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Color Trivia - Cochineal & Carmine

imagePhoto by Travis S.

Coming under fire and causing major headaches for the Starbucks coffee chain, is this weeks candidate: cochineal and the refine version carmine. This deep blood red dye is commonly used in food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Chances are that strawberry youhgurt you had for breakfast, the ketchup you hand on last night’s burger, that red headache pill you popped, even the delicious strawberry Wonka Nerds you’re munching on now all use carmine to get that lovely shade of red. What you may not know is that carmine is actually made from an insect, the ground up bodies of the cochineal insect to be exact.

The sessile, or permanently attached, cochineal insect lives on prickly pear cacti throughout the tropical/subtropical regions of Central and South America.

The earliest record of cochineal dye date back to 700 BC in the textiles of the Paracas culture, in modern day Peru. However there is no evidence of cultivation until 800 AD in the Toltec settlements in Mexico. It is believed that the cochineal spread to Mexico via the trade of other goods such as corn, as the insect is sessile. During the Aztex Empire, areas producing the dye paid an annual tribute of 2000 cochineal-decorated cotton blankets and 20 bags of cochineal to the Emperor resident in Tenochititlan. After the the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire the annual cochineal tribute was redirected to Spain, who held the monopoly on the red dye.

The process of producing dye from the cochineal is actually straight forward. When females reach the end of their life cycle, at roughly 3 months old, farmers go from cactus to cactus and harvested the insects by hand. The collected insects are placed on a mesh or tray and either shaken to death or dipped into a vat of hot water. Once dead they are left to dry for 2-3 days, after which time they are brushed off to remove any residue, crushed up and presto!. It takes some 150,000 to make a single kilo of dye.

Around the 1630’s it was discovered that treating the ground cochineal with an acidic tin solution actually made the dye bind better to fabrics and made the colour richer, this was the birth of carmine or carmine acid that is found in todays delicious red treats!

After the Spanish colonies gained independence, Spain established a cochineal industry in the Canary Islands, which ended Mexico’s monopoly of dye production. During the peak of the cochineal industry the Canaries were exporting some 2.7 million kilograms of cochineal annually thats roughly 420 billion insects! But by the 1880’s, with the introduction of synthetic dyes, the cochineal industry was in steep decline which was a major blow to the Spanish economy. The Mexican cochineal industry was almost lost with the last export of dye in 1932, although production in Oaxaca continued at a greatly reduced rate, for the production of local tapestry and other folk products.

In recent years the cochineal industry has seen a revival, in 2005 Peru alone produced some 200 tonnes of dye, an industry which supports over 100,000 families. In light of Peru’s growing industry countries like Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia have tried to revive the ancient industry.

As more and more studies show synthetic dyes to be some what carcinogenic, it is obvious why there has been a shift towards natural colouring sources. This is probably where Starbucks took their queue, natural dyes means better product, means happy customers! Unfortunately they forgot to mention this to consumers which is what has upset the public most.

Whether the idea of red bugs in your treats bothers you or not, in truth it is a safer alternative to petrochemical or coal tar synthetic dyes. If it’s more than you can stomach just keep an eye on food labels with ingredients such as: cochineal extract, carmine, crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120 and in some cases even natural colouring.

2 years ago

5 Days, $5 and a Video

Intro videos seem to be everywhere these days, some good, some bad, some great! We decided that we need a video on our site and so begins my story.

Our first video was a failure, for whatever reason no one took the script too seriously, before we knew it the video was complete and we were not happy. The tone was wrong, the message was wrong and the key points we wanted to cover weren’t covered. Rookie mistake! We scrapped the video and went to the drawing boards as a team, focusing on the script.

We wrote a list of critical key points, established what we wanted to achieve with each point, threw together a rough draft, drew our swords and started to carving the perfect script. Pinging emails at 3am with messages like ” I’m not sure how we turn people’s ideas into big brands, after all we are only human”. 10 days later, the script was polished and ready for recording, thinking back now it probably took a little longer than it should have but then again you can’t rush perfection ;)

We decided that none of us had the right cute voice for the voice over, so we found a professional voice over artist, with an impressive CV, on fiver.com. $5 later we had a totally kick ass sound over ready for some visuals. 

A little while later, the first video was completed. It was a little text heavy, as graphics can be time intensive and the team decided that the priority was to get the video out ASAP. I convinced everyone to give me a stab at polishing up the video, as I already had a lot of the graphic assets I thought it shouldn’t take long. So they sent me the audio and I got busy. 

My other half recommend Keynote, as its possible to make cool presentations quickly. I had never used Keynote and become frustrated quickly, I felt that I didn’t have the level of control I wanted. Instead of looking at a few tutorials and getting it done I turn to my nemesis: Adobe Flash. The last time I had used flash was about 5 years ago, but I figured that its all the same, tween here, tween there and we’re done.

In truth it was fairly simple to animate the characters, but creating and tweaking the assets was a lot more time consuming than I anticipated. 

Originally I set out only to liven up the first scene with a punching ninja just like on the website, but when that was done I had an idea for the next scene and then the next. It all seem to flow and come together easily. When I was completely finished with the animating I decided to add some sound effects!

The sound effects I ended up using were all from freesound.org and flashkit.com. While the search on freesound.org is much better, with each search results accompanied by the audio clip, both sites have an excellent selection of sound effects that are free to use for any project! I had so much fun and would highly recommend these sites to anyone looking for sounds. Before I could implement the sounds I needed to cropped and adjust the volume levels on them, so over to Adobe Premiere, which I vaguely knew my way around, and that’s when it happened. Disaster.

Unbeknown to me, Flash doesn’t really play nice with the other programs. 

I tried to open the Flash .SWF file in Premiere and then After Effects, but that didn’t work because .SWF are vector based files and not supported. So I exported a .MOV file from Flash, but for some reason the quality was terrible, some images would not clear for several seconds creating a mess! I had checked each image meticulously for transparencies because I knew that Adobe often has problems with exporting transparent objects, so this was not the problem.

While searching the depths of the Internet for a solution, it became clear that there were not a lot of options, but I wouldn’t’ give up! Maybe I could convert the file into another format, maybe there are codecs

There are several website that allow you to upload your .SWF file and receive a converted file, but I was a little skeptical.

I found a program called Mac SWF Video Converter, a program that converse .SWF files into virtually any format you like. Downloaded the trial and held my breath. The interface was straight forward and a few minutes later it had converted the file but the quality of the video was awful, not crisp with lots of artifacts. I tried to convert into some other formats, but faced the same quality issue.

At this point it was 5am and was extremely frustrated. Thats when my other half suggested a capture program. Snapz Pro X it is! Play the flash video, capture the screen and that was it, it was done. After countless hours of searching my quest was finally complete! This is the best little program ever, super simple, non intrusive and the result was stunning, as good as the original!

Finally I was able to import the file into Premiere, thankfully editing and adding the sound effects took all of 30 minutes. I exported the video from Premiere as a Quicktime movie using the Animation codec, which gave the best results, however there still was a drop in quality. The solution was to export the audio, import it to Flash and recapture using my favourite new life saving program, Snapz Pro X. Sweet victory! 

It took just under a week for me to finish the video, whereas I thought it would only take a couple of days! I admit I was a little rusty with animation, and underestimated how long it would take. Sorry ninja team >< 

It was a fun creative experience. A few words of advice for anyone interested in making a video, make sure to write a script and review it then, review it some more. For the graphic side of things, plan out the flow of the video with a few story boards, it can be as simple as a few stick figures, but it will definitely save time in the long run. What is clear is I have A LOT to learn about animation and the craft of video making in general. Having said that I am very pleased with the outcome and so is the rest of the team. Hope you enjoy watching as much as I enjoyed making it.  

2 years ago

The 6 types of logos

A logo is a graphic mark used to identify a brand, company, trademark, person etc. The main objective of a logo is to attract and captivate an audience, who will invest their time, effort or money in the product, service or cause.

The logo is the core of your corporate identity, appearing on websites, business cards, letterheads etc. essentially the face of your brand. For this reason it is essential to define the essence and voice of your brand to speak to the target audience.

Most logos fall into one of six categories, identifying what type of logo works best is the first step to building a successful corporate identity.

Word Mark is a logo created entirely with text, usually the name of the company or brand, which is styled in a unique and memorable way. A great option for a new company or brand as the name is clearly stated.

Letterform Mark logos are constructed from single letter or initials that are relevant to the brand. This is popular for somewhat established brands with some customer recognition.

Pictorial Mark designs are an easily recognisable image or icon which are a literal representation of the brand name or service.

Abstract Marks embody general qualities, characteristics or values relevant to the brand. Sometimes these logos are not easily recognisable, but are useful to bring together several independent projects or divisions.

Emblems are a combination of text and pictorial elements in one little neat package. A great statement piece!

Characters or Mascots are a good way to personify a brand or company. Animals or people are popular options. These usually appear in a range of marketing media including commercials and plush toys etc.

2 years ago

Color Trivia – Woad

imagePhoto by Andie Luijk

One of the earliest know sources of blue pigment in Europe was harvested from the Isatis Tinctoria, commonly known as Woad, a flowering plant from the mustard family. It is native to the grasslands of southwest Russia, but spread throughout Europe and Asia by cultivation. The dye was highly prized across Europe as early as the Neolithic period, 5,000-10,000 years ago, but was not in common use until 300 BC. 

Legend has it that Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Sherwood forest used a combination of Woad and Weld to dye their clothes the famous ‘Lincoln Green’.

The method to extract the indigo dye from Woad, involved harvesting young leaves and grinding them into a pulp, this mush was then drained, formed into balls and dried some more! These balls were then ground into a powder, placed in vats, stored and ferment for up to nine weeks. After this time the clay like mass was shaped into balls and sold. Then these balls were dissolved in stale urine and used to dye garments, just splendid!

Toulouse in France and Erfurt in Germany became very wealthy thanks to the Woad trade, with the Woad traders of Erfurt raising enough money to fund a University in the city. 

Wide spread food shortages in England in the late 1500’s lead to strict regulation of the amount of land that could be allocated to Woad cultivation. 

It was also around this time that trade routs to India were being established, this was the beginning of the end for the Woad industry. Soon large scale imports of true Indigo (Indigofera Tinctoria) arrived in Europe. In an attempt to protect the local Woad industry, France, Germany and England ban all imported indigo in the 16th century, rumors were spread that the new ‘Devil’s Dye’ was a corrosive and deceitful drug that would destroy yarn. In truth Woad had the same chemical make up as true indigo but was a lot less concentrated. 

Despite all their best efforts, true indigo became more and more common place, until the late 19th century when the creation of synthetic dyes caused the Woad and Indigo industry to collapsed virtually overnight!

The last commercial harvest of Woad took place in 1932 in Lincolnshire, England. Recently, there has been a lot of interest to use Woad as a natural dye, with talks of producing enough natural indigo to meet European commercial requirements, as an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic dyes. It looks like Woad is set for a come back special! 

2 years ago

Color Trivia – Saffron

imagePhoto by Douglas Sprott

Don’t be fooled by this pretty little purple flower because the dye it makes is not purple. That’s right, this is the Saffron Crocus, or if you want to get scientific Crocus Sativus, the thin orange stigmas of the flower are dried to make delicious saffron-yellow! 

Each delicate flower produces just 3 stigmas, which are hand picked, spread out over a fine mesh and left to dry over hot coals or in a hot room for about 12 hours. Roughly 150,000 crocus flowers are needed to make a single kilogram, it’s no wonder one kilogram of good quality Saffron can cost as much as $11,000!

Saffron was considered a miracle spice, it was used to make paints, dyes, perfumes and in over 90 different remedies to treat everything from insomnia and flatulence to scarlet fever and cancer!   

The earliest records of Saffron based pigments are located in Iraq caves and have been dated some 50,000 years old, but it was the Greeks that first cultivated Saffron around 3000 BC.

Buddhist monks adopted the golden yellow as the official colour for their robes and mantles after the death of Gautama Buddha.

During the 14th century when the Black Death swept across Europe, the demand for Saffron based medicine soared! When a large shipment of Saffron was hijacked it started a fourteen week “Saffron War”, luckily the shipment was eventually returned. 

Turmeric, honey, marigold petals and safflower were sometimes used to dilute Saffron, at one point this practice became a real epidemic so the authorities were forced to act and introduced the Safranschou Code under which Saffron adulterators were fined, imprisoned and executed by immolation. 

These days Saffron is mostly used for its aroma, flavour and colour in cuisines all over the world, although some research studies have shown that Saffron does in fact have cancer-suppressing properties. Maybe it is a miracle spice after all! 

2 years ago

Color Trivia – Tyrian Purple

imagePhoto by Eric Mindling

Tyrian Purple is named after the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre, where it was produced in about 1600 BC, up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

According to legend it was actually Hercules who first discovered the dye, while taking a leisurely stroll along the shore of Phoenicia with his love interest, the nymph Tyrus. His dog found a Murex shell and chewed it up, the dog’s mouth turned brilliant purple. Mesmerised by the colour, Tyrus exclaimed that she would only accept his courtship if he brought her a robe of the same colour. After collecting the required shells, Hercules extracted the dye and made the first Tyrian Purple garment. Too easy!

The dye is made from the mucous secretion of 2 species of sea snail, Murex Brandaris and Murex Trunculus (or Murex for short), pretty gross right?. The mucous is actually clear or pale yellow, but when it is exposed to the sun it changes into a light blue and then purple colour. And if you thought that was bad, in order to produce enough dye to colour a single garment some 12,000 Murex sea snails were needed. The snails were either milked or crushed whole, left to ferment in salt for 3 days, boiled with tin or lead for up to 10 days, finally the fabric was dipped in a number of times and left to soak to get the perfect shade. Needless to say the aroma in the city was unpleasant at best! 

The crafty Phoenicians also had a secret, by dipping the fabric into 2 different dyes made from the different species of Murex they were able to achieve a richer and darker colour.

Now snail spit sound pretty bad, but at the time it was the only colour that did not fade, but instead it became more vibrant with washing and sun exposure! Because it was uber-expensive, difficult to make and a lovely colour the social elite went crazy! The Byzantium imperial court subsidised the production of the dye and so decided to restricted its use for royals only!

The Romans decided to do the same thing, during 500 BC Tyrian Purple was for emperors only, the penalty for offenders: death. During 300 BC laws eased up and members of the senate wore a Tyrian Purple sash.

It was only in 1909 that Paul Friedlander discovered the chemical structure of Tyrian Purple and revealed that it was bromine that was responsible for the magnificent colour all along! 

Murex snails are now extremely hard to come by in the Mediterranean, but luckily similar species have been discovered around the world that produce a similar mucous. The image above shows a local from south america ‘milking’ the Plicopurpura Pansa to make traditional clothing. 

Today natural Tyrian Purple is only used to restore artwork, and with good reason, a single gram of Tyrian Purple cost more than $3,725!!! Truly a colour fit only for royalty!

2 years ago

Color Trivia – Red Ochre

imagePhoto by Dietmar Temps

One of the first pigments used in painting was Red Ochre, it comes from clay or mineral that contain iron oxide and is found all over the world. Ochre comes in a range of earthy colours like yellow, brown and many shades of red!

Ochre was used for many things like painting art and the body, as make up, in hide preparation, as insect repellent and even in food preservation.   

The oldest known cave paintings are thought to be about 40,000 years old!

Recently, the ‘oldest art studio’ (or grinding equipment with pigment), was found in Zambia. It’s thought to be more than 350,000 years old! Pretty amazing stuff!

2 years ago