Shades of soil: soil paintings and art

We live in a colourful world, colourful skies, green forests, vivid shades of flowers, vibrant life forms, art and paintings, but have you ever observed the different palettes of soil beneath our feet. Often we overlook some crucial objects in our lives even if they lie in front of our eyes. The soil, supporter of lifeforms has multiple hues and shades alongwith with changing soil profile and topography.

©Soil and life

Being a student of geology and forestry, one is naturally inclined towards studying soil and formation and plant soil interactions. While studying and experimenting with soils, I was fascinated by the vivid hues and shades of soil.

©Soil, forest and water

The changing gradation of colours in soil profile or a geological formations under forest cover. The leaching, calcification, weathering creating colorful shades. No sooner I came to know that the art of soil paintings dates back thousands of years ago.

© Shades of brown and white, geological formations

Around 40,000 years ago, artists invented first colours which was a combination of soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and limestone. The basic palette comprised of five colors mainly red, yellow, brown, black, and white. With the advancement in scientific technologies new colour pigments has accompanied advances in history of art and painting. Red Ochre, found in iron-rich soil was first used as an painting material in prehistoric cave paintings. Red ochre is one of the oldest colour pigments still in use.Soil colors serve as pigments in bricks, pottery and artwork. In different parts of the world, ancient cave paintings, pyramids, murals etc depict so much about the lifestyle during those days with the aid of soil colours as art medium.

*Cave paintings in India

In India, many cave paintings dating back to 30,000 years has been discovered in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. While traveling lengths and breadths Indian subcontinent, one can come across varying soil types and colours and textures associated with them. From red soil in north east India to black cotton soils in the western parts. Ochre colored soils to whitish kaolin rich soils. With the changing altitude and mineral composition the colour varies.

**Ancient cave paintings

Many consider soil as abiotic, ie without life, but actually soil is a living body, which is formed under the combined effect of parent rock, topography, climate, vegetation and the time.

©Top soil

The process of soil formation includes the combined effect of physical, chemical, biological and anthropogenic process on soil parent material and vegetation helps deciding soil characteristics.

©Burnt soil due to forest fire

The weathering agents in nature react with the soil particles sometimes and provide distinct hues and palettes of soil. In order to study and classify soil types Munsell colour code is often used by scientists as well as artists.

©Different shades of soil

The study of soil and associated properties gives useful information to understand the possibility of utilizing the land for a particular use. Such studies become more important in fast eroding landforms like the Himalayas, the floodplains, deserts. There is limited knowledge and data of physical and chemical properties of soils and climatic conditions of different forest types. Therefore, sufficient theoretical and practical knowledge of various landforms and the complex relationship between the forests, soils and lifeforms need ample studies.

© Weathering and erosion effect soil colours

The paintings with soil has art medium are not only eco-friendly but also economic as well as creative exploration.The Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) used earth and soils as the main subjects of his paintings to evoke deep religious symbolism and meaning. In the recent years, people are experimenting considering soil as artistic medium in the recent years, clay pottery, art of rangoli are to name a few.

***Soil painting created by arists

Healthy soil not only provide us food but also multiple tangible and intangible benefits. Colours blend with vegetation, sky, water, etc. The color and texture of soil painting is a fascinating creativity.why not use them as colour pigments for paintings.

©Different shades of colour

Thank you!!!


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**Shutterstock image


Published by Dr. Chandrima Debi

Hi, I am Chandrima Debi. I am a Doctorate in Forestry and an independent researcher. Ever since childhood, I experienced deep-rooted connection with nature, forest and wildlife. I have written various research articles, case studies based on geology, forests, medicinal plants, biodiversity and conservation. Through this blog I share my experiences with nature and forests around us and aid towards the protection and conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and the values associated.

3 thoughts on “Shades of soil: soil paintings and art

  1. About this article , I can only say that its incredible..! I never thought that soil had so much to offer…! and we are least concerned to preserve this precious natural resource. Hope this article opens our eyes and hearts to the necessity of soil conservation… some excellent pics as well…

    Liked by 1 person

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