In my day, we thought nothing of grinding cinnabar with a mortar and pestle for three days at a time!

I’m exhausted just from reading this:

Take a nice, dry, willow stick, and make some little slips of it the length of the palm of your hand, or, say, four fingers. Then divide these pieces like match sticks; and do them up like a bunch of matches. But first smooth them and sharpen them at each end, like spindles. Then tie them up in bunches this way, in three places to the bunch, that is, in the middle and at each end, with a thin copper or iron wire. Then take a brand-new casserole, and put in enough of them to fill up the casserole. Then get a lid to cover it, luting it with clay so that nothing can evaporate from it in any way. Then go to the baker’s in the evening, after he has stopped work, and put this casserole into the oven; and let it stay there until morning: and see whether these coals are well roasted, and good and black. If you find that they are not roasted enough, you must put the casserole back into the oven. —Cennino Cennin, Il Libro dell’Arte

All that for some charcoal.

Then there are instructions on how to prepare a panel for sketching, how to make a style of lead to draw with, how to make a nice wash of white lead(!) for touching in highlights, and so much more.

Next time, how to make a brush!

2 Responses to “In my day, we thought nothing of grinding cinnabar with a mortar and pestle for three days at a time!”

  1. Shelah Horvitz Says:

    Frankly, I would love to hear how to make a brush. I think I need to know.

    If I remember correctly, cinnabar reeks of mercury, so grinding cinnabar all day wouldn’t be too good for your mental health.

    By the way. I happen to be the proud owner of a cache of Maroger’s medium, which is pretty much Rembrandt’s painting medium, reverse engineered in the 1920’s by the French chemist Maroger. Contains black oil, which is white lead simmered outside in a crucible, etc., terribly poisonous, don’t eat your tuna sandwich while painting with it, but boy does it make oil paint sing and it’s great for flesh and general modulation. I’m unloading my oil paints/mediums/brushes as part of my jettison-cargo for my upcoming move, and since you’re a buddy and you’re considering going back to oils, you get first dibs. Interested?

  2. marthamcc Says:

    I’d love to have your oil stuff, but I’m so very broke at the moment. If I ever get another bonus or sell a painting I’ll check in and see whether you’ve still got it. Not the Maroger’s medium though; lead frightens me.

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