pigments-msg - 4/24/05
Period pigments. Modern sources and substitutions. Safety concerns.
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.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: just Kate <ez010263 at peseta.ucdavis.edu>
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
> 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
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)
Subject: Re: Tempera Panel Painting/Gesso
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 01:36:02 GMT
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)
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)
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.
Date: 96-02-05 13:42:45 EST
Subj: HELP FOR PERIOD PIGMENTS
To: Cystenin at amethyst.wanet.net
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
From: david.razler at compudata.com (DAVID RAZLER)
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
From: Dani Eder <ederd at worldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: White Lead
Date: Sun, 02 Feb 1997 19:46:18 -0600
Organization: Castle Guild, Society for Creative Anachronism
> Patrick Kemp wrote:
> > I am attempting to mix up some gesso.
> > In every recipe I have seen, white lead is one of the ingredients.
> 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
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
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...
From: irgenwer at ix.netcom.com (Kate was here)
Subject: Re: White Lead
Date: Tue, 04 Feb 1997 21:55:07 GMT
Organization: Quahaug Cannery
Dani Eder <ederd at worldnet.att.net> posted:
>> 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.
>> 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)?
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....
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.
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
_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
who really is more of a scribe than a cook. . .
From: "David Cameron Staples" <staples at cs.mu.oz.au.SPAM>
Subject: Re: Tres Riche Heures
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
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)
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.