Painting and graphic work involve three basic elements – the ground (what you paint on), pigments (natural or manufactured colors), and binders (what makes the pigments hold together and onto the ground). Sometimes there is also a final coating to protect the work from the environment and add a particular surface finish.
The first grounds were the stone walls of caves, and walls of various kinds have been used ever since. Then came the great innovation of moveable paintings! Properly prepared, wood, stone, metal, plaster, cement, paper, glass, fabric, ceramic, hardboard, synthetics – almost any surface can be painted on. Each ground offers it’s own texture and character for you to make a part of your work.
For the many grounds that expand and contract with heat and/or moisture, using a flexible pigment binder helps prevent cracking or peeling of the paint. Binders (or ‘medium’) are necessary, and can help you create special effects, but they also affect the look of the pigment, and may yellow or crack with age. If you know your binders, you can avoid these problems, or intentionally create an aged, cracked look quickly.
Permanency is one of the main considerations with pigments, which now are mostly available pre-mixed with binder, and many brands will have a permanency rating on the tube. For making your own paints, it’s important to know how pigments react with each other and how different binders affect them.
Some old, traditional pigments are rare or no longer used for various reasons. For instance, Lead White can be a safety issue. Lapis Lazuli, ground from the genuine natural stone, is extremely expensive and hard to find. And a favorite of the 19th century and a commonly available shade up until at least 1925, Mummy, made, yes, from mummies ground to a fine powder, is now no longer used for,, um, obvious reasons.
So, that’s all for now. I’m thinking that next time I’ll begin going into a few details about pigments. Any questions or suggestions are welcome.