Deadhead Mix

Deadheading is a gardening technique to extend flowering. Fading flower heads are removed so the plant directs energy into growing more flowers rather than developing its seeds.

Late August 2017:
I am gathering the deadheads from my garden, to attempt to make a pigment of my garden flowers. The name of any resulting paint will be Deadhead Mix, vintage End of Summer 2017.

Caput Mortuum, Latin for dead headis the name of brownish-violet paint made from iron oxide – rust. It was an ethical alternative to Mummy Brown, a pigment made from human and feline mummies. Or perhaps, just an alternative name. Caput Mortuum is an alchemic term for the worthless residue. There is some overlap and  ambiguity about Caput Mortuum and Mummy Brown.  Hematite (rust pigment) was used on funerary linens, so it’s both a precursor and substitute for Mummy Brown. Also there’s little standardisation between paint brands.

Spent flowers from my garden used in this colour include:

Agapanthus, Anemone japonica, Anthemis Mrs Buxton, Artemisia ludoviciana 'Valerie Finnis', Cistus x Pulverulentus Sunset, Cosmos, Dahlias, Helianthus Gullick's Variety, Lamium Silver Beacon, Lavender, Leucanthemum, Osteospermum Pale Face, Penstemon Raven, Petunia Black Velvet, Petunia Cherry Cola, Sedum Purple Emperor, Sisrynchum, Variegated Pelargoniums (Mrs Pollock, Vancouver Centennial), Verbena Bonariensis, etc.

Also flowers I have grown from seed this year:

Bronze Fennel, Calendula Indian Prince, Ridolfa Goldspray, Sunflower Black Magic.

September 2017:
I start making the paint before the flowers rot. After boiling, I strained  out the flower heads. I was prepared for a murky  colour mix, but surprisingly the resulting liquid  is like a clear red wine. Very like red wine when I add some distilled vinegar as a preservative. I used as little water as possible for the soak, but there’s still too great a volume to evaporate into a powder pigment. That means a paint in a tube or block isn’t possible.  Thus the mix will be more of staining dye than an unguent that can be applied with a brush. Rather than following instructions, I’m guided by the general principles of making herbal ointments and natural dyes. I return the liquid to the tank and drop in small pieces of watercolour paper, and leave them to steep.

Noticing that I used a paper plate to collect the flowerheads (pic 01),  I decide to cut out circles – in various diameters from communion wafer  to storm drain – to add to the mix. As I do various batches, I add further flower heads and prunings.

Although the dip is a red wine colour, the  different papers take up the pigment variously: pretty murky, greys either verging towards  maroon or green in the same vein as Caput Mortuum.

Inadvertently there’s a print on the drying  paper.  The pooling ink  has saturated  through to the reverse of the paper and  there’s some chromatographic colour separation, showing the mix contains blue-green.

The seasonal weather changes are coming in fast, and it’s becoming too squally to work outside for more than short bursts.  Plants are hunkering down, and  deadheading  fails to encourage much further flowering.   We prepare the garden for Autumn: cuttings and composting.  The last of the Deadhead Mix is stored in a 2l. bottle in the shed.

Deadhead Mix has been selected for Axisweb New Art Highlights

See Caput Mortuum for a development of my work with flowers and pigment.