ART / DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY
Binders and pigments
English National Curriculum:
Approximate time required: 90 minutes
School powder paints in 3 or more colours
Whole class introduction then 5 groups of children.
Carrying out the activity
Using water to mix paint is very familiar to children and is known as painting in watercolours. However, there are other possibilities for making paint with powdered pigment.
During discussion, the class are introduced to the variety of binders used over the centuries by various selected artists by looking at their work and discussing developments. The teacher shares 'background information' at an appropriate level with the children. Additional information can also be found on the Tate and National Gallery websites. Details on how to access these sites are given in the Background Information.
The teacher should check the medium used in any pictures shown to the children, as artists often use a variety of media. Books, websites, etc. showing artists' pictures usually indicate the media used for each work of art.
Following the discussion, each group of children tests one binder from:
- egg yolk
The binder is mixed with a range of powder paint colours, e.g. red, blue and yellow. The resulting 'paint mix' is used to paint samples/patterns of the children's choice for comparison.
Although accurate measurement is not essential,
it is suggested that there is some class discussion about how much powder
to add (in teaspoons) and whether to add it all at once or a little at
a time to avoid some very thick opaque colours and some thin weak ones.
When all the samples have been mixed and tested, the results of the different groups can be examined by the whole class and compared. Each group can report on the mixing process, the application, the drying time and the finish.
The following questions can be asked during the plenary:
How did you mix your paints? Did you have any problems?
Did you change the ratio of the mixture to make a good paint?
How did you apply the paint to the paper? Was the effect as you expected?
How quickly did the paint dry?
What is the finished effect of the paint like? Is it shiny, matt (not shiny), smooth, streaky, thick or thin?
At the end of the activity the groups can work
on a painting using their colours. An abstract design in areas of colour
(as in paintings by Piet Mondrian) would be a good project for a group
to work on. To see his pictures, go to the Tate Gallery website and follow
all the instructions to select the artist by name. You can select 'Composition
with Red and Blue' for a simple example or 'Composition with Grey, Red,
Yellow and Blue' for a
Egg tempera was the commonest technique used for easel pictures until the late 15th century and was reinvented in the 19th century by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Ready-made colours were not available at that time.
Before the 15th century painters had to prepare their own pigments from plants and minerals (soils and stones). The pigments had to be ground up and mixed with some liquid to bind the powder into a paste. Colours bound with egg yolk had a slight sparkle and dried very quickly so it was difficult to make any changes to the picture.
Powdered pigment was mixed with fresh egg yolk and a little water and painted onto a panel prepared with gesso, a surface like brilliant white chalky distemper. The result is tough and permanent and it dries almost instantaneously.
Note: Fresco painting employs a combination of damp plaster and paint mixed with water or limewater, producing a chemical reaction and a very permanent finish. This is not the same as tempera.
Oil paint - Jan van Eyck was not content with this method so he used oil instead of egg, which allowed him to work more slowly and accurately because he could make changes before the paint dried. Oil bound colours were glossy even when dry.
More recent painters have been able to use more modern materials, for example, acrylic, as a binder and so produce their own special effects.
Artists like to experiment with the paints they are using so that they can carry out new ideas and so modern painters like to try out recent inventions, such as acrylic, cellulose and PVA as binders.
Artists and their artworks are listed below, according to the binders they used. Works by artists in bold print can be found on the National Gallery website www.nationalgallery.org.uk and those in italics on the Tate website, www.tate.org.uk. Instructions for accessing these websites and images are given below the list of artists.
Up to 15th century:
15th and 16th centuries:
17th and 18th centuries:
Below are instructions for accessing images
on the internet.
You may wish to monitor pictures that you feel are unsuitable for children.
For the National Gallery:
Launch the Internet
For the Tate Gallery:
Enter Tate website
The study of different periods of art history
will reveal how artists have responded to new materials and techniques.
A visit to a local museum or art exhibition should provide first hand
experience of the effects and textures possible through a variety of media.