• Mulling Paint: A beginner-ish guide

    Mulling paint is a time honored tradition that all artists and scribes alike must undergo.  It is the process of suspending pigments in your chosen medium.

    Wait... what do you mean you buy yours as a paste? From where? Wal-store or Hobby Entryway or Mike's?

    Kids these days, not willing to put in the effort to make their own paint.  Anyway, apparently people don't know how to mull paint, so I'll teach you.  First you'll need a spatula/spoon/pallet knife, a plate, a muller, powdered pigment, something to put the paint in, and your medium of choice. I guess I should explain to the uninitiated what each of these is, but first a picture.

    Pigment in jar, palette knife, shell, muller, and plate

    The pigment is just that, powdered pigment.  They can be everything from a reddish dirt, to synthetic organic particles.  I either buy pre-ground historic pigments or make my own. Here we are using real vermillion.

    The plate is just that, a plate of glass or marble or granite or ceramic etc. The plate roughed up a bit with a grit of some kind.  Silicon carbide, sand, diamonds, or whatever else you have lying around. (if you have diamonds just lying around please see our custom work page and we can work out a trade)

    The muller is in the upper right of the picture and is kind of like a pestle with a large flat surface, which makes it better for dispersing and worse for grinding.

    The palette knife is for moving the pigment paste around and scraping everything into the shell.

    The shell is... well... it's a shell to be honest, not sure how else to put that.  Sea shells are the traditional paint pots of the medieval world.  If you notice a paint pot likes a bit like a better balanced shell.

    Your medium is where you can add variety. If you are into oil painting, use linseed oil/walnut oil/poppy oil/not-corn-oil-because-it-won't-dry-ever, if you are into water color, you can buy water color medium, the same goes for latex, etc. I use a weak water color medium made from gum Arabic, honey, and water. It makes for a fine water color, but has the ability to be usable in egg tempera as well (my preferred medium).

    Ok, enough about tools and supplies.  Here is how it works.  First you make a pile of pigment in the center of your plate. I know this is completely unexpected, but just hold onto your seats because it gets crazy from here. Next you put a little hole in the center of the pile like it's a tiny pile of toxic, powdered mashed potatoes.

    A pile of pigment perforated perfectly per precise prescriptions

    The next step is to pour your chosen medium into the well you dug so daintily down...ok, enough alliteration. Pour the medium like the gravy into your tiny toxic pile. How much you use depends on the pigment, how fine it is ground, and how much you put on the plate.  It's easy to add medium, it is hard to remove it.

    Tiny toxic pile with water color medium in it

    Using your palette knife, mix the pigment into a paste, the idea here is to dampen all of the pigment so that it doesn't cause you to stir up dust with your muller.  And because, well it's easier to mix with a pallet knife than a muller and if you do the easy bits easily the hard bits don't take as long.

    Close up palette knife action in splendid 2D

    Your next step, if you haven't given up already due to you preferring to buy your historic pigments from these people, is to begin mulling your pigment into the medium, by sweeping your muller on the pile of pigment paste in a figure eight and/or swirling motion.  You have to use your pallet knife to scrape the muller periodically and to move all of the pigment back into the center of the plate.  Depending upon the pigment and medium this takes between 5 minutes and 5 hours. (remember the people who do it all for you?)

    Mulling the pigment, in figure eight motions

    You mull the pigment until it is a smooth paste, a little thinner than toothpaste, and ideally less gritty.  This can take a while.  As I mentioned before, you can add more medium to get the right consistency.

    Mulled to a smooth paste, adding more medium to get the right consistency

    Once everything is smooth, consistently and flows the way you want, use the palette knife to scrape the plate and muller and transfer it to a shell or paint pot or tube or whatever you want to use to store it.  I prefer a shell as I let it dry out and have a watercolor/half-tempera cake ready for me to use for illumination. Just add water and egg yolk/glair and I'm ready to paint. 

    Transferring the paint to a shell for later use

    Why would you want to do this you might ask?  Well, it is hard to get historic pigments already made up into the medium you want, and it is hard to guarantee it was done right unless you a.) do it yourself or b.) know a guy.  The other reasons are because you WANT the experience of making your own paints from start to finish, or making your own pigments, which sure you COULD send them to some friend of yours who writes blogs about this sort of thing to make paint for you, but wouldn't you rather experience it from start to finish?  

    Oh, wait, you don't make your own pigments? We'll have to work on that later.

    Scribe and Chemist,

    Lucas Tucker

  • Calligraphic Beginnings: How it all began

    I was born an ugly child. Not so much that women ran away screaming and hid their faces, but my mother wasn't going to win any Gerber baby contests, if you know what I mean. I learned to walk, talk, read, and write like any child should.  My writing, however, was something that WOULD make women run away screaming. And by writing I mean penmanship, handwriting, chicken scratch.  It was the kind of chicken scratch that chickens made fun of because it was too sloppy. I mean even the messy chickens.

    Messy chickens

    It wasn't that I LIKED bad handwriting, or thought everyone else was crazy because they couldn't read it. 

    Honestly, I couldn't read it either.

    I am a calligrapher and illuminator, a scribe if you will.  I was first introduced to calligraphy when I was in fifth grade at 10-11 years old.  My mother was my 5th grade teacher at a private school at the time and she decided that we were all going to try some calligraphy for art, or something like that.  She bought calligraphy markers and the whole class played with them for a while and then went on to other things.  I didn't. I didn't like the calligraphy markers because their tips couldn't make narrow enough lines.  The calligraphy book showed that I should be able to make something prettier and not the chunky lines I kept getting with the markers.  I promptly took my saved allowance and spent $10 on a Schaeffer calligraphy fountain pen. (I brought in about $2 a week at that point in my life).

    I took the pen with me everywhere, lost it, found it again, wrote with it some more.  I practiced my italic letter forms during sermons at church in the margins of the bulletins.  I was by no means good at it, I just really, REALLY like it.  My normal handwriting was still worthless, but I now had calligraphy... whatever that meant.

    I would become distracted by other pursuits, but would always come back to my calligraphy whenever I found my pens.

    I progressed to dip pens and bottled ink, and my calligraphy improved, however it wasn't until college that a floodgate broke.

    As would be expected, given my passion for calligraphy... I majored in chemistry.

    Ok, so maybe that wouldn't be expected, but if you knew how much I liked science and fireworks you would understand. My academic major fulfilled my analytical side, but my artistic side still needed an outlet and calligraphy seemed to be it (it was either that or basket weaving which seemed a little TOO normal for me).

    I made my first batch of iron gall ink when our oak tree became covered in oak galls, it worked fine, except it was a bit more brown than black.  I used to spend time sitting at my desk doing calligraphy by candlelight because it made me feel like I was a monk in the scriptorium in Lindisfarne (I told you basket weaving wasn't for me...) I started my first illuminated manuscript on cheap paper with my brownish iron gall ink using a steel-nib dip pen. It wasn't exactly a great historically accurate portrayal of illuminated mansucripts. I actually still have it somewhere...ah, here it is.

    I told you it was bad. I mean, seriously, a 30 degree pen angle for insular? What was I thinking.

    I've never finished it, as I realized that it was, too big, the wrong line spacing, the wrong materials, etc., etc., to be even remotely historic.  I abandoned this project and continued my calligraphy by doing poems and bible verses for family members and friends.

    Once I left home for real college it got worse (I was at community college before), I bought some real papyrus from Egypt (Ah, ebay...) and started duplicating ancient Greek texts. This sufficed for about a year, but I had started to yearn to try real parchment.

    Known by some as vellum others as parchment (I'll go into this at a later date), it is made by dehairing, thinning, and stretching animal hides to produce a very fine, lightly toothed writing surface.  It is the ultimate in writing surfaces.  There is a serious problem, however, in using it as my medium.  It costs upwards of $40...per square foot, and, at the time, I could only find it purchasable by the whole skin.

    The opportunity (read as "justification") to purchase parchment presented itself in the form of a Shakespeare class. We were given a project option and I decided to make a patent bestowing the duchy of Hereford upon Henry Bolingbrook.  It was a relevant project, and I had my reasons (like using real parchment...).  I used my handmade iron gall ink, still too brown and not enough black, I made egg tempera using dry poster paints (yep, I wasn't good at this) and gilded with imitation gold leaf.  Once I was done with it I was supremely proud of it.

    Henry Bolingbrook, Duke of Hereford, in all it's middle English glory

    I now keep this around to remind myself of all of the mistakes I made and how much is historically wrong with it.  I have learned much since then and continue to improve.  I now use historic pigments, make much better inks and paints, and my hand has improved.

    I've started an illuminated insular manuscript of Jonah in latin.

    I still can't read my own cursive handwriting. Almost no-one can read my print. But my calligraphy is pretty.


    Scribe and Chemist,

    Lucas Tucker

  • Our new website is up!

    This is just a quick blog post to say our new website is up! We will be continually adding new content over the next few weeks to get it up to standard as well as more blog posts to keep you informed and hopefully be at least semi-educational.