Elements & their associated pigments

Elements some of their Associated Pigments

Pigments come from many different materials – plants, vegetables, animals and minerals. This list gives an idea of some of the pigments made from mineral elements mined from the earths crust. Bearing in mind that the mining of these elements sometimes involves crude mechanisms and cheap labour there are many social and environmental aspects to what we might perceive as simple paint materials – not least as humans search for other planets. It’s not because we’re going to live there.

Click on the title link above to view the list.


The Repair Shop Christmas Special

The Repair Shop is probably the first programme on TV to reveal some of the ins and outs of the Conservation of Paintings. In the Christmas Special you’ll see me working on a particular type of  painting – a European-style picture from the colonial era of South America. It’s a well known and relevant Christmas subject ‘Virgin and Child’  painted ‘Statue‘ style, imitating statues commonly seen on the Church altar – it is not a realistic figure.

During the 16th century onwards artists from ‘Old World’ Europe sailed into the New World. As well as producing work in the European style, artists taught individuals from indigenous populations to paint in the European style, providing for the rapidly growing market in religious imagery.

This particular painting is remarkable not only because it is in the statue style and tells much ‘news’ from the old world, but in the face of the Madonna we see the face of an indigenous Quechua woman.

The style might be European but she isn’t.

Madonna & Child

Colonial Spanish ‘statue ‘ painting

The designs in the fabric of the Virgin’s mantle are tulips, the mania of which stormed mid 17th century Europe. This religious painting, set in contemporary style, brings news not only of the birth of Christianity but the latest fashion edit from the old world.

Another notable feature of the painting is the artists attempt at creating movement in the image. The caucasian looking angels hold candles whose flames gutter in a breeze (whoosh?) created by a hovering Virgin moving forward towards us, the viewer. If you can imagine looking at the image in a darkened room, lit only by candle, the vision before you takes on a mystical intensity.

There’s more to paintings than meets the eye and these blogs aim to provide incites into  the creative process and the materials and techniques that get us there, as well as inside info on the wonderful world of Conservation.

The other charming event in the Christmas special episode of  ‘The Repair Shop’ was the ‘secret Santa’. We each produced a gift for our secretly selected person. It wasn’t possible in the edit to show all the hand made gifts but at the request of many as to what I made ….. here it is, recipient and all :)))) Happy Christmas everyone!

The Repair Shop, Secret Santa reveal.

Graffiti Painting



Whats Paint Got to do with it?

I wrote in the footnotes of the Nov 2018 blog ‘Medieval and Renaissance Pigments’ that paint is made of two components – pigment and medium.

It led me to revisit my early enthusiasm for paint, paintings and the wondrous developments we humans have gone through to have the materials we use today. 

It’s my great fortune to have trained and worked at close quarters with paintings, to analyse and understand their makeup which lead me to an appreciation of the industrial developments that inform our lives. Incredibly (to my mind) the changes that have taken place in paint from prehistoric cave paintings to right Now, are very small indeed. In fact the paints that early humans made and used (earth pigments, soot, waxes, etc) are still in use today, a legacy to the inherent qualities of these materials.

Paint is ubiquitous. The story of mankind may be encompassed in the development of the material we use in our art and in our everyday lives, whether we’re on the streets of Grimsby or Kathmandu. You might not think of yourself as an artist but you have paint materials around you 24/7, from the road lines along our pavements (see instagrams 14th & 20th Oct 2018) to the faded and scratched paint on shop doors and windows, to the spaces that you find shelter in. It’s everywhere; perhaps you only notice it if it causes a reaction in you – you like the colour or you don’t? its wet paint!?


In brief – many materials can be used as binders for paint – egg, gum, wax, oil and pva are examples you will know. 

Egg tempera painting reached its zenith in 14th century Italy when the Renaissance kicked in bringing the new development of oil paint.  Oil became the most important paint medium for the next 500 years up to the 20th century.

There are four important classes of synthetic resin used in 20th century paint:- nitrocellulose (pyroxylin); alkyds; polyvinyl acetate (pva); acrylic. Acrylic has been the most important synthetic resin used in artists quality paint, the other mediums have been used principally in house paints…….

…..and that’s been the game changer – House Paints. 

For example, Alkyd resins, developed in 1927 (not commercially available until after WWII) are the standard binder in oil based household paints even today. Alkyd ranges are also produced by artists Colourmen – people who make artists paint are called Colourmen

Frank Stella’s (b. 1936) painting ‘Six Mile Bottom’ (1960, Tate) is a commercial, alkyd- based, aluminium paint. Lots of intense, opaque colour, lots of flow and lots of paint needed to make the 3metres x 2 metres (approx) painting.  

As Picasso discovered at the beginning of the 20th century you could do things with household paints that you couldn’t do with paint made specifically for artists or with egg or with wax or casein or anything.

Think Rothko, think Pollock, think BIG!

More on colour, paints, mediums and artists in future blogs.

In the meantime follow me on Instagram for snapshots of all the above.

Instagram:- luciainlondon123

Brief History of Pigments in Western Art – Part 1: Medieval and Renaissance Pigments

One of the questions I’m often asked of my job as Conservator of Paintings is why don’t I retouch with the same pigments the artist used?

There are a number of answers to this but basically, sometimes I do use the same pigment and sometimes I don’t.

An example of where I’m likely to use the same pigments are the earth colours – raw/burnt umber, raw/burnt sienna, yellow ochre etc.

An example – where I do not use the same pigment as the artist is where they have used Lead White. Lead white is found in just about every painting (and household paint!) up until the late 20th century when H&S kicked in. It is fantastic as a paint – it handles well and is extremely durable but, the overriding nature of its toxicity means it is not a viable material for anyone to use if they want to live a healthy, long life. (Titanium white is the 20thC modern alternative).

Over the years I’ve used pigments in my work both as the colour for making the paint* to retouch losses in paintings, and in analysis to understand the original materials artists used.

Let’s begin though, with a brief history of Medieval and Renaissance Pigments.

The Renaissance period bridged the gap between the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, so roughly 1300-1600. It represents a great theoretical and scientific revolution in Europe.

You would think that such a burgeoning of science and theory and wealth and expansion would affect every aspect of the arts – which it did in one major way and that was oil paint. We’re not talking about that here though, because although the way artists painted did change quite radically with the ‘invention’ of oil painting, the major and most costly component of any paint both then and now is the pigment.

Pigments continued to be manufactured in much the same way as they’d aways been. Artists prepared the extensive range of colours available to them in the manner they always had since antiquity – they got the apprentices to do it. Lumps of raw pigment were washed, cooked, ground, graded, weighed and stored. Apprentices made paint by mixing pigments with egg, wax, mastic, resins and many other mediums – ultimately oil – and laid them ready to use, on the palettes of their masters. (All master artists had once been apprentices so they knew the score).

Medieval artist with apprentice preparing paint

Increased maritime trading* delivered pigments to an increasingly demanding market,  Church and Kings were big business. Artists used the colours in the same old way prescribed over centuries until the Renaissance. The Renaissance caused a shift, driving out the old fashioned, medieval preference for bright, pure, emblematic colours. Artists began mixing.

Using the same range of colours but mixing them allowed for subtlety and more naturalistic effects.  This was really because with an oil medium they could do that which they couldn’t with all the other mediums to date, that is mix colours as they worked, paint bigger and for extended periods of time, working up paint layers instead of being limited to paint mediums drying quickly in small sections.

Oil took a long time to dry allowing artists to literally mix paint, paint over larger areas and even mixing colours on the canvas or panel or whatever support over longer periods of time.

Things got ‘realistic’ and quite often fantastical, which was new and really quite amazing and everyone wanted their portraits painted. Nothing like this would happen again for about 400 years when Picasso popped up – but that’s another medium along with some really amazing pigments and another blog.

Now where were we…….

Ah, yes, technical treatises of the Renaissance such as Lomazzo (Gian Paolo Lomazzo, 1538-1592 Italian painter & writer on art theory and practice – self portrait below) set out comprehensive instructions for the mixing of colours. It was complicated because as artists began to mix colours they had to do it themselves and  became more aware of the issues of incompatibility of certain pigments in certain mediums.


Some pigments mix together less well in one medium than another.  For example a pigment which is ideal for use in oil may well have serious disadvantages if used in fresco techniques e.g lamp black very difficult to use in waterbased paints.  Some pigments if mixed or placed in close juxtaposition will react chemically causing discolouration e.g the blackening of lead white if mixed with sulphur based pigments such as vermilion/cinnabar.

Renaissance artists weren’t so bothered about the stability and permanence of their pigments but more with the visual effects of their painting. However there were a few circumstances where they had to pay close attention as certain combinations of pigments were to be avoided because the negative effects (examples above) happened quite quickly; artists had to pay attention as clients certainly did not want paintings deteriorating before their very eyes.

Technical treatise were a godsend to the artist with a deadline.

By the middle of the 16th century most artists studios weren’t using apprentices to prepare the pigments but sending them out to buy ready prepared pigments from the apothecary – who was no doubt reading Lomazzo too.

Painting got faster, bigger and really dramatic over the next few hundred years.


* & **

* Paint is, very simply, two materials mixed together – a pigment with a medium

                                   (nouns:- medium; vehicle; carrier; binder – ‘s all the same).

In oil painting the medium would be a drying oil such as linseed, poppy or walnut.

In watercolour the medium is gum arabic; in acrylics the medium is…. acrylic etc.

Pigment + medium = Paint

In addition a diluent would be required to enable the paint to continue to flow as it is worked – turpentine for oils, water for watercolours and acrylics etc.


** One of the reasons Venice was such a seismic art/artist hot spot during the Renaissance was due to its geographic position – being the terminal for overland silk routes as well as prosperous maritime trading. Everything landed first in Venice.

The rise of Maritime nations such as the Netherlands inevitably witnessed a decline in importance of Venice as a northern renaissance grew with fortunes of maritime trade and the merchant classes who decided they wanted a bit of the painting action.

Next up:-  Pigments of the 18th-20th Centuries; the rise of Modern Synthetic Chemistry 


BBC2 – ‘The Repair Shop’ – 2018

Late summer 2018 sees The Repair Shop team filming series 4 & 5 for 2019. The show has gone from strength to strength with more experts coming in to the beautiful 18th Century barn at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum.

The objects selected illustrate a wealth of cultural heritage and the emotional inheritance attached to them. Revelations  can sometimes be spectacular but mainly modest – illustrating how clocks, ceramics, furniture, musical instruments, glass, toys, paintings and all, infuse our private lives with colour and meaning that replays over the years. They are signs of our times, our histories.

Whoever watches the programme cannot fail to reflect on their own life, what they have carried through from childhood or what has been passed down through generations. Memories stirred, reviewed, remembered, reclaimed.

I love the paintings I work on, no job too small, always a privilige. My job is a dream job; it was a real epiphany when I discovered it. I remember clearly the lightbulb moment when I first heard the word ‘Conservation’  – in a pub in Sheffield :)))

I called Sheffield Museum the next day and they told me they had a Conservation Department and I made an appointment to visit.

That was it.

In terms of that is what I was going to do it took a couple more years as I was living & working in New York and then travelling from there overland for a year, I got as far as Bolivia.

I’d already checked out the training courses  in the UK – all 3 of them :))) and its still the same today for a formal training in Paintings Conservation:- University of Northumbria; Courtauld Institute, London; The Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge.

I went to Newcastle – the course was located in a beautiful 19th century mansion in the grounds of Gateshead Technical College in the 80’s.  It was Fantastic! (My Grandmother was from Newcastle, I like to think it was this family link leading me there).

I always have Sheffield Education Authority to thank for providing a grant at that time too.

Moving from Newcastle to London to work at the Victoria & Albert Museum consolidated the foundation for a life in Conservation. I was enthusiastic, fortunate and looking back I have a lot of people to thank for their support and encouragement.

Photos Library

Lucia (at left) working on a painting by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) in the Paintings Conservation studio, V&A.

The Repair Shop is open for business.  If you have an object with a personal story and would like to take part then contact ‘Ricochet’ who are the Production Company responsible for making the programme they’d love to hear from you!








Every Picture tells a story and 2017 saw the start of a 15 part series devoted to the Conservation and restoration of a Nations Fine and Decorative arts resting in our homes.

If we are lucky we all come to inherit or find an object we want to hold onto in our lives. This story is about ‘The Repair Shop’ aired in March/April this year BBC2 and I was part of the expert team We have had great reviews! and a second series has been commissioned.I was thrilled to be a part of the series & even more-so that it has been recommissioned for later this year. The first series was filmed at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum South Downs National Park near to Chichester. We filmed in the most beautiful late 17th century ‘Court Barn’ from Lee-On-Solent (rescued and reconstructed in the late 1970’s at the Weald & Downland Living Museum). Filming was great fun and testing too. It was pretty cold in January & February this year and working in-situ is a challenging environmentfor any Conservator at the best of times. I learned much about working in temperatures hovering around freezing – not my usual environment – not least that my portable varnish unit ceased to function and the varnish when applied did not dry readily. The supreme delight of this series though is that it taps into the emotional aspect of the objects brought into The Repair Shop. We are told Every picture tells a story, the stories we heard from the people and places attached to the objects makes for compelling television. The objects are worth more than any monetary value that may be attached to them and even now when I listen to the programmes I am moved to tears by many of the stories. My favourite has to be the story told by Patricia and Ivor Salmon and their beautiful painting of Icknield House. The painting passed to Patricia from her mother who received it as a wedding gift from the artist and owner of the house, Violet McDougall. Patricia & Ivor are a delight and so gracious in the sharing of theirstory. I was moved when one of the researchers appeared on set one day with a basket of flowers from them as a Thank you. We had a great team of experts working on the programme from the Producers, Researchers, Editors et al at Ricochet; the Camera Crew who guided us through the making of the scenes and the Expert team themselves (l-r in photo) Lucia Scalisi – Paintings; Kirsten Ramsey – Ceramics; Jay Blades – Upholstery;Stephen Fletcher – Horology; Will Kirk – Furniture and woodwork; Dominic Chinea – Metalwork – to name a few. Looking forward to more objects, stories and Conservation later this year. Join us at BBC2 and now on iplayer. IMG_5454IMG_6106

BBC2 ‘Restoration Roadshow’ 2014


BBC 2′s Restoration Roadshow is on TV again, not only in the UK but in France too!

There is a wealth of televisual material in Conservation and despite being called the ‘Restoration Roadshow‘ – the alliteration being somewhat sonorous – hopefully the attempts made to promote the benefits of Conservation did/do shine through.

Today I received an email from the agency that purports to promote Conservation and of which I am a member – ICON – and that was of a ‘Consortium‘  wishing to promote ‘Craft skills‘ in ‘England‘. The idea that ICON should send this out without a thought to what it is they might be promoting is not surprising. ICON interprets it as potential advertising for whatever it is ICON sells.

I for one (actually I know I am not alone) am not sure what that is anymore.

We are not Craft practitioners.

Well, those of us who have undertaken formal CONSERVATION Training do not consider ourselves craft workers. There is nothing wrong with craft workers at all, I love arts and crafts and personally support them in many ways that has absolutely nothing to do with my being a Conservator, anymore than it would if I were a Lawyer, Nurse, Teacher or Politician for example.

(Not sure why ‘England’ is identified as the sole market in this case either but that is another argument for those promoting these wares to (re)consider).

Once again I ask why ICON cannot get its head around the idea of how to become a real ‘Profession’ and why Conservators & ever more so, the OBJECTS in our care continue to suffer because ICON is more concerned in its administration of the office than of the work of members who support that self same office.

Why would a Conservation studio want to open its doors to tours from Craft skill groups? If ICON could list the reasons why then maybe they would like to organise group tours around the offices of solicitors, hospitals and the Houses of Parliament to promote the work of Conservators.

In the meantime ‘Restoration Roadshow’ plays on BBC 2 and the Conservators that really do a great job taking care of business stand aghast at how increasingly little ICON cares about that self same business.

Liquifying Paint

A painting made (and sold) in 2000 recently came in to my studio. It was a contemporary oil on canvas.

This year – 2014 – the paint had started to ‘liquify‘ – rivulets of paint running down the surface of the image.

It was an oil painting which, according to the artist, the paint had not been modified in any way – added to or overly thinned.

The paint layer is heavy impasto and the paints fairly unmixed so this bearing out the artists statement. The top white paint layer – probably Titanium White -was the layer undergoing liquefaction.

A quick recap:- oil paint takes about a year to ‘dry’ (which is why varnish should not be applied during this drying period as it will be imbibed into the surface). The drying process is complex and undergoes expansion and contraction of the paint layer during this period which is affected by thickness of the paint and application periods.

As the white paint layer was liquifying and running down the painting in some areas was picking up a little pigment from underlying layers, in others a yellow oil layer was visibly seeping out and running down the image.

As an experienced Conservator of Paintings and dealing with all aged paint layers ancient and modern (and knowing how paint is made commercially) I have never seen anything like this.

My first reaction was the artist must have added something to the paint – a non drying oil? and why should this begin to happen after 14 years?

A recent 2014 conference ‘Modern Conservation: What’s New?’ (not much actually)  revealed Danish Conservators were dealing with this recent phenomena in four paintings made between 1990-2005 by van Hemert and Tal-R

We are it seems at the beginning of a crisis and one which will affect modern paint materials in the age of health & safety and profit margins.
Lead Acetate is added to commercial artists paints as a drier. Paint manufacturers have since the 1980′s been removing such lead soaps from paints. Manufacturers hold their secrets close so finding out what they are replacing lead soaps with is something is yet to be learned.

Manufacturers have also been adding non-drying oils to the paint such as safflower and sunflower oil. It is much cheaper than that beautiful liquid gold Linseed oil, used in oil paints since oil painting began in the 15th century.
Non drying oils are just that, they do not dry. Probably these non drying oils have been heat modified and additives incorporated into formulations to encourage them to dry and enable them to formulate a paint layer.

Age testing has clearly not been part of the process and we are now we are the witnessing this new phenomena of paint layers breaking down and liquifying because of untested materials, health and safety measures and no doubt short term profit.

Along with Daler Rowney and Schminke artists paint manufacturers other companies have admitted changing formulations.

One Danish artist is taking a paint manufacturer to court over disintegration of his work. The process of litigation will no doubt set standards of proof but ultimately the world of modern art is going to see the ground liquify before its very eyes and there is no way of stopping it.

A get out clause is that artists add and subtract materials to their paints and usually do not record or remember work techniques. I would reckon paint analysis will easily identify any reckless materials.

Implications may also be in the pipeline for household paints, indeed any oil based paint. More to be posted…….

Open letter to ICON – UK Institute of Conservation

Institute of Conservation
1.5 Lafone House
The Leathermarket
Weston Street

October 23rd 2013

Dear ICON,

This is an open letter about my increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity, direction and membership support ICON is currently reflecting – a complacent reality.

Having been a member of ICON for many years (Accredited 2000; Committee Member of UKIC; Editor for Paintings Section and Chair for a while) I believe that Conservation is a vocation but would like to see active growth towards it becoming a Profession, with a supporting Professional body.

I have supported ICON because I believe it is an organisation representing a group of fairly like-minded people who believe in supporting cultural heritage – in historical, political, economical, scientific and environmental contexts as well as for aesthetics and pleasure.

It has been the privilege of the Conservator to work closely with objects, to understand materials and techniques and ideally to have a voice. Of late I find myself dismayed at the lack of vigour within ICON, it seems to be running on the spot, an office managing the funds of its members in a manner to justify its own ‘Office’ existence with little voice given to the material objects of our concern or the Conservator.

It is costly to be a member of ICON and to be Accredited and I see less and less benefit as a long term practicing Conservator. ICON’s voice is dulled, its intentions seemingly drowning under administration.

I am aware that ICON actively supports training, pursuing lottery funding for placements because that kind of market funding is currently available, however ICON does little to support Conservators after training.

By this I mean that I can see no difference in ICON’s support for people who have invested in formal training and have good (if not great!) qualifications for the job.

ICON supports equally members who have no formal training. Craft skills of this group are probably high on the agenda but appreciating new developments in materials and techniques is of little interest economically, exposure to new developments not actively pursued.

ICON it could be argued, gleans member’s fees at the expense of supporting low-grade practice. How can clients be expected to differentiate a Conservator/Restorer/Studio Practice that has undergone the rigours of formal training and actively keeps up to date with CPD to that of a studio where no one has a formal training qualification and students (often foreign) are employed because they are cheap and sometimes even pay a fee for the experience?

There is no difference in the Accreditation system for people who have trained and those who have trained themselves in the ‘garden shed’.

How are clients to know? What can ICON do?

ICON may argue that details of Accredited practices are listed but if everyone thinks anyone can set up practice anyway what’s the point of qualifications when anyone can do it? If ICON lists a practice then it must be good, qualifications or not, it doesn’t matter!

How can Training courses compete when anyone can set up a studio to work in Conservation/Restoration, charge the same fees and be represented by the same body – ICON?

I feel ICON does not truly support training courses because it is not moving towards Conservation becoming a true profession. We are still at the ‘barber-surgeon’ stage of development. Is this to remain the case? Are we deluding ourselves with talk of Professional Development?

ICON may be in stasis, at best resting on the laurels of having developed Accreditation – rather a while ago now.

On another front ICON presents itself at formal Heritage events.

Does art and culture lie solely within the framework of Heritage Institutions?

There are huge events taking place all over the country from BADA Fairs to Frieze, from local town hall antique & collectors fairs to Country House Fairs and events. Where is ICON? You will not find ICON promoting any outreach there and to this end I think ICON is missing a major market, where many ‘Restorers’ ply their trade whilst potential Clients remain in the shadow of ignorance over what is good practice.

ICON could and should have a presence for Auction houses too, at least be approaching them to discuss Conservation and making presentations to auctioneers and dealers with the case for good practice.

It is an audience and an opportunity for raising awareness of good practice and saving a bit more of our culture from those who want everything to look brand new.

I was hardly surprised last week when the ICON office sent out the flyer about a television production company seeking ‘Restorers’ to bring forth their goods and contacts for a potential television programme.

Did anyone in the ICON read the flyer? Did ICON not think to make a professional approach to the company or provide advice to ‘Restorers’?

Is ICON afraid? Unsure? Or just can’t be bothered about the potential in these developments, seeing it as beyond some remit or other?

When I see the term ‘Restorer’ bandied about like some Holy Grail occupation my heart sinks. A supposed up and coming Professional body – ICON – lets an opportunity to ‘raise the bar’ pass by. The flyer was cast out like a bone to hungry dogs, not a thought given to either consequences or potential.

In this instance the least ICON could have done is be aware of implications for both Client and the ‘Restorer’.

A further note, if I ask about the possibility of decentralising the London office do the hearts of individuals sink?

Rentals in London are exorbitant and it may be something that ICON should be giving active thought to, considering the imminent loss of the Chantry Library for example.

In summary my arguments here are: –

  • Greater representation from ICON for formally trained & qualified Conservators.
  • ICON to actively speak out about the benefits of formal Training qualifications and Training Institutions and to support qualified alumni.
  • ICON to do more outreach to Client bases on a series of levels.
  • ICON to make moves (after nearly 14 years of Accreditation and the Conservation Register) towards a true and legitimate Profession.
  • ICON to consider decentralising its office base in order to support organisations like the Chantry Library. If money is the real issue where can ICON save on costs?

Thank you.

Lucia Scalisi

Conservator of Paintings