How did they make paint in the 1700s?

Answered by Tom Adger

In the 1700s, prior to the commercial production of paint during the Industrial Revolution, painters had to create their own paints from scratch. This involved grinding pigment into oil to create a suspension of small grains of pigment in the oil medium.

The process of making paint in the 1700s was quite labor-intensive and required a good understanding of the properties of different pigments and oils. The first step was acquiring the pigment, which could be sourced from various natural materials such as minerals, plants, or even animal sources. Common pigments used during this time included lead white, vermilion, ochre, and various earth tones.

Once the pigment was obtained, it had to be ground into a fine powder. This was typically done using a mortar and pestle, although larger grinding stones or mills could be used for larger quantities. The grinding process was essential to break down the pigment particles and create a smooth, consistent powder.

After grinding the pigment, it was then mixed with an oil medium to form the paint. Linseed oil was commonly used as the base medium due to its ability to dry and harden over time. Other oils such as walnut oil or poppyseed oil were also occasionally used. The oil acted as a binder, holding the pigment particles together and allowing them to adhere to a surface.

To create the paint, the pigment powder was gradually added to the oil, and the two were mixed together thoroughly. This was typically done using a palette knife or a grinding slab and muller. The artist would carefully grind and mix the pigment and oil until a smooth and consistent paste was achieved. The paste could then be further thinned with additional oil or other solvents to achieve the desired consistency for painting.

It’s important to note that the homemade paint had a relatively short shelf life. Without the addition of preservatives or stabilizers, the oil-based paint would gradually harden and become unusable over time. As a result, painters had to make fresh batches of paint each day or as needed, depending on their painting schedule.

Making paint in the 1700s involved grinding pigment into a fine powder and mixing it with an oil medium, typically linseed oil. This process required manual labor and knowledge of pigment properties, and the resulting paint had a limited shelf life, requiring painters to create fresh batches regularly.