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Paint Pigments with Cynthia

Martha Stewart Living Television

Furniture historian Cynthia Schaffner demonstrates the time-consuming process of grinding and mixing paint pigments with authentic antique tools.

This type of paint is a mixture of finely ground pigments in an oil-based medium. The longer the pigment is ground before the medium is added, the finer the particles become and, the richer the paint. To test the consistency of the paint, an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century mixer would smear a small streak across a sheet of glass, then hold the glass up to the sun. If the particles looked too coarse, he would continue grinding the pigment; if the consistency was satisfactory, he would scrape it off the glass with a palette knife, and transfer the batch into a bucket to mix.

Tools and Materials

  • Linseed Oil
  • Turpentine
  • Liquid damar
  • Dry pigment
  • Palette knife
  • Glass muller
  • Plate of glass
  • Measuring spoons
  • 2 glass jars with caps
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Tongue depressor or stirrer

Mixing Pigments How-To
1. In a glass jar, mix one part linseed oil, one part turpentine, and one part liquid damar.

2. With the palette knife, scoop approximately half a tablespoon of dry pigment, and place it on the glass plate. With a measuring spoon, add a drizzle of pure linseed oil, and mix it into the pigment with a palette knife.

3. Using the glass muller, grind the pigment mixture in a circular motion, occasionally scraping it back toward the middle of the plate with the palette knife. Grind until the pigment no longer feels coarse and grainy.

4. Scrape the pigment mixture off the glass plate with the palette knife, and transfer it to a glass jar. Little by little, add some of your medium, mixing with a tongue depressor or similar object rather than a paintbrush, until the mixture reaches the fluid consistency you desire.

Dry pigments, liquid damar, and glass muller from Kremer Pigments Inc.

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