The early Egyptians used coloured earths and premixed oranges. Some of their colour work is outstanding. Realgar an arsenic based orange was a real danger to the user and probably helped many to an early grave. Realgar was available to the late 19th century.
During the middle ages a variety of dyes were produced from resins, crushed beetles and woods. Cinnabar was the first red of antiquity. This was produced from a hard red rock varying from a liver colour to a scarlet. It was the only bright red of the ancient world.
The first unmixed violet was Tyrian purple. A clear reddish violet in use until about the 10th century. This was produced from a certain species of whelk. It was the most exclusive and expensive colouring matter in history. A clear substance was extracted from a gland in the whelks body. On exposure to light this became a bright violet. Fast numbers were required. It takes over 12000 whelks to produce under 1,5 grams of dye.
Egyptian Blue Frit was probably the first artificial pigment ever produced. Used by the early Egyptians from about 3000 BC it was made from a specially manufactured blue glass. Genuine Ultramarine was produced from the semi precious stone Lapis Lasuli and was extremely expensive.
Poisonous Emerald Green, responsible for the death of many artists in the recent past is hopefully now obsolete. Sap green produced from berries was particularly fugitive and faded in light. Many modern imitations are little better.
The most macabre of all brown pigments must surely be mummy. Produced from ground Egyptian mummies. Even more bizarre is the fact that is was used as a medicine before it was discovered that paint could be produced from it.
The first paint ever used was almost certainly soot, either rubbed directly on to the surface or mixed with a binder such as animal fat or blood.
Chalk has been used since the cave painter. Either in lump form or ground for use as a coarse paint. Oyster shells, burnt and crushed in to a fine powder provided a white of great importance to early Japanese painting.