On Location At Lutea – Jackson’s Art Blog

On Location At Lutea – Jackson’s Art Blog

Our ‘On Location’ series reveals where some of the best loved art materials are made, and gives insight into art materials manufacturers’ working methods. Lutea is the name of Anne-Sylvie Godeau’s pigment extraction venture, in which she single handedly uses low impact, organic natural matter to produce harmonious colours, some of which she uses to produce her own line of professional grade watercolours.


Lake pigments of carmine cochineal undergoing filtration


Why Are There Only Twelve Colours in the Lutea Watercolour Range?

If you’ve ever browsed Lutea Extra-Fine Watercolours on our website, it’s likely that the range of 12 earthy colours may have appeared rather small in comparison to other professional watercolour ranges with 30, 40 or even more colours. But there is a good reason why Lutea’s range may be smaller, yet perfectly formed. Each of the eleven pigments used to create the range has been painstakingly extracted by the hand of pigment expert Anne-Sylvie Godeau. The result is a stunning range of colours that mixes beautifully with one another to create a harmonious palette of natural, sustainable, organic hues. The plant based pigments that have been chosen for the Lutea range have been used since Antiquity, and are colours that have been sought out and enjoyed by painters for centuries. The indigo is extracted from Persicaria Tinctoria while the reds and pinks of Garance are extracted from Ribia Tinctoria. The yellow of Gaude is extracted from Reseda Luteola.



Outside of Anne-Sylvie’s work producing the Lutea range of colours, she also works regularly with artists, extracting specific pigments to order, from a wider variety of plants. She says, “The range of colours from plants, fungi, insects and molluscs is very wide and can be the subject of numerous research”. The Lutea laboratory is a compact yet well organised space where Anne-Sylvie is able to carry out the extraction, filtration, grinding, and bottling up of pigments.



How Did Anne-Sylvie Godeau Start Extracting Lutea Pigments At Her Home?

Anne-Sylvie’s background is rooted in Fine Art – she studied Sculpture, Installation and Performance at the ERG – Graphic Research School in Brussels Contemporary Art, graduating in 2003, and then studied a Postgraduate Diploma at the University of Salamanca. After this she continued studying this time in Pedagogy and Agriculture, graduating in 2014. She was offered engraving and screenprinting as a complementary practice to her main studies during her postgraduate diploma, which is where an interest in printmaking and printing on textiles emerged. It was this work that led to an interest in pigments and dyes, and formulating colours for textiles in the first instance. Her studies in learning about pigments and dyes were self-led, seeking out workshops and texts by experts in the field, including Michel Garcia, an expert in pigments and dyes, based in France. Over time she set about investing in the equipment she needed to carry out pigment extraction, and undertook rigorous tests to find the plants that she wished to extract pigments from, seeking light fastness and quality as well as beautiful translucent shades.



Anne-Sylvie Godeau’s laboratory is truly unique. It’s a far cry from a large-scale production factory, positioned centrally in Belgium to make it easier for clients, artists and students to visit. For Anne-Sylvie Godeau education is an important aspect of Lutea, keeping the traditions of this ancient practice alive for future generations.



The plants with which she works are either cultivated by Anne-Sylvie, or are recycled from local agricultural residues from farming, while some are gleaned from local wild plants. Only the cochineals come from the Canary Islands, the Logwood from Latin America and the Madder from France, Iran or Morocco. In total, Anne-Sylvie Godeau works with twelve plants and an insect: Walnut husks (Brown), Meadowsweet flowers (Green), Thyme (Dark Orange), Cosmos Sulphureus flowers (Orange), Madder roots (Red and Pink), Cochineal (Carmine), Goldenrod (Yellow), Strawberry leaves (Grey), Logwood extract (Purple), Tormentille plants (Grey), Weld (Yellow) and Persicaria Tinctoria and Rubia Tinctoria (Indigo). She is currently researching into a new colour derived from Avocado peel.



The Indigo Anne-Sylvie grows and farms herself, at a foundation located at the Balbrière farm in Ottignies, Belgium, called ‘The Growing Tree’. It is just a few minutes’ drive away from Lutea. The foundation is made up of a number of outward-looking businesses and activities, with a focus on holistic ecology and sustainable living practices.


Crushed Thyme Plants


What Does The Pigment Extraction Process Involve at Lutea?

Plants contain a cocktail of dyes, with each dye having a well-defined role for the plants’ function; sun protection, defence against a predator, divine markers using colours and perfumes to allow fertilisation, and so on. These natural dyes are extracted using a ‘herbal tea’ process, immersing the plants in hot water. Each colour requires water of a certain temperature, and immersion for a specific amount of time. This bathing may happen a number of times over for a plant, in order to get the extraction sought for a particular colour. Metallic salt added to the colour formula will also have an influence on the colour of the pigment. Once the pigment is formed in the liquids through this process of extraction, the colour is filtered and cleaned by pouring through cotton muslin bags. This matter is then dried and finely ground to a Beaux-Art quality.



Lacquer Pigment And The Chelation Process at Lutea

A dye solution in which a metal salt has been dissolved constitutes a chelate: a hybrid molecule of organic/metallic nature. Such a solution can be used as, in certain cases, a fluid ink. If an alkaline (or basic) substance is added to this solution, the metallic salt decomposes and turns into an insoluble “metallic hydrate”. Coloured particles then form in the solution consisting of the now insoluble metallic substance with which the dye is associated. The set of bright and colourful particles settle at the bottom of the liquid and form a pigment lacquer. (With thanks to Michel Garcia, 2019).



All lacquers can be frozen to facilitate and improve the filtration process. Different extractions can create different colours – for example a succession of extractions of dyes from the crushed roots form the reds and roses of Madder, to create different reds, pinks and orange pinks.



All ingredients and factors can influence the outcome of the extraction and filtration processes, such as the climate, the fertilisation, the soil quality and the rainwater that the growing plant experiences. The set of variables found within the process of natural plant-based pigment extraction is vast. This adds to the preciousness of the colour, a quality that is in common with a fine wine, oil or perfume.




Grinding at Lutea

At the end of the grinding, Anne-Sylvie Godeau can observe the colour obtained in the form of pigment before grinding it to optimum particle size and integrating it into a watercolour binder to observe the colour in a binder. The light is then able to pass through it fully. Several grinding stages in different machines are necessary to obtain the desired fineness for grinding with paint binders. This process can take up to 3 different grinding machines. Each pigment needs to be ground to a specific size in order for the appearance and performance of the pigment to be at its optimum. 1 tonne of indigo leaves will, in the end, produce just 10kg of pigment.



Some of the pigment Anne-Sylvie makes is put into bottles and labelled to be sold as dry powder pigment, while the rest is taken to Isabelle Roeloefs, the Belgian paint maker responsible for Isaro Watercolours and Oil paints. Isabelle blends the pigment into a high quality gum arabic based binder before delivering the paint back to Anne-Sylvie once more, who labels the tubes prior to distribution.



Lutea’s production is a small-scale, comparatively sustainable, low-impact operation that has extracted pigments successfully for nearly ten years. Lutea watercolours are truly unique in that the person in the photographs is the person that extracts the pigments for every colour in the range. How many other materials do you buy where you can put a name and a face to who made it? This transparency also empowers artists to make informed choices about the colours they wish to work with, perhaps choosing renowned historical colour palettes that have proven to stand the test of time. Contemporary art with a nod to history.



When you paint with Lutea watercolours, you could justifiably think of it as a collaboration. Not only are you collaborating with the expert craftsmanship of Anne-Sylvie Godeau, but also with the vibrancy and delicacy of the earth’s natural colours.




Watch our On Location film to see the pigment extraction process by Anne Sylvie at Lutea:

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