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On Priming

I've been poking around trying to find more information about priming the little panel. Here are some excerpts from various websites I've read. Most use Cennino as a primary source!

Gesso would be used to coat the surface of the panel. The recipe would vary from studio to studio, though in its simplest form would consist of a mixture of calcinated lime and a binder. The binder was usually animal hide glue for permanence of just spit if it was just an exercise by an apprentice. For the calcinated lime, the thigh bones of a chicken would be burned to a fine white ash. Add that to the glue with some white lead and you have medieval gesso. This would be rubbed into the grain of the panel to be practiced on.

[...]The surface of the panel has to be relatively rough so that the gesso can have a good grip. It tends to flake off, otherwise. Gesso, if you're not into burning chicken bones and mixing with white lead, can be purchased from an art store or even from Walmart. Usually, about 3 layers of gesso (with 1 hour between coats) will do it.

Silverpoint by Callista Magdalena di Scarlatti perhaps lifted from The Art of Silverpoint Drawing

I learned a lot about the purpose of ground at SilverPointWeb. They sell their own magic formula of ground, but the fundamentals are the same: ground is an abrasive that grinds away the silver from the point. In its instructions for use, SilverPointWeb suggest three to four coats of ground with the initial coats lightly sanded after drying.

American egg tempera artist Fred Wessel uses this technique for preparing his panels. This seems a bit too complex and perfectionist for my apprentice's practice panels, but it's good to understand how I may be doing it "for real" later on.

His procedure for preparing the panel was to glue a piece of linen canvas to the seven-ply plywood, size the surface with rabbit-skin glue, and then apply six layers of traditional gesso made from rabbit-skin glue and whiting. After allowing the layers of gesso to dry, Wessel rubbed the surface with charcoal dust to reveal imperfections and then carefully scraped them with a sharp, two-inch blade from a carpenter's plane. When the gray left by the charcoal dust was gone, he knew the surface was perfectly smooth.

Using Egg Tempera and Gold Leaf to Achieve Renaissance Luminosity by M. Stephen Doherty

So I will close this post and get back into the 14th century to apply more coats of bone-and-spit. When I'm ready for a break, or waiting for coatings to dry, I'll be checking out the conversations at the Cennini Forum.


There is a forum??? Methinks there must be a forum for everything imaginable - or unimaginable as well.

Ah, rabbit skin glue. That works.

Airholes and bubbles are killer for a panel if you're doing egg tempera. I understand why so perfectionist for that.

This is a really interesting step by step guide for silverpoint ground preparation. Liked the part on the bones especially. Seems like you should take equal advantage of Japanese traditions and materials as Cennini's recipe. I think artists of that day would respect the trial-and-error effort.

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  • 01. Drawing
  • 02. Colors
  • 03. Fresco
  • 04. Oil Painting
  • 05. Adhesives
  • 06. Panels
  • 07. Gilding
  • 08. Mordants
  • 09. Varnishing
  • 10. Illuminating
  • 11. Cloth
  • 12. Glass
  • 13. Mosaic
  • 14. Miscellaneous
  • 15. Casting
  • Contemporary notes
  • Renaissance notes