A few weeks ago I noticed that the greenhouse was getting very hot on sunny days and I recalled that my Nan used to mix finely ground limestone with water and paint the mixture on the inside of the glass to reflect heat. That material was called whiting, and the brand I recall was Blanchards. Decades later I found myself needing Blanchards whiting again. This time mixed with hot rabbit skin glue to make a gesso to cover papier-mache structures – like the cardboard shelves in the little cabinet, or the papier-mache pot, or the shield with pigeon emblem (what I call Picasso’s Pigeon – its based on part of his painting). I also used gesso to build up a textured surface before painting with acrylic paints (quicker than thick oil paint but real depth still possible), as in the Isle of Wight clifftop painting below. Take my word for it, its a bit of the IoW.
So I called into Dockerill’s hardware store and asked for a bag of whiting. Not stocked anymore they said. I asked if they could get it from Blanchards, they said Blanchards had not traded for over a decade. They could sell me half a litre of greenhouse glass paint for just over £6. I declined the offer.
Gesso is an artists product, so I phoned Cass art suppliers in town. They stock it in their London shop, but not here. But Lawrences art supply shop in Hove had 4 bags in stock, and said they would hold one for me, but did not expect a sudden rush of whiting buyers. Half a kilo cost £3, and a tablespoon from the big bag made enough whitewash to paint the south facing end of the greenhouse. Turns out that the reason we have lots of snails here on the chalk geology, is because snails need it for their shells. They like whiting better.
I’ve got plenty of whiting left, so no real problem, but how do they cross the chalky surface to start eating without leaving a trail, and do they throw themselves off the glass when they’ve had enough?
Last Monday Steve and I went for a walk. Took a bus out of town and climbed the steep north facing slope of the Chalk Downs before descending 5 miles to the sea at Saltdean down the Balsdean valley. I know most of the valley, but I had never followed it from top to bottom. Walking back to town along the undercliff walk I noticed that recent heavy rain had caused accumulations of white mud at the foot of the cliffs. FREE whiting!!
Dry white dusty trails of this eroded chalk powder crossed the path and drained into the sea. As Steve said, its where whiting met whiting.
If you are not familiar with the mineral name whiting it may be because the British Whiting Federation (formed by the combination in 1943 of the Northern Region Whiting Association and the Southern Region Whiting Association) changed its name in 1989 to the British Calcium Carbonates Federation. Check out the members and their products on the website.