Making Pigments and Paints

My last five posts were about making historical replicas.  Here’s a link for the post that links them all together:

Well, except for the Impressionism replica, we made our own paints.  This was for the egg tempera on panel, the oil on panel, and the oil on canvas.  So in this post I am going to have some images of our pigment and paint making processes, and I am going to try to explain what’s going on.


This is titanium white pigment and water.  Tempera paints use pigment ground in water.  Oil paints use pigment ground in linseed oil.

Grinding paint is exhausting.  You probably think it looks simple.  But some colors required 20-30 minutes of grinding in order to make it useable.

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I honestly cannot remember what the name of this is.  I feel like it is copper acetate, but I might be wrong.  To make it you suspend a scratched up copper plate in a jar with vinegar.  After a couple weeks, this is what is produced.  I had to scratch it off the plate.  Then it is set out to dry for a couple days, and then ground up.


Madder root?  I think so.  We had to make lake pigments.  It’s quite an ordeal.  We made madder root lake in two ways.  Here we soaked the root wrapped in muslin.  It made something that looked and smelled like herbal tea.  The other method was to ferment the root for several days.

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I’m missing a few steps in images, but after the “tea” is made, the pH is adjusted and then the precipitant is filtered out until the water runs clear(ish).  The precip (in the filter papers) is then left out to dry, and that’s our pigment!


We also made Brazil wood lake.  The process was similar to the madder root process.  Here is the precip that formed.  I thought it looked too cool to not take a picture.

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And these are some pictures of me grinding Azurite in oil.


My Courtauld Replicas

This post is just to show images of all my replicas in one place.  A link for each full post is below the image.
Italian panel

Northern replica 2 copy

Venetian replica

Impressionism replica

Replica 4: Impressionism!

[All images can be enlarged if you click on them]

This is the fourth of four replica posts.  It’s standard practice for art conservation students to create replicas in order to better understand how artists and workshops created art in the past.  These replicas courses focus on the materials and materials used in various regions and time periods.

This is going to be a very short post.  I think I spent all of about 5 hours on this painting.  And it might not have been that long.

In the 19th century tube paint was created.  Up until this point, artists or their workshop had to hand grind their pigments and mix their paints. But once tube paint was created, artists could go out and buy pre-made paint!  This also allowed artists to take paint outside and work in the moment.  That’s Impressionism.  So for this we used pre-made tube oil paints and we painted on canvas board from the store.

So…. I just looked at my pictures, and I have one of this.  That’s how fast I painted it.  So here you are, the finished painting!

Impressionism replica

Replica 3: Venetian Oil on Canvas

[All images can be enlarged if you click on them]

This is the third of four replica posts.  It’s standard practice for art conservation students to create replicas in order to better understand how artists and workshops created art in the past.  These replicas courses focus on the materials and materials used in various regions and time periods.

17th century Venice was using oil paint on canvas!  Yay!  This painting took three days, I think.  So it was pretty fast considering the previous one each took weeks.  Check out my previous blog posts for those.

Alright, so the first step was to run around London trying to find tacks to affix the canvas to the stretcher bars.
To prepare the canvas, we wet it and stapled it to a giant piece of wood.  This flattened and shrunk it so that it didn’t shrink as much when we painted it.
The stretcher bars were pre-made generic bars from an art shop.
The canvas was tacked around the front.  We meant to leave spaces to create cusping of the canvas (U-shaped drying effect based on the tack placement), but mine were a bit too close together to really get any cusping.
An animal skin primer was painted on to fill any holes in the canvas weave and to make the canvas shrink that last little bit.  This also tightens the canvas like a drum.

Alright.  Sorry there were no pictures of those first few steps, but this was the end of the semester and I was getting tired.  Below you can see the canvas divided into four sections.  Each one is painted a different color of oil paint.  In Venice, painters used different base colors depending on the composition.  I decided to use blue/gray, beige, red/brown, and dark brown on the same painting to see if the different background colors had any affect.


The drawing for this was done very fast with just a sketch in oil paint.  In the previous two replicas, very detailed drawings were transferred, but in Venice at the time of this style, drawings were quick.


Have I mentioned that I hate flesh tones?  This painting was really hard for me to replicate.  I am a kind of heavy painter.  By that I mean I like to load up the brush and paint wet-on-wet.  But to create this style, I couldn’t do that.  I hadn’t learned that yet in the below picture.


Hey look, she has eyes now.  But I still had no idea how to create the soft, delicate style of Venice’s early oil paintings.


Oh wait, something is happening…  To get the look I needed, I had to use a very clean paintbrush with little paint and almost no excess medium added.  The dry brush effect makes a soft, diffused look.
By the way, the background in the top right is is more Azurite.  $$$


And here we are.  Finished!  I am actually really proud of the bottom left quadrant.  I feel like I was successful with the fabric section.  I also really like the hair.  It’s been 9 years since I got my BA in Painting.  And I still don’t like flesh tones.  But for a quick painting in a style I’ve never done before, I think I did okay.

Venetian replica

Replica 2: Northern Renaissance Wood Panel

[All images can be enlarged if you click on them]

This is the second of four replica posts.  It’s standard practice for art conservation students to create replicas in order to better understand how artists and workshops created art in the past.  These replicas courses focus on the materials and materials used in various regions and time periods.

The beginning of this wood panel is very much like my previous post:

In the North, Netherlandish paintings were also done on wood panels.  They also required gessos as ground layers, although the materials were a bit different.  But as with the Italian panel, the gesso needed to be scrapped and sanded down.  Once that was done, a thin coat of lead white paint is laid down.  In the North, workshops were using oil paint by the 16th century.  The lead white acts as a barrier for later oil paint layers, so that the paint does not absorb into the gesso too quickly.  I think the below picture is after the lead white, but it’s hard to tell.


This panel required a lot of drawing preparation.  The technique of this panel is to slowly build up glazes of paint, and so the drawing must indicate the various layers of shadowing.  The masterpiece we were working from is quite complex with many fabric folds and details, so the more information we could add to the drawing, the better.  Below is the plastic tracing and the transfer copy I used.


After the image is transferred, the lines are reinforced with pen and brush.  Below is this partially done:


Before any real color can be painted on, the shadows must first be established.  For the majority of this, that means in umber brown tones.  But for the left side, the figure is in black, so black is used for shadows.


We made our own paints from pigments ground in oil. The colors I have painted here have no special meaning… they were just the paints we had prepared that day.  Plus I am avoiding the flesh tones.  Because I hate flesh tones.


My version of Netherlandish pop art.  Did I mention I hate flesh tones?


Whoa! Look at how much progress I made!  I guess we made more paints that day.  All the blue I used in this painting was made with Azurite, the 2nd most expensive pigment.  I’m gonna get my money’s worth out of this school.


Hey look… more blue!  In the original painting, the blue at the top was actually a river.  But because of how I cropped my selected image, it made more sense to make it the sky.


And here’s the final painting! Man, I miss oil painting.

Northern replica 2 copy

Replica 1: Early Italian Renaissance Wood Panel

[All images can be enlarged if you click on them]

This is the first of four replica posts.  It’s standard practice for art conservation students to create replicas in order to better understand how artists and workshops created art in the past.  These replicas courses focus on the materials and materials used in various regions and time periods.

Early Italian Renaissance Wood Panel:

In Italy, often panels were made from poplar.  However, we did not have poplar available, so we used compressed particle board.  First we sanded the board, and glued muslin fabric to the board with rabbit skin glue.  I’ve left a corner uncovered.


Then we had to add gesso grosso (fat gesso) with a spatula knife.  Gesso acts as a ground layer.


Next we had to do MANY layers of gesso sottile.  This is a silky, very smooth gesso.  Below are the sottile cakes soaking in water.


Once they have absorbed water and softened, the cakes are ground to a nice paste.


Gesso sottile has to be brushed on layer by layer, in alternating directions, and each layer needs to dry almost completely before the next can be applied.  It took us about 12 layers.  There was something wrong with sottile, and tiny air bubbles formed.  Luckily we were able to sand these away later.


To smooth the surface, we used square metal plates and scrapped them across, removing thin layers of gesso.  Then we used fine grade sandpaper for finishing touches.  After sanding was complete and the surface was perfectly smooth, we began our drawings.  This was done by first copying from our masterpiece and transferring it onto the board with graphite.  Ink and brush were used to strengthen the lines.  (Ignore the beige marks for now)


The next step was to build up any dimensional parts but using a very thick gesso and laying it on with a brush.


Bole is then added to any areas where we want to have gold leaf.  Bole is a clay based liquid that provides a cushioning layer for burnished the gold.


We used real gold leaf for our gilding.  Gold leaf can flutter away with the smallest movements of air.  It sticks to oils, so we picked it up and placed it down with a very soft brush.  If the brush wasn’t picking up the gold, we would gently rub the brush on our skin so that it had a bit of extra oil.  We would wet the bole with a very small amount of water, place the gold, and then after a minute, we gently pat the piece down with clean cotton.


Here’s an image of it all gilded, pre-burnishing:


And here we have it post-burnishing and with green skin.  Burnishing is the process making the gold shiny by applying pressure with an agite stone.  The bole was put underneath to cushion the pressure so that the gold does not tear.  The green skin is the first layer for flesh tones.  Green was traditionally used as an under-color to create the proper tone later.


And now we paint!  This painting uses egg yolks as the binding agent.  We ground pigment in water and then added the yolk as we needed the paint.  Flesh tones are done by first adding shadowy areas.


Then the lighter colors: (Zombie baby Jesus!)


Here is the replica with most of the flesh tones finished, and some fabrics painted.  I also added some paint to the gilding for sgraffito.  This is a subtractive art, where paint is laid down and then a pattern is scratched into the paint to create a pattern.  I opted to leave mine whole.


Here’s another one with more fabric painted.  On the far right you can see some color swatches I made of the paints I tried.


After stamping the gold with metal tools to decorate the halos, here is the final piece!:

I call it “Madonna of the Double Chin, Baby Jesus of the 6-Pack, and the Sky Amoebae”.

My mother calls it “Whistlin’ Jesus”.

Italian panel

Mark Gatiss sighting!

Today, while walking around London with my former professor, I saw Mark Gatiss – the writer for Doctor Who, the creator of Sherlock, and actor who plays Mycroft Holmes.  Mycroft is my second favorite character on the show, after Sherlock of course.  Mr. Gatiss was on the sidewalk, going the opposite way as us, so I got a really good look.  It was this guy:

mark gatiss

No question about it.  It was him.

He was wearing jogging clothes and was carrying groceries.  So maybe, just maybe, he lives nearby.  This sighting was only about 5 minutes from my res hall.  Google says that he lives in Islington (far north east of where I saw him), but who knows? Maybe he has a flat in central London for the show.  In fact, I’d be shocked if he didn’t.

I was kind of staring at him as he was getting closer.  Immediately I recognized him.  He glanced at me, raised an eyebrow, and kept walking.  My prof said we should go ask him if he was in fact Mark Gatiss, but I said no.  That seems so intrusive, and he was obviously doing errands.


Some quick words about Italy and beyond

I am a horrible blogger.  I’ve come to realize this.  During the spring semester of 2014, I planned on writing about Italy every week.  Obviously that didn’t happen since I only made it through the Welcome Dinner.

Spring 2014 was a hectic one.  Just to sum it up:
We worked at a mansion in the Tuscan hillside, cleaning frescoes.
We finally finished our giant painting restoration project Lo Spirito Santo
My roommates were crazy and hilarious.
It rained a lot.
At Easter I saw a dove firecracker shoot out the cathedral and ignite the fireworks cart.

I’m sure there is a lot more I could say about the semester, but I just don’t want to take the time.  Most of the people who read this already know what I was doing.  I’ll post some pictures at the end of this blog entry.  But now I want to switch topics and write about things outside of Florence.

Early in February I found out that I had been accepted into the program at Northumbria University, without an interview.  The only problem was the deposit required to hold my place was huge, and I hadn’t heard from the other schools.  Luckily the deposit wasn’t due for months.  But this acceptance meant that I was going to go to grad school no matter what.

Then at the end of February I interviewed at The Courtauld Institute of Art.  This school is the grandfather institution for art conservation.  It’s program is rigorous  and terrifying.  It was an eight hour interview with projects to test our various skills.  Luckily since I was in Florence already, the flights to and from London weren’t too bad.  And as I flew back to Florence I cried because I didn’t want to leave London.  I loved the city and I loved the program.

I was also invited to interview at Buffalo State, but the interview week fell right on my midterms week.  After sending letters to the dean of my school, I was allowed to change my midterm exam days and times.  I had 6 exams crammed into three days.
Flying to Buffalo from Florence was difficult.  It required three planes and about 15 hours.  So I interviewed there for the second time.

I waited patiently to find out my results.  I knew that I was going to find out about Buffalo April 15th.  But then around April 8th I was notified by The Courtauld that I had been accepted.  And they needed the deposit by the 15th.  I ended up paying the deposit before finding out about Buffalo, just to be safe.  I think my classmates in Italy had been as nervous as I was to find out about Buffalo.  They actually took my phone away from me at one point so that I would stop checking my email.  On April 15th I received Buffalo’s decision — that I had been rejected yet again.  I was good enough for one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, but not for Buffalo State.  After getting the email from Buffalo, I went into the bathroom and cried for a good hour.  I was heartbroken because I wanted to be closer to home and because Buffalo is a full ride with living stipend, while The Courtauld is very expensive.  Two of my classmates found me in there and made everything better with encouraging words.

And now here we are.  I moved to London two weeks ago today.  I have had three days of classes thus far, and in one of them I got a little teary eyed again because I was reminded of how much I love it here.  So for the next three years I am going to be on an on-going adventure.

And now, as promised, here are some pictures from last semester in Italy:

Lo Spirito Santo

Lo Spirito Santo

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Top of the Duomo

Top of the Bell Tower

Top of the Bell Tower

I saw a guy who looked like my cousin, Daniel.

I saw a guy who looked like my cousin, Daniel.

Top of Palazzo Vecchio

Top of Palazzo Vecchio


My Tempera Panel Painting

Notte Bianca - White Night... a giant party

Notte Bianca – White Night… a giant party

Notte Bianca

Notte Bianca

Cleaning some marble

Cleaning some marble

My pizza guy

My pizza guy

And he made me this!

And he made me this!

My flatmate and I were destined to live together.

My flatmate and I were destined to live together.

Fixin' Jesus' hand

Fixin’ the hand

Me and Jesus

Me and Jesus

Jesus liked Allie

Jesus liked Allie

Terminator Jesus!

Terminator Jesus!

And then I somehow ended up in a protest

And then I somehow ended up in a protest

LdM graduation -- Columbia girls!

LdM graduation — Columbia girls!

The Boar

The Boar

Boboli Gardens -- Last day in Florence

Boboli Gardens — Last day in Florence

Florence Welcome Dinner Spring 2014!

Here are just a few pictures from the Welcome Dinner hosted by Scuolo Lorenzo de’Medici.  So many chandeliers!  It was packed so I wasn’t able to get too many pictures.

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Flour Mill!

Before heading over to the Hunting Lodge, we had he chance to see an old flour mill.

The below two pictures are of the stream that leads into the mill…

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These three below pictures are from inside the mill…. I think they said that the mill is from the 1400’s!

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The below picture is a glass floor that looks down into the stream…


The owner of the mill then asked us if we wanted to go down to the water.  We assumed that there would be a staircase.  Nope!  He brought out a ladder, removed the glass floor, and in Italian told us not to touch the water because we would be swept away!  Here are a couple pictures I was able to take while I was clutching onto the ladder…

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It’s hard to tell, but those are rapids under me!  It was freezing cold water too!