Tag Archives: solvent

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).

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/

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

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

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.
A pet peeve: Historians, nobody ‘discovered’ oil paint. It was invented.


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

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

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

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:
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:
Everything you want to know about pigment is in this book:
More egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geafR2FlHO4
Here’s an artist painting with tempera grasso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMXb8jNaaeU

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

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

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:

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