The ability to colour almost any surface and material is something we now take very much for granted. Our attempts to produce brilliant and vibrant hues to be used within homes and on fabrics have led to a number of disasters throughout history, one of the most notable of which being Paris Green (or Vienna Green) and its predecessor Scheele’s Green (or Schloss Green). The use of both pigments was widespread, colouring a variety of items from wallpaper and cloth, to food items and paints, and continued to be used despite growing knowledge about their toxicity and numerous health problems related to the products.
Despite progress that moves colourants away from arsenic derived compounds, growing reliance on cheap petrochemical dyes adds a new layer of issues to the process as new synthetic pigments have been show to have their own lasting effects. Making their way into water systems they can have a devastating impact on aquatic life and cause pollution, and can prove highly hazardous to workers that are in contact with the chemicals. Petrochemicals also continue to be released from products, especially paints, even after their initial application.
Non-toxic pigments have been around long before the introduction of Scheele’s Green in the 18th Century, with animal derived colours such as Tyrian purple and plant derived madder and indigo offering some of the most vivid hues. Taking these old-school ideas and bringing them to the modern day is Kaiku, invented by designer Nicole Stjernswärd.
Kaiku not only produces a variety of non-toxic alternatives but does so with plant waste. Avocados, beetroots, and pomegranates make up some of the waste utilised as colourants, with skins and peelings boiled in water. The Kaiku system uses steam and a vacuum chamber to pull the dry particles from the dye and create the pigments.
These powders can then be used in most paints, with successful uses including watercolour, ink, and egg tempera. They have also been used in conjunction with paper, fabric, agar bioplastics, and bacterial cellulose, and building materials such as plaster and wood veneer.
A new post by Hanna Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, June 2020.