mama scout lab e-course

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

exploration lab:: grind your own paint

Inspired by this book, we learned a bit about Giotto and made our own egg tempera paint. I have labeled this an exploration lab, because once you have the basic - it really lends itself to inventiveness. 
 The basic idea is that you grind up pigment and mix it with egg yolks whipped up with a bit of water. We used colored chalk, but in the past, artists would use mineral, plants, and even insects. 
The grinding was much harder work that we thought. This led into discussions about how useful the workshop/apprentice model was in the past when artists were responsible for manufacturing their own paints, brushes and other tools.
We used shells and rocks to grind and immediately saw how hard it was to get a perfect, uniform powder. 

 My son entertained us with stories of Leonardo Da Vinci and his many failed painting projects. My daughter decided to try to use just the egg wash to make a glaze. When the paintings were done (on paper and wood) and dry - it was amazing to see a completely different sheen than any other paint we have used.

 Later in the day, we talked about how learning about egg tempra might inform other experiments and listed the possible applications of our new skill, including using it for painting flying machines. 
While we painted, we listened to Palestrina, the Renaissance composer who came a few hundred years later and made music more three dimensional, just like Giotto did with human figures. The choral music was so relaxing and uplifting we listened to it all day.

On a side note, I just finished reading The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and really enjoyed it. It is based on the Dutch painter Vermeer and his maid and their relationship. One of her duties is to grind pigment and mix paint and the rich imagery from the novel were running through my head as I did this project with my children today. If this is your sort of thing - check it out. The movie based on the novel is good too. 


  1. Ooh this is one of my favourite activities - We tried it last year, using natural pigments such as spices (paprika, turmeric etc.) berry juice, and ground up earth, charcoal and chalk. As you say, grinding the pigments fine enough really is quite hard work! Apparently scallop shells were used as paint holders too once the paint was mixed.
    It's a really good activity for kids because it mixes science, art and history. You obvioulsly had lots of fun with it too - it's a great idea to use coloured chalks as it's so much easier to get the range of colours that way.

  2. Your home looks like a Renaissance studio with the shells, grinding, and powdered pigments. Awesome! And I love how you listened to Renaissance music while you did this. I try to do that too, and totally missed the opportunity when we made our own egg paint. Next time! Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. This is wonderful, and a beautiful marriage between science and art. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience with the Kid's Co-op!

  4. I just read the book Artemisia by Alexandra Lapierre and aside from learning about her amazing life, it inspired me to get the kids to make their own paints. Now I have a means--thanks for the post!

    And you may want to check the book out, too!

  5. Use a mortar and pestle? Pinning this :)


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