Tag Archives: art supplies

Gall and vitriol!

In the world of art supplies, a liquid medium like ink is pigment + binder + solvent. Pigment is color. In iron gall ink, the black pigment is created by the chemical reaction when vitriol (iron sulphate) is added to water that had gall-nuts steeping in it.

The binder holds the ingredients together. You might remember the Egyptians got the sap, or gum, from acacia trees which they dried and ground into powder—Gum Arabic. Gum Arabic is the binder for iron gall ink. The powder is mixed with vinegar before adding it to the inky water.

The acid from gall-nuts (and vinegar, too) eats into the vellum very slightly, so the pigment stays put.

Water is the solvent. You can thin iron gall ink with water. After it dries, though, it’s waterproof. If you goof you have to scrape it off with a knife.

Here are links to iron gall ink recipes:

https://recipes.hypotheses.org/8935
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7k4-wj8mZ8
Isn’t she wonderful? This lady found a medieval recipe for iron gall ink and decided to cook it up herself:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo9rbRRCBv8
https://www.medievalists.net/2015/09/how-to-make-ink-in-the-middle-ages/

Here’s where you can get the ingredients online. CHECK WITH YOUR PARENTS before you start playing with caustic chemicals that can burn a hole through the kitchen counter, you weirdos!
https://www.etsy.com/listing/786632766/oak-gall-35-oz-brownish-white-gallnut?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_us_b-craft_supplies_and_tools-paints_inks_and_dyes-dyes&utm_custom1=_k_Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB_k_&utm_content=go_11502762686_119128326464_476190472988_aud-966866687014:pla-297542836984_c__786632766_12768591&utm_custom2=11502762686&gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB
https://www.gumarabicusa.com/buy-now#buy-gum-arabic
https://www.homesciencetools.com/product/iron-ii-ferrous-sulfate-30-g/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtA45C0COBF4UGN4E3CaUx5wSoVZbTfHQatWuNOSqgsmAtYzz-jg4xwaAp40EALw_wcB

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_gall_ink

There’s a charm in the old words of these recipes. They were once used to describe chemicals and today they describe attitude or a way of speaking or acting:
vitriol https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vitriol
gall https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gall

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Making parchment

Soaking a hide in water and lime.

I’m a big old animal lover, so I won’t go too deep into the details of how parchment is made. It’s roughly the same process as making leather, with lots of soaking and stretching and scraping. You soak an animal skin in water, then water and lime (to get the fur off), for a week or two; stretch it on a frame; scrape it smooth with a knife; and dry it.

The result is a smooth, thin, durable (it lasts for centuries) material that is a treat to write on. Vellum is just thick enough that if you make a goof, you can scrape off the dried ink with a sharp blade and write over it (look at mediæval pictures of scribes at work—they hold both a pen and a small knife). If you want to make your own parchment, Lisa Parris gives you the recipe here. ourpastimes.com/make-vellum-4814566.html As Western Civ Irregular and animal-lover Heidi K points out, it’s worth noting that parchment makers were being respectful of the animal by using every bit of it.

This is kind of fanciful. In reality he’d work on one page at a time, not the whole scroll.

If you like cute baby calves and live in the country (in northeastern USA), maybe you’d like to foster this adorable guy. He’s not available for making parchment out of! https://www.facebook.com/SperanzaAnimalRescue/photos/pcb.3693007027481424/3693006924148101/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/parchment
http://www.edenworkshops.com/Vellum_&_Parchment.html
http://www.historyofpaper.net/paper-history/history-of-parchment/
https://www.abaa.org/blog/post/the-history-of-vellum-and-parchment
https://blog.artweb.com/how-to/vellum/
Here’s where to buy ethically-sourced vellum:
https://www.williamcowley.co.uk/
Skip ahead to 5:30 to see this guy writing on parchment—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwVeMVr9s14
https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Parchment

In some ways the history of the alphabet is a history of art supplies. How you write is influenced by what you have to write with—or on.

For a very long time, scribes wrote on papyrus. The papyrus reed seems to grow only in the Fertile Crescent: the delta of the Nile or between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If you didn’t live there, papyrus had to be imported which made it pricey. As more and more people bought papyrus, it became scarce. Not only that, papyrus as a writing surface likes to be in a hot, dry environment. Places farther north are too humid for papyrus and it rots.



On the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, just down the coast from Ilium, in a little town called Pergamon, craftspeople were developing a new writing surface that would be more durable than papyrus—and smoother, too. This new stuff was made out of animal hide, kind of like leather, sliced really thin. Its name, ‘parchment,’ is likely derived from its hometown: Pergamon. It’s also known as ‘vellum,’ if made from calfskin.*

*The words ‘vellum’ and ‘veal’ are related.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

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Ink

Okay, we got the paper, we got the pens and brushes—now we need the medium: ink.

Medium (singular), media (plural) are Latin words.

Medium is the word we artists use when we talk about the substance used to make marks—ink, paint, crayon, pencil, pastel, chalk. Every medium needs 2 parts: pigment and binder. The pigment is the color. You get pigment from vegetable, animal, or mineral sources. The binder is what holds the pigment together and makes it stick to a surface like paper. Liquid medium needs a third part: solvent.



To get black pigment, the Egyptians used the same stuff they did in pre-historic times: burned bones. When bones burn they turn black and brittle. The scribes ground them into a powder. You can use charcoal from wood, too.

This is a stone mortar and pestle—the tools you use to grind something into a powder.

To hold the powder together, they used the sap from the acacia tree. It’s called Gum Arabic and is still used in watercolor today. Gum Arabic is water-soluble. The Egyptian scribes would dry out the gum, grind it into a powder, mix it with burnt-bone powder and add water. They might add very little water to make a thick paste which they could form into a cake.

The round shapes at the top of this scribe’s kit are ink-cakes.

After the cake dried, a scribe could carry it around with him and reactivate the ink by adding a bit of water with his brush. Water is the solvent. If you’ve painted with a box of pan watercolors you understand what I mean. The scribe wrote on the papyrus with brush or pen and when the ink dried the pigment stayed there for thousands of years.

A set of pan watercolors

When they’re exposed to water and air, metals oxidize or corrode. As they do, they produce a colored outer layer. The Egyptians got red pigment by scraping the rust from iron. They got green or blue by scraping the corrosion off of copper.

http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/about_the_object/ancient_egyptian_writing_equipment
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_arabic
https://www.zmescience.com/science/copper-traces-egypt-inks/
The egyptologist in this article says ‘infers’ but he means ‘implies:’
https://phys.org/news/2020-10-red-black-ink-egyptian-papyri.html
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/medium?src=search-dict-box
This book is a must-read if you’re interested in color:
https://www.amazon.com/Color-Natural-History-Victoria-Finlay/dp/0812971426/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=color&qid=1604924820&s=books&sr=1-5
https://www.dickblick.com/products/crayola-washable-watercolor-pan-sets/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Papyrus brushes

Not only can you make paper and pens from the papyrus reed, you can make brushes, too! It’s like those Egyptians never needed to go to the art supply store. They just waded into the Nile and grabbed a reed.

As I understand it, you chew on the end of a thin reed until the pith is soft enough to be flexible and absorb ink. You can trim it with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to get a point.



https://www.penn.museum/sites/egypt/writing.shtml

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Papyrus pens



The papyrus reed can also be made into pens and brushes. For a pen, you need a dried papyrus reed. It’s as hard as wood, and hollow. With a sharp knife you cut a concave section out of the end of the reed, leaving a flexible point. You trim the point to however wide you want your pen-stroke. Then you split the point so it can hold ink.

If you don’t happen to have a papyrus reed handy, for 3 or 4 bucks you can buy a Chinese bamboo calligraphy pen for the same result. https://www.dickblick.com/products/richeson-bamboo-reed-pens/?clickTracking=true&wmcp=pla&wmcid=items&wmckw=04898-1002&gclid=Cj0KCQiAy579BRCPARIsAB6QoIYuyXrsjCnLqNxnS8MFwI7cqciXBY3gUUKJtTXJTXoH3aE-VftbgEsaAk5-EALw_wcB

https://swatihumanitiesancientcivilisations2015.weebly.com/tools-used.html

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