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Alumni Posts

Grinding paint like the masters.

by Alumni Posts on April 30, 2012

in Academics,College Life,In Saint Louis

I have been taking Victor Wang’s Oil Painting Techniques class this semester. In the class we go through the painting methods of three master painters;  Jan Van Eyck, Titian, and Peter Paul Rubens. These three painters exemplify the three central methods of traditional oil painting.

Since I have been learning about traditional painting methods, I have been wondering what it was like for a painter back then. They painted when an artist couldn’t go to the store and browse through a shelf full of synthetic oil paints, nicely pre-packaged in little tubes for convenience. This led me to the question, “Where DID they get their paints?”

So, I have begun to research how to make paints. I started by purchasing pigments, which are colored powders that are mixed with oil to make paint. Still, this seemed too commercial. I wanted to know what it is really like to make paint from start to finish. I begun with the easiest pigments to make, which are earth tones. I searched out colored earth of different colors, looking for reds and yellows. I found two that I really like in Des Peres. One is yellow rock, and the other is a reddish colored dirt. I brought them back to my studio, and began grinding…and grinding…and grinding. Grinding it down until I had a powder fine enough to go through a metal coffee filter. The next step is to mix the pigment with linseed oil, and then grind it together. This step takes about 3 hours of grinding for a small tube of paint. Then, when the pigment is ground into the oil, I put the paste into tubes, and voila! Oil paint!

I thought that this project would just be about how it felt for the masters to make their own paint from raw materials, but now I’ve started using them and I can really tell the difference! My own paints don’t have fillers or preservatives, they are pure pigment and oil. I’m hooked.

The amount of time and energy that goes into making paint probably makes buying it end up being a little bit cheaper. However, it is not nearly as rewarding. Now I have started working on a bluish-green pigment made by suspending copper over vinegar(the masters used urine instead, but I thought I would spare my classmates from the smell). The result is a teal rust that I can’t wait to make paint out of.

I plan to slowly replace all of the paints on my palette, one color at a time.

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