Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), the range of color available for art and decorative
uses was technically limited. Most of the pigments in use were earth and mineral
pigments, or pigments of biological origin. Pigments from unusual sources
such as botanical materials, animal waste, insects, and
mollusks were harvested and traded over long distances.
Some colors were costly or impossible to mix with the range of pigments that were available. Blue and
purple came to be associated with royalty because of their expense.
Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres
and iron oxides have been used as colorants
since prehistoric times.
They used charcoal and mineral ochre, blood, egg, animal fat to create the images, often diluting these
pigments to produce variations in intensity and creating an impression of chiaroscuro. They also
exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give their subjects a three-dimensional effect.
The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1658).
Vermeer was generous in his choice of expensive pigments, including
Indian Yellow, Lapis lazuli, and Carmine, as shown in this vibrant painting.
Ultramarine is a deep blue color and a pigment which was originally made by grinding
the semi-precious mineral lapis lazuli into a powder.
Ultramarine is the most complex of the mineral pigments;
it contains a blue cubic mineral called lazurite.
Mineral pigments were also traded over long distances;
the best sources of lapis were remote.
Ultramarinus (Lat) = beyond the sea (imported from Asia).
Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th and 18th centuries favored it for its luminescent qualities, and
often used it to represent sunlight.
Regarding the exact origins there are many wild stories.
It is said that Indian Yellow was once produced by collecting the urine of cattle that had been fed only mango leaves.
The urine would be collected and dried, producing foul-smelling hard dirty yellow balls of the raw pigment, called
"purree‖. Since mango leaves are nutritionally inadequate for cattle, the practice of harvesting Indian Yellow was
eventually declared to be inhumane.
It is not exactly clear when Indian yellow was first introduced into Europe. It is known, however, that between the 15th
and 18th century brown, rather pungent balls were imported into Europe from Asia. Once they were broken open they
revealed a wonderful warm yellow powder. By grinding and mixing the balls with a binding agent such as egg, oil or
gum, the characteristic golden yellow, transparent paint was produced. The origins of the pigment lay somewhere in
Persia, China or India.
Modern hues of Indian Yellow are made from synthetic pigments.
The name Carmine probably comes from the Arabic word ‗Chamra‘, which
means red and from which the word crimson also derives. It had been used
since ancient times by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans in order to dye
fabrics. In the Middle Ages the term scarlet was introduced. Due to its high
price, only rich people -church leaders, sovereigns and other dignitaries- could
permit themselves a Carmine red gown or cloak.
Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto (c. 1548).
The son of a master dyer, Tintoretto used Carmine Red Lake pigment, to achieve dramatic color
These days the characteristic dark red is therefore made from a stable, synthetic pigment.
Do you know where Carmine used to come from?
Spain's conquest of a New World introduced new pigments and colors to peoples on both
sides of the Atlantic. Carmine, a dye and pigment derived from a parasitic insect found in
Central and South America, attained great status and value in Europe. Produced from
harvested, dried, and crushed cochineal beetle, carmine could be, and still is, used in
fabric dye, food dye, body paint, or in its solid lake form, almost any kind of paint or
How paint is made
Since historic times painters explored the
environment for suitable pigments: chalk, charcoal,
the dye of berries, crustaceans, and minerals
extracted from the ground. For these materials
(pigments) to be formed into paint, they needed to be
mixed with a medium to bind them as a liquid.
Effective media were resins, gums -such as gum
arabic, still used to bind watercolors today -and wax.
A tempera paint made from egg was the dominant
medium in the Middle Ages until the 15th century,
when oil painting came to the fore. Oils and
watercolors dominated until the advent of acrylic in
All paints require a binding medium that can hold pigments in suspension and permits successful
application to prepared supports—walls, wood panels, vellum, paper, or stretched fabric (canvas).
Early forms of paint consisted of pigment bound by a water-based glue called size, made from animal
skins. Alternatives were gums and resins extracted from trees, the white and yolk of eggs, and
beeswax. From the 15th to the 20th century the dominant medium was vegetable—usually linseed—
Painters on panel used egg yolk mixed with pigment and a
little water. This was the principal painting medium before
the arrival of oil paint. Although tempera is quick-drying,
building up the colors of a painting was a slow process.
Panels were prepared with layers of gesso, a mixture of
size and chalk to form a smooth surface.
The paint was applied over a prepared drawing. Gradations
of color had to be built up slowly, by means a series of
carefully juxtaposed applications of paint.
Egg tempera (video)
Entombment of Christ, Russian icon, 15th century
Tempera on panel.
Fresco (the Italian word for ―fresh‖) refers to the method of painting in which pigments, mixed solely
with water, are painted directly onto a freshly laid lime-plaster ground. The liquid paint is absorbed into
the plaster and as the plaster dries the pigments are bound within the fabric of the wall surface. Fresco
was practiced by the Minoans, the ancient Greeks, and the Romans long before its use by
Michelangelo and other painters during the Renaissance.
The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, forming part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling,
painted c.1511–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which
God breathes life into Adam, the first man.
Oil paint is a type of slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil,
commonly linseed oil. The viscosity of the paint may be modified by the addition of a solvent such as
turpentine or white spirit, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried oil paint
film. Oil paints have been used in Europe since the 12th century for simple decoration, but were not
widely adopted as an artistic medium until the early 15th century.
Vegetable oil—principally walnut, poppy, and linseed—had been used as a medium for painting for
some time before the Renaissance, but was more popular in northern Europe than in Italy.
The oldest known oil paintings date from 650 AD, found in 2008 in caves in Afghanistan's Bamiyan
Valley, "using walnut and poppy seed oils."
It was the skill of Flemish painters such
as Jan Van Eyck at the beginning of the
15th century (1410) that convinced the
Venetians and subsequently other Italians
and the rest Europe that oils were the
best medium for easel painting, especially
portraits. The advantages of oil paint are
its strength and flexibility. The paint can
be applied in many ways from thin glazes,
diluted with turpentine, to thick impasto.
Oil paint remains wet longer than many
other types of artists' materials, enabling
the artist to change the color, texture or
form of the figure. At times, the painter
might even remove an entire layer of
paint and begin anew. This can be done
with a rag and some turpentine for a
certain time while the paint is wet, but
after a while, the hardened layer must be
Video: beautiful paintings
The Arnolfini Marriage is an oil painting on oak panel (1434) by Jan van Eyck.
For centuries before the invention of the paint tube, artists used to store their paints in… pig bladders!
When the artist was ready to use the paint, they would puncture a hole in the
bladder and squeeze out the desired amount of paint. They would have to
mend the hole when finished and the whole process was quite messy.
Oil painting: A revolution
John G. Rand., a little-known American portrait painter, living in London in
1841, struggled to keep his oil paints from drying out before he could use
He invented the oil paint tube in 1841, as the primary packaging of paints for
transport and storage.
This invention was slow to be accepted by many French artists (it added
considerably to the price of paint), but when it caught on it was exactly what
the Impressionists needed to escape from the confines of the studio, to take
their inspiration directly from the world around them and commit it to canvas,
particularly the effect of natural light.
Escape from the confines
of the studio
For the first time it was
practical to produce a
finished painting at a café,
at the beach, in the
―Don‘t paint bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere.‖ Camille Pissarro
Pigments by chemical composition
Metallic and carbon
• Cadmium pigments: cadmium yellow, cadmium red, cadmium green, cadmium orange
• Carbon pigments: carbon black (including vine blac, lamp black), ivory black (bone char)
• Chromium pigments: chrome yellow and chrome green
• Cobalt pigments: cobalt violet, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, aureolin (cobalt yellow)
• Copper pigments: Azurite, Han purple, Han blue, Egyptian blue, Malachite, Paris green,
Phthalocyanine Blue BN, Phthalocyanine Green G, verdigris, viridian
• Iron oxide pigments: sanguine, caput mortuum, oxide red, red ochre, Venetian red, Prussian
• Clay earth pigments (iron oxides): yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt
• Lead pigments: lead white, cremnitz white, Naples yellow, red lead
• Mercury pigments: vermilion
• Titanium pigments: titanium yellow, titanium beige, titanium white, titanium black
• Ultramarine pigments: ultramarine, ultramarine green shade
• Zinc pigments: zinc white, zinc ferrite
Biological and organic
• Biological origins: alizarin (synthesized), alizarin crimson (synthesized), gamboge, cochineal red,
rose madder, indigo, Indian yellow, Tyrian purple
Non biological organic: quinacridone, magenta, phthalo green, phthalo blue, pigment red 170
1934 the first usable acrylic resin dispersion was developed by German chemical company BASF,
which was patented by Rohm and Haas. The synthetic paint was first used in 1940s, combining
some of the properties of oil and watercolor (commercially available in the 1950s).
Otto Rohm invented acrylic resin, which quickly transformed into acrylic paint.
Prior to the 19th century, artists mixed their own paints, which allowed them to achieve the desired
color and thickness and to control the use of fillers, if any. While suitable media and raw pigments
are available for the individual production of acrylic paint, hand mixing may not be practical due to
the fast drying time and other technical issues.
The advantage of acrylics is that they are water-soluble when wet, but dry quickly to a durable
surface. They can be used in transparent applications like watercolors or in thick, impasto
applications like oil paints.
Artistic Movements in the Later 20th Century
Artists were beginning to explore movements and forms such as pop culture, photorealism, abstract
expressionism, and pop art.
Acrylics were the ideal medium for these art forms; media could be mixed, different textures and
consistencies could be achieved (by mixing sand, water, or other elements into the paint), colors
could be transparent or opaque, and artists could work much more quickly due to its substantially
faster drying time. In essence, the arrival of acrylic painting opened up a whole new wave of
creativity and possibility in the modern art world that to this day is still a strong influence in artistic
forms and trends.
Both watercolor and gouache paints are bound in gum arabic and are water soluble.
Watercolor is transparent; Gouache is opaque.
Watercolor uses the brightness of the paper or other support to generate a distinctive luminescence.
Light passes through overlaid transparent washes and is reflected back from the support—for
example, white paper.
Paint brushes are traditionally made from animal hair, stiff brushes from hog‘s bristles,
finer ones from squirrel or sable hair. Both kinds are now produced using synthetic
Whenever you paint, you‘re
basically holding a stick with
some animal hair secured at
the end and smearing
around crushed up rocks
and oil on a piece of wood or