It is often very confusing when starting out in calligraphy to be faced with bottles of different inks, some specifically for calligraphy, some for drawing and some for fountain pens. What’s best to use? To avoid any confusion I would strongly recommend paint rather than ink, and, in some cases, paint is actually far better than ink on challenging papers or when writing in books. So if using paint, then the only paint I would recommend is Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache. I know I’m a bit biased because I did work with Schmincke to develop the paints, but my payment ended there, and I now recommend them because they are really good!
******Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache special offer! L Cornelissen, main suppliers of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache, have very kindly arranged a fantastic offer! THIS IS ONLY FOR SUBSCRIBERS TO MY NEWSLETTER, and if you are a new subscriber, it is expected that you are honourable and subscribe for at least a year and hopefully longer, rather than being dishonourable and subscribing to get the offer and then unsubscribing a month or so later (subscribe here) then the price of the set of 12 x 20 ml tubes in a wooden box with an explanatory leaflet is £75 instead of £140 +p+p. (The cost of p+p from Cornelissen for non-UK is very reasonable). If you would like to have this set, which will last most people a lifetime if they are calligraphers and/or painters of mediæval miniatures (ie don’t use a whole tube at one go!), then send me an email through my website and I’ll send you back your own personal code which you then use when you contact Cornelissen. You will also need to send me a screenshot of your subscription confirmation or the most recent newsletter.
The colours chosen for the set are based on Michael Wilcox’s book, Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, which is well worth reading if you’re not familiar with it. This means there are two reds, two blues and two yellows. In addition there is a green – oxide of chromium (which works particularly well with a pen), burnt Siena as the brown (mix it with ultramarine for a great grey), Jet black (a great black ink), permanent white, goldpearl and silver – both metallic pigments. All are particularly finely ground so pass well through a pen and also almost all have great coverage so pencil guidelines don’t show through (important for we calligraphers!)
For more information about the selection of colours and how to mix them, there is a special Calligraphy Clip here.
The tubes are a good size, and in calligraphy and painting miniatures, you don’t need much paint, so they will last a long time. Palettes for most paints are usually wide to allow for big brushes, this means the paint evaporates quite quickly, this is not what we want for calligraphy. I use small science crucibles for mixing paint as they have less surface area for evaporation. Squeeze about 1 cm (just under half-an-inch) of paint into the palette and then add water to the paint drip by drip. This is easiest done with an ink dropper (available at Cornelissen); if you add water from your brush, you don’t know how much liquid it is holding and so may add too much and then have to add more paint – and so it goes on!
The consistency of paint you want is that of thin, runny cream, so add sufficient water and mix up all the paint until that is achieved. If the paint is too thick then it won’t flow through the pen, and if too thin then it won’t cover pencil guidelines. The consistency is the same for painting mediæval miniatures.
Always add dark colours to light as you will need less pigment. It takes a lot of a light colour to make a difference to a dark colour, but only a touch of a dark colour to change a light colour. See my Calligraphy Clip about this paint to find out an easy way to reproduce mixed colours. It is important to mix up all the paint before using it. On the right there is clearly some red still unmixed and this could change the colour in the pen when using.
I never wash up palettes or throw paint away. Using crucibles, I simply pop on the lid and leave them. When I want to use that colour again, I add water drop by drop until the paint has softened and then use a brush to gently stir and add more drops of water with the ink dropper to mix to the consistency of thin, runny cream.
The same applies with paint palettes; I don’t wash them either, and, as they’re used by students on my courses, they often have quite a mix of paints on them. I love these porcelain palettes with many tiny wells which are ideal for the small amounts of pigment used for miniature painting. They also come with a lid which provides another surface for mixing, but you do have to let the paint on the lid dry before putting it over the welled part of the palette. I forgot this once – oops!.
So to mix good colours using the Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set, use those which have a tendency towards one another. So for a good orange choose a red which has a bit of yellow in it – vermilion – with a yellow that has a bit of red in it – cadmium yellow. To get a less pure orange, here I mixed cadmium with madder. Madder has a bit of blue in it, so works well with ultramarine, which has a bit of red in it to make a good purple (better than the colour shown on the right!). A less pure purple is made by mixing madder with Paris blue. Paris blue has a bit of yellow in it so makes a great green if mixed with lemon yellow which has a bit of blue in it. A less good green is made by mixing Paris blue and cadmium yellow. Oxide of chromium is a bit of a dull green so add other colours to liven it up. And burnt Siena and ultramarine make a grey with great depth – you’ll never use just black and white again once you’ve mixed this!
The metallic gouaches do need a bit of practice, and I show how to use them both on my DVD – Illumination – and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. Order here.
The Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set comes with a useful two-sided leaflet which explains more about mixing paints and also has some ideas for using the paints too.