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pigments-msg - 4/24/05


Period pigments. Modern sources and substitutions. Safety concerns.


NOTE: See also the files: painting-msg, Ren-paint-art, fabric-paint-msg, dyeing-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: just Kate <ez010263 at peseta.ucdavis.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: LONG - Re: Need help with period paint!

Date: 6 Feb 1996 07:36:22 GMT

Organization: University of California, Davis


Cystenin at Amethyst.Wanet.Net (Kenneth Allen Stoner) wrote:

> I am interested in using period paints and pigments in my

> illumination.

> What I would REALLY like is something more like a period Guache. I


I've been making my own pigments for a few years now. Some of them

are very dangerous to make, and I attempted them only because I'm

a geochemist in real life with gobs of haz mat training. I would

urge you to buy gouache in tubes if you want to use the toxic ones

(and even then, use tons of caution and paranoia).  I'll explain

in a bit.  Please have patience and read on.


To wit, I will recommend the following reading list to you, for this

subject is so large that conversation on the rialto would not be

enough, especially in light of the safety issues.  I urge you to read

these books in the following order (safety first, then good "review"

works, and then the original period handbooks)


      Health Hazards Manual for Artists, by M. McCann

      isbn: 0-941130-06-1  a good intro to what you

        need to worry about, written by a PhD industrial

        hygenist with a clue, at a level anyone can understand.


        A Palette of Period Pigments, by Linda Anfuso (Baroness

        Megan from Stonemarch) CA #43. An excellent intro to

        period pigments, written by a woman who studied period

        paint in grad school, for an SCA audience.  One of the

        best CA's of all time, IMHO.


        Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, by Daniel

        Thompson, Dover Books, isbn 0-486-20327-1


        The Practice of Tempera Painting, by Daniel Thompson

        (the dude got around...) Dover Books isbn: 0-486-20343-3


And then, when you've read both of Thompson's books, take the advice

of an earlier poster (whose name has unfortunately already dribbled

out the hole in the back of my head), and land a copy of _The

Craftsman's HAndbook_, by Cennini, translated by (you guessed it!)

Daniel Thompson (See, I told you he got around...)  Dover Books

isbn: 0-486-20054-X (no kidding, there really is an X in that isbn#)


The reason I recommend reading Thompson's books BEFORE his translation

of Cennini, is that he explains all the mistakes, ommissions and

assumptions that Cennini makes therein.  It makes life a lot easier.


There are also available (from Dover, again):

On Divers Arts, Theophilus, isbn 0-486-23784-2

On Technique, Vasari, isbn 0-486-20717-X


If you are at all chemically inclined, read:

The Physics and Chemistry of Color, by K. Nassau, 1983, John Wiley

& Sons, NY.  isbn:0-471-86776-4.  Get it from the library.  This

is an expensive book.  Make sure you can actually understand it before

thinking of making the investment.  This is currently one of the

authoritative texts in the field.


The answers to your grinding problems are in Thompson's _Materials

and Techniques of Medieval Painting_, and the scientific explanation

is in Nassau, chapters 5 and 13.


Pigments and paints are not hard to do, but I will opine that first

you should do some research (the indented list above I would consider

essential) and then you should take steps to have a safe and healthy



If you have children under 12 or small pets (ie cat sized), please

do not even think of doing any mercury, arsenic, or lead pigments at

home.  Toxicity effects are not linear with size, they are

exponential (no, this isn't an exageration; it's just the truth)

and the single largest culprit in metals poinsoning of small

children in this country is DUST, which is impossible to prevent

unless you are working in a clean lab or other adequately vented and

isolated area (like a lab hood).  <I just finished a review of lead,

mercury and cadmium toxicity as part of my dissertation work, and

I'm feeling very cautious these days>.


Yes, it really is way cool to paint with pigments you've made, but

stick to stuff that's moderately safe.  I've made most of the really

toxic pigments, just to say that I've done it; but I very rarely ever

paint with them (usually just once, again to say that I've done it).

This is a list of tube gouache where the pigment and mordant are

the same as in period (except when avail only as a watercolor). And

when in doubt, ask the salesclerk, read the label or call

the manufacturer.


     viridian (dark dark green)   <Chromium Oxide Hydrate>

     vermilion (heraldic red)     <mercuric sulfide, watercolor only>

     Ultramarine (heraldic blue)  <a feldspathoid silicate>

     Lamp Black                   <amorphous carbon.

     Ivory Black                  <burnt bones>


     Bistre, Burnt Umber, all   :

     Ochres, Burnt Sienna, raw  :

     Umber, raw Sienna, Van Dyke: <mostly iron oxides, iron oxy-

     Brown, Sepia, Venitian Red : hydroxides, and carbon compounds>


Gack, this has turned into a tome! I'm outta here! Hope this helps.

Email me direct if you have questions.

ttfn, Twcs (procrastinating again)



From: ez010263 at ucdavis.edu (Kate was here)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Tempera Panel Painting/Gesso

Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 01:36:02 GMT

Organization: UCD


I have some thoughts to share, having been perverse enough

to try this myself.  Slaking the plaster takes weeks.  I did mine

in a bucket in the bathtub (my housemate still hasn't forgiven

me).  The directions in Cininni and Thompson work and well too.


When you make your gesso sotile, substitute zinc oxide or

titanium oxide for lead white in the recipe.  The substitution

works as well as the lead white, and won't poison you, your pets

or your loved ones.  Armenian bole is available from Pendragon and

other specialty calligrphy supply houses in the US; it's not even

all that expensive.  Rabbit skin glue is available from good art

or calligrphy supply firms; fish glue is harder (in my experience)

to get.


If you have a compost pile and means to keep small children and

animals out of it, the dutch process for making lead white is easy

and fairly safe upto the point where you uncap your jar and take

it out.  The thought of anyone grinding their own lead white makes

my skin crawl, because lead pigment dusts are the primary culprits

in lead poisoning.  Please please please cheat and use a

substitute!  (I've been doing toxic substances professionally for

almost a decade: lead is bad stuff -  there's a reason we took it

out of gasoline...)


Please do not contemplate making your own vermillion either.

If there's one thing worse than lead, it's mercury.  Can you say

Minamata disease?  Yuck!  Ick!  Gack!  Please cheat and use

something less lethal to you and your loved ones!  Mercury is the

only toxic metal for which there is NO chelation "cure" for

removing it from human tissue.


When it got time to build up layers of gesso on wood, use a thick

lamination of wood or wet the back side if the water in the gesso

mix seeps deeply into the wood.  Not to have the wood all the way

wet uniformly is to invite bad warping (this is the unfortunate

voice of experience here).


For making the laminations of wood, find a place where no one else

will be around to smell the cheese glue in all its glory.

Unchanged cat boxes smell better.


Get a glass plate and meuller for mixing your pigments and your

gum water (well, I use gum water becuase I've had the best luck

with it).  You can buy gum water pre-made from winsor-newton or

you can make it up from scratch.  There's little difference

between the two; made-from-scratch has the added advantage that

you can directly control the strength of the brew.  The

disadvantage is the mess.


I've made the assumption that you have Cininni and both Thompson

books (all avail from Dover) at hand, as well as Divers Arts

(Theophilous) and Vasari on Technique (also from Dover, I

believe).  Mayer's _Artist's Handbook_ is an essential modern

reference as to old materials and modern substitutes.  The

Calligraphers Handbook, editted by Child, has some surprisingly

good recipes in it which are pertinent to your project. Get one

of the several manuals on artist safety and read it before doing




From: bbrisbane at aol.com (BBrisbane)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Medieval Paints

Date: 3 Jun 1996 22:57:56 -0400


     The following is a letter I posted in February in response to another

gentles query.  I send it now to you.  Please understand that the person

this was sent too was virtually clueless and so my words took a very

didactic tone.  Rick's/Balderik's post was very true and correct, and it

saves me from having to type it too! So please heed his post.  


     I will add one thing here, it appears to me that what you want is a

list of colors that would appear to give the appearance of those used by

the Vikings, Celts, etc . . .  If that is so, I can give you such a list

or you can simply index the Books of Kells and/or Lindisfarne.  The Paints

used for Manuscripts, furniture decoration, leather painting, wall

painting, etc.. are virtually the same.  All that is being changed is the

binding medium, the 'glue' if you will.  In the case in question, an egg

tempera was possiblly used as historically that was extensively used upon

wooden objects.  Again, for types of glue see Rick's post.


     If I can help in any other way, please ask.


--- Brendan



Date:  96-02-05 13:42:45 EST

From:  BBrisbane


To:      Cystenin at amethyst.wanet.net

cc:      Jad,


     I am Lord Brendan Brisbane, Minister of Arts and Sciences to the

Principality of AEthelmearc in the Kingdom of the East.  I would like to

give you aid in your endeavor and perhaps point you down the path of

period painting.  I have followed the replies that your missive has

received and it appears that none of them answered your query.  I

apologize in advance if my letter appears too terse or hard, but it is my

desire to provide you information in a succinct form. Also be aware that

I have but your original posting to base my response upon, and so I am not

aware of what You KNOW about working with Period Pigments.


     Standard Disclaimer:  I am not an Expert, I am simply passing on to

you what I have learned via my experiences in studying and working with

Period Pigments (PP).  I would admonish you to weigh, sift, test, any

information given to you, and find out for yourself whether what was

passed on to you was the truth.  That goes for my writings too!  I would

also like to say that an Artist is not made by having a Degree in art and

you should not let anyones credentials be the deciding factor in your

search for knowledge.  Find out for yourself.


    Firstly,  I was thrilled to find your posting and to see the

enthusiasm of your missive.  I applaud such enthusiasm and intent.

However, your missive did give one the opinion that someone told you that

Egg Tempera was the only period form of painting, and so you dove right in

and studied just that, Egg Tempera Painting.  There are many differing

forms of period painting, each of which has traits and characteristics

that makes that form suitable for using upon one type of surface, while

often making it unsuitable on other surfaces. Furthermore, Egg Tempera

painting is one of the most dificult forms of painting (second to Fresco

in my experiences), and can yield dissapointing results if one does not

adequately study the form, and experiments a little.  As you have sited,

you have already had at least one dissapointing result.


     MiLord, you wished to find a paint that would function more like

Gouache.  I can only presume that you are at least familiar with that form

of painting.  To attain a PP paint more like Gouache you should begin by

finding what precisely Gouache consists of.   "The Artist's Handbook, of

Materials and Techniques" by Ralph Mayer, 5th Edition, Viking Press, ISBN

0-670-83701-6 ($30, Hbk). in chapter 7 tells us that Gouache consists

primarily of Gum Arabic and chalk.  The Gum Arabic is  a binding medium, a

tempering agent, a glue if you will.  That causes the paint to adhere to

the surface of application.  In Egg Tempera this is facilitated by the egg

yolks.  The chalk is simply an additive for the purposes of yielding an

Opaque paint.  If one were to remove the chalk so as to have just PP and

Gum Arabic, you will have Watercolor paints.  I beleive that this is what

you are looking for.  Gum Arabic is easily manipulated, dissolves in

water, but will not keep.  It does produce the ease of painting you find

in using Gouaches, however, PP have varying characteristics which means

they do not all flow the same.  Your Gouaches are all consistent in their

ability to flow, your PP will be determined by the amount of processing

(grinding, milling, and mulling) they receive by your hands, and the

structural make-up of the pigment substances  (ie. . . ., Clays will grind

up to a fine creamy consistent powder, while semi-precious stones like

Malachite and hematite will tend to break apart into crystalline bits,

pieces, and powder.).  You will find that in the processing of Lapis that

as you grind in finer and finer, it becomes lighter and lighter until its

color washes out completely.  As lapis is ground, it's crystaline

structure defracts the light stiking it further and further and finally

you will have but a useless white Powder.  In - "The Craftsman's Handbook,

Il Libro dell Arte" by Cennino Cennini as translated by Daniel V Thompson

Jr.  Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-20054-X  (Still available for about

$6, Pbk.  This was written in Period). - you will find on pages 36 to 39

that Ultramarine Blue is gained from Lapsi via a 'leaching' process, and

not by grinding.  Lapis alone utilizes this technique.


     Now what I'd like to address, and would admonish you to do, is on

becoming a Craftsman.  Being an Artist is simply not enough, one must also

be a Craftsman.  An artist, particularly one who works in PP, needs to

intimately familiar with his tools, surfaces, materials, and all of their

interacting characteristics.  There is much more to making paint than just

mixing PP with a binding medium.  There is the processes of grinding your

pigment substances, Mulling the paint (this process thoroughly mixes your

PP with the medium, and then there is the actual process of painting.

Painting is NOT as easy as all that!  The craftsman will be aware of the

chemical properties of his paints, what paints to use with what techniques

(meaning; panel Painting, manuscript Illumination, Fresco), for PP are not

universal in regards to the surfaces and binders with which they are

mixed.  Fresco work has a palette which is limmited to Earthy pigments:

yellow/red/brown clays, lampblack, terre-vert, and others. Other painting

forms have restrictions due to the interactions of the chemicals

themselves.  In watercolors (using pigment with your gum arabic) the

mixture of Vermilion Red (Mercuric Sulfide) with Lead White (Lead

Crabonate) yields . . . not pink but Grey.  It does not matter how or in

what quantity you mix them, you always get the same dead grey.  It is

chemically something other than it had been, and you cannot readily know

what you have made.  There are much worse reactions!  Some of them are

deadly, while others are a cumulative poison, and you must also consider

safety precautions as you work.  The fine dust produced in grinding

pigments is one of the most dangerous parts of the work. So you can see

that there is much more involved with using PP than slapping paint onto a



Lead white and Silver leaf, or any other paint with a heavy metal content

is unsuitable for painting work that is exposed to the air.  Such paints

will dull, tarnish, or blacken over time and alter the painters original

intent.  It is a matter of craftsmanship to know which paints you can use

how and with what binders.  The remedy for these chemical reactions lay in

several techniques; Laying a WASH  if color over a DRY under painting

which allows the two colors to be seen together (this of course means

using a binding medium which encapsulates (surrounds) the paint layers

completely and keeps air from affecting them.  ALL of these things the

Artist/Craftsman will know.  I would Admonish you, my lord to savor that

enthusiasm, harness it, and focus it on knowing your tools and materials

before you find your wasting your time and money.


Other Books for your Contemplation:  (You Should Read These!)


The Craftsman's Handbook, "Il Libro dell Arte" by Cennino Cennini as

translated by Daniel V Thompson Jr.  Dover Publications, ISBN

0-486-20054-X  (Still available for about $6, Pbk.  This was written in



Vasari on Technique, by Georgio Vasari, Dover Publcations, ISBN

0-486-20717-X   (About $10, Pbk.  This was written in Period).


The Materials of the Artist, and their use in Painting, By Max Doerner,

Harcourt Brace Pub, ISBN 0-15-657716-X  (About $14, Pbk).


The Painter's Handbook, by Mark David Gottsegen, Watson Guptill Pub, ISBN

0-8230-3003-2.  (About $30, Pbk  --- Great Book!!).


Artist's Pigments, a handbook of their History & Charcteristics, Volume-1,

Robert L. Feller Editor.  Nat'l Gallery of Art Pub, ISBN 0-89468-068-2  (

$17, Pbk.  Very Tough to find!! You can still get them through Kremer

Pigments in NY.  Epitome of Books on the subject of specific chemical,

analytical, and historical pigment information).


Artist's Pigments, a handbook of their History & Charcteristics, Volume-2,

Ashok Roy Editor.  Nat'l Gallery of Art Pub, ISBN 0-89468-189-9  ( $35,

Hbk.  Very Tough to find!! You can still get them through Kremer Pigments

in NY.  Epitome of Books Vol 2 in serires (Vol 3 not released yet) on the

subject of specific chemical, analytical, and historical pigment



     I hope you can chew on this for awhile.  There is plenty more where

that came from!  If your coming to Estrella Wars look me up at 'Brendan's



-------------- Brendan



From: david.razler at compudata.com (DAVID RAZLER)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Medieval Paints/toxic

Date: Tue, 04 Jun 96 23:17:00 -0400

Organization: Compu-Data -=- Turnersville, NJ -=- 609-232-7747


RC>You'd have to do some research to find out specifically which

RC>organic/inorganic pigments/dyes/stains would have been in general use

RC>for furniture in the time/place you are interested in.  A few may be

RC>poisonous, but there should be plenty that aren't.


RC>Hopefully, someone else will be able to give you a better answer.




A good many period ingredients for paints and other colors (dyes,

stains, glazes, whatever) are VERY toxic. BUT the paint or dye isn't

except if you chew your furniture or fabric <or have kids who might>.

For the most part, it is the artist who is in danger, not the user.


      For instance: If you want to make good vermilion sealing wax, you

will want to work outside and stay upwind, because vermilion is mercury

ore, and when you heat the stuff, it gives off mercury vapor. You might

even want to put the seal on a document outside.


But when you've got the seal on the document, the hazard is entombed.



      Paris green is a great paint pigment, wood preservative *and* <I

believe, but have no positive reference, period> poison <major

components are copper and arsenic.> OK, unless you cover it with a good

varnish, you wouldn't want to sit on a chair painted with the stuff. Use

the varnish and so what?


      Period glazes and even glazes used well into the 20th Century

*are* a problem, especially if you use the period glazed stuff every day

- but food-safe substitutes exist. I don't know if I'd eat off *real*

Tudor greenware, but the Black Rose Creations [yes, it's a shameless

plug] feast gear I have looks like the real thing and won't poison me

even if I use it every day for acid-rich foods. <trivia: US Depression-

era orange and yellow Fiesta Ware stoneware was glazed with Uranium-rich

salts so rich that some pieces legally qualify as radiation hazards just

sitting on a shelf. The most dangerous radiation hazard at your average

SCA event are gas-lantern mantles, effectively a mesh of thorium.>


      And a lot of craft books are so damned dangerous they should

almost be banned. I have one on leaded glass technique that says that

when you're using hydrofluoric acid, (etches glass, probably one of the

worst things you can pour on yourself because, unless properly

neutralized, it causes chemical burns that keep on burning just this

side of forever,) you should use bare hands for better control over the

etching process. For real. There *are* several books and even a few

government publications on the dangers to artists and crafts-workers

from period and current materials <like lead oxide white oil paint>.


      I don't know what's period color for period gear. But with a

little care, even a genuine 100% authentic reproduction can be made and

used safely.




From: Dani Eder <ederd at worldnet.att.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: White Lead

Date: Sun, 02 Feb 1997 19:46:18 -0600

Organization: Castle Guild, Society for Creative Anachronism


Charissa wrote:

> Patrick Kemp wrote:

> > I am attempting to mix up some gesso.

> >

> >  In every recipe I have seen, white lead is one of the ingredients.

> <snip>

> Nothing I've read so far explains the purpose of the

> > lead, only that it is needed in the recipe.


> I don't know what gesso is, but I may have a theory :)


Gesso is the name for the material put on a painting panel (wood)

or canvas to prepare it for painting.  


As far as White Lead and alternatives, the following is from

"The Artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques", by Ralph

Meyer, 5th ed., Viking, 1991, ISBN 0-670-83701-6, pp 114-116:


Common names:Flake white, white lead, basic lead carbonate

Chemical Formula: 2PbCO(3) - Pb(OH)(2)

Toxicity: Considered extremely toxic; do not ingest; do not

     breathe dust


White lead.  Is one of the earliest artificially manufactured pigments

recorded; it was employed in China as far back as we have any history

of the materials of Chinese painting and was used in the earliest

periods European civilization.  It was the only white oil color

widely available to artists until about the middle of the 19th

century.  Its use was not greatly diminished by substitution of

newer whites until about 1910.  It has very desirable properties

when ground in oil.  It unites with oil to form a buttery paste

which has fine brushing qualities, and is noted for its opacity

or hiding power and its pleasing tonal characteristics. It produces

paint films of great durability.  The best variety of corroded

white lead is made by the so-called Old Dutch process. Its defects

are its poisonous action if taken internally and its property of

turning brown when exposed to sulfur fumes.  Suitable for artists'

use only if well protected by oil, varnish, or overpainting;

under these conditions it is absolutely permanent.  It should not

be used in other mediums.  The best quality is not darkened by

mixture in oil with other well made permanent colors.



Common names: Zinc white, Chinese white, permanent white

Chemical Formula: ZnO

Toxicity: Not considered toxic; do not breathe dust


Zinc oxide.  Zinc white as a paint pigment is free from the two

drawbacks of flake white.  It is not poisonous and since zinc

sulfide is white,  any action that sulfur fumes might have on

the zinc oxide in a painting will not alter its color.  In oil

it has a harsher, colder, or bluer effect and is very much less

opaque than flake white.  It is employed in oil only where its

lack of great opacity is either desirable or of no detriment.

Zinc white is a reactive pigment in oil and unites with it but

not in the same way as flake white does.  It tends to make a

brittle hard film in comparison with the tough, flexible film

of white lead.  Poppy-oil films are definitely less permanent

with zinc than with flake white.  First made and sold in France

toward the end of the 19th century; successfully made in a

large scaleindustrial manner in 1845; began to be accepted as

a general industrial pigment around 1860; but not very widely

adopted by artists as an oil color until the 20th century.

However, under the name of Chinese white it was almost immediately

put into use as an artists' watercolor.  One English firm has

had it on the market as a prepared watercolor since 1834.



Common names: Titanium whate, titanium dioxide

Chemical formula: TiO(2)

Toxicity: Not considered toxic; do not breathe dust


Titanium dioxide.  The titanium pigments have the greatest opacity

and tinctorial power of any of the whites.  Titanium is the

most important opaque white pigment in current use.  The grays

produced by mixing black with white lead appears neutral or warm

in comparison with the cooler, more bluish grays of titanium and

black.  It will be seen that although neither of the drawbacks

of flake white is present in titanium and zinc, and although

flake white has none of their drawbacks, we have no entirely

perfect white for universal pigment use.  An extremely dense,

powerful opaque white of high refractive index and great hiding

power.  Absolutely inert, permanent.  Properties known since

1870 or earlier, but not successfully produced in a pure white

grade until 1919 in Norway and America.




When I was collecting dry pigments to use for period-style

painting, I decided to substitute Titanium dioxide for the

period lead-based white because of safety.  


You did not mention what type of surface the gesso you were

preparing was for.


To prepare a wood panel with a white painting surface, I used

a mixture of hide glue and ground white chalk.  It takes about

a half dozen layers painted on to completely hide the wood.

Lightly sanded with fine sandpaper and finished by rubbing with

a slightly damp cloth (which dissolves the glue a bit and allows

final smoothing), it yields an ivory-like finished surface.


Daniel of Raven's Nest



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: whitleys at world.std.com (Bill and/or Kathleen Whitley)

Subject: Re: White Lead

Date: Mon, 3 Feb 1997 03:18:36 GMT

Organization: Pandemonium Press


> "Patrick Kemp" <Cynewulf at qadas.com> writes:

> >I wish to substitute the white lead ( as it's poisonous ) but whithout

> >knowing what purpose it has in the recipe, I cannot find something with

> >similar qualities.


Titanium Dioxide (aka Titanium White) is an inexpensive modern substitute

for White Lead (Lead Oxide); use it in the same proportions as the recipe

called for White Lead. It is available in powdered form in better paint or

art supply stores (the kind which sell powdered pigments). Johnson's

Artist Supplies, on Neuberry St. in Boston MA is where we get ours. My

Lady (Mistress Caitlin fitxHenry) makes gesso with this, and it works just



The reason it is in the recipe (as we understand it) is to give the gold

leaf another metal to attach to. (I'm not an alchemist, I was told this by

someone who claims to know about these hidden things...) Anyway, it works.


We have more information available on Gesso (recipes, substitutions,

instructions, etc.), if you would like it, just ask...


Oohashi Katsutoshi



From: irgenwer at ix.netcom.com (Kate was here)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: White Lead

Date: Tue, 04 Feb 1997 21:55:07 GMT

Organization: Quahaug Cannery


Dani Eder <ederd at worldnet.att.net> posted:

>Charissa wrote:

>> Patrick Kemp wrote:


I can't figure out why I'm reminded of the begats out of the bible...  ;-)


>> > I am attempting to mix up some gesso.

>> >  In every recipe I have seen, white lead is one of the ingredients.

>> <snip>

>> Nothing I've read so far explains the purpose of the

>> > lead, only that it is needed in the recipe.


The purpose of lead white in gesso is the same as potatoes in stew:

it adds body and bulk.  Lead carbonate is significantly denser than

the anhydrite (CaSO4) in gesso recipes.  By itself, anhydrite which

has been slaked by hand from scratch (yes, I have done this - I'm

talking from experience here, not quoting a book) is extremely fine.

The stuff I've made passes a 400 mesh sieve without grinding

before hand!  If you breathe hard or sneeze, you could easily lose

two measuring cups worth - it's that fine.  Adding the lead white

makes the dry ingredients less likely to go away.  The chemical

properties of the lead white in the mix are debated, even now.


For state of the art information on lead white as a pigment, check

out the _Artists Pigments_ book series put out by the National

Gallery in London, in conjunction with the Smithsonian in DC.


The Getty recently put out a symposium preceedings volume (1995?

1994? I'd have to go and look the book back up...) which has an

excellent article on period gesso recipes (with a wonderful little

discussion as to why Daniel Thompson's translation of Cennini

is probably flawed with regards to the gesso recipes!).


I've been using TiO2 as a replacement for lead white in my gesso

recipes.  Back in 1988 or so, when I first started to play around

with making gesso, I ran into an older gentleman in Amsterdam Art

in Berkeley. To this day, I regret not getting his name so I could

adequately thank him.  The man was a professional painter, and we

quite literally ran into each other physically rounding the same corner

in the store.  The corner was where both of us were headed - it was

where the dry pigments were displayed.  After dusting ourselves off,

we ended up talking, about dry pigments (what else?) for quite a while

and about gesso recipes and gold leafing.  He advised me to substitute

titanium white for lead white.  It works as well in gesso as lead

white does - yes, I have made both.


By the way, if you leave out the lead or titanium white, the gesso

batch will dry extremely HARD.  It will be hard to break when you

want to reconstitute it (for leafing), and it will be hard to carve

(for shaping a ground for leaf, or for making sculpted shapes like

on a picture frame or on tourney shield.  The addition of your choice

of white pigtment makes it softer and easier to use for leafing.

(I've been playing around with gesso recently.  I ran into a gentleman

named Ian [whose last name I've forgotten already, alas] from

Forgotten Sea/Calontir at Lillies last year who's been working

on a gessoed tourney shield.  After some traded emails and then

talking at Lillies, I went home with all the gears going in my head.

How to make a really tough gesso that could stand up to fighting?

Well, now I know: slaked plaster, rabbit skin glue, powdered sugar or

honey, water, a little armenian bole for color (optional) and NO

WHITE PIGMENT.  Awesome stuff.  I'm hoping I have time to

do up a shield for the Pas d'Armes my shire is holding in April.)


>As far as White Lead and alternatives, the following is from

>"The Artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques", by Ralph

>Meyer, 5th ed., Viking, 1991, ISBN 0-670-83701-6, pp 114-116:


Mayer is a good book, especially if you're not a chemistry nerd

like me.  But Mayer is dated - he died back in 1979.  (I have

a fuzzy memory of this happening since I was going to Columbia

at the time, and because I worked in one of the Deans' offices,

I always knew who it was who died when the flags in front of

Lowe Library were at half mast.  For those who don't know,

Mayer was a professor at Columbia University in NYC).


Anyway, there are places in Mayer which we now know to

be wrong - though overall, Mayer is still a book worth having.

However, especially when it comes to the chemical composition

of pigments, be wary of the info in Mayer.  These days, I

check the info in Mayer against the _Artists Pigments_

series, the yearly transactions of the National Gallery

(London), and Studies in Conservation (probably the best

journal of "museum science" in English).  


In paticular, Mayer's info on the lead pigments is flawed.

Unfortunately, Mayer and Thompson seem to be accepted refs

for SCA purposes, and people are generally unaware that the

material in their books predates the analysis of period

pigments by modern spectroscopic methods.  Most of Thompson's

stuff was published in the 30's.  Mayer wrote the first edition

of his book in the late 30's (published in 1940).


>Common names:Flake white, white lead, basic lead carbonate

>Chemical Formula: 2PbCO(3) - Pb(OH)(2)

>Toxicity: Considered extremely toxic; do not ingest; do not breathe dust


Don't play with lead if you have children or pets.  Metal toxicity in

children and small animals is orders of magnitude worse than in adults.

Lethal dose (LD50, actually) for metals is not linear with size - it's

exponential.  Just because it's period isn't a good reason to use the

stuff.  After all, we don't do mercury gilding anymore either...


>To prepare a wood panel with a white painting surface, I used

>a mixture of hide glue and ground white chalk.  


Chalk, Daniel?  Do you mean, CaCO3, CaSO4, CaSO4.2H2O or

either of these three mixed with Kaolinite (as in blackboard chalk)?


ttfn, Twcs



Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 22:54:10 -0400

From: Margo Lynn Hablutzel <Hablutzel at compuserve.com>

To: A&S List <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>

Subject: source for pigment


This from Mistress Aidan, C&I Laurel from Calontir

now living in Al-Barran in the Outlands:


--------------- Forwarded Message ---------------


I just got a great catalog in the mail--chock full of "real" pigments,

in quantities from 100g to 1 kilo of ground pigments, at impressive

prices.  It is the Sinopia Pigments and Materials catalog, Fall 97. They

also have a website (duh) at http://www.sinopia.com.


This outfit apparently specializes in sales to people who do art

restoration (!) and frescoes, thus the large quantity. They also sell

brushes and various equipment.


Just thought I'd pass this on to any interested illuminator types....


Ms. Aidan



Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 13:27:34 +0000

From: "Erin Kenny" <Erin.Kenny at sofkin.ca>

Subject: SC - (Fwd) Re: Colours in period paintings


I asked my husband for his opinion on the pigment issue (remember the

carrots?).  He is a fine artist (well, now he makes his living

programming, but that's another story), and his primary area of study

these days (in the SCA) is Renaissance painting (styles, pigments,



Here's what he has to say:


- ------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

I'm not an expert but...


Red tends to fade towards a muddy brownish red as well as lightening

up.  A "muddy brownish light red" looks somewhat orange, so I guess

it is possible that a red pigment to be "orange-ish" with age.


On the other hand, if the orange is a bright orange, it was probably

always orange (ie painted orange), and was painted using non-organic



Most period colours that changed colour were natural pigments that,

well, rotted with age, leaving them turning brownish. This continued

for as long as natural, organic pigments were used.  Most modern

pigments are stable chemicals rather than organic.



- ---------------------------


Claricia Nyetgale



Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 14:15:13 -0500

From: renfrow at skylands.net (Cindy Renfrow)

Subject: Re: SC - OT: pigments




>I actually already use cadmium red, yellow, and orange in watercolors, but it

>doesn't look like Master John the Artificer makes them to sell as ground

>pigments.  Based on the advice of those on the scribes list work with these

>type of pigments on a regular basis, they are much safer in cake form as shell

>colors, which is what I'll be doing with them before I use them.




Hello!  What do you mean by "shell colors"? (My dictionary must have 30

definitions for "shell", but nothing that would apply to pigments.)  What

would "shell" mean in relation to this recipe from Murrell?


from _A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen_, 1617:


#76 - To make any other conceit as Buttons, Beades, Chaines, &c.


Having fashioned your buttons made of this stuff all of a bignesse,

either with your hand and knife, or in a mould, if with a knife, then

you may turne vp the ridges and the nib, like the threds of silke

buttons, and the gound-worke is white of it selfe, if you will haue

them greene and white, then temper sap-green with gum Arabick water on

the top of your pensill, and strike it down the ridges of the button,

not touching the button on the creases.  If you will haue them siluer,

then strike them downe with shell-siluer, the like may be done with

shell-gold.  if blew, then Azur being first steept in vinegar, for else

it is verie dangerous, the vinegar killeth the strength of the blew:

If you would haue them red, then vse "Rosa-paris" (italics in the

original) on the top of your pensil: when these buttons be readie and

drie, you may set them vpon a card of Sugar plate, and fasten them with

Gum-dragon steept in damaske Rose-water and the owne paste tempered

verie soft, serue it in on plates of glasse, or keep it as long as you






Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 14:37:44 EST

From: Varju at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - OT: pigments


renfrow at skylands.net writes:

<< Hello!  What do you mean by "shell colors"?>>


Ooops. . .I was using scribal terms there. . .


Shell colors are when you take the natural pigments mix them with binder and a

bit of water, place them in shells and let them dry.  It creates something

similar to a modern cake watercolor and makes the more dangerous pigments a

bit safer because you aren't inhaling the powder. (Unless you happen to

point your brushes by  sucking on them. :->)


<<What would "shell" mean in relation to this recipe from Murrell?>>


The shell-siluer (I'm guesssing that is shell-silver) and shell-gold would be

similer, and are specially prepared gold and silver, again mixed with binder

and placed in to shells to use for painting.  Preparing the gold to make into

shell gold was supposed to be a dangerous process, using cyanide I think.





Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 12:50:59 EST

From: Varju at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - Sap Green:  Was: Recipe from Murrell


renfrow at skylands.net writes:

<< Hello!  Yes, you did send me that info, but someone here mentioned other

sources of the color besides buckthorn & I was wondering what documentation

they had? >>


Well, I did not mention it but I do have several other types of green that

were used for manuscript painting in period.  The first two of these do fall

under the VERY toxic definition.  One is copper green or verdigris green,

which is the color of tarnished copper. The other is viridian which is a

tealish green.  A really true dark green was created using ground up

malachite.  (Much the same way that really spectacular blue was created

using ground up lapis lazuli.)


More information on period paints, at least those for illumination, can be

found in:


_Medieval Illuminators and Their Work_ by Jonathan J. G. Alexander


_On Divers Arts_ by Theolpolis trans by  John G Hawthorn and C. S. Smith

(availible in the latest Dover catalog)


_The Craftsman's Handbook_ by Cennino Cenini (also availible from Dover)


The first is a modern discussion on tools and materials, the other two are

reprints of period manuals.  Theolpolis wrote in the 12th century, Cenini in

the 15th.



who really is more of a scribe than a cook. . .

Windkeep, Outlands

Cheyenne, Wyoming



From: "David Cameron Staples" <staples at cs.mu.oz.au.SPAM>

Subject: Re: Tres Riche Heures

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca


In Tue, 28 Oct 2003 11:23:46 -0700, Shannon Moyes Clark

<shannonm at privateMail.hp.com> in hoc locus scripsit:

> The blue may be lapis, it is a rich deep blue, or it may be azurite.

> Very similar to lapis but more a touch more green/blue, azurite is also

> a semiprecious stone and has the luster and light reflection of a real

> mineral rather then a manufactures pigment.  Indigo will be even more

> gray/blue then your azurite.  It could also be a mixed blue, yellow and

> green, but orpiment and verdigris are NOT friendly with each other.  You

> can temper indigo with saffron in your binder and eliminate some of the

> gray.


Orpiment (=Sulpher Arsenide?) is notoriously unfriendly with *everything*.

The best reference to period pigments and studio techniques I have ever

found, _The Art Forger's Handbook_ by Eric Hebborn, gives period

testimonials about how you can use orpiment, but only to provide a bright

yellow highlight to golden or yellow satin drapery, and to never ever use

it in a lower layer, as it will bleed through any pigment laid on top of



For the record, Mr Hebborn's recommendation is to damage the area where

the orpiment *would* be, and 'repair' the damage with cadmium yellow,

rather than making your own orpiment (real orpiment, due to its unfriendly

qualities and *ahem* poisonousness, is almost unobtainable these days.)


David Cameron Staples | staples AT cs DOT mu DOT oz DOT au

Melbourne University  | Computer Science | Technical Services

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn!



From: val_org at hotmail.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: 24 Mar 2004 20:08:05 -0800


Paint consists of a pigment, such as ochre, mixed with a binder, such

as oil or egg yolk. Most of the period "paint recipes" that survive

are intended for artists' paint, not furniture, walls, or everyday



For one example of surviving paint on wood, consider the Gokstad ship,

which had 64 shields, with some painted entirely in yellow, possibly

using a paint based on orpiment, As2O3, and the others painted in

black, possibly with a paint based on charcoal as its pigment agent

(Peter Beatson, The 'Viking Shield' from Archaeology,



"Red pigments in ancient paints seem to derive from mineral sources

i.e..red ochre (Fe2O3, as on the Jelling figurine: Marxen and Molkte

1981); or cinnabar (HgS, as on the Illerup shield of c.200AD:

Forhistoriskmuseet, Moesgard Denmark: pers. obs. 1994). Also on the

Jelling figurine were a dark blue paint made by mixing powdered white

chalk with burnt organic matter (charcoal?), and a yellow of orpiment

(As2O3) in an oil base" (Peter Beatson, The 'Viking Shield' from



I'd recommend taking a look at Theophilus, who very carefully

describes how to make paint, glue and varnish:


Theophilus. On Divers Arts: The Foremost Medieval Treatise on

Painting, Glassmaking, and Metalwork. Trans. John G. Hawthorne and

Cyril Stanley Smith. New York: Dover. 1979.

Available from Amazon.com:



Theophilus describes creating paints from a variety of pigments: red

from burnt ocher, cinnabar, minium (red lead, Pb3O4), carmine

(cochineal), and folium (a vegetable juice); yellow from orpiment or

saffron, green from various copper salts, especially copper acetates

and copper chlorides, as well as various chlorophyll greens from

vegetables; blue from copper carbonate (Cu3-(CO3)2OH2), indigo, and

various plant substances; black from lampblack or ground charcoal; and

white from lead carbonate, ground bone ash, calcium carbonate, lime,

gypsum or chalk.




<the end>

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