Writing Art: Arsenic Gold

For Wayback Wednesday:

I am not an artist but in my Adele Proust mysteries, I have to make the readers feel like they are painting. I use rhythm, action, colors and feelings, but also the legends within oil painting, especially the pigments. Embedding legend into my story connects it to history, adding depth. And for crime writing, a pigment made from arsenic provides both mystery and intrigue.

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

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 be filled with innocence, purity, goodness, and emotional intimacy. That contrasts quite severely with the human lust for gold through the centuries.

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, the lust for gold—and just plain beauty—into Adele’s simple brush strokes.  It happens fairly late in the story so I won’t post that scene here, but I hope when you read it later, you’ll come back and let me know if I did the pigment justice.

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


1 thought on “Writing Art: Arsenic Gold”

  1. This post is the first of a series I’ll call Wayback Wednesdays where I’ll pull out some of the best from the early days of this blog. That gives you something old-new since I had very few readers then, and it gives me more time to heal. Hope you enjoy!

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