Colors and Pigments

Nowadays, there are many colors to choose from, when making kites. Therefore, no one regards the solution of color problems as important. However, there were not so many cheap chemical dyes and machine-made pigments in the past. Many of the colors used in kite workshops were self-made. And, this is what makes a genuine traditional kite.
They are not only cheap, but also good-quality, colorful and durable. Here I would like to borrow a little space from this chapter and introduce to you several methods of pigment preparation and blending passed down by genuine old masters from the past, which may help to understand the historical background, and secondly, under certain circumstances, there may be some usefulness within.

1. The black soot method (Black):
In the past, when painting kites, black ink was not used, but lampblack was used instead. Because the black colour made of soot not only costs little money, but also this kind of Black is thick and deep black and opaque, which is beyond the reach of ink. Sweep the soot down with a tube blade or brush (do not use an iron scraper), add the boiled cowhide glue, mix thoroughly, boil it over a warm fire, then stir it evenly, place it in a cup, and wait for the impurities to sink down. After sedimentation, the black glue liquid can be used. The black used for wood block printing does not need to be glued, but is cooked instead with starch into a gruel-like pasty liquid, and then smoked in a pot and stirred well; then the woodblock plate can be printed. Printing with this kind of black color does stick to the paper and does not fade.

2. Decoction method (Red):
The comfrey stalks (a perennial herb with oval-shaped alternate leaves, rough leaf surface, small white flowers in summer, purple root bark, which can be used after drying) are firstly milled by a pestle; the wood stalks can be obtained in quantities per 50 stalks, this is about 35 grams; add seven or eight leaves/stalks, boil it in a casserole with water, simmer until the purple stalks are soft, pick up and press the pieces, and boil it until bubbles appear six or seven times, then add the purple juice. Drop it into a porcelain bowl, filter out the residue, and boil it over the fire to form a purple paste.

3. Frying Sophora japonica blossoms (Yellow):
Take the just blossoming  locust tree flowers, remove the stalks, add lime and fry in a pan, then pour lime (alum-water) water into the pan, stir this yellow liquid with a stick, strain the yellow liqid off (the liqid may replace other colors), and the remaining parts may be slowly died until it has a powdery quality. Glue may be added to the yellow dye for applying it to the kite.

4. Dyer's woad production method (Blue):
Pick dyer's woad ( a common plant also known as thin blue or indigo) and put it in a container, add water to soak, and after "fermentation", add lime (alum water) and stir with a wooden stick until there is no mor additional sedimentation; then filter out impurities to make a paste called "cyan" or  "cream", that may be used for painting the kite after again being dissolved in water.

5. Three greens (Green):
"Three Greens" is a mineral pigment, known as Malachite. First use a mortar to grind the pigment crumbs finely, put it in water and twist it finely; then add dilute glue. The glue should not be thick, or thick but not delicate. When using, take the thin liquid from the surface; the residue at the bottom may be redeveloped for colour preparations.

Dsecribd above are the five traditional Chinese methods of color making. Now we will write down for the reader's reference the  method for fixation of the colours.

6. The glue stuff alum method:
Grind the white stuff (alum, potassium aluminium sulfate) into fine powder, use boiling water to make an alum solution, clarify and remove the unsoluble residues, boil the  glue (bone glue) in a pot, dilute with water, pour it into the alum solution, try it with your tongue, if the taste is too astringent, the stuff will need more glue. Less glue, if the taste is weak. If the stuff has less glue, you need to add more. Then the taste will be sour. More stuff is needed in summer and fewer stuff in winter.

The kite, which was painted with the colors that we made ourselves, appears exceptionally bright and clear in transmitting light when flying in the sky. This is usually not achievable with the purchased water-soluble paints. Therefore, these pigments can be used without glue. But after painting on some papers, they do not shrink when they dry, and the weight increases. Common used colors are purple (red), green, sophor yellow, sea blue, green lotus, rose essence (purple red), acidic pink, alkaline orange and so on. The disadvantage of these "paints" is that there are multiple colors (such as yellow, green, etc.) that have poor durability and fade over time.

Now there are better transparent colors available in the appropriate stores, that is, "color inks" that add colors to water colors, such as the 'Sanhuan brand' color ink produced by 'Beijing Pen Parts No. 2 Factory' with 12 colors in a box. Its vividness is no less than the selfmade "color", but its durability is stronger than the general color for many years. But the price is much higher than the quality selfmade colours. In addition, Chinese painting colors, water colors, water pink, and acrylic colors can all be used when embellishing kites.
But these colours cannot be used on nylon silk, brocade, non-woven fabric, plastic film and other new materials. The requirements for these kinds of fabric, for example Nylon, need special kinds of colours and plastic inks appropriate for these materials. Specialized printing and dyeing methods can also be used to obtain better results on nylon silk and brocade silk or other kinds of fabric.

Copyright 2002 ff: Hans P. Boehme