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Working with pigments


Jim Bress
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Hi folks,  I've been mulling over the idea of learning to incorporate pigments into my varnish to have more control of my final varnish color.  Then Kremer decided to have a sale so I've decided to do some shopping.

The pigments I'm looking at are:

Madder Lake made of roots, Bordeaux Red  https://shop.kremerpigments.com/en/pigments/kremer-made-and-historic-pigments/4951/madder-lake-made-of-roots-bordeaux-red

Madder Lake Violet-Brown  https://shop.kremerpigments.com/en/pigments/kremer-made-and-historic-pigments/4952/madder-lake-violet-brown

Cinquasia® Chestnut Brown  https://shop.kremerpigments.com/en/pigments/pigments-of-modern-age/organic-pigments/4799/cinquasia-chestnut-brown 

My plan is to just give the varnish color a nudge in whatever direction I need to go in a middle layer while maintaining transparency.  My current colophony/linseed oil varnish is kind of a yellow brown and I have enough for ~3 more instruments.  Just wondering my choices bring any red flags to mind.  I heard of the Cinquasia® in Arglebargle's thread that unfortunately sunk below page one before he got an answer, and was also mentioned by Christian Bayon that mention a lack of transparency,  but the cause may have been part of his design with antiquing and not the product used.  Thoughts appreciated.  Kremer sale is today and the 31st only.  I will probably buy today.

Thanks,

Jim

 

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This is a timely thread and I hope you get some good answers.  I chuckled at your "mulling" over the idea.  I have been mulling the idea of getting a glass muller and plate.  I wonder is it possible to increase the transparency of either pigment by further mulling?  I think that's the idea right?  The smaller the particles the more transparent? 

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16 minutes ago, Thomas Coleman said:

This is a timely thread and I hope you get some good answers.  I chuckled at your "mulling" over the idea.  I have been mulling the idea of getting a glass muller and plate.  I wonder is it possible to increase the transparency of either pigment by further mulling?  I think that's the idea right?  The smaller the particles the more transparent? 

I believe (happy to be corrected) that if the particles are too fine you can loose transparency.  Think of a jar with a bunch of big rocks (pigment metaphor) inside.  Plenty of room for sand (light metaphor) to pass through.  Same jar filled with silt (really small rocks).  No room for the sand to pass through.  Yes I know sand is a mineral structure and therefore also a rock, but you get my meaning.  :)

From my reading you only need to mull until you feel no grit when rubbing between fingers, and then maybe 15 more minutes to make sure.  I think most of the pre-made lake powders are already ground fine enough and just need to be mulled to break up any clumps.  Could be wrong.  Kremer has awful shipping rates, so when I order from them I try to order enough to make it count.  20% off helps!  Too bad they don't sell grinding plates.

-Jim

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Jim,

when it comes to color blending, transparency and varnish application, it is pretty hard to give valuable advice because it is in the end pretty much based own very personal working experience and what kind of varnish color texture transparency etc. etc. you have in mind. Though I don't use any of those pigments, I'd say any of them is worth trying, unless the price tag is a kind of astronomic figure.

Form my own experience I got away from commercial sold pigments because I believe that they are not really made for violin varnish. But I suppose this comes mainly from the fact that I am too impatient to grind pigments with a muller on a glass plate. (And I can hear already in the background other MN voices shouting: That's not so difficult!)

Anyway, there is probably more in the Kremer catalog worth testing. David Burgess mentioned on one of my threads an iron oxide pigment of nano size particles. Otherwise people at Kremer are to my experience always helpful with advice, in some cases even to the point that I stopped buying something.

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17 minutes ago, Scoiattola said:

Not sure if this a unorthodox way of getting pigmentation (dye actually?) onto a violin, or just an unusual ground: found it intriguing nonetheless.

Imgur link ("Very detailed artwork")

~S

[Edit: source: https://www.instagram.com/leonardo_frigo_/]

That's really cool!  If that kind of artwork was in my skill set I would definitely do it, but that's never going to happen with me. ;)

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8 minutes ago, Ken_N said:

I have been using a piece of fake granite and the flat end of a broken 1" carbide end mill.  Hardly what you would call efficient; but it sort of works.  The real deal would probably work better. 

https://www.naturalpigments.com/grinding-plate-10-x-10-x-025.html

The muller seems to be the expensive part. 

 

I have a nice slab of granite that I thought of using as a grinding plate.  On some art forum while researching the topic one member advised against granite because you could contaminate your pigment with granite dust which was a negative for him.  It might be cheaper to  get some tempered glass (that I have on my sharpening station) and "frost" the surface by mulling some carborundum powder over the glass.  I'd probably find different glass to use.  I have time to figure out that piece of the puzzle.

-Jim 

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I've used both of those shades of madder from Kremer. They look great but definitely do require quite a bit of mulling to achieve transparency.  
The espresso machine madder I've been using dissolves in oil with very little effort and costs next to nothing to make. 
You might consider the diy approach. 

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16 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Jim,

when it comes to color blending, transparency and varnish application, it is pretty hard to give valuable advice because it is in the end pretty much based own very personal working experience and what kind of varnish color texture transparency etc. etc. you have in mind. Though I don't use any of those pigments, I'd say any of them is worth trying, unless the price tag is a kind of astronomic figure.

Form my own experience I got away from commercial sold pigments because I believe that they are not really made for violin varnish. But I suppose this comes mainly from the fact that I am too impatient to grind pigments with a muller on a glass plate. (And I can hear already in the background other MN voices shouting: That's not so difficult!)

Anyway, there is probably more in the Kremer catalog worth testing. David Burgess mentioned on one of my threads an iron oxide pigment of nano size particles. Otherwise people at Kremer are to my experience always helpful with advice, in some cases even to the point that I stopped buying something.

Hi Andreas, I understand completely.  Varnish making and application are like the love child of cooking and chemistry.  This is certainly where the art side of violin making has the most influence.  I was mostly asking if the raw materials were good viable choices.  Dyes for oil varnish would be nice, but they seem to be more for spirit varnish.  That is how I've nudged the color with my last instrument with some dye colored shellac as my ground and the oil varnish on top.  Still learning, hope to never stop.

-Jim

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There are many here that can speak to this better than me, but I find pigments a very useful tool. I primarily use the Cinquasia red gold and bone black. I mull the pigments with linseed oil, with a small muller and a thick piece of glass. Takes about 15/20 minutes.

My understanding is: thicker rocks (pigments) equal less color but more transparency. Thinner rocks (more mulling) equal more color but less transparency. A very small amount added to the varnish I am going to apply. The red gold really pushes the vibrancy of the reds, and the bone black tempers the colors a bit. I apply each in separate layers with the bone black at the end. I do plan to try out the Cinquasia violet and brown. 

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Just now, DoorMouse said:

I've used both of those shades of madder from Kremer. They look great but definitely do require quite a bit of mulling to achieve transparency.  
The espresso machine madder I've been using dissolves in oil with very little effort and costs next to nothing to make. 
You might consider the diy approach. 

I remember Neil's detailed explanation but did save the post.  I'll search for it again.  However, as time is my enemy I will probably by ready made lakes.  I like how yours turned out on your bench thread.

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4 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

There are many here that can speak to this better than me, but I find pigments a very useful tool. I primarily use the Cinquasia red gold and bone black. I mull the pigments with linseed oil, with a small muller and a thick piece of glass. Takes about 15/20 minutes.

My understanding is: thicker rocks (pigments) equal less color but more transparency. Thinner rocks (more mulling) equal more color but less transparency. A very small amount added to the varnish I am going to apply. The red gold really pushes the vibrancy of the reds, and the bone black tempers the colors a bit. I apply each in separate layers with the bone black at the end. I do plan to try out the Cinquasia violet and brown. 

Good info.  I wasn't sure about mulling with linseed oil or directly with my varnish (which is already quite thick). Thanks!

-Jim

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I mull my own pigments because I like doing it -- the whole process of making them, actually.  I have tried using the wet pigment, e.g. not dried after the alum has been rinsed out, as a way of eliminating the mulling phase.  I added a little alcohol for spirit and turpentine for oil varnish to remove as much of the water as possible after straining.  What I found was that -- and this is more theory than anything else -- the pigment in mud form was too fine and adversely affected the transparency of the varnish.  Mulling the dry stuff gives me more control over how fine I make it.

The way I understand the optical issue is that you want the pigment pieces big enough that the light penetrates to the wood and bounces back, caroming off the particles as it returns to the eye.  I am sure my description is crude and others more knowledgeable about the science can correct/refine it.

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Jim, my understanding of transparency is that finer is better, remembering that the pigment is always suspended in a transparent matrix,and there is never much to start with, , as the pigment size gets smaller than the length of the light waves they bend around the pigment to the wood and can reflect back through the varnish. I think the artical by Neil Earts described it. Also Mike Molnar explained it a while back.

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22 minutes ago, James M. Jones said:

Jim, my understanding of transparency is that finer is better, remembering that the pigment is always suspended in a transparent matrix,and there is never much to start with, , as the pigment size gets smaller than the length of the light waves they bend around the pigment to the wood and can reflect back through the varnish. I think the artical by Neil Earts described it. Also Mike Molnar explained it a while back.

So, the opposite of what I said?

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24 minutes ago, James M. Jones said:

Jim, my understanding of transparency is that finer is better, remembering that the pigment is always suspended in a transparent matrix,and there is never much to start with, , as the pigment size gets smaller than the length of the light waves they bend around the pigment to the wood and can reflect back through the varnish. I think the artical by Neil Earts described it. Also Mike Molnar explained it a while back.

I was under than assumption as well, but I have zero practical experience.  I must have read that someplace.

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9 hours ago, arglebargle said:

...

My understanding is: thicker rocks (pigments) equal less color but more transparency. Thinner rocks (more mulling) equal more color but less transparency. A very small amount added to the varnish I am going to apply. The red gold really pushes the vibrancy of the reds, and the bone black tempers the colors a bit. I apply each in separate layers with the bone black at the end. I do plan to try out the Cinquasia violet and brown. 

 

9 hours ago, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

...

The way I understand the optical issue is that you want the pigment pieces big enough that the light penetrates to the wood and bounces back, caroming off the particles as it returns to the eye.  I am sure my description is crude and others more knowledgeable about the science can correct/refine it.

 

7 hours ago, James M. Jones said:

Jim, my understanding of transparency is that finer is better, remembering that the pigment is always suspended in a transparent matrix,and there is never much to start with, , as the pigment size gets smaller than the length of the light waves they bend around the pigment to the wood and can reflect back through the varnish. I think the artical by Neil Earts described it. Also Mike Molnar explained it a while back.

Likely (pure conjecture) is that both are true in the right context.  I'm guessing that particle size + quantity for a given color intensity affects transparency.  There is probably a goldylox size and concentration to achieve the look while minimizing the impact on transparency.  The biggest hurdle is knowing what I don't know.   From here I just need to do some research and start testing.

Thanks everyone! 

Jim

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22 hours ago, Jim Bress said:

I believe (happy to be corrected) that if the particles are too fine you can loose transparency.  Think of a jar with a bunch of big rocks (pigment metaphor) inside.  Plenty of room for sand (light metaphor) to pass through.  Same jar filled with silt (really small rocks).  No room for the sand to pass through.  Yes I know sand is a mineral structure and therefore also a rock, but you get my meaning.  :)

From my reading you only need to mull until you feel no grit when rubbing between fingers, and then maybe 15 more minutes to make sure.  I think most of the pre-made lake powders are already ground fine enough and just need to be mulled to break up any clumps.  Could be wrong.  Kremer has awful shipping rates, so when I order from them I try to order enough to make it count.  20% off helps!  Too bad they don't sell grinding plates.

-Jim

Smaller is better for transparency. 

If the material is transparent by nature then particle size isn't critical.  But if the pigment is not transparent naturally, then small particles are very important.

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Not true. The classical example of the is lapis luzuli, which is basically opaque: grind it too much and it turns into even more opaque grey mud. Every pigment has its optimum size, if you are looking for transparency, but remember that this is not something that painters were generally looking for, so you need to go deeper into the subject than to, for instance, read painting books.

I think someone already mentioned the necessity of getting the color close to the wood (compare to reading a newspaper through wax paper). Another important component is compatibility of the layers. A ground can look cloudy, but the right varnish on top will make it look clear, and the reverse. I personally think that the very first thing that touches the wood is the most important layer.

Someone commented earlier that iron pigments aren't transparent. Also not true. There are transparent ones, but very few. I have always been fascinated by the idea that iron pigments are essentially local, and this hole might have something completely different from the one a mile away. Look at the many examples that historical pigment suppliers sell. What if there was one particular pigment from one specific hole that worked well that all the violin makers had access to? I've spend a lot of $$$ on this, and my thought is that all the ones you can buy now are ground too fine, so I might have walked right over it. I guess the next step is for me to try to make my own. . . .

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47 minutes ago, David Beard said:

Smaller is better for transparency. 

If the material is transparent by nature then particle size isn't critical.  But if the pigment is not transparent naturally, then small particles are very important.

If the pigment is really opaque by nature, smaller size will make it cover better but reduce transparency. If, like most mineral pigments, it is only almost opaque, it will work as you say - unless the pigment has a very high refractive index (like titanium oxide), in which case smaller particles will again be more opaque.

Lapis lazuli is a special case in that it really SHOULD be colourless, the blue colour is due to systematic defects in the crystal lattice. Grind it too fine, and you lose the defects and thus the colour.

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