Drawing Charcoal Hide Glue
Gesso Iron Gall Ink
Gilder's Pad Lampblack Ink
Glair Shell Gold
Gum Ammoniac Slaked Plaster
Gum Arabic Walnut Ink


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Drawing Charcoal (Vine Black)

twigs, woody vines, or dowels-- untreated wood, at least 2 years of growth, at least 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter

extra heavy aluminum foil

fireplace, barbecue pit, ceramics kiln, or other means of heating

Nearly any kind of wood will make charcoal. IMPORTANT: Do not use treated lumber because of toxic fumes emitted during the roasting process. Twigs may be of any diameter, but very thin twigs would be too weak for drawing. Lumber scraps may be ripped to one-fourth inch squares or larger. The wood will shrink as it turns into charcoal.  Cut the twigs to the desired length (five to seven inches is good). Cut off forked joints, and peel away all the bark. If the twigs are cut from fresh, living tissue, they should be allowed to dry for a few days before going on to the next step. 
Wrap several dry sticks tightly in extra heavy aluminum foil so that no air may infiltrate the package. Air entering the package would reduce the sticks to ash rather than charcoal. If the aluminum comes in contact with open flame a hole could be burnt through the foil, spoiling the charcoal; so you might wrap a second layer of foil tightly around the package for security. (But don't overdo it; each layer of foil reduces the amount of heat reaching the wood.) Experiment first with five or six sticks per bundle. If the bundle contains more sticks, higher heat and longer roasting time will be required to completely carbonize the wood. Soft wood species, such as pine and cedar, will require less roasting time than hardwood species (such as birch, ash, oak, walnut). 
Place the package in the coals of a fireplace or a barbecue pit. It may take several hours (or overnight) in the coals for the sticks to carbonize and then cool down. Do not open the package until it has cooled enough to be handled comfortably. You must be willing to experiment beyond the first attempt. Too much heat will melt the foil. Insufficient heat will produce brands; you should get consistently good results after a few experiments. Charcoal can also be made in a ceramics kiln, which should be vented outdoors. If you use a ceramics kiln, experiment cautiously with temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit). Hotter temperatures cause rapid carbonization and are hard to control. 
This charcoal can be used as is for drawing implements, or you could grind it up in a mortar and pestle to make vine black pigment for ink or paint. Recipe found in Pigments Through the Ages.
Gesso (Variant #1, #2, #3, #4, #5; reconstituting)

Inert pigment-- calcium carbonate (chalk or marble), calcium sulfate dihydrate (slaked Plaster of Paris)

Binder-- hide glue, fish glue, woodworking glue

Humectant-- warm honey or pure cane sugar (NOT beet sugar or powdered sugar)

Coloring agent-- Armenian bole or other dry pigment

Grinding slab and muller, or mortar and pestle

Palette knife, or scraper

Measuring instrument (i.e. 1/4 tsp.) and stirring implements

Optional-- white lead or titanium white (for malleability, bulk, and body); distilled water (to maintain consistency)
Note: I wrote out the materials list in generalities because no scribe makes gesso exactly alike. The first four are the basic ingredients and vary greatly from recipe to recipe. I used a mortar and pestle because mullers are expensive and difficult to come by.
Recipe variant #1: Combine 4 parts slaked plaster with 1 part  dry coloring agent. Grind thoroughly and store in film canister or other appropriately sized lidded container. For gesso, place equal amounts colored plaster and liquid hide glue in mortar and add 10 drops of warmed honey. Grind until smooth and uniform. Test and adjust: more plaster if mixture refuses to dry hard, more honey if gesso does not become slightly darker with the application of a long moist breath. Grind again and use fresh, or dry in buttons on waxed paper for later use. Adapted from the website of Randy Asplund.
Recipe variant #2: Combine 1 part ground cane sugar with a sprinkling of coloring agent, 1 part seccotine fish glue, and 7 parts water. Mix thoroughly to dissolve and set aside. Place 8 parts slaked plaster in separate mounds on a sheet of paper and tip into a mortar. Very carefully add 3 parts white lead, keeping airborne dust to a minimum. A mask and gloves would be appropriate here. Mix the dry ingredients gently but thoroughly, and make a crater in their center. Stir the wet ingredients again and pour about half into the crater. Stir carefully with a craft stick, making sure not to let it ride up the sides of the mortar. It will have a consistency about like bread dough with too much flour. Stir the wet ingredients again, add to the mortar, and stir the whole.  Now it should be approximately the consistency of thin cream, albeit lumpy and bubbly and granular.  Put a few drops of water on the pestle and grind with some force for about 45 minutes, stopping every 5 minutes or so to dribble a little distilled water down the pestle and keep up the proper consistency. Every once in a while, "wind" the pestle up and down the sides of the mortar to mix back in whatever has ridden up the sides. Pour the gesso out in nickel-sized puddles onto plastic-wrapped cardboard pieces, stirring the gesso each time you pour. When no more will pour, add 4 units of distilled water and mix it up with the pestle, then pour out in slightly larger buttons. Let buttons dry overnight, then pop them off the wrap and store in an airtight container until used. Adapted from the website of Helen Schultz.
Recipe variant #3: Mix together 1 teaspoon of water, 1 teaspoon woodworking glue, and 6 drops of honey. Add the liquid to the slaked plaster and mix it together in a mortar. Get all of the lumps out. Add extra water a little at a time if needed. If using dry Armenian bole, mull it with a bit of water to make a liquid to add as a colorant to the gesso. Adding dry ingredients now will make lumps. Tube paint may be added directly to the gesso. Test the gesso and modify as needed. Grind again and use fresh, or dry in buttons on waxed paper for later use. Adapted from the website of Lady Eibhlin ni Chaoimh.
Recipe variant #4: Combine 1 tablespoon slaked Plaster of Paris with some Armenian bole in a mortar and pestle; stir for 15 minutes. Introduce wet ingredients: 1 teaspoon hide glue diluted into 2 teaspoons warm distilled water, and 6-12 drops warm honey. Adjust the honey to the season: more in winter, less in summer, as this acts as a humectant. Stir with pestle for 45 minutes until everything is thoroughly mixed. Scoop into a clean baby food jar. DON'T use dish soap, as this leaves a residue that will affect your gesso mixture. Use distilled water to clean. Screw on lid, let sit in a dark place for a week or two. Check periodically for bubbles, and if they develop, use earwax on the end of a toothpick to burst. After that, your gesso is ready to use. Thanks to Master Christofano for this recipe.
Recipe variant #5: Pulverize enough sugar (rock candy or raw brown coffee sugar) to make 2 parts. Add 16 parts slaked plaster, 6 parts white lead or titanium white, and 1 part fish glue in a mortar. Sprinkle just enough coloring agent on top to see forms clearly on the writing surface. Add enough distilled water to mix the whole into a thick creamy paste and grind thoroughly. Use fresh, or dry in buttons on waxed paper for later use. You can also spread on waxed paper into a cake using slightly wet palette knife; leave to dry in dust-free container, but first score the surface with lines for breaking into segments later. Adapted from The Calligrapher's Handbook.
To reconstitute: Crumble gesso button into tiny crumbs in a small container. Add several drops of glair and let soak for 10 minutes or so. Compress mixture firmly with your fingers (protected with gloves if you used white lead), then add distilled water  a drop at a time, stirring until thoroughly dissolved. You want to achieve a balance between density and fluidity. Large air bubbles can be pricked with a needle greased by running it through your hair. Many small bubbles can be eliminated by stirring with an ear drop rubbed with ear wax, or by adding a drop of clove oil.
Gilder's Pad

cotton wool or polyester batting

piece of 1/2 inch plywood [about 6 x 8 inches]

piece of heavy garment quality suede

staple gun

Cut the cotton wool to 7 x 9 inches, and place over the plywood. Cover with the suede, and turn the whole thing over so it's upside down. Use the staple gun to fasten the suede tightly to the board. Turn it over and brush with a fabric brush. It is now ready to use.

whole eggs

distilled water

small bowl

black film canister or other container

Separate egg whites from yolks. This can be done using your fingers, the eggshells, or a commercial egg separator, but make sure that you do not get any yolk mixed in and that you remove the thread or chicken of the white. Place the whites in a bowl-- make sure everything is free of grease, which would prevent the whites from foaming. You can save the yolks for making egg tempera, an old-fashioned lemon pie, or whatever you like. Using an electric mixer (or your own arm and a whisk, if you're a sucker for punishment), whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. This breaks up the protein chains in the white. If you don't beat it enough, it will be gummy and won't flow well-- fix by beating it again. Cover loosely to keep out contaminants and let the bowl set overnight. The next day, scrape off the foam and pour the liquid off into a container.
Glair can be used fresh or stale. If you wish to use it fresh, it will keep, in a sealed container, in the refrigerator for about a week. Many scribes prefer stale glair, which can be kept at room temperature for years. To offset the smell, add a whole clove to the jar or a drop or two of clove oil (this also acts as a preservative and may prevent intrusive molds, as well as decreasing air bubbles). Stale glair sometimes forms white masses or other growths. These can often be removed with no detriments to the binder's properties, but use your judgment-- better to start over than end up with an illumination that grows a beard.
Gum Ammoniac for Flat Gilding

gum ammoniac crystals

distilled water

two clean jars with lids, preferably washed without soap (I used spaghetti sauce and baby food jars)

stirring implement (Popsicle stick, chopstick, old spoon)

old nylon stocking, for filtering

rubber band, to hold stocking on jar

gouache or watercolor paint for color 

Place about a tablespoon of crystals in a small jar. Pick out any unwanted matter (such as twigs and stones) and break large crystals into manageable sizes. Add just enough distilled water to cover and allow it to soak overnight to 24 hours, stirring now and again to help break up crystals. You will end up with an off-white sludge. If you added too much water or need to hurry up the process, you can make a double boiler with an old pot filled with hot water. Set the jar of crystals in it and stir frequently to dissolve, but DO NOT BOIL the gum.
While it is warm, strain the resulting liquid through a piece of pantyhose into the storage vessel.  A single layer worked best for me, and wetting the surface of the hose with a little water to break the surface tension allowed the liquid to flow through much easier. You can help the process along by pushing the sludge gently back and forth on the hose with an old spoon. If the hose fills up with garbage or clogs, stop and fit a new piece over the jar. You will end up with a liquid about the consistency and color of single cream. Mix in a small amount of paint, which will allow you to see the size after it has been applied to your surface: yellow ochre or red (in imitation of Armenian bole) for size used to gild with gold, blue when gilding silver or palladium. Household ammonia or calligraphy pen cleaner will remove gum ammoniac size from your fingers, glasses and even paint brushes.
Any left over gum ammoniac may be stored and reused. Some people use a screw top jar and keep it in the refrigerator. This is great if you plan on using it within a couple of weeks. Any longer than this and you may have to scrape mold off of the top of your size, but it is still usable. Another method is allowing the size to dry completely before storage (covered or uncovered). The worst that will happen is you will have to dust the size before adding distilled water to reconstitute it. 
Gum Arabic

gum arabic crystals

distilled water

two clean jars, preferably washed without soap (I used a spaghetti sauce jar and a glass spice jar)

stirring implement (Popsicle stick, chopstick, old spoon)

old nylon stocking, for filtering

rubber band, to hold stocking on jar

mortar and pestle

Crush gum arabic crystals to particles the size of grains of sand with mortar and pestle. The cleaner and clearer the crystals are, the better. Place 1 teaspoon of crystals in a wide-mouthed glass container and dissolve with 1 fluid ounce of distilled water. This process can be sped up greatly by placing the jar in an old pot filled with hot water. DO NOT BOIL gum mixture. The crystals should dissolve after just a few minutes of gentle heating and stirring. While it is warm, strain the resulting liquid through a piece of pantyhose into the storage vessel.  A single layer worked best for me, and wetting the surface of the hose with a little water to break the surface tension allowed the liquid to flow through much easier. You will end up with a liquid that could almost be water except for its resin smell and sticking powers. A bit of preservative is suggested, but this mixture will keep at room temperature with an airtight cap.
Hide Glue

rabbit skin glue grains

distilled water

two clean jars, preferably washed without soap (I used a spaghetti sauce jar and a glass spice jar)

stirring implement (Popsicle stick, chopstick, old spoon)


vellum scraps

distilled water

old sauce pan and clean storage jar

From grains: Place 1 part glue grains in a wide-mouthed glass container and dissolve with 14 parts distilled water. This process can be sped up greatly by placing the jar in an old pot filled with hot water. DO NOT BOIL glue mixture or heat in microwave. The crystals should dissolve after just a minute or two of gentle heating and stirring. This does not need to be strained. Pour while warm into a storage container with a lid. This glue will keep for a long time as a gelatin in the refrigerator. Remove only  as much gelatin as you wish to heat and dissolve in double boiler for use-- reheated too many times, hide glue can lose its adhesiveness.
From vellum scraps: Cut a small handful of vellum scraps into small strips (ie: 1/2" long and 1/8" wide) and add them to 2 cups of water. Boil, and stir to prevent burning, until liquid is reduced by 1/3 (about 2 hours). The scraps will swell up to 3 times their original thickness. Remove scraps when liquid is reduced and pour into storage container with lid. You should end up with slightly more than 1/2 cup of clear glue. 
Stale parchment size: Follow the directions for glue from vellum scraps, above. Place the jar of glue, covered, in a dark, cool place for several weeks, until a mold forms on the surface of the liquid. Decant it back into a pan, add a pinch of beta naphthol (2-naphthol, a preservative) to the warming liquid, scald the jar's contents and filter the hot size through an old handkerchief folded in fours. This will be clear and pink, staying liquid and becoming more so, but water needs to be added every now and then to prevent it from drying up. It should last 3 to 5 weeks. Recipe found in The Calligrapher's Handbook.
Iron Gall Ink

ferrous sulfate
gum arabic powder

old sauce pan

storage container with lid


rubber band

Ure's Tannin Ink: Add 130 parts water to 18 parts powdered or crushed galls in a large pan, and boil with constant stirring, to prevent the ink from burning, for two hours, adding water little by little (about 350 ml) to replace that lost by evaporation. The mixture tends to become very frothy as it boils, so be sure to use an extra large container, and use a spoon to push down any solids which collect on the interior walls. The decoction is then allowed to cool, and a skin will form on the surface which will be removed by filtering. Straining is done by pouring the warm liquid through cheesecloth into the storage container. Next, dissolve 8 parts ferrous sulfate and 7 parts gum in the remaining 15 parts water, and pour this solution into the filtrate. The ink does not develop its full blackness at once, so wait a few days before using this. It also has a tendency to form a sludge at the bottom of the container over time-- if using a dip pen, shaking will mix the precipitate back in, or if using a fountain pen, the liquid can be strained again. From the website of Cyntia Karnes.

metal jar lid

thick wick

linseed oil

old small pot

objects to raise up pot (rocks, jars, etc.)

storage jar

scrap paper

distilled water

hide glue

Take a metal jar lid, put a wadded-up thick wick into it (like the kind you use for a tikki torch) and pour some linseed oil into the lid. Then set up three objects to rest a pot of water upon. Place the pot at a height just into the flame. You will see the right height by checking to see where it deposits more carbon. Then walk away for a few minutes. It will form a thick crust. Scrape off the crust with an index card every ten minutes or so onto a piece of typing paper. (Replace the water if it boils-- you'd be surprised.) When you have all you want, fold the paper into a funnel and pour the soot into a jar to store it. It is already as fine as it will get so you needn't grind it. A drop or two of denatured alcohol will make it take up the binder and go readily into solution. Mix in small quantities of about half-and-half water and dissolved skin glue until the soot has no lumps and it looks like ink when you dip a pen in it and write, and it is not too thick to flow nicely. The ink will keep for a week or two at cool temperatures before it starts to go off. Adapted from the advice of Randy Asplund.
Shell Gold

gold leaf scraps


table salt

distilled water

mortar and pestle

small transparent container, preferably with lid

A good idea for using up those scraps of gold leaf. Save them in a small container and when you have as much as you want, place in the mortar with a squirt of honey and some table salt (I used less than a teaspoon of each). Grind this up with the pestle-- it will come out looking sort of like mustard. Scrape into a clear film canister, test tube, or other small transparent container and add distilled water to fill up the container (hint: warm water will dissolve the honey faster). Put on the lid and swirl gently to dissolve honey and salt, then let stand. When gold has settled to the bottom, carefully pour off or remove most of the water with a dropper, without disturbing the gold. Repeat. When the water no longer tastes either salty or sweet, remove as much water as possible and allow the remainder to evaporate. Mix the gold sludge with a few drops of gum arabic in your storage container and let dry again. To reconstitute, add a drop or two of water to soften it up, and use like watercolor paint. Adapted from the website of Lady Eibhlin ni Chaoimh.
Slaked Plaster

bowl and spoon  (use disposable things to avoid cleanup)

Plaster of Paris

distilled water

litmus paper

linen or muslin cloth

Place 1 part Plaster of Paris and 4 parts of water together in a bowl; mix well. As soon as the plaster has settled to the bottom, pour off the water and repeat. Do this as many times as necessary. The way to test your plaster to see if it's ready is use a piece of litmus paper. Plaster of Paris is acidic. Slaked plaster, like the distilled water used to make it, is neutral. When the reading on the litmus paper is neutral (pH 7), the plaster is slaked and ready to be dried and stored. Put the wet plaster in a linen or muslin cloth, squeeze out all the excess water, then turn it out on a plate over a few days. Do not try to rush this by putting it in the oven. As it dries, keep it free from contact with ferrous metals. While it is still soft, break it up into several smaller cakes which can be stored, once they have completely dried, in a rust-proof container. Chalk is a good alternative, but if you plan on making and using a lot of gesso, it's much cheaper to just slake the plaster. Adapted from The Technique of Raised Gilding by Jerry Tresser.
Walnut Ink

black walnut hulls (not the shells themselves, but the squishy outer coverings)




old sauce pan

fine cheesecloth

bottle with tight-fitting lid

NOTE: You may want to wear latex gloves while making this ink, to avoid stained fingers. Vinegar and salt will corrode your nibs; be aware and experiment with the ink without the salt & vinegar, or in lesser proportion.
Crush ten walnut hulls into small pieces with a hammer. Put into a sauce pan (one that you probably don't want) and cover with boiling water. Simmer until the water becomes dark brown. Add 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons vinegar to make it permanent. Strain through cheesecloth into your storage bottle. Keep tightly capped. You will end up with about 3 oz. of brownish-yellow ink, which may need to sit to allow sediment to settle. You will get the best results if you crush the hulls, throw them (still containing the nuts) into a pan of water and allow them to soak for as long as you can bear to wait-- the longer the better, as you can keep them soaking indefinitely-- then boiling the whole mess.