Historically, colour pigments came from plants and minerals. But with the onset of industrialization, cheap, petrochemical colours became the norm — at a cost to the environment. Now, with the ever-increasing global focus on sustainability, Nicole Stjernswärd has created a colour-making system that transforms plant waste into natural pigments. Called Kaiku, the natural pigments that can be used as paints, inks and textiles.
Nicole, who studied at both Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, spoke to artists and met up with chemist David Peggie, who works at London’s National Gallery. There she learned more about the use of paint pigments in art history and contemporary art.
The downside of synthetic pigments
The colours you see in most products today are stemmed from petrochemicals. Detrimental to the environment, when released in the air, they can cause respiratory problems and harm the ozone layer. Furthermore, marine creatures can get poisoned by the artificial dyes when the synthetic colours reach water bodies — eventually affecting humans as well. And in the United States alone, more than 15 million pounds of textile waste is generated each year. Nicole’s invention, however, offers a natural alternative to obtain colours without the use of modern industrialization.
“Paint used to be made with local materials using recipes that only required a few ingredients. Most of the ingredients were things commonly found in your kitchen, such as casein and quark from milk,” says Nicole.
A natural alternative
Numerous fruits and vegetables are eaten every day, such as avocados, onions and pomegranates, that have valuable colours within their skins and peels. Normally these are discarded and left to rot in landfills. Kaiku, however, transforms this waste into a high-value resource and colours can actually be extracted.
“I found that natural dyes mould quickly and need to be used instantly, which is impractical and frustrating for artists and textile designers. It was this insight that informed my decision to figure out a mechanical method for drying the dyes.”
The process for Kaiku works by firstly boiling the skins and peels in water to create liquid dyes. The dyes are then transferred into the apparatus’s reservoirs to vaporize and transform into powdered pigments. This process takes only minutes, and each result varies accordingly as it’s handcrafted from different plants and fruits. Each colour is therefore unique, allowing for the creation of custom hues determined by the source and material used.
They are rehydrated by mixing them with paint materials like egg tempera, allowing the colour to be applied like paint on a canvas or as a dye on garments. While the natural pigments bring saturation to objects and works created for short-term use, the colours can be layered to prolong their visibility on various mediums.
More information on Kaiku and its creator, Nicole Stjernswärd, can be found here.