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Joe Swenson

Making Madder Lake Question

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My espresso method removes all the hassle of filtering at this stage and also reduces the days to less then a minuet to extract the colour.

Also the hot extraction I do means the grinding becomes very very easy and fast.

I’m not sure what difference the “wasted alizarin” makes….all I know is from all the many methods I have used my present way gets the best results for me.

Actually if you remember, it was MY espresso method that you learned in MY workshop. But I have to admit that you are the master of extraction these days and what you say is right about waste. I don't care if some is wasted. I like to keep my mixtures rich and the salts low by comparison. What no-one needs is a colour weak precipitation. However, as I have already said several times on MN, I am no longer a great fan of lake pigments. I only ever use them sparingly and very seldom. But they really are a whole lot of fun to make. As for mixing pigments into the medium rather than grinding, this is not a good idea. Grinding puts molecules of oil around the pigment particles making them far more transparent than simple mixing ever can. Never try to avoid grinding, its the lazy way.

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Actually if you remember, it was MY espresso method that you learned in MY workshop. But I have to admit that you are the master of extraction these days and what you say is right about waste. I don't care if some is wasted. I like to keep my mixtures rich and the salts low by comparison. What no-one needs is a colour weak precipitation. However, as I have already said several times on MN, I am no longer a great fan of lake pigments. I only ever use them sparingly and very seldom. But they really are a whole lot of fun to make. As for mixing pigments into the medium rather than grinding, this is not a good idea. Grinding puts molecules of oil around the pigment particles making them far more transparent than simple mixing ever can. Never try to avoid grinding, its the lazy way.

 

Hi Roger, I’m quite certain neither of us can claim to have been the first to have used equipment such as a espresso machine (there is historical reference to a “pressure percolator” for extracting madder in a publication by the Royal society of arts in 1804)…but certainly the first time I saw this and tried it was in Eero Haahti’s workshop long before I came to work in Meyenburg with you…but yes a huge amount of my pigment making knowledge is from the generous sharing of information by your-self, Eero and others.

 

neil

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I made large batches of lake years ago - I'm just running out now.

 

To grind the dried lake I used a pebble polishing tumbler with white spirit and marbles. I dried this and the lakes were much easier to grind into the varnish. Like Neil, I grind into the varnish itself, not oil.

 

Having seen Neil's varnish, I'll be doing it his way from now on.

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"Trade Secrets - Eero Haahti explains his quick and easy method of making traditional lake pigments"
 

I think part one was in the May 2012 issue and part two was October 2012. (?)

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to be honest I don't really think it takes that much time (neither it is complicated) to make a madder lake, especially if you start with root powder. What more simple do you want than soaking the roots in potash, filter, precipitate with alum and wash?

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to be honest I don't really think it takes that much time (neither it is complicated) to make a madder lake, especially if you start with root powder. What more simple do you want than soaking the roots in potash, filter, precipitate with alum and wash?

 

The process is simple and makes sense to me.   :)

 

So this is where Neil's method is slightly more puzzling, since he seems to add the alum to the hot espresso madder solution first... and then adds the potash solution..  

 

Potash extracts & alum precipitates.

 

So I assume adding alum first will initially precipitate whatever pigment was extracted by the pressurized hot water espresso method.  

One also would assume there is fine madder powder which passed through the espresso filer remaining in the solution which still has pigment that needs to be extracted.  

So then adding potash extracts additional pigment from the fine madder solution which gets immediately precipitated out by the alum.

 

Is that about right?

 

Also, since vinegar is recommended to get out more of the pigment, why not force hot pressurized (diluted) vinegar through the madder powder instead of plain water in the espresso machine?

 

Joe

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You can see there variations for making madder lakes. So yes, some people will first dissolve alizarin into the potash and then precipitate with alum, while others will first extract alizarin with alum and then precipitate with potash (or not). You can try these ways and decide if there is ultimately a real difference in one way or another.

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My understanding is no, it’s the reaction of the lye (potash) with the salt (alum) that creates the precipitation, so it makes no difference which order you add the chemicals, it’s their mixing that creates the reaction.

I have tried it both ways on numerous occasions and the results I get are identical.

I’d be interested to hear your results using dilute vinegar, plain water has worked best for me but it may well be there is an improvement on the way I have developed over the years.

 

neil

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The process is simple and makes sense to me.   :)

 

So this is where Neil's method is slightly more puzzling, since he seems to add the alum to the hot espresso madder solution first... and then adds the potash solution..  

 

Potash extracts & alum precipitates.

 

So I assume adding alum first will initially precipitate whatever pigment was extracted by the pressurized hot water espresso method.  

One also would assume there is fine madder powder which passed through the espresso filer remaining in the solution which still has pigment that needs to be extracted.  

So then adding potash extracts additional pigment from the fine madder solution which gets immediately precipitated out by the alum.

 

Is that about right?

 

Also, since vinegar is recommended to get out more of the pigment, why not force hot pressurized (diluted) vinegar through the madder powder instead of plain water in the espresso machine?

 

Joe

Alum does not 'precipitate'. A precipitate is formed when alum and potash solutions are mixed this is a transparent base ( alumina hydrate ) which is the basis of many lakes but also some basic textile dying processes. Things like this are well described in 'The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques' by Ralph Meyer which is essential readings and not expensive at all in paperback form. 

There is certainly more than a few ways to make a madder lake. I've witnessed a fair few lakes made by Neil based on the extraction method he first experienced with Eero Haati and can certainly say the product was as good as, if not a fair degree better than anything I have obtained commercially or made myself by a variety of methods. The results of Haati's technique in the Strad 'Trade Secrets' look very nice indeed.

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Alum does not 'precipitate'. A precipitate is formed when alum and potash solutions are mixed this is a transparent base ( alumina hydrate ) which is the basis of many lakes but also some basic textile dying processes. Things like this are well described in 'The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques' by Ralph Meyer which is essential readings and not expensive at all in paperback form. 

There is certainly more than a few ways to make a madder lake. I've witnessed a fair few lakes made by Neil based on the extraction method he first experienced with Eero Haati and can certainly say the product was as good as, if not a fair degree better than anything I have obtained commercially or made myself by a variety of methods. The results of Haati's technique in the Strad 'Trade Secrets' look very nice indeed.

Thanks Melvin, I'm going to pick up a copy this afternoon.

Cheers,

Joe

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My understanding is no, it’s the reaction of the lye (potash) with the salt (alum) that creates the precipitation, so it makes no difference which order you add the chemicals, it’s their mixing that creates the reaction.

I have tried it both ways on numerous occasions and the results I get are identical.

I’d be interested to hear your results using dilute vinegar, plain water has worked best for me but it may well be there is an improvement on the way I have developed over the years.

neil

I only suggested it as it was recommended earlier to presoak the madder in vinegar to get more pigment out. Since it would be my first experiment, my results would have nothing to compare to. Do you have an opinion on whether you think it's worth trying on a first go?

I had an old espresso machine. Unfortunately it got thrown away. Time to check the thrift stores for a replacement. :)

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You actually get a different molecular structure of the lake depending on which way around you add alum- potash, potash-alum :)

In further detail if you extract with potash (alkali) and then precipitate with alum you will get whats `authentic` madder lake ,or what would have been made in the early 18th century and before. The structure will be amorphous hydrated alumina. Which is gelatinous and holds much water.It is also highly absorbant .

If you extract with alum and precipitate with potash you get light alumina hydrate  which will contain usually sulphate as well. This was the method used in the 19th century.

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Hi Fiddlecollector …what would be the different characteristics (in use and optically) of the two different way?

Strangely from the numerous times I have done it both ways around I have had no perceivable difference in the finished product or in the way it appears to work…..

But then in my rather dense way I hadn’t thought I was using either chemical for the actual “extraction” …or maybe the way I am doing it is a third way :-)

neil 

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Thanks for the picture series Nertz.
The method seems simple so I bought an old espresso machine to give it a try.

I initially tought the chemicals were alum and sodium carbonate which I can get easily.
Potassium carbonate seem a bit harder to get though. Do you know any good source where to order online? 

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I’ve had no problem buying from any chemical supplier in the past and the last batch I bought was from the craft supplier George Weil here in the UK.

A quick look online this morning shows various sources including amazon where I found half a KG for less then £5….so I imagine where-ever you are based it’ll pretty easy an cheap to find.

 

neil

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Would a simple drip coffee maker work with this process or does one need the temperature and pressure of an espresso machine?

 

I don’t think so…the whole advantage of the pressurized espresso machine is the speed that you get a large quantity and concentration of colour from a relatively small amount of madder compared to the more traditional methods I have tried.

I think it is one of those things that is rather hard to truly appreciate how efficiently and fast it works till you have a go. 

 

neil

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Roger can you explain a bit about why you are no longer a fan of lakes. Is it simply because of this latest theory of Brandmeir  + Greiners ,or is there another reason??

I love making lakes and I have made many hundreds of batches, but I more or less stopped using them in varnish about fifteen years ago. Quite honestly I have not really had much success with them. They just don't do what I want them to. This may be because we cannot make the kind of lakes that were available in classical times. There are many reasons for this. One of the most valid is the fact that there were many different varieties of madder root available then. Today there are only one or two madder varieties available. There were at least 40 in Holland alone. Each one created a different colour. In addition to madders there were numerous plants like Pernambuco and even insects such as Kermes and Cotchineal. I have made quite a lot of lakes from these too, but many of the raw materials have simply disappeared from the market. Also, in the early 1980's, discussions with professor White at the National Gallery, suggested that the red colour on a Seraphin was not pigment. In his opinion the colour of this typically red Venetian varnish was purely the result of oxidization. I am still convinced that some pigment were used in classical varnishes, but those colours that we are mostly seeing today are mainly the result of oxidization. Moreover, even if lakes or other colours were present they appear to have faded in most cases.   

 

The best results that I had with madder was heating it in the oven to about 70C for several hours in a ceramic jar. This system worked best and I used it for several years. It also works well with other lakes. I always used distilled water.

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that would defeat a little bit the purpose of making lake. But you can directly extract the madder powder with turpentine to

make a kind of tincture and use it directly on the wood (I believe few people advocated doing this)

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The best results that I had with madder was heating it in the oven to about 70C for several hours in a ceramic jar. This system worked best and I used it for several years. It also works well with other lakes. I always used distilled water.

I often wonderered if the classical makers used distilled water or if they used their equivalent of "tap water" which could have been the source of the minerals found on the old instruments.

Joe

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