Archive for the ‘Paint making’ Category

Mulling Kaolin Clay

April 30, 2019

I’ve read in many, many places that gouache contains chalk.

But not all of them do. The ones I use—M. Graham, Schmincke Horadam, Winsor & Newton (and certainly my own!)—do not. Some of the paints, like M. Graham’s Prussian Blue, are dark and transparent enough that it’s obvious.

Some of the student-grade and poster paints and some designer paints surely have an opacifier added, but from what I’ve read it’s likely that even those would be as likely to contain blanc fixe (barium sulfate) as chalk.

I personally wouldn’t mind if either one were added to gouache (except for the dark colors), especially if it was there to help stabilize drying shifts in color. (I’ve complained about drying shifts in water-based media here.)

Anyhoo: I came across this post from the USGS about some properties of clays: Environmental Characteristics of Clays and Clay Mineral Deposits. In particular, I was interested in this tidbit:

When a little clay is added to water, a slurry forms because the clay distributes itself evenly throughout the water. This property of clay is used by the paint industry to disperse pigment (color) evenly throughout a paint.

It occurred to me that adding a clay such as kaolin to gouache paint might help stabilize the color on drying. I have some sitting around, which I’ve planned to use to make a different kind of madder lake. So I mulled some up into an aqueous dispersion and tried adding it to my paints.

I’m sad to report that the clay didn’t help with drying shifts; in fact, it generally made things worse. However, I serendipitously discovered a cool property of mulling the clay: it picked up a lot of the color that had become stuck in the mulling plate. You can probably see the difference in color between the mulled clay and the stuff in the bag (including a bit where the red it picked up is quite visible):

Mulling Kaolin Clay

Mulling Kaolin Clay

I wiped that plate as clean as I could after mullling my red dispersions, but obviously I didn’t get it all. But the clay seemed to pick up most of what was left. So, if you’re having trouble keeping your mulling plate clean, try mulling some clay in water—it might just do the trick!

Advertisements

Casein from Gouache

February 13, 2019

For those who either:

  1. are thinking about trying casein, but intimidated by the idea of mixing their own aqueous dispersions, or
  2. have a bunch of gouache paints lying around and don’t want to purchase a whole new line of paints

You can pretty easily manufacture your own casein paints by mixing gouache paints with casein medium.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened with this first color casein piece, a quick little sketch after Henri:

First color casein sketch!

First color casein sketch!

I had done a few grisailles (you can see some of them here) using Shiva raw umber and titanium white that had been sitting around the place for a few years. (Some casein paints go bad pretty quickly in the tube; I don’t know why these two lasted so long.) I had an idea I liked the medium, and I wanted to try out a color sketch without waiting for my new paints to show up.

So I mixed some of my gouache paints with casein medium. The one I used was Shiva’s Casein Emulsion. Like egg tempera, casein can be dispersed with oil, and that’s what emulsion means in this case. I purchased the stuff for a different purpose entirely, to prime illustration board for gouache painting, but I quickly repurposed it. I mixed roughly equal parts of gouache paint and casein medium. The paints were a little loose for my taste, but otherwise they worked fine. I wound up continuing to use these makeshift casein paints while slowly supplementing them with Shiva tube colors.

The medium, by the way, isn’t perfect; partway through the bottle the oil began to separate and form a puddle on top. But I was able to pretty easily wick this off with a paper towel. There are a couple of others available on Kremer Pigments I’ll also try, and at some point of course I’ll be making my own.

Casein is a wonderful medium—try it out and have fun!

Aqueous Dispersions, Part II

January 14, 2019

Here’s an article about aqueous dispersions and what they’re for: Aqueous Pigment Dispersions.

I’ve made up some aqueous dispersions from that monster batch of pigments I received. Here they are:

dispersions-starter

dispersions-starter

Cobalt blue, ultramarine (in the back), alizarin crimson, cadmium red, raw sienna, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow.

The alizarin crimson was by far the most difficult to mull and clean up; I think it took up about as much time as the rest of them put together. And even when I called it finished, the resulting dispersion is weird… slabby, for want of a better term, almost as if it were a natural clay or something. I’m not sure why it behaved like this, but it may be that some of these pigments have been sitting around for quite some time. In any case I’m not really happy with it. I’ll try grinding some with a mortar and pestle before mulling it next time. The cadmium red also took a bit of work for some reason, coming out grainy like a natural earth—which would be great for oil paint, but I’m not so sure about it in water-based media. We’ll see.

The rest of them were easy peasy, dispersing in the water in no time flat.

We’ll have to see how well those containers work out; they were literally bought at Ross, years ago, for like three bucks for a dozen jars or so. I think you can get them at Joann Fabrics. They seem to be doing okay after a few weeks. But if the dispersions start drying out in there, or if the lids start giving me trouble after some use, I’ll have to find some better containers. These, maybe:

LaCon containers

LaCon containers

LaCons. I’ve heard they’re all right; an illustrator friend has told me they keep his acrylic paints moist for months at a time.

There are places you can purchase ready-made aqueous dispersions. Natural Pigments has some, as does Kremer (“color pastes,” as they call them); Guerra Paint offers a huge selection of them. Natural Pigments offers mainly earth colors, as you might expect; both Kremer and Guerra have a bismuth vanadate yellow, a color I recommend for anyone trying to get cadmium yellow light off their palette.

More on casein, next!

Aqueous Dispersions

December 22, 2018

When you’re making water-based paints—gouache, casein, egg tempera—you can mull your pigments directly into binder, or you can use aqueous dispersions. Aqueous dispersions are simply pigments that have been mulled into water, without the binder. They can be stored in jars (with well-fitting lids!); then, when you need to put some of a particular color on your palette, you simply grab some of the dispersion, mix it with your binder with a palette knife, and go!

The main reason I’m playing with this right now is that I’ve been realizing casein might just be my medium of choice, for illustration work at least. Aqueous dispersions make a lot of sense to use with casein, because casein paints have a shelf life. They will go bad if you don’t use them quick enough. But aqueous dispersions should stay indefinitely. If my casein medium goes bad, I’ll have to toss it out… but at least I won’t have to discard a bunch of paints along with it.

Mulling aqueous dispersions is both easier and more difficult than mulling paints. It seems easier, until cleanup time. Since you’re only adding water, any drying on the slab reverts the pigment back to, well, pigment. It’ll blow around and get all over everything.

Put the drawer shelf liner under the slab, of course, but beneath that lay down some newspaper. Yes, I know this negates the purpose of the liner. Yes, you’ll thank me. Don’t do it like this:

Raw Sienna dispersion

Raw Sienna dispersion

Mmm, raw sienna. Nice and dirty, the way it ought to be.

Ultramarine dispersion

Ultramarine dispersion

Ultramarine. You can see it drying around the edges. This was about the time I began to realize how messy this can be.

Boy, look at that color, though. If folks from the Middle Ages could have known how cheap and easy this color would one day become, they’d be absolutely murderous with envy. Something to keep in mind as I wallow in this embarrassment of rich hues.

More on aqueous dispersions later. See you next year!

M. Graham gouache plug

July 13, 2018

Periodically someone on WetCanvas will pipe up and ask the crowd to list their picks for the best gouache brand. All due respect for my fellow artists, but some of the responses make me think a lot of people just haven’t tried very many varieties. There are others out there besides the ones you can get at Michael’s.

I have a good friend, an illustrator who’s unfortunately developed some rather horrific allergies to certain art materials, including solvents, alkyds and even most watercolor preservatives. (Yes, he’s that sensitive. Airbrushers take note: if it’s in the air, it’s quietly bulding up in your body.) I emailed M. Graham on his behalf to ask about their gouache ingredients. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t list for me their proprietary ingredients; however, they kindly offered to send us some sample tubes. When I received them I was pleased to find they weren’t the miniscule promotional samples I’ve seen from other companies, but full-sized, 15ml tubes.

It turns out that not only are M. Graham gouaches one of only two brands my friend can safely use, but we were both blown away by the quality of the paint. Their gouache prices are so reasonable ($12.50 for a tube of genuine cadmium orange!) you might think they couldn’t be that good. But they are. Out of the six or seven artist-quality gouache brands I’ve had the opportunity to sample, they’re tied for first place with Schmincke (also amazing, but considerably pricier). And their pigment lineup is attractive, with a full range of cadmiums, a PB36 cerulean (yummy!), Prussian blue, viridian, etc. No, I’m not getting paid to say it. I’m happy to plug a great company with such a fantastic gouache offering. These paints come fully recommended by moi.

I’m currently trying to get my hand back in by doing some gouache sketches, so I filled out my palette.

After Loomis

After Loomis

Here are my M. Graham colors:

M. Graham gouaches

M. Graham gouaches

For those longtime readers shocked to see a synthetic organic on my palette, the alizarin crimson is just a placeholder to jumpstart my sketching until I can make some of my own gouache paints to supplement these. Yes, of course I’ll be making my own! In fact, I’ve already started:

Vermilion gouache!

Vermilion gouache!

Sun tea

Sun tea

Bispo’s remedy for mulling paint on a hot summer day: sun tea!

For instant sun tea, try Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea—it’ll be ready in a jiffy. The stuff’s serious. (No, I’m not using a pigment jar for my beverage—perish the thought!)

As for the Sisyphean task of keeping ant scouts from suiciding in your vermilion during mulling, I’ll leave that post for another day.

Hand-mulling Paint, Part II

November 2, 2012

Continued from Hand-mulling Paint, Part I.

If you’re mulling a particular pigment for the first time, you won’t know just how much oil you should add. You can do some research online, something like “raw umber oil absorbtion” – but you don’t really need this information to begin. At first, use less oil than you think you will need. Many pigments (not all) will loosen and become more and more oily as you mull. I try to add just enough oil to pigment so that when I start mixing with a spatula, I’m pretty sure it won’t be enough oil. Then I start mulling. Often it winds up being enough after all. Once you’ve done this, you can keep notes on how much oil to add to each pigment.

You’ll go in a big circular motion with the muller, and pretty soon you’ll have to stop, grab the paint spatula, and scrape the paint together into a pile again. You’ll have to scrape paint off the sides of the muller as well. Make it into a pile and start mulling again. It helps to switch hands every so often. It can take a tiring amount of time with some pigments, and patience is sometimes required. After a while, you’ll know if you need to add more oil (or, sometimes, more pigment).

Below, I’m mulling and then scraping together a homemade copper green pigment into linseed oil:

Mulling Copper Green

Mulling Copper Green


Mulling Copper Green 2

Mulling Copper Green 2

Just how necessary is it to mull pigment? Why can’t you just mix the stuff up on the palette with a spatula and go? Well, sometimes this might work – the homemade candle black I made into an oil paint recently barely required mulling at all, and probably could have been used right after mixing it with oil – but other times, mulling is absolutely required. See the difference between mulling or not mulling Egyptian blue, below:

Mulling Egyptian Blue

Mulling Egyptian Blue

The first swatch is unmulled. It was quite difficult to even brush it out: I had to add extra oil and use one of my stiffer bristle brushes to manage it. The second swatch is after perhaps only two minutes of mulling. Big difference, isn’t it? The third swatch is the mulled Egyptian blue mixed with some zinc white. Nice color, huh?

Some earth pigments are said to display their best colors when only lightly mulled, and that this is one problem with the uniform grind of modern, industrially-produced pigments. I thought that I was seeing this phenomenon when I was grinding up a nice raw sienna from Sinopia Pigments. The more I mulled, the duller the color seemed to get. See the pic below, the difference between those two piles of paint? I thought I was seeing over-grinding in action. However, I was wrong: it was just that the finer clumps of pigment were soaking up more of the oil. When I added more oil back into the paint, its color sprang to life again. So if that happens to you, try the same.

Mulling Raw Sienna

Mulling Raw Sienna

I’ll post one more installment of the Hand-mulling Paint series, and discuss tubing your own mulled paint.

Hand-mulling Paint, Part I

April 16, 2012
Mulling Yellow Lake in Oil

Mulling Yellow Lake in Oil

For the past few years, I’ve been mulling paint, both watercolor and oil. Mulling is the process of dispersing pigment into a painting medium. This involves some elbow grease at times, since you’re breaking up larger glomerates of pigment into smaller glomerates. (Though mulling is often called grinding – slightly older terminology – you’re not actually grinding pigment particles into smaller pigment particles. With homemade pigments, though, there are some exceptions: for instance, there’s just only so fine I can grind eggshell white in a mortar and pestle; the fine grinding of that pigment happens with the muller.) Some pigments take longer and require more work, some less. The vermilion that I ground up recently was very quick and easy.

Eggshell White on the Palette

Eggshell White on the Palette

So: why mull paint, when there is so much in the way of ready-tubed paint to be had at the art supply store? Well, here are a few reasons one might want to mull their own paint:

One, to save money. Art supply companies often charge premium prices in what is, after all, a niche market. Understandable. But if one is willing to do a little work oneself, a noticeable amount of money can be saved for our hero, the starving artist. Remember the recession?

Two, to make a paint with a pigment that isn’t available on the market. If you’re a fan of de Laszlo and you’ve got a particular hankering to try painting with chrome orange, you’re just going to have to make that paint yourself, because it doesn’t exist in a tube at the store. Or, in my case, I wanted to mull up the pigments that I’ve made myself. (That’s actually what got me started mulling.)

Three, to produce paint with specific qualities that are not currently popular in tube paint. I personally like gritty, goopy paint, especially in earth colors (it’s just no good if I can’t make happy, chunky swirl sculptures on the palette), and it’s pretty easy to mull up a bit for the day and slap it onto the palette. I have found some paints on the market – Rublev in particular – that match the qualities I like, so I use a combination of home-mulled and bought paint.

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

(Related to this: some pigments alter their color depending on the grind. Vermilion, pictured at right, has been said to become brighter and more orange the finer it is ground. Copper pigments such as azurite and malachite become brighter and less intense – you could theoretically model an entire form using only different grinds of azurite!)

Oh, and Four, just for the experience. It can be quite satisfying to make your own paint, and even more satisfying to paint with it! – and it certainly educates one about materials. I recommend trying it!

The equipment you’ll need to start mulling your own paint: A muller and mulling slab (usually a tile of glass, but it could be stone as well); a paint spatula; and a rough material for roughening the glass surface of the slab. Maybe a gripping material like a cabinet liner, so the slab doesn’t slide all over the place while you’re mulling. Oh: and pigment and binder. How could I forget!

Next: Mulling and Tubing Your Own Paint!

From Student Palette to Zorn Palette

January 22, 2012
Student Palette Portrait

Student Palette Portrait

As described in my last post, I’ve been working with something called the student pallette. This is a severely restricted palette using only earth colors, white, and black. I’ve been working on that some more, as you can see from the pics I’ve posted here. The color palette of the painting at top uses: Rublev’s Raw Sienna and Venetian Red; Da Vinci’s Magnetite Genuine; and Winsor & Newton’s Flake White #1. The color palette of the second painting is: Rublev’s Blue Ridge Yellow Ocher and Ercolano Red; Da Vinci’s Magnetite Genuine; and Winsor & Newton’s Cremnitz White (a blend of lead and zinc whites). So all natural earths, plus white.

Student Palette Portrait

Student Palette Portrait

It’s rather difficult to work this way. I wrote something to the effect that it is like doing calisthenics. You’re fighting to get as much saturation as possible out of earth pigments, while at the same time maintaining your valued structure. At the end of a couple of hours it can feel like you’ve been in a battle.

One of the more difficult things about using this palette is maintaining temperature contrast. Even the slightest amount of blending – intentional or not – and the colors just disappear into each other, making something that looks like a monochromatic painting. This may be partly psychological as well: when you’re fighting for saturation, the last thing you think about doing is deliberately de-saturating some tones to get that temperature contrast. However, as my instructors have pointed out, desaturating some tones is the best way to get other tones look more saturated – in other words, if you want one note to look more saturated, place a less saturated color next to it.

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Despite these difficulties – or, I should say, because of them – I highly recommend working with this palette. I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about painting just from the half dozen or so paintings that I’ve done this way. I’d like to include a third painting here, one that was done with a different palette. This one was done in the Zorn palette, wherein the red earth in the student palette is replaced with vermilion. And for the first time, I’ve gotten some genuine vermilion to work with.

Zorn Palette Portrait

Zorn Palette Portrait

I purchased the pigment from Kama Pigments (which was a good deal less expensive than purchasing a tube of real vermilion paint). Because the jury is still out on the toxicity of vermilion, I took a few more precautions than I normally do when mulling paint: I took everything out to the garage, left the door open, and wore a mask and gloves. (I still managed to get a bunch of vermilion paint on me. Of course.) This pigment makes the most incredible vibrant red imaginable. And it’s got pretty high tinting strength in mixes; however, it doesn’t paint at all like cadmium red. You have to fight cad red a bit to get it to behave itself in skin tones – but mixing skin tones using vermilion and yellow ochre was a breeze. I’m not sure I can explain exactly what makes it so different from cadmium red. I guess I’d say that Vermillion wants to mix into skin tones – whereas cadmium red has no such desire.

One sketch, and I already love this paint. I know I’ll be using it more. In my last post, I wrote that the Student Palette is great for study, but probably not robust enough for most professional work. Vermilion is for the professional stuff.

The Oldest Art Studio

October 17, 2011
Ochre pic - from Gizmodo

Ochre pic - from Gizmodo

Here’s some news that blew me away: The oldest art studio ever discovered (National Geographic). In Africa, a cave was unearthed that included all the basics required for making pigments: natural colorants, tools for grinding them (stones), and bowls for holding the pigments (abalone shells) – as well as some evidence of some fairly complex chemistry in their making, and even color mixing. Which is all extremely cool. But here’s the really cool thing: These art materials are 100,000 years old. Yep, a tenth of a million years is how long (at least) we humans have been making art materials – which means, of course, that we’ve been making art for at least that long as well. I’ve always had a younger date in mind, and have often shared that with my students: say, 30,000 to 40,000 years. But clearly, it’s been much longer than that.

I’m excited by the news of this discovery for a few reasons. One, this means that we homo sapiens have probably been making art ever since we’ve been homo sapiens. One related article at CNN mentioned that fragments of pigment have been found from even longer ago than those in this find, though without the related tools found there. Longer than a hundred thousand years is how long we’ve been painting. In a very real way, I think, making art is a part of what it means to be human – as much as tracking, or storytelling, funeral rites, or any other part of our deepest shared culture.

Second has to do with the pigments themselves. The pigments discovered were ochres and other minerals, charcoal, and bone. None of these is unexpected – but what has an impact on me is the feeling that when I paint with a natural earth pigment, I am a part of a hundred-thousand-year-old tradition. That makes me feel differently about what I’m doing when I use these pigments, in a wide but not-quite-definable way. It makes me feel – human. Really a part of our culture, not our modern veneer and glitz, but the real deal. It feels good.

Third, of course, is the fact that I’m a handcrafter of pigments myself. When I read the article, I immediately felt a strong connection, a kinship even, between myself and those color-makers from long ago. I felt part of a string. I thought about myself, and about some artist grinding earth pigments 100,000 years from now, and about those ancient color-makers from so long ago. I wished they could have known about me somehow, grinding earth pigments so long after they did. And I wondered if they felt the same excitement in the gathering and making of the colors, the same satisfaction with the finished pigments, and the same joy in using them for their art.

I bet they did.

Candle Black

September 12, 2011
Candle Black Ink Drawing

Candle Black Ink Drawing

There was a power outage last week here in the American Southwest. You might have seen it in the news – or even been affected yourself – it was quite a large blackout, about 5 million people without power. It was interesting to go for the evening walk with the dog, seeing house after house darkened, and the unusual sight of neighbors actually talking with each other on the street. Amazing, the things that happen when the TV and computer are out. As always, it brought home to me how lucky we are to have such things as electricity at our constant disposal. With a changing world on my mind, it was a thoughtful but enjoyable walk.

When we got back home from our walk, we lit the place up with candles. Romantic and comfortable as it always is to do so, I found myself by habit still reaching for light switches in every room I entered, even though I was carrying a candle with me. The whole thing brought to mind an experiment I’d carried out some time before to make a different kind of carbon black pigment. The kind of carbon black pigment with which many will be familiar is vine black – created by calcining grapevines in the absence of oxygen – but there’s another kind described in various treatises from the Middle Ages that is made from candles. This is a black pigment with extremely fine particles, which mixes very easily into linseed oil, and makes a beautiful black ink. It’s also a snap to make. Here’s how you do it:

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

First, the equipment. You’ll need, not surprisingly, a candle. But not just any candle: this needs to be a natural beeswax candle, not the paraffin or carnauba wax variety. Preferably, it will be a beeswax candle with no perfumes or dyes. You’ll need some kind of metal bowl capable of holding water, and some way to hang it suspended above the candle while the candle is lit. It doesn’t have to be fancy; you can see the system I’ve jury-rigged here. In fact you can tell a lot about me and the kind of stuff laying around my household from taking a look at the different objects I’ve used here: two fantastic books from the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco about impressionism and post-impressionism; an old paintbrush holding up the bowl; a sketchbook to adjust the height of the candle (notice how the cover is bound upside down–I saw it that way on the shelf and of course had to grab it); and the table underneath protected by a newspaper clipping about the power outage, which I just had to put under the candle.

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

Fill the bowl with cold water, suspend it, then light the candle and put it under the bowl. The candle flame will deposit its black soot on the underside of the bowl. This is your pigment. You can see in the pic how close the candle should be to the bowl. This will heat the bowl up quite a bit, more than one might think, and that’s why it’s necessary to fill the bowl up with cold water before beginning.

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

One of the great things about making candle black is that it’s not labor-intensive at all. You can walk away and do something else while you’re making your pigment. Just wander back once in a while and put a finger into the water to make sure it’s not getting too hot. Once it starts to feel a bit on the warm side, blow out the candle, pour the water from the bowl into a garden plant, and simply scrape your black pigment from the bottom of the bowl. You can keep doing this as long as you wish, of course; you can also periodically move the lit candle around to deposit pigment over a larger area.

Candle Black in Oil

Candle Black in Oil

In this image you can see what this candle black pigment looks like in oil. I made a little set of swatches using homemade candle black and lead white from Rublev. Straight candle black in oil is a really rich, inky black, slightly darker even than my bone black from Rublev. Mixed with lead white, it makes fairly neutral grays. If you’re working in oils with candle black, keep in mind the very small particle size of this pigment, likely much smaller even than lake pigment particles. This means that it might lead to premature cracking of your darks if used too thickly on its own.

Candle Black in Oil

Candle Black in Oil

But where this pigment really shines is as an ink or watercolor. With oil, the candle black pigment dispersed very easily with no mulling at all, just a little mixing together with the palette knife right on the palette. In water and gum Arabic, however, the pigment resisted dispersion mightily. I had to resort to mixing in a couple of drops of glycerin, which helped. Nevertheless, once finally dispersed, it made a beautiful ink. In the large image at the top of the post, you can see the drawing I made with this ink. I’ve been trying to figure out a way, in my ink drawings, to mix quill work with brushwork. This represents another attempt to do so. I don’t think I’m there yet; but this one is better than some of the ones I’ve done recently, and I’m happy that my more successful attempt happened with the homemade ink.

Candle black is a beautiful color, historic, sustainable, and easy to make. Grab a beeswax candle and give it a try!