Tea Party Winners: Debra E. Marvin's winner is: Kathleen, Jennifer Hudson Taylor's winner of her MacGregor Legacy series is Chris Granville and second winner is Britney Adams for the plaque and For Love or Country novel:, Angela K. Couch's winner is: , Carrie Fancett Pagels's winner per random.org is Beverly Duell-Moore for a copy of BCB and second winner for colonial goodies is: Carrie Moore Gould, Denise Weimer's winner: Janet Marie Dowell, Shannon McNear's winner is: Adriann Harris, Pegg Thomas's winner is: Susan C

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Colonial Painting ~ Mixing the Paints

by Roseanna M. White

In research for the second book in my Culper Ring Series, Whispers from the Shadows, I had a heroine in 1812 who was an artist...and who had to mix her own paints. When writing it, I dreaded trying to find information on what it was like to create her own pigments back in the day, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a book from the 1700s that told me all about it!

The Handmaid to the Arts is exactly what I needed--a comprehensive book written in the 1700s that was meant to be a reference guide for artists. In it I found a ton of information on how to make paints, what they're made from, which ones are tricky at best to get to set right, which shades come from which materials.


The author begins by clarifying that there are 2 main components of paint--the color and the vehicle. These means that one substance is used for the pigment, but it needs to be mixed with something else to turn it from pure color into paint...and sometimes it requires yet another something to help it mix in correctly.

As for colors, there can be either pigments or fluids. Pigments must be mixed with a fluid. Fluid-colors are few and only used for watercolor. So any oil pain is going to require a pigment. The equipment required to make them is extensive--you would need three separate furnaces for subliming the three different primary colors (subliming is the process of heating a solid until it turns into a vapor that, upon cooling, becomes a solid again, bypassing the liquefaction stage--this is a means of separating substances or purifying them), coals, boilers, filters, boards for drying...

But what I found very intriguing were the ingredients used for the pigments themselves. Ingredient lists include things like ground-up beetles. Urine. And processes often involve packing things into the ground with dung.

Lovely, eh?

The directions in this book are incredibly specific, down to how thick the metal needs to be when building your furnace to the precise measurements of cross-members to what fabrics you can use to hold each different color.

It wasn't an easy task, to be sure--and the author found it a very sad occasion to note that the French were far ahead of England and her Colonies in devising methods and producing exceptional paints. Through this book, he hoped to alleviate a bit of that distance and make paint-production attainable for the British artist.

And we can be glad they did, and that we have such masterpieces to remember the period by.
Roseana M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two small children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of 9 historical novels and novellas, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels…to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. You can learn more about her and her stories at www.RoseannaMWhite.com.


  1. I love all things history ... but I also love oil paints in those convenient little tubes. Even more so after reading this!

    1. Right?? So glad I can just go buy some! LOL

  2. Great post, Ro. I do have to say, "Ew!" though!

    1. LOL. Aw, come on. Go ground up some beetles... ;-)

  3. Great post, Roseanna. The main character in my historical trilogy is a portrait and mural artist in the 1780s, so my research is the same as yours - except I didn't discover "The Handmaid to the Arts." What a find. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Love this article, Roseanna! What great info. Must get a copy of this resource!

    1. I didn't find a print version, but it's free in Google books!


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