The history of colour has stories to thrill in every hue — from lead white through Indian yellow and from mummy’s brown to bone black — from toxic pigments that killed thousands in their making, to paints that act as miniature black holes, the stories of the world’s most popular pigments go far beyond our wildest imagination.

Paint-maker David Coles knows these stories well from his days at London’s L Cornelissen and Son — one of the world’s oldest art suppliers.

Colour photograph of Paint-maker and author David Coles wearing a paint smattered apron and sitting against a black wall.

It had all of the original fittings from 1863, exquisite with Victorian artefacts — giant glass jars full of pigments from all over the world: gums and resins and balsams and oleoresins, the Melbourne-based British expat recalls.

Mr Coles had originally trained as an artist, but his stint at Cornelissen and Son led him to a career in paint making. A lack of official courses in the subject meant he had to laboriously teach himself the craft from antiquarian books.

Over the following years, he worked for thousands of hours with a triple-roll mill mixing ingredients, much as a chef with food, to create new colours.

This devotion means Mr Cole is now one of the world’s leading experts on the history of colour. He also runs boutique paint-making operation Langridge.

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