Saturday, June 15, 2024

Historic Paints on Metal

 Historic Paints on Metal

June 15, 2024

Muirenn inghean Uí Cléirigh (Katie Kelm)


As far back as ancient Greece (900-31BC), soldiers began to carry elaborately painted shields. As time went on and helmets obscured identities in the middle ages, some armor-wearers with the resources to do so started to paint their helmets as well as their shields with their personal devices.  This practice spread to the rest of their armor and continued into the Renaissance.  But how did the paints that were perfected for manuscripts and frescoes work on the plate metal?





The purpose of this study is to compare and contrast paints that would have been available in the middle ages as they function on metal.  In reviewing the results, those who wear armor might make informed decisions as to the method they choose to use in making their period paint.  Nine different paint types were used for this experiment: water, full egg, egg yolk, glare, linseed oil, hide glue, egg tempura, gouache, as well as a modern acrylic paint to compare.







Materials: For all of these paints except the modern acrylic, a roughly powdered, gold ochre from Curtin, Oregon, USA was used.  They were applied to an abraded tea kettle base to mimic the texture and curve of plate armor elements.  It should be noted that nearly every recorded recipe for any one of these paints differs slightly from each other.  Each artist has their own preferences of texture and function.  In this experiment, relatively simple but documentable versions of each paint formula was used, but may be adjusted to suit need.

Process: To begin I made a Gesso base layer to paint over half of the surface in order to compare the difference between a bare surface and one with a foundation.  The gesso was created by combining equal portions of hide glue (may also use fish glue) as a binder and chalk (calcium carbonate, may also use slaked plaster) as an inert pigment.  To this, a drop of honey was added as a humectant to increase smoothness and plasticity.  These were mulled together until mixed, but for future projects I would recommend mulling more thoroughly, until the consistency of softened butter.  








To mull, a hard flat surface (tempered glass cutting board) is needed in addition to a muller.  Intentional mullers may be purchased from glassworkers, but a flat topped, glass, electrical insulator accomplishes the same results.  First make a small pile of your dry materials in the center of the board and create a little well in the center.  Into this well pour your liquid ingredients.  With the flat surface of your muller, grind the materials against the board in small, ever-widening circles to blend and further reduce the particle sizes.  If it becomes too spread out, use a palette knife or spatula to bring the solution back to the center and repeat.  This process can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, depending on how smooth you want your final product to be and the hardness of your dry materials.  This process is used to create all the paints as well.


After application, the paints were allowed to dry 48 hours before being  tested.  Adhesion was determined by how well they adhered to the metal and covered the area.  Durability was tested in a scratch test done by wooden chopsticks, a drop of water applied by fingertip, and flexibility by being hit with a rattan sword. 


Once the gesso was dry, I began creating paints and painting two patches on the kettle of each type: one on the bare surface and one over the gesso.  The most simple paint was first, which is simply water mulled into the ochre powder.   As seen in the furthest left image above, the coverage was decent once it dried.  However, it readily shed large patches as you can see in the scratch test in the center, and it immediately dissolved in a drop of water.

The simple water paint over gesso performed in almost exactly the same manner, although it didn’t scratch off quite as easily.  



The next set of paints include eggs.  To begin these, I first needed to separate the egg yolk from the whites.  With the whites I then processed into a glair as pictured above.  The purpose of this process is to create a solution with uniform consistency that can last quite a long time.  In fact, it is considered to improve in quality as it ages.  To make glair, whip egg whites until they create stiff peaks.  Tilt container and allow to settle.  This may take anywhere from a few hours to a full day.  A slightly yellow liquid will accumulate at the bottom that should pour off apart from the remaining froth.  This is glair.  Some recipes call for a drop of honey for increased elasticity or a drop of vinegar for preservation purposes.

 

Paint made from eggs is considered very strong, but can crack over time. Although I excluded adding honey for these tests, it may be added to all the egg-based paints to increase elasticity and longevity.  Above shows the glair paint (made by mulling glair with ocher powder) on the bare metal.  The adhesion was relatively minimal.  Multiple layers helped but only where it did not wipe off the previous layer with the brushstrokes.  The second image shows the scratch test removing the full area and the last image shows some lifting with the water test.

 

The glair over gesso adhered slightly better.  No paint came off in the scratch test, and the scratches can barely be seen.  However, it did lift with the application of water.


The egg yolk adhered thickly and consistently, even over the bare metal and took a second coat without dislodging the first.  It did readily scratch from the unprimed surface, but was unmoved in the water test. The increased fat content of the yolk increases its ability to repel water.


Over the gesso layer, the yolk performed even better.  It adhered well and could barely be scraped off in the scrape test.  It also showed the same water repelling properties in the water test.  This is the first mixture that I could imagine being used as a relatively sustainable and viable metal paint process.


The next paint is called full egg, but it was made by combining the yolk and the glair together with the ochre.  While it adhered comparatively on the bare metal, the scratch test performed similarly to that of the glair, removing a whole section, and the water solubility of the glair caused some lifting in the water test.  


These characteristics were improved with the whole egg paint over the gessoed metal.  The adhesion was more uniform, the scratches were almost imperceptible, and the water only slightly lifted the paint.


Linseed oil is made from pressed flax seed.  It was used to make oil paints beginning in the late middle ages and through the renaissance.  While boiled linseed oil is fairly readily available, artists during this time were known to let it “harden” between 2 to 20 years to increase the viscosity.  I went into this next test knowing it would be a thinner paint and may not fully dry.  This swatch, pictured above, was allowed to dry 48 hours before testing. The oil is effective in saturating the color of the pigment, causing it to appear darker.  In the test seen above on bare metal, the adhesion is expectedly thin and scratches off quite easily.  However, because of the nature of the oil, it was very resistant to water.  

Despite its thinness, the oil paint adhered surprisingly well to the metal with the gesso layer.  Its scratchability also improved slightly and water resistance remained the same.  


Next up, the hide glue was tested, first on the bare metal.  Hide glue is often used for its added strength and adhesion.  I did cover the bare metal fairly uniformly, and only was scratched at the absolute edge of the chopstick.  However, since it is a water soluble solution, the pigment was lifted during the water test.  


On gessoed metal, the hide glue performed even better.  While possibly slightly less uniform, I was unable to scratch the pigment off at all.  It did still lift in the water test, so this might work as a decent temporary paint.





Now we come to the egg tempera paint.  This paint was the most popular formula to be used for frescoes and panel paintings as well as a number of manuscripts.  It is known for its spreadability and durability.  In my test photos, there are two swatches in each.  This is because my first proportions were unbalanced, leading to an especially dry paint.  After adding more of the liquids, the texture was my favorite of any of the paints that I tested.  It went on so smoothly and thick where it adhered.  

To make tempura paint, mull pigment powder with equal parts whole egg and linseed oil.   Adjust as needed.  On bare paint, the refined consistency (lighter colored paint swatch on the right of each individual photo) applied very smoothly and showed great coverage.  While it did scratch off, it stuck to itself.  This lifting may be due to fresh oil and not entirely hardened dry.  The paint was completely waterproof.










On the gessoed side of the kettle, the tempura didn’t stick quite as well, perhaps due to the coarseness of the surface. But where it was thick enough, it spread on smoothly and evenly as before.  Only one stroke of the scratch test lifted the paint, and it maintained its resistance to water.  This is the second paint I would recommend for metal armor.



 







One of the most common paint-making methods for medieval scribes is gouache, which mulls the pigment with dissolved tree resin.  Gum arabic seems to have been used the most in surviving manuscripts, though there is documentation of the use of other stone fruit trees such as cherry and plum.  While the gouache adheres well enough to parchment and paper, it is evident in the first photo how it is already pulling away from the bare metal.  It easily scratched off and quickly dissolved into the water applied.


Painting the gouache over the gesso greatly improved its adherence and it was so strong, I was surprisingly unable to scratch it!  The gouache is still water soluble, though.  This would be my top choice for a temporary armor paint.  


Finally, I decided to test modern acrylic paint in the same manner.  This is a plastic based paint that is often used by modern reenactors for its ease of use and durability.  Though this paint had very small pigment particle size in comparison the ones I made, it did not have very consistent coverage when applied in a similar thickness onto the bare metal.  It partially scratched off and, though it’s waterproof, quickly sloughed off the metal when water was applied.  


The gesso base only improved its performance slightly.  Adherence was about the same, and the scratch did not go all the way through the paint, though some still lifted with the water.  


Finally, an overview of all the methods on modern paper.  It’s interesting to note that the ones that did the poorest on the metal appear the most appealing on paper.  The kettle was hit repeatedly with a rattan sword, and all of the paints maintained enough flexibility to avoid cracking.  This aspect is likely to deteriorate with time.




Conclusion:

Different paint making methods are useful for different applications.  For a strong, temporary metal armor paint, the gouache over gesso or hide glue over gesso would probably be the method of choice.  But for a long lasting paint that will not drip away with rain, sweat, or the blood of enemies, you will probably have a more enduring paint with the egg tempura or the yolk paint over gesso.  An additional overlay of egg may further increase the paint’s longevity.  Further study topics may include any improvement using more finely ground pigments or non-rock pigments as well as the effects of using well hardened linseed oil or aged glair.




Resources:

  1. Castel d’Avignon, M. OL (AEthelmearc) ( 2006). “An Introduction to Paint Making” Last viewed 6-15-24 from https://www.angelfire.com/pa/allthat2/scriptorium/paint.html

  2. Breiding, D. (2003) “The Decoration of European Armor” Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Last viewed 6-15-24 from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/deca/hd_deca.htm#:~:text=Some%20of%20the%20earliest%20decorated,France%2C%20Germany%2C%20and%20Austria.

  3. von Hefner-Alteneck, J. H. “Medieval Arms and Armor: A Pictorial Archive.”  Dover.  Last viewed 6-15-24 from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=dWS8AQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT9&dq=medieval+painted+armor&ots=sT4Mp6Btgz&sig=79UEjd4NXWeQy0rIyyVIG73cRuQ#v=onepage&q=medieval%20painted%20armor&f=false

  4. Sparks, J. C. “Medieval Illumination Recipes”  last viewed 6-15-24 from https://www.jcsparks.com/painted/recipes.html#Gesso

  5. Kroustallis, S. (2011) “Binding media in medieval manuscript illumination: a source of research” ResearchGate.  Last viewed 6-15-24 from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stefanos-Kroustallis/publication/288624580_Binding_media_in_medieval_manuscript_illumination_a_source_of_research/links/5beabe37a6fdcc3a8dd21b18/Binding-media-in-medieval-manuscript-illumination-a-source-of-research.pdf?origin=publication_detail&_tp=eyJjb250ZXh0Ijp7ImZpcnN0UGFnZSI6InB1YmxpY2F0aW9uIiwicGFnZSI6InB1YmxpY2F0aW9uRG93bmxvYWQiLCJwcmV2aW91c1BhZ2UiOiJwdWJsaWNhdGlvbiJ9fQ

  6.  Rotschopf (2015) “Medieval paints and pigments for practical application”. Last viewed 6-15-24 from https://wh1350.at/en/tutorials-en-all/11366/


  7. Schadle, K (2021) “History of Egg Tempera Painting”  Last visited 6-15-24 from https://www.kooschadler.com/techniques/history-egg-tempera-2022.pdf




Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Bog Hat


 

I've been wanting to make myself a sun hat for about a year now.  I'm not a basket weaver, so I started researching and testing materials that grow in abundance where I live, twining ropes and making mini baskets.  


Most examples of sun hats in the Middle Ages seem to be made of straw.  In the SCA (Medieval recreation) my persona is from 11th C. Ireland on the west coast where large scale grain agriculture was less likely.  But there are coastal sedges and swamp rushes in the bogs, conveniently, the same variety that grow wild here in Oregon.  There are many instances of these rushes being used for basketry in the area, and this includes a few references to hats.  

Early this spring, I foraged the thin Pacific blackberry vines, pasture rush, and lakeside sdges and hung them to dry.  The day before I began, I soaked them in a bin of water to soften them.  I began with a simple weaving of the thorn-stripped vines, and twined a few rows of the rushes.  This was accomplished by maintaining a strand of at least three stalks at all times, twisting and weaving through the spokes. I  propped this on a bowl and used the sedges for the vertical part of the hat.  They were chosen for their length, however these were more brittle and difficult to work with.


When I reached my desired depth, I re-wet the spokes and added more to allow fanning as well as reinforce the walls.  By this point I had run out of the sedge and was back to using more of the rushes.  I gently bent the spokes to a 40 degree angle to achieve the flat brim and continued to twist and weave until it was wide enough.  I wove in the ends of the spokes to finish.  The hat was quite heavy at this point, but that changed drastically as it dried.  Once completely dry, I trimmed any long ends, except for the seed heads at the edge of the brim, which I left for character.  

I wore it first to this years' Egils Skallagrimson Tournament in the Barony of Adiantum (outside Eugene, OR) and it worked great!  We had quite a bit of sun and this hat kept me cooler and free from burns!  I'm excited to make another for my husband now.  It will be a little bigger and (hopefully) a little more uniform.  I received many compliments on it as well as requests to teach it to others.  Perhaps that will come after a little more practice!



Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Iron and Oak

Iron Gall Ink!

This is probably one of the most widely used historic inks we know about.  The earliest surviving manuscript using iron gall ink is the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century! It was used by Da Vinci, Shakespeare, for the Declaration of Independence, and in countless versions of the Bible.  There were slight variations, but this ink was so prevalent because it's so easy to make with ingredients that are widely available.


This ink is superior to the carbon ink that predates it in that, because of its acidic nature, it etches itself into the parchment, becoming permanent and will not smudge.  However this very benefit can also cause long term corrosion. There were actually many iterations of this general recipe.  Essentially, scribes would use what was available to them.  Instead of apple cider vinegar like I used, they may have used wine or beer, or even just allow the gall solution to ferment!  (4)

Ingredients:

1. Iron: just a little chip would do.  Traditionally this could have been picked up from any old, bent nail or perhaps filings from the blacksmith's shop.  Today we can even use the iron component in steel, but never use anything galvanized for this process!  The chemical reaction we're after would cause harmful off gassing with galvanized steel. 

2. Vinegar: any vinegar will do.  We want the acidity that the iron can dissolve into.

3. Oak Galls:  These look like thin, paper-like balls attached to leaves that are very brittle.  You will often find them on the ground under oak trees, though there are varieties that grow on rose, blackberry, or raspberry vines.  They are produced by the gall wasp as part of their incubation process.  By the time you find the galls on the ground, the wasp has long since left.  Oak galls contain very concentrated tannins (tannic acid). (1, 2)

4. Enough water to cover the galls in a pot.

Method:

1. In a jar, cover the iron with vinegar and allow to dissolve and create iron acetate for two to three weeks.  This is sometimes called "vinegroon" or "coperose".  

2. When your iron vinegar is ready, put about a handful of galls, slightly crushed in a pot and cover them with water.  Allow to simmer on the stove from 20-30 minutes.  Once this has cooled you can strain the remaining gall from the liquid.  

3.  In a small jar, combine equal parts (this ratio may vary) vinegroon and gall tincture.  As soon as they come into contact, you can see the chemical reaction of the iron acetate with the tannic acid to create the deep black ink from the phenolate complexes! (3)  Below are three clips: the first is the iron vinegar, the second is the gall solution, and the third is the magic (chemical reaction) when you combine!




4. Ready for use in your painting or calligraphy!  Most scribes will thicken this solution with a little gum arabic.


But the thing that makes this recipe even more versatile?  You can use almost any tree product for this, because almost anything a tree produces contains concentrations of tannins!  You could use nuts, cones, bark, roots, or seeds!  

There is a recipe in the National Archives of the UK from 1483 (C 47/34/1/3). While the resource (5),  it basically calls for equal parts water, iron vinegar, galls, and gum arabic.  Another from the early 15th C. resides in the Cambridge University Library (MS E.e.i.15) and describes an ounce each of galls, "coperose" (Iron acetate), and gum arabic crushed and added to a pint of rain water, stirring daily for three days.  



Resources:

1. Day, E. and Dellinger, T. (5-16-2022) "Galls Made by Wasps" VCS Publications/Virginia Tech.  Last Visited 4-1-24 from https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/ENTO/ENTO-145/ENTO-145.html#:~:text=Many%20gall%20wasps%20(Hymenoptera%3A%20Cynipidae,are%20attacked%20by%20gall%20wasps.

2. U.S.F.S. "Tannins" United States Forest Service.  Last Visited 4-1-24 from https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/ethnobotany/tannins.shtml

3. Thompson, R. (8-8-2022) "Iron Acetate Solution Prepared from Steel Wool and Vinegar for Ebonizing Wood" Research Square.  Last visited 4-2-24 from https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-1915319/v1/dfd42d56-0571-4b26-b2db-1398fe2c9a34.pdf?c=1659979394

4. Gupta, A. (2-25-2021) "The Ins and Outs of Iron Gall Ink" American Philosophical Society.  Last visited 5-2-24 from https://www.amphilsoc.org/blog/ins-outs-iron-gall-ink#:~:text=Iron%20gall%20ink%20was%20developed,is%20blue%2Dblack%20and%20permanent.

5. Peverley, S. (2024) "Iron Gall ?Ink: A Medieval Recipe" Professor Sarah Peverley.  Last visited 4-3-24 from https://sarahpeverley.com/2014/01/29/iron-gall-ink-a-medieval-recipe/#:~:text=The%20recipe%20instructs%20that%20four,it%20is%20ready%20to%20use.

6. White, T. (1-27-2021) "A Medieval Ink Recipe."  St. Edmund Hall, University of Oxford.  Last visited 4-3-24 from https://www.seh.ox.ac.uk/blog/a-medieval-ink-recipe


Monday, March 11, 2024

Tenth Century Bone Comb Recreation with Period Paint and Bag

 Bone Comb

Muirenn inghean Uí Cléirigh

2024



Where combs are found, archaeologists and historians find the society of a culture: they  interpret that the previous owner cared about their appearance.  While combs have been made from several materials (antler, horn, wood), bone is common for its strength and carvability. (3)  The comb created for this display was inspired by a find from Knowth, Co. Meath (fig.1), and is a single piece comb (“ci”) with no side plates.  This style comb had dimensions of 41-56 mm in length. 35-43 mm in depth and between 4-5mm thickness with short tines. (1). Based on similar finds, it is estimated to be from the 7th-10th C. AD. (2) In early period (before the 11th C.) there were also references to comb bags (ci orbholg, “keer-wolg” {7,9) and these were highly prized among women along with their distaffs.  (1)  





Process:  This bone was acquired from our local butcher and after the dogs had cleaned the flesh and marrow to the best of their abilities, the rest was placed in the ground to let worms and grubs finish the cleaning process.  When I was ready to carve, I retrieved it and cleaned the remaining dirt.  In the “Trials of Ireland” mentioned by Dunlevy, comb-makers were known to leave their materials in the dung heap to keep it soft until it was time to carve. (1) Only the outside of any bone or antler can be used for this type of carving as the center is either too soft or porous. (3)









Since I don’t yet have hand carving tools (period files and saws), I did use a Dremel (and  modern eye and lung protection) to carve the comb.  This took several hours with an electric tool, so I can only imagine how long it took  with hand tools.  While a pronged drill would have been used to get the circle engravings, I did as similar shapes and designs as I could based on the findings in Ireland.  The length of the tines are curious to me, but after some experimentation, we found that it worked perfectly as beard comb.  It could function for long hair, but not as well as a comb with longer tines.    I utilized motifs from Irish comb finds in my design. (Fig 2.)


 

 

After carving, I polished all edges of the bone and gave it a thorough cleaning.  To further decorate, I prepared pigments.  The ochre was harvested from the ground near our home. This was one of the earliest pigments used, and is found as a silicate compound in clay beds. (6) The verdigris was made by suspending copper wire over a basic (high pH) solution.  I used ammonia, but stale urine was often used in period.  Alternately, a more green pigment can be produced by following the same process over an acid like vinegar.  (5)  After left for a few weeks, I could scrape the pigment powder from the wire.  And finally the bone black was made from the trimmings from the comb.  After fully sealing them from air, I left them in the fire for a few hours.  This charcoalized the bone and I could then crush it into a pigment powder. (4) All pigments were then mulled with quail egg white.  This strengthens the paint and allows it to seal to some extent.  Although some bone from historical artifacts has been stained, I was unable to locate examples of painted bone.  However, the carved wells hold the egg tempura so perfectly, it seemed the logical next step in decor.

With the comb completed, I cut and sewed a simple comb bag, or ciorbholg, for it from leather and sinew. I created it very simply so the comb would fit snuggly into it.  Since none of the comb bags have been identified in archaeological excavations, I did some assuming with this design.  I wanted it snug enough that the comb would not easily fall out.  Many pouches of this time included a drawstring or a flap, but there are some examples of open topped bags from Gokstad and Birka.  (8,9)


Now I can add this as part of my eleventh century Irish garb. Or, perhaps since it seems to work better as a beard comb with its short tines than long hair, my husband Eoghan will wear it with his kit, as these combs were known to be worn by both men and women.  In the future I would also like to attempt a longer comb, perhaps with scales or folds.  Possibly, eventually I could graduate to more period tools as well.   

 




Resources

  1. Dunlevy, M.  (1988) JSTOR.  “Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature.  Vol. 88C, pp. 341-422.  Last visited 2-29-24 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/25516048?seq=5
  2. Bermingham, N “Fermanagh in 100 Objects: The Drumclay Bird Headed Comb.”  Last visited 2-29-24 from https://www.enniskillencastle.co.uk/media/34463/Drumclay-Bird-Headed-Comb-Research-Report.pdf
  3. Levin, B. (3-31-2003) Regia Anglorum Publications.  “Bone and Antler Working”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from https://regia.org/research/life/bonework.htm
  4. Cochran, C. (2024) “Bone Black: The Deepest Black” Last viewed 2-29-24 from https://christophercochran.me/color-history/bone-black/
  5. Douma, M.  (2001).  “Pigments through the Ages: Verdigris”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from https://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/overview/verdigris.html
  6. Douma, M.  (2001).  “Pigments through the Ages: Yellow Ochre”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from https://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/overview/yellowochre.html
  7. Archaeological Consultancy Service (2024), ACSU in Archaeology Ireland.  Last visited 3-6-24 from https://archaeologicalconsultancyservices.ie/acsu-in-archaeology-ireland/
  8. Vikings Wiki (5-22-2020) Pouches.  Last visited 3-7-24 from https://wiki.vikingsonline.org.uk/Pouches *** Not that this had references to the Swedish History Museum whose page I could not translate or search in English
  9. Bartlett, S. (2006)  “Early Gaelic Dress: An Introduction”— pg 17.  Last visited 3-7-24 from http://www.coblaith.net/EarlyGaelicDress/EarlyGaelicDress10col.pdf
  10. Riddler, I. and Trzaska-Nartowski, N. (2013)  “The Insular Comb” (from Early Medieval Art and Archaeology in the Northern World.). last visited 3-7-24 from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=taSGEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA259&dq=Medieval+Irish+comb&ots=zaV1VHVFRB&sig=wxH5ACH6z6_g2K3ztyZjKrOilOk#v=onepage&q=Medieval Irish comb&f=false