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  • Writer's pictureMichael Skalka

What is a Buddle?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Water and mined earth material is poured into the tank on the far left that overflows into the next tank. Lighter particles are carried further and settle into the tanks to the right.

What is a buddle and why isn’t this a term that nearly every painter knows?

As you may have guessed, this is a trick question. A buddle is not a household term to painters of today, but if you were a pigment refiner or manufacturer in the nineteenth century, you would have certainly relied on your buddle to start the process of refining earth pigments. A buddle is where the rough unprocessed pigment, straight from the ground, is placed in the first phase of making a usable colorant. A buddle is a large round tank that contains an agitator. Raw pigment and water are poured in the buddle and mixed to keep the particles in suspension. A flow of water into the buddle makes the tank overflow.

The heavy particles sink to the bottom of the tank while the small, light particles are purposefully directed to overflow into another tank. This process is repeated several more times with linked tanks that receive the overflow of finer pigment particles as lighter granules are carried off into settling tanks further down the line. Once the pigments settle, the water is drained from the tanks and the pigment is removed and dried. Coarser pigments in the first few tanks are darker than those found in tanks further down the chain of settling tanks. The pigments are graded by color. Very coarse pigment that settles in the buddle may be ground to decrease the particle size and run through the water separating process again.

So many earth color mines have been exhausted and the supply of pigments cannot meet the large-scale needs of industrial processors. The large pigment manufacturers have turned to synthetic iron oxides as a consistent and practically inexhaustible source of earth colors. They are consistent in particle size and in many cases have higher tinting strength than their natural pigment cousins.

Arguments arise as to which pigments are better, natural earth colors or synthetics. This discussion can be approached from several viewpoints. Many artists lament that the rich, vibrant earth colors they bought in the past are gone, replaced by dull, homogeneous, uninteresting ones. That may be true in some respects, but a moot point since the particularly interesting shade of ochre they used for years has vanished from the market place. The earth yields unique veins of colored materials as elements, heat, and time, work their magic. Some paint makers took advantage of these unique colors and produced paint for as long as the mines would provide a consistent, repeatable product. Regional names for colors abounded in the nineteenth century. (That’s a topic for another day.) Today synthetics and a number of natural earth colors are available. Careful selection of synthetic earths will providing a variety of rich and satisfying hues. Some are hydrated to provide translucency. Others have strong color and opacity. A few natural earths are still available from a few major and some smaller companies that are comfortable with being able to purchase small amounts of pigment. It comes down to a matter of personal taste and painting style in selecting earth colors.

The Syntax of Color

Original Grammar of Color Essay

Vol: 1 No. 2 (Published 03-02-05

(Edited 2020)

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