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Symposium at The Tate in Modern Materials

19 May, 2006 (13:26) | Plastic Arts

Just finished up the last day of a three day symposium at the Tate called; Modern Paint Uncovered (MPU). What a wonderful collaboration between the conservation scientists, practicing conservators and a few other related fields, including curators, educators, material manufacturers. Tom Learner and all the folks at The Tate, put on an incredible event… thank you!

This very technical symposium was truly in the planning over 4 years ago, when the National Gallery, The Tate and the Getty agreed to collaborate with one another and other colleagues around the world to begin to answer some of the basic questions around the properties of modern materials. As with most of these sort of landmark events, there were many more questions that were raised than answered, but truly significant research has shown some very promising areas for investigation and to begin to offer practical advice to artist….

Jim Hayes, our Technical Director collaborated with Dr. Greg Smith from Buffalo State to present a paper at the symposium. Sharing the details of how the acrylic formulations must be balanced for a wide range of properties. We are so grateful to be invited to participate with this community. Cheers, Mark




Comment from Nina Deckert
Time: May 19, 2006, 3:36 pm

Congratulations to both you and Jim for participating and bringing back all that great info and all those new ideas.
If there’s ever a symposium on conservation or studio safety on the West Coast let me know, I’d love to attend.

Google’s got a new search tool: Google trends.
I tried it for several generic terms and it was really interesting.

thanks for keeping all us lonely artists in the loop.

Comment from Tony Johansen
Time: May 21, 2006, 10:15 am

It seems opportune to suggest a brand new resource on the web called

which is about the technology of paint at the artist making paint from base materials in the studio. Safety issues, and the hazards of historic pigments as well as potential problems with modern ones.

If the Hayes and Smith paper is on the web at all I would like to potentially be able to link to it from the paintmaking site. Also if there was anything else that is likely to be of wide interest that stemmed from that Symposium I would appreciate looking at the links and linking to any that are relevant to those working with pigments and experimenting with paintmaking.

Comment from Mark Gottsegen
Time: May 21, 2006, 11:03 am

Let me echo Mark’s kudos to Tom Learner and Trish Smithen at the Tate for an astounding, inspiring conference. I should add that there were at least a few artists there, Mark … yes?

The entire enterprise can be seen as the beginning of a new era of cooperation and communication among all the “stakeholders” in the world of art and art materials. It was all very encouraging.

Best regards,
Mark Gottsegen

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: May 25, 2006, 8:10 pm

Tony, very interesting and valuable website. We took a stab at sharing some technical notes on making acrylic paint in our JustPaint #7. Please take a look if you haven’t already –

I think it is an important investigation for every artist to make their own paint whether or not they feel the need to continue to meet their particular needs. It should at least be put back into the curriculum in every art school. As you are well aware, by making your own materials, there is a level of control that is almost impossible to match.

We are working on links here for sites that offer this level of education, and I hope we can get it done shortly… sorry for the delay.

As for linking the article from the Tate Symposium; that will be for the Tate to decide as the entirety of papers will be published by the Tate sometime in 2007. It is up to the supporting institution (which usually retains the publishing rights for the work) to offer this up to a wider public. The Tate has a wonderful reputation for regularly publishing research that it conducts onto the web, . Yet, this may be a different matter as the individual authors also retains a level copyright. We have several links on our site to these resources as the Tate has made available.

We will try to get a summary for artists from the recent conference that we hope will be available shortly. Thanks for your contribution! Regards, Mark

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: May 25, 2006, 8:11 pm

Mark, besides you… who were the other artists there? I missed them… mg

Comment from Tony Johansen
Time: May 27, 2006, 12:26 pm

Hello Mark,
Thank you for your kind words, and yes I was aware of your excellent JustPaint article. As You point out the ability to make paint really does liberate artist’s in so many ways and opens up creative possibilities that the artist unfamiliar with the fundamental nature of their materials struggles with. Knowledge is power in all things.

The Tate link you posted above brings up a 404 error so appears to be unavailable currently. I hope you keep me in mind when there is info available and just post the link via the suggestion box on if you can.

Something else you may be able to help with is any artist’s you may be aware of who make all or part of their artwork with studio made paints. I am happy to post links to their web sites if they have one and I am advised of the link.

As to Mark Gottsegen’s comments I think that it is wonderful that co-operation and communication is seen to be breaking out. It is not all that long ago that many manufacturers and institutions had a paternalistic attitude of secrecy about art materials where artist’s were concerned. It should be acknowledged that New World acrylics manufacturers, ASTM, and people like Mark Gottsegen have been at the cutting edge of breaking down the barriers.


Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: May 29, 2006, 2:16 am

Pip Seymour is not only a writer on artists’ materials, but a painter, too. His work is minimalist, not large, and sublime.

Also, at least one conservator commented that she is an artist — and you know there are lots of other conservators who are artists on the side …

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: May 29, 2006, 2:31 am

Tony and Mark:

First, thanks for the boost, Tony. Some people do appreciate Mark and my efforts to improve the communications among ALL of the members of the art world — including manufacturers and curators.

Second, the 7-page JustPaint article on making acrylic dispersion paints reinforces my idea about what a sensitive, complicated, and critical process it is — it’s not like making your own egg tempera!

I agree with Mark that art schools should teach young artists all about making paints and how paints are made. Of course the first thing to think of is safety — if you’re going to be handling dry pigments and chemicals you have to know what you’re doing and how to protect yourself: sometimes it’s not as simple as putting on some gloves and a mask. Every student should realize this, and every teacher should know the drill.

Then, some paints, like pure egg tempera and fresco, you have to make. Some, like egg tempera, are fun to modigy and play with. As the JustPaint article intimates, it’s not too hard or complicated to make the simpler paints like oil, once you get the hang of it. But acrylic disperion paints are another story.

The a/d paints are complicated, and sometimes there isn’t leeway for mistakes. At least the maker can see mistakes quickly — more quickly than in a badly made oil paint.

But the bigger question for me is why make your own paint, beyond the art school experience? As I asked Tony in a private email, “Do we want to be artists or paintmakers?” Yes, once in a while it’s great to experiment and noodle around with something different — but we could easily spend a lot of time making our stocks of paint, time that might be more profitably spent making our paintings.

Just something to think about …

Mark Gottsegen

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: May 29, 2006, 8:26 am

Thanks Mark, I did a workshop for conservators and during the middle I suggested we do some painting. It was the most incredible group of work I’d seen in any workshop. Although most felt the 1/4 inch brush I gave them was much too large.

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: May 29, 2006, 8:30 am

Tony, try the link from our Technical heading. Then pick Conservation portion of our website. And finally to Conservation of Acrylic Paintings. The 2nd choice I believe is the paper. Hope you have better luck!! Mark

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: May 30, 2006, 8:20 pm

LOL. You want “large?” I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot for LARGE!

Comment from Tony Johansen
Time: June 3, 2006, 6:03 am


“…why make your own paint, beyond the art school experience?”

There are many aspects to this.

Firstly most Egg Tempera painters make all of their own paint, and find the daily ritual of mixing the colors a meditative experience. Although it should be noted that making paint gives one good reason to limit the palette to the essentials and no more. That in itself is an excellent reason for encouraging the practice.

However, for me (I use acrylic) I use a mixture of commercially made product and my own. The stuff I make for myself is not made by any manufacturer, and so I have little choice, the small effort involved is a small price for the ability to have paints that are modified to fit my creative needs. Every one of the pictures I make are about 30% studio made paint.

Greg Hansell paints with natural Earths he collects where he is painting. This poetic connection between the artwork and materials is only possible through making paints and pastels in the studio.

Much of the commercially available paints on the market contains many additives and extenders for various reasons. Making paint in the studio enables the making of pure additive free paints.

Some pigments actually look better when ground very coarsely. Yet there is a large body of evidence that supports extra fine grinding as improving the consistent plastic qualities of the paint so manufacturers grind very finely. In the studio it is possible to grind colors to the fineness that optimises the beauty of the color.

Some artist’s simply appreciate the saving in money that results from making paint in the studio.

In centuries past all paint was made in the studio as needed, it did not seem to prevent wonderful paintings being created, and on the contrary, the deep knowledge of paint chemistry gained by those artist’s can be seen as one of the reasons they could make such enduring artworks despite relatively poor materials.

If making paint were to diminish the creative experience I would be the first to condemn it, but when I look at the work of artist’s who have habitually made at least some of their own paints, people like Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, or Hundertwasser, in the modern era, Leonardo in an earlier time, I see it as part of the creative experience and a joy to behold.

We both know that most artist’s will not be interested in doing anything other than buying tubes in the store, and good luck to them. But for the rest of us there is no shortage of reasons to indulge in the fun of making paints.

Tony Johansen

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: June 4, 2006, 12:15 pm

Tony —

I certainly don’t want to put a damper on the joy anyone feels in making paint, but I am compelled to point out that I was talking mainly about acrylic dispersion paints. Except for them, whatever floats your boat is fine with me.

1. Of course we have to make our own pure egg tempera. We can’t buy it, and it’s easy to make. I can buy an egg-oil tempera with preservatives in them, but why would I do that?

2. Digging up and using the natural earths in a paint without first cleaning them by at least levigating (you didn’t say whether Mr. H does that) will introduce organic materials that may cause future structural problems for the painting.

3. The best commercial paints contain only necessary additives — necessary for marketing and technical reasons. Not all additives are bad.
In the case of the acrylic dispersion paints, a basic formula contains perhaps 11 ingredients each of which might have 5 – 10 components. Depending on what the manufacturer is trying to do, most of the additives are necessary for technical reasons. Simply mixing predispersed colorants with a generalized acrylic dispersion medium (and perhaps adding a thickener and a defoamer) will make a paint, sure. But how good a paint? How do we know how good a paint it is, or will become after it ages 20, or 50 years?
Suppose I made my own baby acrylic dispersion paint that does something special that I want, and then add that to my manufactured paint that I bought. What might this twist do? How would I know?

4. Saving money. I know a lot of artists who want to save money, and so buy their materials by price. [They don’t mind spending money on a meal out, or a nice car, however.] I know one artist who had some NYC fame 20 years ago. This artist used the cheapest acrylic dispersion paints but sold the paintings for $20K and up, and would not hesitate to drop a lot of money on clothes or a trip to some exotic desitnation, or on a country home. And I know this artist knew the difference between a quality paint and a cheap paint because I know who this artist studied with. The paintings are doomed.
When it comes to talk of saving money by making our own paints, I know all is lost. Nobody likes to talk about money, even though the cost of making our own paints might be, in the long run. greater than the savings.

5. “In centuries past,” all the paints were a lot simpler than they are now, except for the most basic paints — which remain simple. The artists whose works survive because they had a good enough reputation and were good enough at their craft largely had studio apprentices make their paints, whille they devoted their engergies to the creative acts.
The modern or contemporary artists you talk about made their paints because they couldn’t buy them. I bet Johns knew about Joseph Torch, who made encaustics. Torch’s successor is Richard Frumess, a former employee, who makes a great encaustic paint. Wyeth had to make his own egg temperas — I wonder if he still does?
The science and chemistry of paints was not well understood until the late 19th c., and even now is still evolving. The artists who earlier made their own paints were alchemists at best; they relied on others to give them information and sell them the raw materials. The sellers of the materials wanted to sell the materials, so they had an axe to grind: they made up all sorts of stories to justify the quality of the stuff they sold. A case in point is megilp (and the 8 other variations in the spelling, thanks) that changed into Maroger’s medium when that French restorer at the Louvre figured out how to make it: a technical disaster from the get-go.

6. As for the therapeutic, inspirational, or contemplative benefits of making paints in the studio, I can’t argue with that.
Personally, I reserve my therapeutic activities for things like cooking, gardening, weeding, building panels for painting and other tasks like that. If I need to make some encaustics or egg tempera, I do so. I will even make an oil paint, once a year, to demonstrate it to my students.
As for making the modern paints, I still recommend that artists not attempt it.

(I am going to post this exchange on my website — too good to pass up!)

Best regards,

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: June 8, 2006, 3:00 am

Mark it is too good. Thanks for all the sharing here!! Mark

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: June 12, 2006, 3:51 am

Hi mate!


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