Kids Get Arty: Titian for Kids – Pigment Making

Kids Get ArtyYes, it is time to get ARTY again. We do get crafty regularly, as you know. And we have lots of open ended arty sessions – usually dictated by the kids – you can read more about them in my Daily Creativity section. Easy to set up, self direct projects.  Both of these activities form a great basis for our “proper” Art sessions that we do every two months – we take a Great Artist, look at their work, discuss it and then do a project relating to their work. This time we are looking at the  late middle ages and Renaissance period. A key artist of the time, is Titian who lived ~1490 – 1576.

Titian was one the best Venetian artist in the 16th Century.  He had a long career, with many international clients and tried out many techniques and methods, but had a lifelong interest in colour.

We are very lucky to live near some great galleries in London – in this case The National Gallery, which is home to a number of Titian’s paintings. We looked at some of Titian’s but also at the work of his contemporaries between 15 00 and 16 00. Focussing primarily on the bright and colourful paintings (with great appeal to the kids).

The National Gallery has the most AMAZING online Virtual Tour. Do take a peak (makes me a little dizzy though). Room 9 has other Venetian artists from around the same period as Titian. Unfortunately not ALL the rooms are on the tour, so cannot show you the paintings we looked at.

Titian - Bacchus and Ariadne - oil on canvas on board

Titian’s Bacchus and Adriane – Oil on Canvas – 1520 – 1523

The late middle aged art is tricky to “do” with young children – as clearly, children’s  artwork is much simpler and no way as detailed and there is “no way” you can expect them to create something in the “style of”.

But there is plenty to discuss:

  • Symbolism
  • Colours
  • How to make paint
  • Painting on wood
  • Layering your work
  • Size of artwork
  • Time it took to complete

Art in the middle ages, was much much more than “just” painting. If you are tackling this era with children, you do not have to talk about EVERYTHING with them in one go. Just pick one or two aspects common to the era and focus on these.

We decided to focus on what materials they need to paint and how they made them.

Painting on Wood – The Skill of Carpentry

When Titian was young he started his artist career in  workshop. Artists had large workshops in which they made their own surfaces to paint on. Carpenters’ skills that were need:  putting together planks of wood, sanding them down to make smooth surfaces. The wood would then have to be treated and sealed to avoid any paint soaking into it. You would then have to “ground” it – adding a foundation layer for which to paint on.

Later artists started using linen canvases – at first they would glue them to the wooden sheets, later they would stretch them on huge frames.  They still needed ground and prepping. But canvases made me the painting lighter. You could also roll up the canvas, which made it easier to transport a painting.

So one large aspect of a young artist apprentice was carpentry…

Titian The Holy Family with a Shepherd 1510

Titian’s The Holy Family with Shepherd’s – Oil on Canvas complete c 1510

Making your own Paint – The Alchemist Skill

In the middle ages, artists were not able to go out and buy paint the way we do. We are rather spoiled for choice and can get hold of anything easily – we have water colours, tempera, oil paints, acrylics, we have pastels and pencils etc.

Titian had to make all his paint himself. First he would have to create pigments and then he would mix those pigments with special oils to make his own oil paints. Titian lived in Venice, which was the centre of the pigment trade, so he was very lucky and had access to many raw materials to make his beautiful colours.

Some colours were easy to make – black was made from soot, others were very hard and precious to get hold of – e.g. Ultramine blue was made from the semi precious stone lapis lazuli, which needed to be ground down into a fine powder. Crimson (a red) came from a the lac beetle that came all the way from India. Other colours were quite dangerous to make – as they were made from poisonous sulphurs.

You then took your pigments and turned them into paint.

Tempera paint made with egg yolks. It dries very quickly and cracks. (also imagine quite how many eggs you would need to paint a large canvas?!)

Oil paints were made with mixing pigments with oil. The tricky thing about oil paints, that the oils decompose over time – resulting in the painting cracking and darkening.

Titian for Kids – Our Art Project

National Gallery

The kids were amazed to hear that it took 3 years to paint Bacchus and Ariadne (not the image above btw)! Almost as long as how old Pip Squeak is. Wow.

We looked at the painting and Red Ted clearly loved the leopards and asked why they were there (ahem, no idea!  I will have to go and look that one up for you, I said).

After more questions, I was unsure the answers of, I steered the conversation to the colours… phew. I knew we wanted to talk about paint and colours and “how they did” before we came, so that helped. I asked the children which colours they liked best and told them about how you couldn’t “just buy” any colours in those days. Then I asked them how they thought they made them and where in nature you may find the different colours (as we are in Autumn here in the UK, there was a lot of talk of leaves – leaves for yellow, leaves for red etc).

Pigment Making: Copper Acetate

When we got home, we decided to make some bright blue/ green pigment using copper! Now, I have to say, though I do like science very much and we do love science experiments (which this turned out to be), Chemistry and the details of chemistry are not my strong points… So.. the full explanation of how Copper Acetates are made can be found on this Science Forum.

In essence, I can explain the science this:

Copper reacts with Vinegar. If a copper coin is fully submerged in vinegar, it reacts to produce copper acetate (the lovely blue crystals) and water. The acetate crystals are water soluble, so “disappear” and the coin comes out looking bright and shiny.

If the copper coin comes into contact with vinegar AND air… copper acetate crystals begin to form, whilst the water evaporates. Leaving behind the acetate crystals only. You are left with some beautiful tiny crystals:

Making Copper Crystals

Copper Acetate Crystals – made from a British 2p copper coin and vinegar

copper acetate cyrstals

Can you see the crystals? So exciting!

It took 1-2 weeks to get the above. We place a copper coin on some kitchen towel paper – to help absorb some of the water whilst still exposing the coin to the vinegar. Every day or so, we would add some drops of vinegar with a pippette. A nice ring of crystals formed along one edge of the coin (I annoyingly knocked these off when trying to take the photo with my friend Genya).

We then had another go and placed lots of coins on the kitchen towel paper and placed these on the radiator to speed up the process. I added drops of vinegar every couple of hours. We managed to get some of the green crystals, but not as many, in about 2 days. So it definitely speeded the process up.

Interestingly, the UNDERSIDE of the copper coin was nice and shiny – sitting in the damp kitchentowel, confirms that the water in it absorbs the crystals away. You could also see the kitchen towel going green, showing again, some of the crystals being absorbed away, but  not fully dissolving before the water evaporated.

Painting with Pigments

Making Copper Acetate

Clearly we made very little pigments. By scrapping a knife along the coin, we got some fine powder. But not much.

It really brought home, how hard it is to make your own paint!

We used some tempera powders and oil to mix up some paint, similar to how Titian did. We used kitchen oil, which of course is not “the correct oil” to use and I explained to the children how this would not last hundreds of years, the way Titian’s work did. Also, we probably made our paint too runny, three days later and our artwork is not yet dry! But again, it was more about the process this time than anything else.

Titian for Kids - Making Paint

We painted our oil paints onto (unprimed) wooden blocks we had. The kids adored the process. Because the wood was unprimed, of course the colours didn’t shine as brightly. We should have primed them first – with some white acrylic paint or similar – but it wasn’t the focus of our project and unfortunately we didn’t have the time!

Then as a final crowning glory each child added a tiny tab of our homemade green paint to their artwork. Wow.

We noticed the following:

  • We made VERY LITTLE pigments
  • Our pigments were much coarser than the fine tempera paint powder we have, which means we would have needed to grind it
  • Our pigment needed “padding out” with some white tempera powder, so we could see it better/ use it more

On reading more about copper acetate, it turns out that artists like Titian, used it more as a transparent glaze added to bring out green areas of his paintings.

And I will report back if our artwork every actually dries!!

More wonderful Great Artists Projects here: