Paint characteristics Paint, inks and dyes
Paint, inks and dyes all share the quality of imparting color to surfaces. Their different end uses however make for different formulations and characteristics hence the different names for each.

Dyes are molecular coloring substances that normally require mordants so that the color will deeply penetrate the textile or hair fibres The color is applied by immersing the item being dyed in the liquid colored substance. The dye 'colors' by staining the object being colored and penetrating beneath the surface.

Inks are suited to the graphic arts of writing and printing. Their formulation maximises the flow through pens with out blockage or the easy transfer from printing tool to the surface printed. The color is applied with a tool such as pen or printing block. They commonly use dyes as the coloring agents although inks for some purposes are pigmented. The object being dyed in the case of an ink is the ink body itself and the ink may then color a surface by a mixture of staining and surface deposits. Inks are midway between dyes and paints in their characteristics.

Paint colors by coating the surface with the coloring agent. Paint is applied by brush, and although artists will often use other tools for application it is the brush that the paint is formulated principally for. Paint forms a protective coating and is commonly used in situations of long term use, so durability of the paint film and lightfastness of pigments is an importanyt factor in the manufacture of paint. As paint is applied to a wide variety of surfaces it requires an ability to cover well and is also often required to have a viscosity that will retain textures such as brush strokes. These 2 qualities are referred to as 'body'.

Different sorts of paint have characteristics that vary according to the binders used and that in turn affects their suitability for application to various types of surfaces. Thus oil paint and acrylic are both very suited to painting on canvas while watercolor and gouache are better suited to application on paper. The common characteristic that links them as all being paint is their primary method of application being the brush.

The traditional paint media such as linseed oil, and gums for gouache and watercolor, or eggs for tempera are probably the easiest paint materials for the artist to use with a centuries long wealth of published information to help the artist 'get it right'. This site is designed around a demonstration of making oil paint as the basic method for good reason, (despite the author's personal preference for acrylics). Having said that, information is provided here for all major paint media with the expectation that many will wish to experiment to find the media best suited to their work, or simply have curiosity about the diverse ways of painting down through the ages.

Paint, particularly oil paint has been the primary means of expression of  fine artists for centuries.

Oil paint The art workhorse
oil paint started from humble beginnings as a paint for decorating furniture and walls in the thirteenth century in in England and northern Europe. The oils used were Hemp, Poppyseed, Walnut and Linseed. Artists saw no need at the time to use a 'decorative paint' as egg tempera perfectly suited the small iconic images popular at the time.

In the fifteenth century Jan Van Eyck became both the first great exponent of the technique for fine art, and also one of the finest ever oil painters. Others followed his example notably Leonardo Da Vinci who experimented with the various oils on offer. Within a few years the primacy of Linseed oil and to a lesser extent poppyseed oil was well established, and the medium was unchallenged, until the invention of acrylics, as the artists first choice for serious painting.

The artist wishing to make paint in the studio finds oil paint relatively easy and satisfying to make. The link takes you to a page detailing the various oils available and the best for grinding into paint.

                     Information on oils for paintmaking

Alkyds Fast drying oils
Alkyds were developed in the 1920's but it wasn't until the 1970's that they have become widely available as artists paints. The various mediums appear to be more popular than the paints themselves. Several companies market Alkyd paints and mediums under various names such as Archival and Griffin. Liquin and Oleopasto are the 2 best known mediums often used by users of conventional oil paints for speeding drying and increasing transparency.

There is no reason that the artist paint maker can't experiment with grinding pigments into these mediums and others to make faster drying oil paints.

                     Information on alkyds for paintmaking

Acrylics Versatility plus
The first acrylic patents were issued at the very beginning of the 20th century but the first 'emulsion paints' didn't appear until the 1930's and the first professional artist's ranges in the 1960's. During the previous decade contemporary artists, particularly in the United States had been experimenting with the industrial and house paint acrylics available at the time. Their use by leading artist's like Jackson Pollock popularized the medium and many found the versatility of acrylics a revalation. For the first time artists had a medium with a body comparable to oil paint yet able to be applied to virtually any surface with minimal preparation, yet is capable of producing the delicate effects of all waterbased media.

These days it is rare to find any artist who does not use acrylics on a regular basis, if only as the primer and 'gesso' to prepare surfaces for oil painting. Making acrylics from base materials is not so simple as making oil paints or watercolors, but the wide range of prepared acrylic mediums on the market can be used as a ready made base for making useful paints, if the artist is prepared to experiment with formulations and techniques on the fly.

                     Information on Acrylics for paintmaking

Watercolors Delicate but beautiful
Contrary to popular belief watercolor is not ancient in origin. Waterbased paints from long ago were generally formulated to be as opaque as possible (more like gouache than watercolor) as the paints tended to be used on natural surfaces such as bark, wood, or stone, Only with the advent of white papers did transparent watercolors become practical, and the first 'great' watercolorist was probably Durer.

Watercolors are easy to make in the studio and beatifully useful paints can be quickly and simply made. This section deals with suitable pigments and gums and how to make the paint.

                     Information on Watercolors for paintmaking

Gouache Popular for a reason
The favorite medium of graphic and commercial artist's before the computer, gouache is well liked by the wider arts community. It has the advantage of simplicity of use, and before acrylics was the only water based color with 'covering power'. It is easy to make in the studio and gives very satisfying results.

                     Information on Gouache for paintmaking

Tempera A surpringly good tradition
Because it uses a food product that spoils with time, Egg Tempera is always practiced by making the paint in the studio. The simplicity of the approach and the unique beauty of the results have continued to attract adherants long after it ceased to be the principal method of painting in the Renaissance as it was supplanted by oil painting.

The basic methods of paint making and appropriate pigments are discussed here.

                     Information on Egg Tempera for paintmaking

Encaustic The heat is on
Encaustic is not for the casual experimenter. It is unique as a paint medium in that the paint is liquid only when heated which involves special palettes to keep the paint hot but not burnt, and the safety issues arising from ever present liquid (read hot) waxes. Despite the inherant difficulties, encaustic, originally a primary technique for the ancient Greeks and becomoming a 'lost art' in the Dark Ages, has seen a resurgence during the last 3 centuries, but particularly since it's adoption by contemporary experimental artist's in the 1950's. Jasper Johns being a notable example.

The information presented here is meant to be an introduction to a fascinating medium to serve as a beginning point for further research and discovery.

                     Information on Encaustic for paintmaking

Fresco The most durable paints
Fresco is rarely practiced these days simply because despite it's obvious permanency it is difficult and expensive. The color is prepared as a simple paste with water and is applied to the surface of the vehicle which is the plaster while the plaster is still liquid and yet to set. Thus the plaster itself is correctly the paint even though most people would apply the word to the prepared color before application. It is the setting of the plaster that binds the color to the surface where it will remain as long as the wall/ceiling or other base exists.

This section offers little more than a list of pigments suitable for use in Fresco and should be seen as the beginning point for further investigation.

                     Information on Fresco for paintmaking

Drawing media Not paint but useful to know
Although outside the scope of a paint making treatise, many studio based makers of paint go on to make drawing media, especially pastels and chalks. As there is a number of inevitable differences as well as similarities with making paint this section provides a basic introduction and encourages further experimentation and discovery.

                     Information on Drawing Media

View the index and site map page

Alberti, L B,    On Painting    1435 (Penguin Classics)
Cellini, B,    The Life Of Benvenuto Cellini,    finished 1562 but not published until 1730 (Heron)
Cennini, C d'A,    The Craftsman's Handbook.    1437 (Dover)
Doerner, M,    The Materials Of The Artist And Their Use In Painting,    1921 (Harcourt Brace)
Eastlake, Sir C L,    Materials For A History Of Oil Painting,    1847 (Dover)
Feller, R L,    Artists Pigments    1986 (National Gallery Of Art / Cambridge University)
Gettens, R J, and Stout, G L,      Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia,      1942 (Dover)
Gottsegen, M D,    A Manual Of Painting Materials And Techniques,    1987 (Harper & Row)
Maire, F,    Colors: What They Are And What To Expect Of Them,    1910 (Drake)
Mayer, R,   The Artists Handbook Of Materials And Techniques,    fifth edition 1991  (Faber & Faber)
Merrifield, Mrs. M P,    Medieval And Renaissance Treatises On The Arts Of Painting    1849 (Dover)
Muther, R,    The History Of Painting From The Fourth Century To The Early Nineteenth Century,    1907 (Putnam)
Parkhurst, D B,    The Painter In Oil   1898 (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard)
Patton, T C,    Pigment Handbook,    1973 (Wiley)
Porter, N      Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary,      1913 (Merriam)
Pliny, The Elder (Gaius Plinius),    Natural History,    77 AD (Penguin Classics)
Roy, A      Artist's Pigments: A Handbook Of Their History And Characteristics,      1994 (Oxford University Press)
Taubs, F,    A Guide To Traditional And Modern Painting Methods,    1963 (Thames & Hudson)
Theophilus,   On Divers Arts,    1125 (Dover)
Various,    Encyclopedia Britannica,    fifteenth edition 1981  (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc)
Various,    Paint And Painting,   1982,  (Winsor & Newton / The Tate Gallery)
Various,    The Artist's Colormen's Story,    1984 (Winsor & Newton)
Vasari, G,   The Lives Of The Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors And Architects,    1568 (Penguin Classics)

Internet Resources  |  imageContact  | image Frequently Asked Questionsimage