Making a mess at the Ochre Factory in Roussillon, France

Making a mess at the Ochre Factory in Roussillon, France

Making a mess at the Ochre Factory in Roussillon, France

Ashley Wiley

Push aside your palette of paints and travel to Roussillon, 20 minutes northwest of the market town Apt. Follow your guide to the old factory store, which is stocked with shelves of oil paints and dusty jars of ochre pigment. Walk outside and observe the metal cylinder used to mix water and ochre into mud, and peer into the wide trenches where the mixture is dried and cut into blocks. A rusted machine crunches them into fine powder. Enter a long room that smells like earth, a workshop where you feel the oily, smooth block of ochre. Time to paint. Combine binder — the sap of the Acacia tree or even the spit of worms — with water. Mix in the ochre colors: red, egg yolk yellow, blue like crushed lapis lazuli, or green the color of moss. Remind yourself that ochre is the stuff of cave paintings, and leave with a smudge of red ochre on your cheek.