Writing Art: Orpiment

Orpiment image from Wikipedia, formerly from the US Geological Survey’s “Minerals of the World” and is in the public domain

I am not an artist but in my Adele Proust mysteries, I have to make the readers feel like they are painting themselves. Several things empowered me to write that way.

First, while I was science coordinator at Leonardo’s, I got to be around kids painting and sculpting all the time.  I often assisted the art teachers or filled in for them, learning a lot about modern art techniques through Mollie Babb’s wonderful ArtSmart classes and Lisa Magyar’s pottery workshops.

Second, I was inspired by Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy.  His scenes of Michelangelo sculpting and painting made me feel like I was doing them myself.

Third, as a freelance writer, I have interviewed dozens of artists for Art Focus Oklahoma Magazine and others. Each of them has inspired me in some way.

But mostly, I’m inspired by the legends within oil painting, especially the pigments.  I think if you imbed legend into modern storytelling, it sort of connects your tale to humanity on some profound, spiritual plane.  And for crime writing, a pigment called orpiment provides both mystery and intrigue.

Orpiment has been treasured by artists for centuries.  A most beautiful golden color, it’s created by grinding crystals of arsenic sulfide–highly toxic.  Once believed by alchemists to be an important ingredient in their quest to create gold, orpiment is said to have the healing effect of creating clarity in thinking,  It’s toxic effects may have actually helped to drive those alchemists insane.

Modern healers believe orpiment to befilled with innocence, purity, goodness, and emotional intimacy. That contrasts quite severely with the human lust for gold through the centuries.

As a writer, I found using orpiment in a painting scene allowed me to bring all that history and conflict into the moment.  By explaining some tidbits about the pigment in an earlier scene, I was able to weave the use of arsenic, lust for gold–and just plain beauty into Adele’s simple brush strokes.  It happens fairly late in the story so I won’t be posting that scene here, but I hope when you read it later, you’ll come back and let me know if I did that pigment justice.

My next book will feature another ancient pigment, mummy brown.

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4 thoughts on “Writing Art: Orpiment

  1. Thanks, Carolyn. I find the pigment histories to be books in themselves. Then you start with the technique ideas and writing art give me a whole new dimension to the written page. Like 4-D mystery. Okay, maybe I’m sort of a nerd.

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