingnian Qiu, a Chinese pigment craftsman, tells us about the process of making the pigments. First, collecting raw materials from nature, a process that is becoming increasingly difficult as the natural mineral and plants suffer a decline in availability. Qiu says he has to bring a hammer with him whenever he goes out, in case he finds something by luck. The second step is hammering, to turn the mineral into small particles, filter and collect them with a mortar. The next step is to grind the powder until it shines, and after that it needs to be rinsed with water, which has to be done slowly and with painstaking attention. Overall, it takes more than a dozen of processes and over a month to complete a handcrafted pigment.