Here I will be talking about my exploration into how oil paint was made in ancient times.
For the video tutorial, check out my YouTube video:
"Varen Grey - Making Ancient-Style Oil Paint"
Step 1: STEP ONE: SOURCE PIGMENT
This is easily the most important step, as it will define what colors you will have access to. For simplicity, I decided I would paint a happy little tree on a hill. I needed Brown, Green, and a few others just to add detail.
Mind you, I am by no means a good painter. It's a wonder I passed the mandatory art class in highschool, but I digress.
For a source of Blue-Green pigment, an easy choice is copper carbonate. As long as it is used soon after its creation(or stored under inert gas in my case), it will retain its color. It WILL oxidize and change color if left exposed to air too long, so keep that in mind, as that may be desired. Copper Carbonate is what gives the statue of liberty its signature color.
For brown pigment, I used rust. Powdered iron oxide is pretty easy to come by, but I dissolved iron in hydrochloric acid, and then neutralized it with baking soda. After a few wash cycles I had chemically pure iron oxide. The reason for this was to ensure no surprises down the road, but you could just as easily order different colors of iron oxide(Red, Brown, Grey, Yellow) online, as it's commonly used as a pottery pigment.
For black, I used Manganese Dioxide. Easy to come by, I extracted it from lantern batteries. I also washed this several times with distilled water, and then acetone. Be mindful that this is very fine powder. So fine in fact, that it will likely try to clump and if you try to let the water evaporate off it could take several agonizing days to dry. Acetone is much more volatile and will evaporate in minutes to hours depending on temperature.
Step 2: STEP TWO: SOURCE OIL
This is equally important to finding pigment, as not all oils are created... equal.
I decided on boiled linseed oil (Flax Oil) because not only did I have some on hand for woodworking, but it also has chemicals added to aid in drying.
Was this cheating?
Was it preferable to building a mill and press to get the oil myself?
Absolutely. It's winter, and I'm not building a mill in the snow.
- - - - -
MANDATORY WARNING FOR BLO:
BOILED LINSEED OIL CREATES HEAT AS IT DRIES. NEVER THROW RAGS WITH BOILED LINSEED OIL IN THE TRASH. THIS CAN START A FIRE.
NOTHING IS WORTH BURNING YOUR HOUSE DOWN. LAY THE RAGS OUT IN AN OPEN SPACE TO DRY GRADUALLY AWAY FROM FLAMMABLE OBJECTS.
- - - - -
Now that we have that out of the way, I was asked why I didn't use vegetable oil. The reason being, vegetable oil will "sour" after so long. Essentially it begins to break down. It's gross, it smells bad, and it simply won't dry. With the volatility of BLO we can assure it will dry completely while keeping our pigment bonded to the canvas, given that all the proper safety measures have been taken.
Step 3: STEP THREE: BLENDER
The trickiest part of this was trying to get the paint to the proper consistency. Too much oil, as in the case of my brown paint, leaves a clumpy, smeared appearance that's offensive to the eyes. Too little oil makes a dry paste that can't be manipulated without significant effort.
What I found to be ideal was to add the oil drop-wise while mixing, so when the proper amounts of each were found, you suddenly got that "a-ha" moment. Anyone who has used paint before will recognize the ideal consistency. For anyone who hasn't used oil paint before, it's a thickness similar to dairy cream. It will spread easily but won't run and streak down the canvas when brushed on.
Be mindful that the oil will try to dry on contact with the air, so your paint may thicken a bit as you use it. In the event that the paint becomes too thick to proceed, consider adding a bit more oil.
Step 4: STEP FOUR: CREATE
Well it looks like you're about ready to go paint your portrait. Hopefully this method can bring you a bit of pride knowing that it came almost entirely from your hands. I would like to think it's layers of art, as you could experiment with blending pigments for unique, one of a kind colors.
Thanks for reading, and I hope I see your paintings below!