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Choosing and preparing pigments

see the table of colors

Throughout the centuries icon painters had employed only those pigments that were available in their countries and that were used in the schools to which they were attached. Today, pigments are manufactured in a large range of colors and sold in fine art stores. Pigments

The best producers of these pigments are Sennelier, Kremer and Zecchi. These good quality pigments may be mixed with water, blended until a homogeneous paste is created and this paste may be stored for several days. To preserve this paste, put it into a small hermetic container, photo film containers work very well, and add a little distilled water on top. Keep sealed until you are ready to use.

Some colors, such as emerald green and ultramarine blue, dry more quickly and so it is important to add more water to them and to stir them from time to time. Others, such as titanium white, produce lumps when drying; and yellow ochre, that is used to paint faces, must be refined with a glass muller on a glass slab.

Some colors, such as emerald green and vermillion, are also very hard to dilute with water and should be diluted first with alcohol which will evaporate. A limited number of pigments (about fifteen) are used for the majority of icons and the individual colors are not used in pure form but always mixed with other colors. The basic pallet of colors for iconography is:

Caution : Some colors are incompatible with other colors (see the table of colors). For example Cadmium yellow will degrade Yellow Ochre, that is used on faces, after a few years. And Zinc Oxide will turn to gray very quickly when used alone.

And some colors, such as lead white, are toxic and precautions must be taken when using them.

Egg tempera preparation (emulsion)

Egg Tempera is used as the binder for pigments in painting icons. Although ready-made egg tempera colors are available in art supply stores they contain preservatives that may harm the solidity of some colors. So it is preferable to make them oneself and there are several formulas for preparing egg tempera.

Mix the preparation together and keep it in the freezer. Use a dropper to dispense for painting.

Choosing brushes

Brushes Brushes that are used for egg tempera should have bristles that are short yet firm enough for lining, and have a body that is round enough to hold the liquid medium used for painting. They must have and hold a good point when wet. Ask to check for all these features prior to purchasing your brushes. Kolinsky sable watercolor brushes are the best; but they are also the most expensive. Isaby brushes are also of very good quality. In addition it is useful to have a 1" to 3" flat watercolor brush for background washes and for edges.

The best way to take care of your brushes is to wash them immediately after use with clear water and hang them with the point down to dry. Do not allow pigment to dry in them. If a brush is not used for a long time, gently smooth it with oil. To try to save a brush that has lost its shape, dip it in egg tempera, point it, and let it dry.

For the beginner to paint a small sized icon three brushes will be sufficient:

Color preparation

Determining the exact proportion of emulsion to be added to pigments is difficult because of two factors:

Generally, it is better to use less emulsion than more emulsion.

Put some of the color paste on a palette, a simple white porcelain plate is sufficient. To this add one or two drops of emulsion and mix with a brush.

The mixture must be homogeneous and remain stable while stirring. If the pigment separates form the mixture add a drop of emulsion. If the color is to "waxy" add more water.

Painting garments

The steps involved in painting a garment are essentially alternating light puddles of color with lining as follows:

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