A Novice's Guide to the Dark Art

Mulling paint is a time-honored ritual that every artist and scribe, regardless of their level of experience, must endure. It's the alchemical process of suspending pigments within your chosen medium.

You can buy pre-made pigments pastes or mixed paints, how the times have changed—no one seems to be willing to put in the effort to craft their own paint anymore. But don't worry; there's still a touch of madness left in some of us. Join our ranks, and I'll teach you the arcane craft of paint-making.

First, gather your tools: a spatula, spoon, or palette knife; a plate; a muller; powdered pigment; a container for your paint; and your choice of medium. Allow me to elucidate the uninitiated on each of these tools. But first, take a look at this picture.

The powdered pigment, ranges from ground stone, dirt to synthetic particles.

The plate, on the other hand, is just that—a surface made of glass, marble, granite, ceramic, or any other suitable material. It's been subtly roughened up with the likes of silicon carbide, sand, diamonds, or whatever abrasive you happen to have lying around (if you have diamonds casually lying about, perhaps we can discuss a trade).

The muller, pictured in the upper right, resembles a pestle with a broad, flat surface, making it ideal for dispersing but less efficient for grinding.

The palette knife serves to manipulate the pigment paste and scrape every bit into your chosen container.

As for the shell, well, it's precisely what it sounds like—an actual shell. Sea shells, to be precise, are the time-honored paint pots of the medieval world. You might notice that a paint pot resembles a finely balanced shell.

Now, the medium is where you have room to experiment. If you're into oil painting, consider linseed oil, walnut oil, poppy oil, or anything but corn oil (it never dries). Watercolorists, you can opt for watercolor medium, and latex lovers, there's something for you too. Personally, I prefer a modest watercolor medium made from gum Arabic, honey, and water. It creates lovely watercolors and doubles as egg tempera (my preferred medium).

Enough about tools and supplies; here's how it works. First, create a mound of pigment in the center of your plate. I know this is a shocker, but hold onto your seats—it gets crazier. Next, fashion a little well in the center of the mound, like a tiny crater in a pile of hazardous powdered mashed potatoes.

The following step is to pour your chosen medium into the well you've delicately excavated. Okay, no more alliteration. Pour the medium like you're drizzling gravy onto your minuscule, toxic potato mound. The quantity you use depends on the pigment, its fineness, and the amount you've spread on the plate. It's easy to add more medium, but a nightmare to remove it.

Using your palette knife, blend the pigment into a paste. The goal here is to dampen all the pigment so that you won't send clouds of dust into the air with your muller. Plus, it's just easier to mix with a palette knife than a muller, and if you tackle the easy bits first, the challenging parts won't be as time-consuming.

[Image: Close-up of palette knife action]

Now, if you haven't given up yet in favor of buying your historical pigments from commercial vendors, you can proceed to the mulling stage. This involves sweeping your muller in a figure-eight or swirling motion over the mound of pigment paste. You'll need to use your palette knife periodically to scrape the muller and gather all the pigment back to the center of the plate. Depending on the pigment and medium, this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. (Remember, there are folks who'll do it all for you, but where's the fun in that?)

[Image: Image showing mulling pigment in figure-eight motions]

Continue mulling until the pigment transforms into a smooth paste, slightly thinner than toothpaste, and preferably less gritty. This might take a while. As mentioned earlier, you can add more medium to achieve the desired consistency.

[Image: Image showing mulled pigment paste]

Once everything is smooth, consistent, and flows as you desire, use your palette knife to scrape the plate and muller, then transfer the concoction to a shell, paint pot, tube, or any container of your choice. Personally, I prefer shells, as I let the mixture dry out, creating a watercolor or semi-tempera cake ready for my illumination work. Just add water and egg yolk/glair, and I'm set to paint.

[Image: Image showing paint transferred to a shell]

Now, you might be wondering why you'd go through all this trouble. Well, it's often challenging to find historical pigments pre-prepared in the exact medium you want, and it's even harder to guarantee they've been prepared correctly, unless you either a) do it yourself or b) have a trustworthy connection. Other reasons? Maybe you simply crave the experience of creating your own paints from start to finish or producing your pigments from scratch. After all, wouldn't you prefer to savor the entire journey from inception to creation?

Oh, and wait, you don't make your own pigments either? Well, that's a pursuit we can explore another time. It seems there's always room to delve deeper into the realms of creative madness.