Tag Archives: pigment

Step Four: we got better ink!

In case you’re wondering what those lollipop things are—Gutenberg used goose-skin inking balls to apply ink to the form.

So oil paint was a hot ticket in the art world of the mid-1400s. If you’re Johannes Gutenberg and you need to figure out how to get ink to stick to your metal type, that oil binder looks pretty good. He developed an oil-based ink that’s thick, sticks to metal and can be applied evenly. Gutenberg created a blacker-than-black pigment by mixing carbon (charred bone), graphite, copper, lead, titanium and sulfur. The graphite and copper give the ink sheen (I’m guessing it’s the orangey copper that’s powdered somehow—like when you saw through a copper pipe with a hacksaw—rather than scraping the green corrosion).

https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/history-ink-six-objects
Scroll down to Making Relief Ink to see how to make your own oil-based ink: https://www.lawrence.co.uk/blog/how-to-make-your-own-paint-relief-ink/
https://www.speedballart.com/our-product-lines/speedball-printmaking/speedball-blockrelief-printing/speedball-block-printing-inks/speedball-oil-based-inks/

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How to get better ink: Step Three

My take on A Man In A Red Turban, thought to be Jan van Eyck’s self-portrait.

A painter in the Netherlands, Jan van Eyck (yahn wahn IKE), made oil paint famous. You can get fine details and dramatic lighting effects and smooth blending of tones with oil paint more easily than in other media, and van Eyck was a master oil painter (as well as a master at drawing). Look at any of his paintings and you’ll see what I mean. Van Eyck mixed pigment with varnish to create transparent glazes of color—your eye looks through the layers. His paintings are like jewels. He may not have invented oil paint, but van Eyck put it on the map.*

Speaking of maps, Ghent isn’t all that far from Mainz. Gutenberg must have been aware of the Flemish art scene. https://geology.com/world/netherlands-satellite-image.shtml

* It used to be thought that Jan and his brother Hubert invented oil paint. That’s what Giorgio Vasari told me in his book The Lives of the Artists, and I believed him. It turns out they didn’t. Now I need to call all my old History of Graphic Design students and tell them the bad news.
https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-lives-of-the-artists_giorgio-vasari/325683/item/1243619/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_dWGBhDAARIsAMcYuJxUnr29Uil9zgUCCGHw4FvdpotvBxBVQt6wyJf1nvNF5IO6po_-E28aAroxEALw_wcB#idiq=1243619&edition=3580770
A pet peeve: Historians, nobody ‘discovered’ oil paint. It was invented.

http://www.oil-painting-techniques.com/analysis-jan-van-eyck.html
https://www.oilpaintingguide.com/brief-history-of-oil-painting/
https://biography.yourdictionary.com/hubert-and-jan-van-eyck
https://www.art.com/products/p12972944-sa-i2208828/jan-van-eyck-a-man-in-a-red-turban-self-portrait-of-jan-van-eyck-1433.htm?upi=P145KXO1ZOO&RFID=217825&ProductTarget=12972944-P145KXO1ZOO&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=PLA&gclid=CjwKCAjwrPCGBhALEiwAUl9X07zWpfGHcidrW5VW3uTpfJPZzPXU5i0zCbmyXc23qqHbcI5F5yOZDxoCFQsQAvD_BwE

Here’s where I use to teach History of Graphic Design back when it was Pittsburgh Technical Institute: https://ptcollege.edu/

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How to get better ink: Step Two

Egg tempera dries really quickly. I’m not a methodical painter. I would get frustrated with having to cross-hatch a transition from one color to another. I like to blend paint while it’s wet. Sometime in the 1400s artists must’ve started adding oil to the egg tempera recipe to prolong its drying time (this egg-and-oil paint is called tempera grasso). They tried oils from nuts and seeds. If you go to the grocery store you can find similar oils for cooking—vegetable oil, grape seed oil, olive oil. Raphael even tried walnut oil for his paint. The one that seemed to work best was linseed oil. Oil and water don’t mix, so turpentine is the solvent. You use turpentine to thin the paint and clean your brushes.

Eventually artists ditched the egg and just used oil.

Watch this video to see how you get oil out of linseed, then use it to make paint:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UxsAij-ykg
Turpentine is made out of pine sap. It’s distilled. A still is a sealed, contained cooking pot with a pipe coming out of the lid. You heat the sap and the fumes go up the pipe. The fumes condense as they cool and drip out the other end of the pipe. I couldn’t find you a video that shows in a straight-forward way how to distill turpentine. I found lots of videos of guys not quite making turpentine. Watch these if you dare:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_fRnEpQ55E
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvduGMTadwk
Everything you want to know about pigment is in this book:
https://www.amazon.com/Color-Natural-History-Victoria-Finlay-ebook/dp/B000XUBDIA/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=color&qid=1624668736&s=books&sr=1-4
More egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geafR2FlHO4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTYhS91rIUE
Here’s an artist painting with tempera grasso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMXb8jNaaeU

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How to get better ink: Step One

Fresh eggs

If you remember from way back when we were looking at ancient Egypt, ‘medium’ is the word we artists use when we talk about the substance that makes 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. Liquid medium needs a third part: solvent.

Here’s how this new paint came to be invented—

Let’s go back to the Middle Ages. Mediæval painters used to bind pigment with egg yolk—seriously!—and water is the solvent. You have to paint methodically with egg tempera because the brush strokes dry quickly. It’s difficult to blend 2 colors together wet-on-wet. So, many egg tempera paintings are zillions of tiny brush strokes.

You crack the egg and separate the yolk from the white. Save the white for making transparent glazes. Put the yolk in a dish—carefully!—and prick its delicate skin with the point of a knife to get binder for pigment. Watch this guy make egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GCK5Y1rFEw
Watch this guy paint skin tones in egg tempera. As I said, zillions of tiny brush strokes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLWWp-PXHK8

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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

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The purple people

It’s a sketch—I’ll paint it in purple

According to the great historian Herodotus, the Phoenicians were called ‘the purple people’ because of the dyed purple cloth they sold. The dye was long-lasting and impossible to wash off their hands. Purple is an expensive pigment (they got it from sea-snails that live inside murex shells). Traditionally, only royalty (or at least the very rich) can afford purple robes.
https://www.etymonline.com/word/Phoenician
https://www.ancient.eu/phoenicia/#:~:text=The%20purple%20dye%20manufactured%20and%20used%20in%20Tyre,dye%20would%20stain%20the%20skin%20of%20the%20workers.
Take a look at this site about the history of color: http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/purples.html#:~:text=Purple%20is%20typically%20defined%20as%20a%20mixture%20of,violet%2C%20prepared%20in%201859.%20Timeline%20of%20purple%20pigments.
https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/41580/what-is-the-significance-of-colour-purple-in-the-robe-that-jesus-was-made-to-wea

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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/

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