Pulverize pigments Grind to a fine powder
When pigments are purchased from an industrial supplier or from an artist's materials supplier the pigment is normally ground finely already. Sometimes some pigments may clump together in loose lumps, or atmospheric moisture from an improperly sealed container may cause pigment to form hard lumps. This will need to be broken up and in most cases the mortar and pestle is ideal for this job.

The artist making pigments from natural Earths has more work to do before the pigments can be used for making Paint or Pastels. The ochre should be first spread out in the sun for several days in order to thoroughly dry out. Remove any visible plant material, leaf litter and so on. Once dry initial pulverizing can occur by placing the Earth lumps into a cheese cloth and wrapping it so as to form a bag, the neck of which should be long enough so as to enable it to be held with one hand while pounding the contents with a mallet in the other hand after which it should be sieved through a metal sieve to remove any larger extraneous matter like small stones. A dust mask needs to be worn at all times while working with dry pigments. Transfer the Earth to a mortar and pestle for initial grinding. The pigment should now be ready for grinding with the muller. Grinding as finely as possible should develop the color and bring out the full beauty of the pigment. Some pigments show more obvious benefit than others. One renaissance master is recorded as saying that if vermilion was ground "every day for twenty years, it would still be better and more perfect." (Cennini, The Craftsman's Handbook). Some artist's contend that the machine ground colors are ground too fine, but this is not possible with hand grinding of a pigment. There is a trade off here between the optimal pigment particle sizes for beauty and durability. Smaller particle sizes tend to make better paint films, but the optimal size for brilliance of color varies from pigment to pigment. Grinding colors with a hand muller gives excellent results that are less perfect than machine mills, but often hit that sweet spot of getting colors just right.

Mix to a stiff paste Predispersal
Predispersal has been standard practice throughout the last several hundred years and probably originated with the book illuminators and the Egg Tempera artists during the Dark Ages, as there is little need to predisperse pigments for Encaustic although it might have been done for Fresco. Renaissance paints with their demands for careful grinding techniques did benefit from predispersal and it is well known from the literature and illustrations of studio practice made at the time. Predispersal is the practice of grinding a pigment into a solvent or oil prior to the actual making of the paint. The predispersed product is referred to as  a paste and it is only after it has been mulled with a binder so that the powder suspended in liquid gains the plastic properties and durability due to well bound and evenly dispersed pigment particles that it is correctly called a paint.

The simple mixing of dry color and oil without mulling is by definition a paste not a paint. (Ralph Mayer - The Artist's Handbook Of Materials And Techniques 5th edition 1991 Faber & Faber, page 194)

Aqueous media work well with larger quantities of pigment paste made in batches and then sored and used as necessary while with oil paint where dispersal is easier is better done just as a mixing stage immediately before mulling.

Making an oil paste
Oil has a natural affinity with many pigments and oil alone is usually used. For those pigments that are a little less co-operative a small amount of mineral turpentine can be used to wet the pigment. Some artist's use Grain Alcohol as this evaporates quickly from the pigment. There are those who use water. this was a common practice in earlier centuries and it appears to improve the color, especially handling qualities. Water does tend to help make a buttery paint but it can also lead to problems within oil/water mixtures if over used and should be treated with caution.  Mix the paste with a spatula until a stiff crumbly paste. Don't over-oil the paste. The whole purpose of this stage is to wet the pigment particles only. This paste is now ready for mulling.

Pigment pastes for aqueous media
Pigment particles tend to be hydrophobic. This is because they have an electrical repulsion to water and are much harder to disperse in water compared to oil. Organic pigments exhibit this quite strongly. Because of this it is not uncommon for makers of water based paints to buy their pigments in a predispersed form as they find these pigment pastes cost effective. Making a pigment paste in the studio has a number of benefits. Firstly they can be stored in jars and used as necessary, and as the pigment is already wet the process of grinding the paint is speeded up. A paste has the ability to disperse rapidly with an assurance of well wet pigment particles.

To mix the paste simply place the pigment on the slab and make a round hole in the middle like a do-nut. For all aqueous paints use distilled water, and various wetting agents can be used including Grain Alcohol, Oxgall, and the Acrylic Surface Tension Breakers. Some artist's use alcohol instead, and some use water, although this can easily lead to problems later on if too much is used. Mix in the solvent with the spatula until you have a wet mass that is quite stiff. Pastes intended for Acrylic dispersion should be wetter with a one to one mix of pigment to Surface Tension Breaker and distilled water.

Store paste in jars Ready to make paint
So long as the paste was made with clean tools and solvents, and is placed in containers free of any organic material it will last for a long time before use. if recycled food containers are used they need to be sterilized first. The secret to  minimizing the use of preservatives is scrupulous cleanliness and distilled water.

You are now ready to proceed to grinding into your preferred binder:

Making Oil Paints

Making Acrylic Paints

Making Watercolors and Gouaches

Making Egg Tempera

Making Hide Glue Chalk Gesso

Making Encaustic Paint

Making Fresco Colors

Making Pastels

Basic Ingredients

Detailed Ingredients

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