THINKING COLOR

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The Dangerous History of Orange

For decades orange has been a familiar color associated with caution, and it has come by this cultural association honestly. From the earliest beginnings of human expression until the 1800’s artists and alchemists had to risk everything in order to bring the color orange to the human eye.

Orange is one of the earliest pigments to appear in the cultural works of humanity, some examples of orange pigment can be found dating back as far as 1300 bc in Egypt. However, our ancestors had to go to extraordinary lengths to find the raw materials needed to create the red-yellow hue. For centuries the only way to create orange was from the mineral, orpiment, a material that only occurs in sulphurous fumaroles located near active volcanoes. Not only are these ruptures in the earth incredibly hot, and geologically unpredictable, but spew noxious arsenic gas that can kill a human in minutes.

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Alchemists were the first to brave the sulphureous fumaroles to collect orpiment. In an attempt to create gold or an elixir for eternal life the alchemists discovered that the orpiment would break down into a fine orange powder when exposed to direct flame for long periods of time. It did not take long for artists to realize that this powder made a fine orange pigment. However, it was not until the creation of synthetic orange pigments in the later half of the 19th century that artist were able to stop making the cautious journey to active volcanoes to create the color orange.  

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