Within nature there is a vast array of different colours. When I am illustrating a plant, animal, atmospheric features (sunset, clouds, rainbow, etc), other landscape feature or something else that occurs in nature I usually refer to photographs of the object & take my colours from there. I sometimes change or exaggerate a colour, & feel free to modify colours, to create an effect.

When it comes to man-made colouring, I am a bit more hesitant. Early on in this Bible Cartoons Project I pondered the question: what colours were available to be applied to cloth, clothing, textiles etc, in ancient, Biblical times? It would be easy to apply bright reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples, etc to people’s garments in my cartoons, but I wondered if a full range of bright colours were actually available for use? You could argue that it doesn’t matter, & apply any colour you like to any element in a cartoon illustration, but I realised early on that I wanted my cartoons to be as authentic & researched as possible. So I have read a few articles on the subject of colour & dyeing, to inform my choice of colour of people’s clothing, in the cartoons I draw.

Earth, soils & ground minerals have all been used in the production of pigments, Ocher is a dye obtained from an impure earthy ore of iron or a ferruginous clay, usually red (hematite) or yellow (limonite). Vegetables & plants have long been used to yield a whole range of colours for dyeing purposes. For instance, almond leaves yield a yellow colour, whilst potash, lime, and grape treacle yield shades of purple & blue.

This website (http://www.pioneerthinking.com/naturaldyes.html) has a long list of plants, fruit, berries & nuts which can be used for cloth dyeing purposes.

Purple and Blue
The purple and blue dyes were extracted from shellfish in Biblical times & used for dying cloth. Murex trunculus (a sea snail), Murex branderis, Murex erinaceus, Murex buccinum have all been harvested from the sea for this purpose. The juice, taken from a gland in the lining of the stomach, at first appears whitish, but then changes colour on exposure to air/sunlight, to a yellowish or greenish colour, and finally to red, amethyst or purple. “Tyrian purple” (named after Tyre a sea port north of Israel on the Mediterranean coast) was considered the most valuable dye.
Since it took a lot of effort to extract the purple dye (only a singled drop of dye from each shell) only royalty and the wealthy could afford textiles coloured with it. Robes of purple were worn by kings (Judges 8:26) and by elite officers, both civil and religious. The colour purple reflected someone’s status & wealth (see Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 27:7; Luke 16:19; Rev. 17:4 & Rev. 18:16).

It is interesting that modern chemists have been unable to determine how the ancients fixed the purple dye. The purplish hue degrades very quickly, resulting in a blue colour. Evidently the ancients knew something we don’t!

Red, Crimson, Scarlet
The method of producing these colors is rather mysterious, all that has been discovered to date is that both colours were obtained from the dried unlaid eggs of the females of a scale insect (Kermes vermilio), which is distantly related to the cochineal insect. Kermes live on a species of oak (Kermes oak) which grows in Southern Europe and Turkey in Asia. The tint of red produced from Kermes is crimson rather than scarlet. Some of the Syrian dyers still use kermes today.

Robes of this color were worn by the wealthy (2 Samuel 1:24; Proverbs 31:21 (reference to a scarlet robe) & Jeremiah 4:30). Scarlet was among the Greeks and Romans used for the military cloak. Matthew 27:28 suggests a scarlet cloak was put on Jesus by the Roman soldiers, to mock his royalty. Mark and John refer to the colour being “purple,” because the Hebrew language apparently does not distinguish the two kinds of red.

The Phoenicians excelled in the art of dyeing this colour.

The madder dye plant (Rubia tinctoria) produces one of the most light-fast of natural red dyes. It has been produced for thousands of years. The fleshy root of the plant produces the madder red dye. Alizarin is the main chemical compound and gives the red colour.
In Hebrew the word pū’āh, is probably the same as the Arabic fuwah, which means “madder.” The growing of fuwah was one of the industries of Cyprus and Syria. It was used for producing “Turkey red” on cotton and for dyeing dull reds on wool for rug making.

Ezekiel 23:14 refers to a red colour called Vermillion, which is ‘shashar’ in Hebrew, a vivid red to reddish-ornage colour. This was a pigment used in fresco paintings, either for drawing figures of idols on the walls of temples , for coloring the idols themselves. It is refered to in Jeremiah 22:14 as a bright red colour, used for decorating the walls and beams of houses. Vermilion was a favorite color among the Assyrians.

The colour white occurs in nature (snow, lamb’s wool, almond blossom, etc) & is possible using various bleaching agents & chemicals today. In Biblical times, of course, the chemical technology did not yet exist to create the stunning, glowing white cloths we enjoy today. I suspect that “white” garments of Biblical times were probably off-whites, creams, & pale greys.

Yellows and Browns
I can’t seem to find very much information on yellow & brown dyeing methods. However, I expect that yellows & particularly brown pigments have been used since the dawn of dyeing.

It is quite difficult to create a true, deep black using dye stuffs. This colour, in its truest sense is due to an absence of light, rather than the presence of black! I tend to use very dark blues, reds & greens in my cartoons, as these colours where created by dyers in Biblical times, to represent black. Pure black can appear rather lifeless, neutral & cold. The hebrew word chashekah refers to the blackness or darkness of night, which suggests a very deep blue-black to me.
Apparently the ancients used Pomegranate bark to obtain some black pigments.
Hebrew scribes used a mixture of lamp soot (now known as lamp black) mixed with gum & water to make a black ink to write with.

Indigo Blue
The Phoenicians made an indigo (deep blue) dye, occasionally referred to as “royal blue” or “hyacinth purple”, which was also made from a sea snail. Indigo blue has been discovered amongst Egyptian mummy cloths, used in weaving to form the borders of the cloths. Clearly production of the dark blue indigo colour was known to the ancient Egyptians, but it seems that it was created from wode, which is an annual plant (Isatis tinctoria) belonging to the mustard family. The blue pigment comes from the leaves. The plants &/or extracted dye pigment was probably obtained in trade from India.

Design implications: colour in my cartoons
This is all very well & interesting but so what?! What does all this research into colour, dyes & dyeing have to do with my cartoons illustrations? There is a connection! When I read that purple, blue, red, scarlet & crimson coloured dyes were expensive, I realised that I needed to reflect that in the cartoons I draw. If I am drawing wealthy people, then it would make sense to draw them wearing purple, blue, or red clothing, whereas poor people should not be wearing these colours, as it would have been too expensive for them to purchase.

As I pointed out above, I think that “white” cloth & clothing, in Biblical times was probably more like an off-white, cream, & pale grey colouration. Flax (linen) appears to have been the principle woven cloth material of Biblical times, & it’s natural colour is various shades of blonde-yellow. I suspect that most ordinary people, traders, manufacturers, farmers, shepherds, etc had wool or flax-linen clothing that reflected their work, lifestyle, & income. I assume that there probably wasn’t a great deal of disposable wealth in ancient Biblical ages, & so most people’s clothing was either the natural (uncoloured) colour of the materials used, or else simply coloured using natural colouring, made from crushed minerals, plants & animal-based dyes. I tend to show most people in natural (uncoloured) hues ranging from pale off-whites, pale yellows, greens, browns to deeper, more earthy colours – red-browns, dark greens, deep grey’s, etc.

I made an early decision in the history of Bible Cartoons that I wanted to depict Jesus wearing a blue outer robe, as a sign of his royalty & divinity. In order to make that a special colour, I have restrict the use of blue colours in the clothing of the Hebrew people, so you don’t often see blue robes or turbans, on anyone else. However, I also decided that I wanted to depict the connect between Jesus & earlier prophets & leaders: people mentioned in his genealogy in Matthew 1 & Luke 3. For that reason you will see that Moses, Abraham, etc often have an element of blue woven into their clothing, to depict the connection between them & Jesus.

Hebrew words for various colours
Confusingly, the Hebrew word tekeleth refers to colours ranging from violet to blue! (Exodus 25:4)
Argamam refers to purple or red-purple. (Exodus 25:4)

Shaniy refers to scarlet red. (Genesis 38:28)
‘Adom or ‘admoniy, refers to scarlet or blood red. (Genesis 25:30)
Towla both refers to scarlet red & crimson red. (Exodus 25:4)
Karmiyl refers to crimson or carmine red. (2 Chronicle 2:7)

Shashar refers to vermilion, or orange- red. (Jeremiah 22:14)

Laban means white. (Genesis 30:35)
Tsachor also refers to tawny, white colour, but can refer to a dazzling white colour as well. (Judges 5:10)
Choriy refers to a white colour, as in fine white flour to make bread. (Genesis 40:16)
Dar refers to pearl white, mother of pearl. (Esther 1:6)
Sheleg refers to snow whiteness. (Numbers 12:10)
Tsach refers to skin white, sunny, serene & clear, glowing (Song of Songs 5:10)
Chavar (chivvar (Aramaic)) refers to whiteness, as in face becoming pale, to grow white in the face. (Isaiah 29:22)
Chuwr refers to fine white cloth, or white stuff. (Esther 1:6)

Saruq refers to sorrel, reddish, tawny &/or bay in colour. (Zechariah 1:8)

Shachor means black or “dusky.” (Zechariah 6:6)
Cochereth refers to pavement or stone, or marble black. (Esther 1:6)
Shĕcharchoreth refers to black, in reference to skin colour. (Song of Songs 1:6)
Qadar refers to black, to become dark, turbulent, darken, mourning. (1 Kings 18:45)
Chashekah refers to the black of night, or darkness. (Genesis 16:12)
‘Iyshown means the deepest blackness, the darkness of the middle of the night, or pupil of the eye. (Proverbs 7:9)
Kamar refers to scorched black by flame or heat. Oven black (Lamentations 5:10)
Chuwm means dark colour, darkened, dark brown or black (Genesis 30:32)

Keceph refers to silver. (Esther 1:6)

Zahab refers to precious or brilliant, splendid gold. (Esther 1:6)
Charuwts is a poetical Hebrew word meaning gold. (Psalm 68:13 preceded here with the word Yĕraqraq, which together means yellow-gold)
Yĕraqraq is a word meaning yellow, or yellowish-gold (poetical.) But also seems to refer to green & greenish colours as well! (Psalm 68:13)
Tsahob refers to gleaming yellow. (Leviticus 13:30)

Ra`anan refers to a luxuriant, growing, fresh green (Deuteronomy 12:2)
Yereq also refers to growing, fresh, plant green. (Genesis 1:30)
Lach refers to plant-like, growing, new green, or the word for moist. (Genesis 30:37)
Ratob means moist, juicy, fresh green (Job 8:16)
Deshe’ refers to the green of herbs, new vegetation, new grass. (Psalm 23:2)

Seybah means grey, in reference to age, as in the grey or white hair of an aged person. (Genesis 42:38)

There is an interesting article on the internet entitled, “Dye History from 2600 BC to the 20th Century”, if you are interested in further historical study. – http://www.straw.com/sig/dyehist.html