How to make manuscript gesso

Several people have contacted me over the past week asking me where I buy my manuscript gesso from. The answer is that it is not, as far as I am aware, commercially available here in the UK, so I make my own. Here’s the recipe:   8 parts of slaked plaster of Paris (calcium sulphate dihydrate) 3 parts of powdered lead carbonate –  BEWARE, POISONOUS 1 part seccotine glue 1 part sugar, ground to a powder A pinch of Armenian bole...

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How to Make Walnut Ink

How to Make Walnut Ink

This brown ink is easy to make and can be used with a dip pen or brush. There are lots of recipes on the internet, all with different additions to stop the ink going mouldy and flow more easily, but before I get to that, here’s the basic process.           1. Collect walnuts. The part of the walnut you need is the husk, not the nut. When the walnuts fall they are green. Ours had been lying about for a while on wet...

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Mining for Ochre at Clearwell Caves

Mining for Ochre at Clearwell Caves

We were down in the beautiful Forest of Dean earlier this year and came, quite unexpectedly, across Clearwell Caves. The sign outside stated that the caves were mined for pigments and iron ore, so we just had to go and have a look!     It is said that colours have been mined there for 4000 years. Since the 13th century, Clearwell Caves have been the sole territory of Freeminers – males born within the hundred of St Briavels,...

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How to make shell gold

How to make shell gold

Shell gold – gold mixed with gum Arabic to make a paint (like watercolour) – has been used by illuminators both in the Western world and the East over many centuries. It works best when applied to a very smooth surface in relatively small areas and can be burnished to a high shine, a finish unmatched by acrylic gold paints and inks. It can be bought pre-prepared. However, in my experience it is always too coarsely ground for fine...

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How to make oak gall ink

How to make oak gall ink

Many people love looking at the gilded images in medieval manuscripts. There is nothing quite like the shimmer of gold leaf as the page is turned.   However, it was ink made from oak galls that made the composition of those beautiful manuscripts possible.           How was oak gall ink used?   As well as being used for the text, images were drawn in ink –   before being gilded –    ...

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Making Verdigris Paint

Making Verdigris Paint

It’s been a long time coming but I finally got round to turning my home-grown verdigris pigment into paint. Cennino Cennini, writing in fifteenth century Florence, says about verdigris: ‘It is very green by itself. And is manufactured by alchemy, from copper and vinegar’. Which is just what I did. You can see the start of this experiment here. But then came Cennini’s phrase: ‘It is beautiful, but it does not...

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