Saturday, August 29, 2015

Making drawing charcoal from willow branches!

In the spring I collected the dropped willow branches under my weeping willow (Salix) tree.  They spent March - August in my non-climate-controlled garage.

The idea  to make charcoal from willow I read about first in The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting (Thompson 87) and the medieval method explained in Il Libro Dell'Arte (Broecke 54, 55).  I watched this youtube video and read of a few other methods online.  I was complaining to Jack, a blacksmith from Kennebec River Forge at the Great Falls Ballon Fest Ravensbridge demo that I needed a friend who had a big yard who frequently made fires that I could use as my oven and he suggested I should 'do what the boyscouts do and make use of a camp stove'.  Encouraged by almost any suggestion of successful experiments these days, I went for it!
Follow my example AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Charcoal is possibly carcinogenic as is breathing smoke.  Use a well ventilated area and gloves.

On August 27, 2015 I whittled all the bark from the branches I had saved, cut them into pieces that would fit in a tin I got from Goodwill.  Punched two holes in the top of the tin lid with a hammer and small nail for the smoke to escape.  

I cut the whittled willow branches into pieces that would fit in the tin, one layer at a time, setting each layer perpendicular to the last until the tin was full.

Wiring it shut, I set it on my Coleman grill.  Safety, safety, folks!  I made sure my hose and fire extinguisher were ready.

After calling the Fire department to give them a heads up about the mysterious smoke I was going to create, I turned the stove on, with a fairly low flame.  In several minutes it began to smoke and continued to smoke for about an hour!

Around minute forty-five I turned the flame higher.  Not much changed after this modification.  I let it cook until I saw no more smoke come from the holes, shut off the stove and shoved two bamboo skewers in the holes in the lid to deprive the system of most of the oxygen.

And Voila!  Charcoal to draw with!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Word of the Week amanuensis

noun: amanuensis; plural noun: amanuenses
  1. a literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.
    Google says it's use began in the early 17th century.  Not a period word but still an awesome one!

Brought to us by June Russell.  Thanks June!
And from OED:

amanuensis, n.

Pronunciation:  /əˌmænjuːˈɛnsɪs/
Forms:  Pl. -es /iːz/ .
Etymology:  Latin (in Suetonius) adj. used subst., < a manu a secretary, short for servus a manu + -ensis belonging to.(Show Less)

  One who copies or writes from the dictation of another.

1619   W. Sclater Expos. Thess. (1627) I. To Reader 6   An Amanuensis to take my Dictates.
1632   R. Burton Anat. Melancholy (ed. 4) Democritus to Rdr. 12   Allowing him sixe or seuen Amanuenses to write out his dictats.
1714   Spectator No. 617. ⁋4   Our the help of his Amanuensis, took down all their Names.
1765   A. Tucker Light of Nature II. 446   Cæsar could dictate to three amanuenses together.
1860   S. Smiles Self-help ii. 38   For many years after their marriage, she acted as his amanuensis.

Word of the Week inspissated

past tense: inspissated; past participle: inspissated
  1. thicken or congeal.

    "inspissated secretions"
            Found in De Art Illuminandi as translated by Thompson in a note on pg 43.  The OED says it's first use was in 1655.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Iris Paint Results

These are the painting results from the first set of iris juice experiment.  I used a 20/0 liner brush to paint on Strathmore Series 300 Bristol vellum finish paper. 

Some would say using this brush the way I do is the hard way but it works for me!

The first three 1/2" circles showed green with the iris juice that had been treated with alum in various ways,
dried and reconstituted with distilled water and gum arabic.

After sitting for a month the iris juice with no alum has all produced only brown shades of paint.

Elderberry juice Part 2: Painting

On Strathmore 300 series Bristol board with a vellum finish I drew 1/2" circles with a pencil and painted circles with a 20/0 liner brush from the resulting pigments as described next to each circle.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Elderberry Blue - Part 1

Found out elderberries were growing in Gray and asked my mother to save me some.  Not only did she save me some but brought me a bagful on Thursday, August 6th, 2015!

These medieval recipes concerning elderberry interested me: 

 Above:  From an ILLed copy of the Mappae Clavicula (probably 12thC) translated and published by Transactions of the American Philosophical Society held at Philidelphia for Promtoing Useful Knowledge
New Series Vol 64 part 4, 1974.

A Booke of Secrets, 1596

My Redaction or interpretation:  Grind chalk with the juice of elderberries, strain it through a cloth, put a little alum water into it, let it dry and keep it until you need it.

Safety first, everyone! Through the entire process I wore gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask.  Elderberries are not toxic but you don't want to breathe or touch alum or alum water.

On Friday I stripped the berries from the branches and rinsed them yielding 174g berries.  Giving up on the "distilled water only" plan I had had when I realized I'd rinsed them with tap water already, I added 100g tap water and brought them to a simmer in a glass sauce pan, simmering 15minutes on low.  The berries weren't the freshest but a little dehydrated.  I hoped simmering with water would reconstitute any moisture loss and provide an efficient way to extract the juice.  During the simmering and at the end I squished the berries using a potato masher to crush them and allow the water to get into the berries.  After 15min, I shut off the heat and proceeded to prepare my calcium sources.

Following A Booke of Secrets:
I chose the whitest pieces of clam and egg shells in my possession, not considering that I'd be straining the liquid away from the shells as end product pigment.  Better safe than sorry?  One at a time I ground them as fine as I could with a big mortar and pestle and ended up with about 6.5g each, set aside in plastic containers until I was ready for them.

Above: Clam shells, pulverized with the marble pestle and then ground to a fine powder.

 Egg shells, pulverized to break them up and then ground to a fine powder.

By now my elderberry sauce has cooled enough to work with so smash the berries again with a potato masher. I poured it into cheesecloth resting in a canning funnel over a jar.  With gloved hands I scraped all of the berries and juice out of the sauce pan and into the cheesecloth.

I proceeded to squeeze all of the liquid I could from the mass by picking up the four corners of the cheesecloth and squeezing with a gloved hand.  This yeilded about 110g liquid.  I portioned it into four quantities: three thirty gram and one fifteen gram portions all in clean glass jars.

One 30g part went first outside "in the sun" but I thought better of leaving it open for the ants and bees and brought it in to go on top of the fridge under a lamp and fan.  The liquid is a beautiful berry red.

I poured the contents of one of the 30g jars into the clean and dry mortar and poured in the prepared egg shell powder, mixing and grinding it together with the pestle.  At this point I decided I needed something else important and ran away for several minutes.  When I returned the liquid was clearly a different color than the red of plain elderberry juice!

I dutifully poured it through a new piece of cheese cloth resting over the canning funnel back into the original jar which I had prepared with 2g of 1:10 alum water (100g water: 10g alum, mixed thoroughly). *THIS IS THE WRONG ALUM, NEXT TIME I SHOULD TRY THE 'CORRECT' ALUM, ALUMINUM POTASSIUM SULFATE*

When the elderberry/calcium water hit the alum water it reacted!  It changed color from the red to a pretty greenish blue and bubbled up!

I stirred it with a wooden stick and set it up under the fan on the fridge.

Washed and dried the mortar and pestle and walked away to let it finish drying.

Excited to see if the clam shell would cause the same reaction I raced back after a few minutes to combine the last 30g of juice and ground shells.  I poured the powder into the juice and ground them together.  Wanting to simulate the same amount of time it took to ignore the first Calcium Carbonate reaction I walked away in search of labels for my jars.  Again when I returned, the color had finished changing and was definitely more blue than before. 

 I tried to decant as I had before into a piece of cheese cloth in the canning funnel.  I had chosen the size of my cloth poorly and the whole piece, clam shell bits and pigment liquid proceeded to fall into the jar.  I squeezed out the bit of liquid and material into that jar and prepared a new, clean jar with a bigger piece of cheese cloth over the top.  I may have lost a little bit but not a lot.  I had not prepped the jar with alum water for fear that the cloth would fall in so at least it was only elderberry and shell.

Wiping each wooden mixing stick on a paper towel we can see the two chalk substitutes next to one another:

Egg shell is on the left and clam shell on the right.

I added alum water in proportion to the others to the smallest jar (1g alum water to 15g juice) as a control.  I expect the color in that jar not to change.

To see pictures of paints from these experiments go here.