In search of the elusive Bideford Black Pigment otherwise known as Biddie Black. Running alongside seams of anthracite across North Devon is a black clay-like material that was mined for 200 years in Bideford for its uses as a strong black pigment. The unique ‘Mineral Black’, or ‘Biddiblack’ as it was known, was commercially produced for applications in the boat building industry, for colouring rubber products, for camouflage on tanks in WWII and was even bought by Max Factor for the production of mascara. The mines were closed in 1968 when the production of cheaper oil-based blacks and the depletion of the seam made the operation financially unviable, but many locals still remember the ‘Paint Mines’ and have tales to tell of using the paint or going into the now defunct mine shafts. Today it’s revered by artists who love it’s inky black non reflective properties. It first has to be dried, ground and then mixed with a medium such as PVA or Gum Arabic. Looking forward to making my own now and seeing what images I can produce. AL.
ps most of the information was from a website called The story of Bideford Black.
The first out of the blocks for this year a warm up as I’ve not painted for over a month. Another Biddie Black of one of my favourite walks out to Crow Point in North Devon. New Year’s Day 2010 was very busy here with people observing the latest lockdown. I’m really surprised with this as for many years Crow Point has remained quiet, even in the summer. During the Covid Pandemic locals have reacquainted themselves with this quiet beach and now it’s busier than I have ever seen. It was lovely to bump into a few friends here that I’ve not spoken to in a long time.
An acrylic painting 600 x 760mm on panel of Greencliff near Abbottsham on the North Devon coast. The view is looking downwards to the sea and in the distance Harland Point is seen. It is here where I go to collect the pigment I use to produce Bideford Black. I’ve experimented with layers of acrylic wash for this painting. When viewed in full sunlight adjustments had to be made to create that darker warm evening light. Al
Above are pictures of progress so far, I’ve also started another smaller painting of a sunset at Broadsands on Northam Burrows in North Devon. Last picture is of it in it’s new home, quite an impressive setting!
Another picture inspired from Roborough near Pilton, Barnstaple. I’m using some broken sticks from the hill to create some surface texture. This is painted using Bideford Black hand prepared paint on thick cartridge paper. The view is of looking toward the top of road leading down to Raleigh and Barnstaple. In the distance there is a slight glimpse of the River Taw leading to Fremington Quay, Instow and Crow Point. Al
A mixed media composition of the late Peter Green who died on the 25th July 2020 aged 73. 540 x 400mm, Bideford Black, Uni-ball fine line pens & Indian Ink. I’ve found this frame on a recent trip to Clifton in Bristol where I discovered it in an antique shop. Peter Green was one of the greatest Blues guitarists Britain ever produced. His shape-shifting riffs and long, improvisational excursions made Fleetwood Mac one of the most exciting live bands of the 1960s Blues explosion. He first picked up a hand-me-down guitar at the age of 10 and, like many of his peers, began to devour the import vinyl that trickled into the UK from the US. He studied the greats Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and BB King – combining their tensely coiled playing style with the shimmering vibrato of The Shadows’ Hank Marvin. But he actually started his professional career as a bassist, until an encounter with Eric Clapton persuaded him to ditch the instrument. “I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing him with the Bluesbreakers. He had a Les Paul, his fingers were marvellous. The guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.” He later had the seemingly impossible task of taking over from Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Fans were unconvinced at first, but after a handful of incendiary performances, he won them over, earning the nickname “The Green God”. Interestingly enough I thought the Green Manalishi was him but Mr Green says it was actually about a wad of cash he dreamt about.
A Bideford Black painting of Northam Burrows in North Devon 560 x 420mm. From a lockdown exercise walk and an incoming storm inspiration for this picture came about. I particularly liked the pebbles caught in the diminishing light! Al
A painting in Bideford Black of Roborough Hill in North Devon. During this lockdown time I’ve been trying to find a quiet cycle route for my daily exercise. I’ve found this place at the top of a very steep Roborough Hill. From here the view is amazing with a panorama out over Barnstaple. I’m also quite pleased that I can cycle this hill in my main cog at the grand old age of 62 lol. This is painted on Bockingford paper and the image size in 640 x 410 mm.
Another Bideford Black painting this time of Roborough Hill ten minutes from where I live. I cycle all the way up to the top where you get some sensational panoramic views out over Barnstaple and the River Taw! Early stages at the moment. Al
Bideford Black pigment on 250lb Bockingford Paper. After a warm cycle ride around the Marsh in Braunton I’ve decided to paint this Linhay yet again. Stormy sky and an even more stormy time for everyone regarding the present Covid conditions. I thought the dark foreboding nature of this paint and subject to be quite apt! Al