Used by Permission of Narda Caton
Today, I am interviewing Narda Caton. I could go on and on about her many talents, but today we are focusing on her soil paintings. She creates beautiful paintings from the soil and other natural pigments from Oklahoma. What I love about her work is that each piece tells a wonderful story.
How do you best describe soil painting?
Narda: “I like to call it ‘earth pigments’ because I use not only soil but some wonderful juicy plants for blues, yellows and greens. My husband teasingly calls my paintings my ‘dirty pictures’.”
What made you choose this unusual medium for your paintings?
Narda: “A couple of my friends wanted to take a class at Woolaroc. The teacher of the class was not an artist and did not ‘really’ know how to use the soil to it’s full potential. She was a soil conservationist. She used a varnish type binder but it did not work for me. My Dad was a strong believer in soil conservation and I like the idea of using natural ingredients. So I went to the workshop just for fun. When I saw the possibilities, I knew I had to do it. I devised a way to use the soil with only water as the medium. It is much more challenging than water color as the soil tends to sluff off (like dried mud) if you do not use a very heavy, absorbent paper. I love the fact that the soil presents a new challenge each time because it is never the same at any two given times.”
Do you grind the soil to powder consistency or do you have different consistencies for texture?
Narda: “The soil is very soft…almost like flour…If it does have sand in it, I push it through a sieve.”
Is it difficult to achieve a smooth application?
Narda: “Not usually…some soils…some colors are more sandy than others. Sometimes it takes several coats to achieve the color and consistency I require.”
What other natural dyes or pigments do you use in your paintings?
Narda: “I use soil from all over the state of Oklahoma…very colorful soil. They tell me that there is blue, yellow, and green soil. I have yet to find blue and green and the yellow is not a very bright color and is very sandy…so I use the juicy plants of Oklahoma. My friends save me flowers from their gardens and I can always get fresh spinach and canned beets. I sometimes mix the plants with the soil to get a color I need. After I prepare the plants, I freeze the juice in tiny jars until I am ready to use them. The soil and plants will not fade as some paints will.”
Do you go on digging adventures?
Narda: “No, I do not dig.”
A person usually thinks that the soil is brown. How many colors of soil are there in Oklahoma?
Narda: “It is amazing how many beautiful shades of soil that exist. The reds are so exotic and I use those for many things…mostly for flesh. Thinly applied it can be very delicate. Thick layers can be a bright flower or a red velvet dress. There are many shades of red. I like to get a dark black if possible. It is good for many things. And of course, there are so many wonderful colors. But I constantly have to remind myself that I may not get the same color twice. So, it is a process of being versatile.”
A lot of people call soil, dirt. What is the difference?
Narda: “In Webster’s Dictionary soil is defined as: firm land; earth; the loose surface material of the earth in which plants grow. Dirt is defined as filth; mud; dust or grime. I guess that is why I like to call it soil better than I like dirt…although to some I suppose they are interchangeable.”
Any advice for people who might want to try using soil for their paintings?
Narda: “To me soil and plants (earth pigments) respond to my touch as no other medium has. You must be willing to experiment and to plunge in where others have not gone before…because when it comes right down to it…there is no one to ask.”
For purchasing information, contact Narda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Narda Caton is currently focusing her talents on creating bronze and copper jewelry that is inspired by her Indian ancestry. Her jewelry can be found on her website Narda Treasures.