Saturday, November 22, 2008

Maybe I shouldn't have gotten those games...

Considering how much Art From Scratch work I've done recently, maybe I should have reconsidered buying the Orange Box as a reward for getting my webhosting mess in order.

Curse you Valve! Your games are too good! And I just bought Half Life for 98 cents last night and played it waaay too long!

By the way, my wife knows why it's called Half-Life. It's because that's how much time has been taken from my other activities.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Random, The other blog.

I realize that I shouldn't be putting too many non-art related ideas in this blog. And politics don't belong here either. So I created a new blog for such items.:

If random ramblings interest you, I hope you'll visit.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

He DID make his own tools... sort of

I rented "Alone in the Wilderness" from Scarecrow Video (The Powell's bookstore of video rentals... if you can't find it here, and they don't know how to get it, the tape cannot be found), and Dick made the handles for his tools. His reasoning was that it would be easier to pack into the area. This video is really worth watching. He wasn't a sport hunter, and wasn't a hippie. He hunted and grew his own food and respected the land. He reminded me a lot of my Grandpa Dow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PBS Rocks

I was channel surfing today, and saw a piece on PBS about Richard Proenneke, a man who retired at 50 in 1967, built a cabin on a lake in Alaska (FROM SCRATCH), and lived there for 30 years.

I happened upon this program on local PBS affiliate KCTS about halfway through. So, I don't know if he built his tools from scratch. I doubt it. But I was amazed at how well he was able to use his tools. I was also surprised at how well he was able to make boards out of a log with just a handsaw. When I've tried sawing with the grain, the grain usually pulled me where it wanted to go, and the cut never looked very good.

You can find & buy the DVD at

Saturday, August 23, 2008

M. Graham Factory Tour: Now on Blogger

Here's a reprint of the in depth article I did about the M. Graham Paint Factory tour from June of last year. It was on an older server, so I'm moving it over here for easier access. Probably one of the longest posts you'll see on this site :)

The original overview blog post is here.

I met Art Graham a number of years ago when he was giving demonstrations (and free samples of his paint!) at the University of Oregon Bookstore’s annual Art Tools of the Trade show. He was very generous in not only his samples, but also in sharing knowledge. At the time I was getting ready to work on an oil paint based stop frame animation. One problem I kept running into was that my paint would keep drying on me before I was done with a scene. I switched to M. Graham paints for the piece which helped (walnut oil dries slower than linseed oil), but the one suggestion he gave me that really did the trick was to add a couple of drops of clove oil to the mix. This slowed down the drying time to about three or four weeks before I got a skin on the paint. My locker smelled like clove oil for the rest of the year!

So, when I was getting ready to start the From Scratch project, he sprung to mind as someone who could help.

The Visit

We visited M. Graham paints on Wednesday, April 11. Before I visit any place for the first time, I inevitably imagine what it will look like and how the experience will play out. These expectations are never same with the reality. Not better or worse, just different. I expected a larger building, as I had no idea how much space the mixing, milling, and filling machines would take up. It was a cozier and friendlier than I expected. One thing that did match my imagination was the passion for quality that was evident in every step of the process. There was also a sense of pride and idealism. This company is being run by someone who simply will not compromise quality for profit. One reason Art started his own company was when he worked at a previous artist’s color company, he began to question why there were formula changes throughout the years. He found out it always came down to money over quality.

I also had no idea how much of the process was done by M. Graham paints, and how much was left in the hands of vendors. What I learned was that instead of doing absolutely everything (like my project), Art is more like a master chef. He carefully chooses the finest ingredients, and mixes them according to his carefully guarded recipes for maximum quality in his paints. His art lies in coming up with the best mixture.

So, his company doesn’t create the pigment, but has found companies who provide the best pigments available. He doesn’t grow the walnuts that go into his walnut oil, but he has found a supplier who has a consistency that is perfect for his paints. He doesn’t smelt and roll the metal that becomes his tubes of paint… you get the idea. He concentrates on the act of creation.

Coming up with the perfect mix is quite a process. First of all, there’s qualifying a vendor. For him, qualifying a vendor is a major undertaking, and once one is secured, he sticks with them for a very, very long time. He looks for quality, consistency and reliability from a vendor. If a pigment is not consistent, then it requires tweaking each batch of paint to get a good result, which takes more time and can throw off production and delivery times for his product. Disappointing the stores that sell his paint is something he doesn’t want to do. Although he could save money with cheaper pigments from China or India, he feels that the quality and consistency just isn’t there. In fact, some pigments such as alizarin crimson cost him ten times the amount he could get elsewhere, but he feels that it is worth it to get the best.

Making Paint

One of the main differences between M. Graham & their competitors is the pigment load in their paint. “If I can find a way to put another 5 pounds of cadmium into a batch of paint, I’ll do it” says Art. Their oil and acrylic paint consist of only the pigment and the medium. That’s it. No fillers or other agents to save on costs.

The pigment and medium are weighed (accurate to 1/100th a pound), mixed, and milled. After milling, the paint is mixed again, which makes it more workable for the artist. Finally, the tubes or jars are filled, aged, boxed up and shipped.

Every pigment has its own color, tint strength, particle size, weight per gallon, and absorption of medium. The goal is to create a dispersion. That is, to surround every atomized granule of pigment with the medium, with no clumps. In the case of his oils, that medium is walnut oil. There are a number of ways to do this, but M. Graham paints uses a three roll mill, which through its shearing action, pulls apart the pigment clumps. Simply crushing the mixture will not work. Such action can change the properties and color of a paint. For example, crushing cobalt shatters its crystals, turning it from a brilliant blue to a dull gray.

There are three things to consider when coming up with a recipe for milling a color. Every color has its own pressure, number of mill passes and speed. It’s a trial and error process, a craft. Minor modifications will make a huge difference.


Although they are fully compatible with other acrylics, M. Graham acrylics feel different. I’m not sure I can describe this very well, but whereas other brands feel like you’re painting with plastic, his paint feels unique. The only way I can describe is “feeling the pigment as you paint”. It would also seem that the color has more depth than other paints. Finally, the type of acrylic medium he uses in his paint dries a lot harder and binds a lot better than other acrylics I’ve used.


Although I don’t currently work in gouache, my friends who belong to the SCA do (you know, people who dress up in medieval garb and hold festivals). They absolutely love M. Graham’s gouache, not only because it’s the closest thing you can get to “period paint” (historically accurate ingredients) but also because it works so well. There are two unique things to note about this paint compared to other types of gouache. First of all, one of the ingredients is honey, which makes for smooth application. Second, unlike most gouaches that have fillers to make every color opaque, Art makes his paint opaque simply by loading it heavily with pigment. For some colors, this means that they are still transparent, but this gives the artist more options. If they desire opacity, the artist can mix paints to create this effect.


His oil paints are walnut oil based, and are compatible with linseed oil paints. This is the same type of oil the masters used, and does not yellow like linseed oil. (Linseed oil is a byproduct of the linen industry, so its use in artist paint is a little more modern). Walnut oil dries slower than linseed, which gives the artist more time to work the painting. If a faster dry time is desired, M Graham also provides a walnut alkyd medium. One added benefit of using walnut oil over linseed, is that brushes can be cleaned in walnut oil and soap rather than nasty solvents. This is better for the health of the artist, and better for the environment.

Safety & Environmental Responsibility

Speaking of safety, although his insurance provider won’t let him use the words “non toxic” or “edible”, M. Graham makes every effort to keep the toxicity of the pigments low. Most pigments are pharmaceutical, cosmetic or food grade. Their cadmium pigment is ground a little coarser than other companies. This provides a better texture to the paint, and a positive side effect is that it is considered biologically unavailable, and is not absorbed by the body’s fat cells. This not only is good for their clients, it’s important that he has a safe working environment for his employees and himself. Also, he buys locally when possible, to reduce the carbon footprint of his product (further distance equals longer shipping in trucks and boats that pollute the environment)

Wrapping it Up

I’d like to say that the only reason I visited M. Graham paints was to get leads on how to make my own paint from scratch. While Art was very helpful with tips on paint making, suggesting on books to read and things to try, that was just a paper thin excuse to visit him and the place that makes the paint I love so much. There are a scarce few people in this world who are truly passionate about what they do. Of those, even fewer are as idealistic, helpful and welcoming as Art Graham. If you’re an artist, he’s just fun and inspiring to be around. His paint is in the ever-shrinking class of products that are truly great, products that are the honest quality you expect. Martin Guitars, Craftsman wrenches (guaranteed forever, not just your lifetime), Flexcut carving tools. If you paint, you really should give them a try.

As it says on the entranceway, “Every artist deserves the finest color that can be created”.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Name! Same Great Taste

I’ve been telling myself for months that I need to get it together and combine my registrar and web host to one company, and to finally make use of a couple of domains that I registered over a year ago. It got to the point that I’ve promised myself a copy of Orange Box once I take care of all my web clutter. I finally did the first step last night, and now I’ve got four addresses pointing to this blog!
I’ve always wanted to call the project “Art From Scratch” but the .com version of the name was already taken (by Rachel… visit the site here ),
Now that the .net & .org versions have opened up I snatched ‘em as soon as I could!
It's shorter. It's easy to remember. I can write it down on a napkin a little faster!
So, you can get here from

And even from these addresses:

One of these days, I may actually make those addresses point to a page that has the blog as one tab of many. But that would require actual effort. Effort that could be spent on grinding more semiprecious rocks into pigment! So probably not anytime soon.

Monday, August 4, 2008

If you go in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise

The family and I headed down to Veneta, Oregon, to attend the Oregon Country Fair recently. If you’ve never been, it could be best described as “Woodstock in an Ewok Forest” And thank God for the shade of the trees. That weekend was hot! Without them we would have been goners. Instead of staying at a hotel and taking a bus in each day, we decided to camp on some farmland near the fair with friends. A number of farms offer campsites, but we settled on Darling’s Reunion. This would have been a wonderful choice if I was single, in my 20s and didn’t need any sleep. Still, it was a great experience. And having camped at the Fair, Zumwalt park, and Darling’s, I can say that this is the best place to go for a great party. There were a number of vendors at Darling’s Reunion, and some of them had some nice gems for sale. The most prolific gem dealer there was form the Pink Bus. I picked up some Peacock Ore and will see if I can make it into pigment.

I also got two pieces of either turquoise or variscite from another vendor (kind of easy to mix-up).

There was also a really nice piece of malachite at another vendor’s table for a good price, but I was out of money, and there weren’t any ATMs nearby. *sigh* I might have to stick with copper and vinegar for green.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Dealer was Back in Town...

I got a flyer & a phone call from John Garsow, letting me know that the Gem show would be coming back to Seattle in June 27th-29. I took my daughter with me. What I didn’t realize was that it was the same date as Seattle’s Gay Pride parade & Festival, ending in the same location So, traffic was almost as bad as the parking, but she really enjoyed seeing all the people dance on such a hot day at the water fountain. She’s not even four, and she’s already been to a Democratic Caucus, the Oregon Country Fair & a gay pride festival. I think this is wonderful, but now I’m pretty sure this website will be flagged by some church group as a prime example of how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Anyway, below are some pictures of things I picked up from John at the show. I know for certain that the blue rock is Azurite.

I think the white one is Brookite (which contains titanium oxide) or Barite and I *think* the green stone is Variscite. This is what happens when I bring my daughter places. I get distracted and end up buying things without getting the facts. I’ll add an addendum to this entry once I confirm the exact nature of these rocks.

Of course, the reason I’m getting all these rocks is to crush them and turn them into paint. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Next Entry on Monday, August 4th!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

And now for Something Completely Different...

I was able to procure the last batch of titanium sold at the now defunct Boeing Surplus store for Theodore Grey, (creator of the Periodic Table Table, and one who has talked to me at length via email about this project). This incredibly historic titanium unfortunately looked really bland in its original sheet metal form. After talking to him at some length about how to best identify titanium (see his January 2008 column here) I decided to spruce up one of the samples with my friend’s TIG welder. I really like how it discolors! Thank God he had an auto darkening helmet! I don’t think I could have written as well as I did otherwise.

I had a couple of pieces left over after this, so we decided to make an abstract sculpture. This was the first time I welded this metal, and used this session to just get a better feel for it. Since there was no titanium welding rod in his shop, I just had fun melting pieces into each other.

Next entry on Monday July 28th!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Improved Slurry Technique to Try

My wife is into knitting, spinning, and all things fabric.
Guess who I'm going to enlist to help me make a canvas from scratch? :)

She was talking with Michael Cook online recently about my project, and he suggested another technique for refining earth pigments. Michael has a very cool project of his own going on. Check out

Anyway, here's the full text of his technique. I'm hoping to try this out in a couple of weeks:

I asked Alyssa if you were levigating the pigments - and I figured I'd
reply to you instead of making her play messenger!

What I was doing, was grinding the rocks (mostly yellow and red
ochres, but also malachite and some whitish chalks) to a fine powder -
starting with a hammer and a pillow case, and ending up with a
dedicated coffee grinder. I would put that into a jar with water, and
swirl it vigorously to mix. The liquor of color would be on top, and
the grit would quickly settle out. I poured the liquor of color off
into a shallow bowl, and let it dry, which made a fine, usually
grit-free powder. If the powder still felt gritty after levigating it
once, I repeated, and then mulled the resulting powder with water
using a glass muller and a glass plate, then let it dry for storage or
mix directly with binder. I did a little paint-sketching with them,
although it was all just samples and I didn't keep a completed

Couple of things to think about for this project:

This technique might be a lot faster than me letting the particles settle down, then have the entire jar of mud dry. And, it should give me a more consistent and finer particle.

How do I make a glass muller (or any muller for that matter) from scratch? Maybe a clay/ceramic fired one with a good glaze? Or maybe an especially smooth & flat skipping stone?

If I implement both this technique & the use of a muller, I'm hoping to get a nearly commercial grade of pigment. I'll post the results as I try this out!

Cheers, and keep the suggestions coming!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Egil's Update

This photo was taken by our 3 year old. Thanks for not dropping the camera!

Here's the spread of material I brought to share

Here's a shot of the Sunday class.

As I briefly mentioned, last weekend we were in Eugene at Egil’s, a SCA event. I had a great time sharing what I’ve learned so far with other attendees. I’ve already gotten an email from someone who has attended my class with some suggestions on things to try. Thanks!

Here’s some of the notes that people gave me to further my studies:

Books to read (they just happen to be *ahem* on my Amazon wishlist now)
The Craftsman Handbook by Cennio Cenni – translated by Daniel Thompson.
Also by Daniel Thompson: The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting.

Places to visit:
Glass Buttes in Central Oregon near Riley.
Apparently there is a lot of obsidian there of which I could make some good tools.

Niaux Cave in the Pyrenees

A note to visit the Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb in Ireland.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Egil's Part I

Just a quick note, with more details to follow. My wife and I spent our Memorial Day weekend at Egil's 34, a SCA event (from their webpage: The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe).

I had the opportunity to 'teach' two classes on making pigment from scratch. It was really more of a chance to share what we all have learned about how our ancestors made pigment. I certainly learned a lot from everyone, and a good time was had by all! Photos and resource links will be posted shortly (tons of books and ideas were passed around). Thanks again to everyone who attended!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two Pigment Tests in one day!

I felt especially productive this weekend, and Ravenna wanted to hang out with me in the garage, so I tried two new pigment tests. Both additions have made it into the header. Hey, anyone out there know how to make this header an image map using Google's Blogger? I'd really love to have each color link to their respective entries!


First up is what I *think* is called ‘Pristine’. I got it from John Garsow when I bought a bunch of Lapis Lazuli from him. We were hoping it would make an OK white. I think it is some sort of magnesium oxide, but I couldn’t find anything on the web about it recently. I’ll send an update if I do. In the meantime, please comment if you recognize this rock/stone/mineral/thing.

The rock looks fairly white, with possibly a little rust or dirt on the outside. The powder looks great. However, when I mixed it with walnut oil, I got a light and somewhat grey. I’m thinking the grey came from one of four possible sources.

  1. The impurities in the rock

  2. The impurities from my mixing board

  3. A chemical reaction with the walnut oil (I can test this by trying this pigment out with a different medium)

  4. Some sort of reaction with my palette knife metal (I can try something else to
    mix the pigment & the medium together)

It’s not very opaque, so I think I’m going to keep looking for a better white (maybe go back to eggshells? I don’t know)


Second up is some Jasper that I got on Saturday. I picked it up, along with a bunch of other gemstones from Scratchpatch. This is a place in Seattle that encourages you to come by, and sit in and examine a bunch of gemstones. You can then pick out the ones you like, and pay for them by the bag full. Ravenna and I went there, and we both got a medium bag of assorted rocks, for $8 a piece. It was really fun to take our shoes off and sit on a bunch of pretty tumbled rocks! I liked how they felt on my feet and legs. So next time you’re in Seattle, stop by there and try it out. Science, Art & More is about a block away, so make a day of it!

Jasper is mostly silica and impurities (in this case iron(III) ). It crushed fairly easily with pliers & a sledge hammer, and will probably crush well with a big rock, once I decide to make a production run (not using any modern tools)

I was a little worried that it wouldn’t mix with walnut oil very well, because of how it handled at first. It seemed to repel the oil. But once I started mixing it, it seemed to hold the oil fairly well. Sidenote: It’s amazing how each paint handles so completely differently from each other. I know my pigment particle sizes are really big compared to consumer paints, but it still never ceases to amaze me how different they behave and feel. This pigment is the reddest material that I’ve found so far, although my parent’s burnt soil comes close (not as pure of a red).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Deep Blue

We're pretty much settled in, but the problem with any move is that your patterns and habits are disturbed. New patterns emerge and old ones wither away. Case in point; this project. It's taken me until tonight to simply grind some of the lapis lazuli that I bought back in March. But the results are very promising!

I took the tiny grains from the John Garsow purchase and put them into the mortar. Obviously, some of the stuff in there isn't lapis. I took out as many purities as I could before grinding. After making a somewhat coarse grind, I mixed it with walnut oil. It was too coarse to use with a brush, but it might work OK with a palette knife. (see left most sample)

So, I put the remainder of the pigment back in and ground it some more (maybe 3 more minutes) Sure enough, it works fine with a brush. (second to left). It is also a little duller. Art Graham told me cobalt can become grayer when the crystals are crushed too fine. I think a similar thing might be happening here with the lapis. The good news is I can choose the best grind for my painting application instead of relying on a paint maker to do that for me. The bad news is I doubt I'll ever have identical batches!

At any rate, the color is much more vibrant, deeper and darker than the Chilean lapis lazuli that I bought in Canada (right two samples)!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Birthday Blues

More Blue Goodness

Today’s my official birthday! Last weekend, I had a party (see here for blue cake: )

Last Friday, I had even more blue goodness. I was able to take some comp time from work and go to a gem show.

I bought Lapis Lazuli from three vendors there. Now then, how should I handle money with this project? Most if not all Lapis comes from either Afghanistan or Chile. I doubt I’ll be going to either place in four years. Anyway, the prices are listed with each entry. As always, click on an image for an enlarged view

Here’s a the remaining samples I bought in Canada. It is from Chile. I wetted them so you can more accurately see their color.

Here’s the polished stones I bought from Gems Stones of Africa. They were $5, and as you can see, had a lot of calcite and other non-lapis in them. Still, they’re pretty. I think they also had better grades, but they were more money of course, and since I didn’t need polished rocks, I kept searching.

Here’s the start of some either really large buttons, or very garish earrings. I bought these from C&C International for $6 a piece.

Finally, here’s a small number of the pound or so of rocks that I bought from John E Garsow for $70. He & his wife were the most helpful at the show. He had three grades to choose from. I was going to get the highest grade, but when I told him it was to crushed into paint, he told me that I could get some really nice but small stones in the 2nd & 3rd grade bins for much less. I spent about 20 minutes sorting out the best ones, and he threw in a couple more after weighing them (to offset the water & because I bought so many I’d guess). He even gave up his chair so I could spend the time needed sorting without hurting my back. I asked him if he had any other ideas for paint, and he though ‘pristine’ or some type of Magnesium oxide might make a good white. I bought $5 from him, and will post it if the results are good.

Next step, crush & add oil or egg yolk (for tempera paint)!

Looking forward to your opinions on how to deal with money for an art from scratch project. Offset it by doing community service @ minimum wage equivalents? Other ideas?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Daughter More Prolific than I

It's midnight. The weekend was great, and it feels like spring is in the air again! We're done moving. I unpacked a lot of stuff in the garage and cleared a space for the art project to recommence. But so far, all I've really done is update the banner on my blog, which took waaaay too long, and I'm still not sure if I like the change(I lost my original file, and had to rebuild it *from scratch*, if you'll pardon the term.)

My Photoshop skills are really rusty. But my daughter's is growing! She's 2 3/4 and can pick out her own colors & draw with my Wacom tablet. It's amazing how good her stuff looks for her basically just scribbling. So in lieu of my work, here are two samples of hers.

Personal to Theo: I have your Titanium still, and promise I'll send it out soon, even if it's much more boring than the samples you already have (maybe I need to alter it first. Hmmm....)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tandy Leather Visit

We recently moved back to Seattle. On one of my move-in errands, I noticed a Tandy Leather Factory store, and had to drop in. A number of years ago, all the stores had closed down, but they are now back in business. I chatted a bit with the manager, and we talked about the trade for a bit. I inherited my grandfather's leather tools, and there is a bit of nostalgia going into these stores.

I'm going to need some sort of soft leather hide (or maybe really strong oiled paper??) if I want to make bellows for any tooling forge. According to the manger, Modern leather is prepared using modern chemicals, most of which were probably not available in 4004 BC. But they did have a book on brain tanning, entitled Deerskins Into Buckskins.

I picked up a copy since I was there (I'll have to start reading it soon). It looks like it got a great review on Amazon!

Looks like I'm getting closer to having to kill an animal for this project. I'm not really looking forward to it, but if I used every bit of the animal, then it would be less of a waste. Hide for bellows, hip joint for mortar & pestle, hair for brushes...

Maybe if I make the bow & arrows, and have my Dad shoot a deer, as he can get tags...